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The long road for the Canadian right

By Mark Wegierski
web posted December 15, 2003

On December 6, 2003, the federal Progressive Conservatives voted overwhelmingly (with 90 per cent of the vote at their special national convention) to approve the merger with the Canadian Alliance proposed on October 16, 2003 (which the Canadian Alliance had approved by 96 per cent through a mail-in ballot of party members -- whose results were announced on December 5, 2003). The prospects of the broader Right in Canada have brightened somewhat for the first time in decades. Overcoming years of negativity, the Canadian Alliance (which had emerged out of the Reform Party of Canada in 1998-2000), and the federal Progressive Conservative party have now agreed to unite themselves as the Conservative Party of Canada (the former name of the Progressive Conservatives from decades ago). The first leader of the new party will be selected March 19-21, 2004.

It is widely expected that the new Liberal Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin, Jr., (who is succeeding Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who won comfortable majorities in 1993, 1997, and 2000) will call an election sometime in Spring 2004.

However, four Progressive Conservative MPs have now left the new Conservative party. Three of them, including Joe Clark, will probably sit as independents. Joe Clark, Canada's Prime Minister for nine months in 1979-1980 (he came to power with a minority government, that was subsequently defeated in an election which ensued out of the government's loss of a major vote in the House of Commons) has appeared to be a perennial "spoiler" in Canadian politics. Selected again as leader of the federal Progressive Conservative party in 1998, he did all he could to
frustrate some kind of accommodation with the Canadian Alliance.

As indicated by its full name, the Canadian Reform-Conservative Alliance, it had been formed specifically to bring the federal Progressive Conservatives into the fold. Had a merger occurred around 1999, the results of the election of 2000 might have been considerably different. As it was, the Canadian Alliance won 66 seats (all but two from Western Canada) (with 25 per cent of popular vote), and the Progressive Conservatives won 12 seats (9 of them from the Atlantic Maritime region) (with 12 per cent of the popular vote). The Liberal Party won 172 of the 301 seats in the federal Parliament, with 41 per cent of the total votes cast in the country. The Bloc Quebecois won 38 seats (with 11 per cent of the popular vote), and the New Democratic Party (Canada's social democrats), 13 seats (with 9 per cent of the popular vote). The "vote-splitting" between the Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives, as well as the normal operation of the "first-past-the-post" voting system, contributed to the massive Liberal majority.

One Progressive Conservative MP, Scott Brison, has now defected directly to the Liberal Party. As an openly gay politician, Brison claimed he felt uncomfortable with the new Conservative Party, which now includes the Canadian Alliance -- with its many social conservatives. However, Brison may have miscalculated, even in terms of narrowly-conceived self-interest. The new Conservative Party would probably have been anxious to prove its open-mindedness to the Canadian public, which meant that Brison could have been very prominent in it. Though the Liberals probably did offer all kinds of enticing promises to get him to defect, it is unlikely he will ever be as prominent in the Liberal Party as he could have been in the new Conservative Party. Even if he perceived the prospects of his political career as relatively poor -- given the comparatively small chances of the new Conservative Party ever winning a working majority in the House of Commons -- surely there is something to be said for maintaining one's political loyalties even under adversity. Neither turncoats nor "fair-weather friends" enjoy much respect in politics.

One should also consider the social context of Canada, where Brison's remaining in the Conservative Party would have been helpful in deflecting at least some of the criticism that the Canadian Alliance has regularily received. It should be pointed out that Canada today may be seen as combining the most liberal aspects of America and Europe -- indeed, it may be the world's most liberal society. Like some European countries such as the Netherlands, it is extremely socially-liberal, as demonstrated by the Canadian federal government's recent acceptance of "same-sex marriage." Although a vote on the issue will eventually take place in the Federal Parliament, it will be with direct referral to the Canadian Supreme Court. What conservative critics call "judicial activism" is in Canada a comparatively late but now flourishing development, which only really got underway with the introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) into the Canadian Constitution. The Charter, clearly a left-liberal rather than classical liberal document, essentially enshrined virtually the entire agenda of Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Canada's left-leaning Liberal Prime Minister from 1968-1984, except for nine months in 1979-1980) as the highest law of the land. After Brian Mulroney's huge Progressive Conservative majorities of 1984 and 1988 -- whose record in regard to social and cultural conservatism was indeed abysmal -- Canada's federal Liberal Party (headed by Jean Chretien) comfortably won the elections of 1993, 1997, and 2000.

On the other hand, unlike some European countries, Canada is characterized by very high rates of immigration, and it has whole-heartedly embraced multiculturalism, affirmative action (called "employment equity" in Canada), and diversity with a startling degree of unidirectional intensity. Canada's official immigration numbers are more than twice as large as those of the United States -- per capita -- and are probably among the highest in the world. With a population of about 30 million persons, Canada receives every year about a quarter-million immigrants, most of whom end up in large cities, especially Toronto, Vancouver, or Montreal.

At the same time, Canada has now embraced some of the more negative aspects of American society -- such as the excesses of pop-culture, the trend to political-correctness, and growing litigiousness. However, it lacks many aspects of America that may temper the aforementioned trends.

In Canada, for example, the government accounts for about half of the GDP. (In contrast to about a third in the United States.) Taxes are very high, relative to the United States. The Canadian medical system is stringently socialized to an extent unheard of in the United States. Canada's gun control laws are also extremely strict. Unlike the United States, fundamentalist Christianity plays virtually no role in Canada. The debate about abortion and many other social issues is considered effectively closed.

In another extreme contrast to the United States, Canada has virtually no military (the entire armed forces, including army, navy, air force, and reserves, number about 58,000 men and women) and there is major disdain throughout much of Canadian society (and especially in elite opinion) towards the military. Canada's security provisions, refugee-policy, and control of its borders are also extremely lackadaisical, relative to what now appears to be the emerging trend in the United States.

Pierre Trudeau -- the subject of "Trudeaumania"
Pierre Trudeau -- the subject of "Trudeaumania"

Canadians appear to be characterized both today and in their earlier history by an unusual deference to governmental authority. Before 1965, Canada was probably a substantively more conservative society than the United States, but now, when the paradigm at the top has been fundamentally altered -- in the wake of the "Trudeau revolution" -- most Canadians are willing to follow the new, politically-correct line from Ottawa. There is virtually no heritage of independence, self-reliance, or belief in rambunctious free speech in Canada. Indeed, Canadian officials point proudly to their laws against "hate-speech" as highly necessary. They say they do not have "the American hang-ups" about restricting freedom of speech.

What may be concluded from the combination of points made above is that right-of-centre viewpoints are rather rarely publicly seen or heard in Canada (except perhaps in the Western Canadian province of Alberta). It could be argued that, given the left-liberal predominance in the Canadian media (especially in the taxpayer-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation -- CBC), in the education system (from daycare to universities), in the judiciary and justice system, in the government bureaucracies, in so-called high culture (typified by government-subsidized "CanLit"), in North American pop-culture and "youth culture," in the big Canadian banks and corporations, and (on most issues) in the leaderships of the main churches in Canada, any existing right-of-centre tendencies are being continually ground down. There is also the panoply of special interest groups, who receive extensive government and some corporate funding.

Left-liberals have tried to maintain the centre-right parties in Canada today in as eviscerated a shape as possible, building up the federal Progressive Conservatives at the expense of the Canadian Alliance, and bleaching out substantively conservative thinking as far as possible from both parties. It could be argued that, by Canadian standards, many of the more liberal Republicans or more conservative Democrats in the U.S., would have probably been placed on the supposed "hard right" of the Canadian Reform Party. Even as elections come and go, the long-term trend is mostly towards the ever-intensifying undermining of substantively conservative impulses in Canada.

The egregious, isolated comments of a few cranky Reform or Alliance MPs (such as the recent rant against gays by the hitherto little-known Larry Spencer -- who almost immediately profusely apologized for his statements, who was almost immediately fired by Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper, and which has clearly amounted to political suicide for Spencer) should not be allowed to distort one's perception of the political spectrum in Canada today. David Montgomery had earlier written in The Washington Post, that "...those sly Canadians have redefined their entire nation as Berkeley North."

In the last decade (presumably in reaction to the collapse of Soviet Communism) left-liberalism has also clearly become far more willing to concede some major fiscal and economic issues to the "managerial Right" -- while continuing a ferocious struggle against any more substantive conservatism. It appears that, in the main, only "fiscal conservatism" is permissible in Canada.

The new Conservative Party will make little headway in the teeth of a hostile social, cultural, and political climate, unless it endeavours to give encouragement to the creation of some kind of infrastructures where more intellectual explorations of right-wing ideas and philosophies can take place in Canada. What is especially needed in Canada for conservatives is a broadly right-of-centre magazine which could serve a mobilizing role similar to the early years of *National Review* in the United States, as well as an academic outreach body along the lines of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in the United States (which publishes scholarly quarterlies and books, as well as offering substantial scholarships). The ISI embodies a very reflective and serious conservatism which moves far beyond day-to-day policy issues and merely fiscal and economic conservatism (while not being explicitly tied to any one religion or denomination). Perhaps the Centre for Cultural Renewal in Ottawa could eventually evolve into serving a similar role in Canada.

Another positive development would be the emergence of some major, more traditionally-oriented, private colleges and universities in Canada -- as opposed to the situation today, where there are virtually no such institutions in Canada -- Trinity Western University in British Columbia, and Redeemer College University in Ontario being the two best-known exceptions. Tradition-minded Roman Catholics in Ontario have carried out efforts to establish a private liberal arts college in Ontario, for which Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy near Ottawa is hoped to be the nucleus.

Today in Canada, there are numerous, left-wing, extra-parliamentary infrastructures, whose funding (most of which comes from the federal, provincial, and major-municipal governments) outweighs that of putatively right-wing infrastructures such as the National Citizens' Coalition and the Fraser Institute (who rely strictly on private donations -- and are almost entirely focussed on economic and fiscal issues) by astronomical factors. The effectiveness of these left-wing infrastructures has contributed to the huge intellectual influence of the New Democratic Party (Canada's social democratic party) particularly on the Liberal Party, although the NDP currently holds a mere fourteen seats in the federal Parliament (out of a total of 301 seats). It may be remembered that Trudeau was a former NDP member, and some have indeed suggested that he "hijacked" a somewhat more traditionalist and centrist Liberal Party in a radical direction. Perhaps the ascent of former finance minister Paul Martin, Jr., to the leadership of the Liberal Party and the office of Prime Minister will afford a chance for the emergence of a more centrist Liberal Party -- although the extent to which large numbers of persons in Canadian society (especially in the intellectual classes) are utterly captivated by and beholden to ideas of left-wing provenance cannot be underestimated. It is only the building up of infrastructures of a serious intellectual Right in Canada that could make a difference in this regard.

The current-day Canadian situation -- of near-total left-liberal intellectual hegemony, of very little authentic academic or journalistic debate, and of little hope that a centre-right party will ever unseat the Liberals at the federal level -- cannot be described as offering prospects for a truly humane future for Canada. There is certainly no intellectual balancing of Left and Right, and very little possibility of alternation at the federal level between left-leaning and conservative parties, in Canada today.

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher, published in Alberta Report, Calgary Herald, New Brunswick Reader, Telos, and The World & I, among others. An article of his about Canada was reprinted in Annual Editions: World Politics, 1998-99 (Dushkin/McGraw-Hill, 1998).

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