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A comparison of the conservative traditions in America and Canada (Part Two)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted November 28, 2011

The election of 1963 was one of the most important in Canadian history. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, a staunch Tory, faced Liberal Lester B. Pearson. Diefenbaker had won the Prime Ministership in 1957, and in 1958, had won one of the largest majorities in Canadian history. However, his Prime Ministership coincided with an economic downturn, which largely became associated in many people's minds with the Tory government. He also did not capitalize on the rare support from Quebec that had come from Maurice Duplessis. The ultra-conservative Duplessis, called "Le Chef", was a figure somewhat similar to Huey Long, and had been Premier of Quebec for decades. Among other accomplishments he had given Quebec its distinctive, traditional-looking flag – the blue cross with four Bourbon lilies. He loathed the Liberals. However, Duplessis had passed away by 1960, and a promising young leader of the Union Nationale (Duplessis' party), had died in a car accident. Thus, in the early 1960s, the so-called Quiet Revolution took place in Quebec under the leadership of the Quebec Liberals. This was marked by a pronounced de-clericalizing and de-conservatizing of Quebec society.

Pearson won the 1963 election, and began a process of ever-increasing innovation. In 1965, he engineered the replacement of the Red Ensign, Canada's traditional flag (which had, like Australia's today, a Union Jack in its upper-left corner) with the Maple Leaf Pennant, which some Canadian traditionalists saw at that time as a "new Liberal Party" banner. Although it was little commented upon by observers at the time, a change of flag is often seen in political science as a marker of "regime-change".

Indeed, this was the beginning of a massive transformation of the Canadian polity, society, and culture, spectacularly continued in 1968-1984 (except for nine months in 1979-1980), by Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Except for the first election of 1968, when "Trudeaumania" swept the country, Trudeau failed to receive a majority of seats in English Canada in the successive federal elections (while winning virtually every seat in Quebec). The Liberals were also assisted by the presence of the social-democratic third party in English Canada – the New Democratic Party (NDP), which had evolved out of the much different and sometimes rather socially-conservative CCF (Co-operative Commonwealth Federation).  It could also be argued that the Liberal Party had been largely "hijacked" by Trudeau, away from its earlier, so-called "traditionalist-centrist" consensus.

The culmination of the transformation was the introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms into the Canadian Constitution in 1982, which virtually set down Trudeau's entire agenda as the highest law of the land. The pretext for the introduction of the Charter was the so-called "patriation" of the Canadian Constitution from Britain. Nevertheless, both supporters and opponents of the Charter characterized it as a constitutional coup d'etat.  The Charter in effect took away power from elected bodies (federal and provincial parliaments), and gave it into the hands of unelected judges and various tribunals -- a situation similar to (but far more pronounced in Canada), as that which had occurred with so-called judicial activism in the United States. The intent appeared to be to place the left-liberal social agenda forever beyond the reach of popular will.

It might be noted that the Canadian Constitution today is far more "progressive" than the U.S. Constitution of 1787. Indeed, conservatives in the U.S. frequently talk about the restoration of  "Constitutional government" – whereas in Canada the Charter is presumably functioning in a perfectly "constitutional" fashion in pushing forward the left-liberal social agenda.

In 1984, Brian Mulroney won a huge landslide as leader of the Progressive Conservative party. The unwillingness of Brian Mulroney, who was Prime Minister of Canada from 1984-1993, to carry out some substantively conservative policies, almost certainly resulted in the arising of the Western Canadian-based Reform Party in 1987 (which formally became a countrywide party in 1991). It should be noted, however, that the Reform Party of Canada was much different from the U.S. Reform Party (especially in its Buchananite incarnation). The Reform Party of Canada was comparatively far more electorally credible and attracted about a fifth of the popular vote in federal elections in 1993 and 1997 (although the Liberals won comfortable majorities in the federal Parliament in those elections). The frequent characterization of Canadian Reformers as "far right" was wildly inaccurate.

It is important to note that although Mulroney was commonly considered part of the conservative electoral wave of Reagan and Thatcher, he was mostly, viscerally, a "small-l liberal". Thus, nothing like the Reagan or Thatcher revolutions ever took place in Canada.

Although the Reform Party was even more pro-American than Mulroney, earlier proposals for a Canada-U.S. Free Trade deal (Mulroney's major accomplishment, over which he waged and won the 1988 federal election) had been, historically-speaking, strenuously opposed by more traditional Conservatives, who had looked to Britain. Mulroney also precipitously raised immigration, from the 54,000 to which it had fallen in Liberal Prime Minister Trudeau's last year in office (1983-1984) to about a quarter-million persons a year, where it has remained ever since. With Canada's population now at over 34 million, it is more than double the official U.S. immigration rate, per capita – and probably the highest rate of immigration per capita in the world. The imposition of the GST (Goods and Services Tax), the Canadian equivalent of a value-added tax, while interpreted as a "hard right" move by some, could also be seen as a typically liberal tax grab. In terms of society and culture, Mulroney appeared beholden to the multicultural, feminist, and other politically-correct agendas, and, despite his then rather unpopular rhetoric of "deficit-fighting," actually incurred huge deficits, doubling the total federal government debt to about $500 billion (Canadian) by the end of his tenure in office.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

 

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