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Canadian dilemmas

By Mark Wegierski
web posted March 22, 2004

Canada today, despite its great over-all wealth, is a society of contrasts. While the problem of Quebec separatism which was so central in Canadian history since the 1960s appears to be fading, there are many new challenges arising. While Canada is still, to a large extent, a more pleasant place to live than the United States (especially when one compares life in the two countries' large cities), there are many issues looming on the horizon which can prove severe challenges to a safe, civil, prosperous life -- the permanence of which all too many Canadians today take for granted. There are a number of substantial differences between the Canadian and American societies today, which may well have a profound impact on the type of future the countries will have.

One important difference between Canada and the U.S. is the absence of a more organized, coherent, political Right in Canada. While there are many similarities between the left-liberal media, academic, cultural, judicial, and governmental establishments in Canada and the U.S., Canada manifestly lacks a rambunctious right-wing. In the U.S., there is a wide-ranging and extensive debate among various groupings of the broader right-wing, including paleoconservatives, neoconservatives, right-wing Greens, libertarians, paleolibertarians, classical liberals, "social conservatives of the Left" (such as Christopher Lasch), and religious conservatives (sometimes called "theo-cons").

On October 16, 2003, the prospects of the broader Right in Canada 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 agreed to unite themselves as the Conservative Party of Canada (the former name of the Progressive Conservatives from decades ago). The agreement was indeed overwhelmingly approved by the respective party memberships by December 12, 2003, launching the new party's leadership selection process, which culminated on March 20, 2004. The union of the two parties will certainly stiffen the challenge to Canada's perennially ruling federal Liberal Party (which had won elections with comfortable majorities in 1993, 1997, and 2000) and had also been in power from 1963 to 1984 (except for nine months in 1979-80), and indeed for nearly all of the Twentieth Century.

There at least two major factors that contribute to a more politically conservative U.S. -- the first being that, as "the one remaining superpower," the United States cherishes and effectively maintains its military; and secondly, the large presence of Christian religion in the U.S. (including both Protestant fundamentalists and traditionalist Catholics).

It should also be remembered that taxation is low in the U.S., relative to Canada; that U.S. gun-control legislation is minimal, relative to Canada; and that the U.S. medical system is largely driven by free-enterprise, relative to Canada. In regard to immigration, Canada has received since 1988 about a quarter-million immigrants a year, after an average of about 130,000 immigrants a year since 1965 -- about 75% of them from non-traditional sources. (The population of Canada is now about 31 million.) Unlike the U.S., where there is some degree of criticism of mass, dissimilar immigration permitted, this is virtually a closed issue in Canada.

Canada has also been a pioneer in the area of multiculturalism -- the city of Toronto today is probably the most diverse city in the world, with over 80 groups represented. All levels of government (federal, provincial, and municipal) are required to support the cultural endeavors of ethnic groups, to some extent. Ethnic groups also claim absolute cultural self-determination, rejecting the earlier assimilation model. Multiculturalism today may really be called multiracialism, as it is "visible minorities" (a term officially used in Canada), rather than "white ethnics" such as Ukrainian-, Italian-, Portuguese-, and Polish-Canadians, that are overwhelmingly the focus of government, media, and corporate concern.

Related to multiculturalism is "employment equity" (the Canadian term for affirmative action), which operates on behalf of the following "designated groups" -- women, visible minorities, aboriginal peoples, and persons with disabilities -- in all levels of government, as well as in much of the private sector. In one major "pay equity" settlement, the Canadian Human Rights Commission (a quasi-judicial tribunal) ordered the Federal Government to pay $3.5 billion (Canadian) to women working or formerly working for the Federal Government. (By contrast, the entire budget for the Canadian military in the year 2000 was $10 billion.)

The aboriginal peoples of Canada (Indians, Metis, and Inuit) are now hoping to wrest vast resources and territories from other Canadians, based on re-negotiation of earlier treaties and claims of compensation for past abuse. In Canada's Far North, a semi-sovereign entity called Nunavut has been created, and has already received $580 million (Canadian) in about one year, to cover its budget deficit. In attempting to explain how the money going to aboriginal peoples has apparently not yet benefited the average aboriginal person, some critics have suggested that a small circle of aboriginal leaders and activists -- while living extravagant lifestyles themselves -- often does not pass on many of the benefits to their group as a whole.

In August 2002, there was an attempt to further entrench "employment equity" in the Federal Civil Service -- twenty percent of all new hirings were to be visible minorities, and senior managers were to receive performance bonuses depending on how many visible minorities they hired. Although there were a few scattered voices of protest, this in fact seemed like a continuation of policies that had been in place for at least thirty years.

As far as disabled persons, they have probably been included under employment equity to give the policy an increased aura of "kindness" and "compassion." It could be argued that there is not all that much being done for most disabled persons today, apart from giving them disability support payments and some subsidies for housing and assistive devices, which are not excessively generous. However, the inclusion of disabled persons as a "designated group" inclines this rather heterogeneous category of people (and their care-givers) to support the current-day regime, and significantly increases the social stigma of publicly challenging employment equity.

Canada is also permeated by the bilingualism (French and English) policy. This means that Canada is an officially bilingual state, and that most positions (and especially senior positions) in the Federal Civil Service require knowledge of both French and English. The effect of this has been to increase the chances of French-Canadians and members of Canada's liberal English-speaking elites (more of whom tend to be bilingual) to obtain civil service positions. It has tended to discriminate against ordinary, English-speaking Canadians. New Brunswick, an Atlantic Maritime province with a French-speaking population of about 35%, is fully officially bilingual, and Ontario, with a French-speaking population of 5%, has very extensive bilingual policies, at the provincial level. However, the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec, where one of seven inhabitants doesn't have French as a first language, embraces unilingualism in its government and official policy: French only.

Most government (typically white-collar) jobs at the federal, provincial, or municipal levels are often considered to be relatively easy to do, with comparatively large benefits (relative to private sector compensations), so policies such as employment equity tend to exclude increasing numbers of persons (especially able-bodied white males) from remunerative employment. It now sometimes happens that persons are hired only if they bridge two or three designated categories. The government sector is also clearly permeated by varying degrees of political correctness, so a person with more conservative or traditionalist views is unlikely to be hired, and, even if hired, they may end up in a miserable situation, with constant stress and little chance for advancement.

The intellectual, cultural, and academic life of Canada is clearly dominated to a greater extent by political correctness than is the case in the United States. Unlike the U.S., homeschooling is comparatively rare in Canada, there are fewer private schools at the primary and secondary level, and there are very few private, post-secondary institutions. The hundreds of private, more traditional, usually religious-affiliated colleges in the U.S. allow for the existence of a community of more traditionally-oriented scholars, that can have some effect on U.S. politics. Intelligent persons of conservative or traditionalist outlooks are almost completely isolated in Canada, and have almost no hope of achieving the dream of a tenured academic appointment -- or, for that matter, of obtaining a doctoral degree at a major Canadian university. Policies similar to employment equity operate, de jure or de facto, at virtually every Canadian university. These determine admissions (to undergraduate, as well as graduate programs -- and especially to professional programs like law and medicine); the disbursement of scholarships and other aid to students; and the hiring of all academic faculty, librarians, library assistants, and other academic and non-academic support staff.

The Canadian media, including the publishing world, is also more hostile to persons of conservative or traditionalist outlooks than is the case in the United States. The so-called "alternative media" and "alternative publishers" in Canada usually embrace very left-wing outlooks and are even more hostile to conservatives than the so-called mainstream publishers. So, again, we see the Right being stymied in Canada. Even the sharpest and most reflective persons of conservative or traditionalist outlooks in Canada are highly unlikely to achieve the dream of becoming opinion-columnists in Canadian newspapers, or acclaimed authors with books appearing with credible publishers. Virtually the entire government-subsidized world of "CanLit" is inimical to conservatism.

The atrophy of the broader Right in Canada means that Canadians are cut off from many stimulating intellectual and creative ideas and political options. It also means that any remaining socially conservative instincts of the general populace are untutored, and therefore easily pejoritized as "bigotry" by the left-liberal elites. Many people go through their entire lives in Canada without ever hearing even one seriously-presented, conservative or traditionalist argument. It could be argued that it is diversity of thought that is the most important, and most Canadians of any cultural or social group will never get beyond the prevalent, politically-correct, dogmas and taboos.

Because of the near-atrophy of traditional religion in Canada, the gay rights and radical feminist agendas have certainly advanced further than is the case in the United States, especially with the recent endorsement of "gay marriage" by the federal government. The birthrate in Canada has also fallen far below replacement level, in marked contrast to the United States, where even the birthrate of "non-Hispanic white" women is comparatively high. At the same time, Canada has a very high rate of abortion. There is a general climate of social decadence, ill-discipline, and a never-ending war against the so-called "authoritarian personality."

Many Canadians are to some extent accepting of all these various Canadian syndromes because they are linked to a very generous welfare-state. Apart from the obvious "true believers" in the left-liberal cadres (most of whom also clearly enjoy very comfortable lives), most ordinary people also tend to fall into line, unwilling to jeopardize their public sector job, or the government subsidy to their business, for the sake of what seem like distant and questionable notions.

It should also be pointed out that Canada prides itself on its very generous medical system. The issue of healthcare is growing increasingly salient in Canada, especially with a rapidly-aging population. It seems that many people would be willing to ignore virtually anything, if they could be guaranteed high-quality medical care.

At the same time, Canada today fails to meet many of the traditional criteria of a state. It fails to properly control its borders, and its armed forces have been critically underfunded, to a point of near-atrophy. The federal government has been able to achieve a budget surplus owing mainly to the high income tax rates; the 7% Goods and Services Tax (which is levied on virtually all economic activity); the reform of Unemployment Insurance (now called Employment Insurance), which significantly cut benefits; the so-called clawback of Old Age Pensions, over a certain, relatively modest income threshold; and the reduction of federal transfer payments for healthcare to the provinces.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien, whose date of retirement was accelerated from February 2004 to mid-November 2003, also ramped up so-called "legacy" social spending in his last year in office, in order to be fondly remembered by the population.

The Canadian Alliance (which arose out of the Reform Party of Canada in 1998-2000) had formed the Official Opposition -- the second-largest party in the Federal Parliament -- electing 66 MPs in November 2000 -- while the federal Progressive Conservative party had elected 12 MPs in that election. It should be pointed out that the Reform Party of Canada, co-founded in 1987 by Preston Manning, was indeed much different from the U.S. Reform Party (especially in its Buchananite incarnation). The frequent characterization of the often very moderate Canadian Reformers as "far right" in the Canadian and U.S. media is simply inaccurate. The Reform Party/Canadian Alliance had also been perennially dismissed as merely a regional party, since it drew most of its strength from Western Canada, and especially the province of Alberta. It had also been significantly hindered by the continuing presence of the "ultra-moderate" federal Progressive Conservative party.

Since even the new Conservative Party may have a very difficult time winning a majority in the Federal Parliament, the question which arises is if the presence of a coherent, center-right alternative could perhaps nudge certain factions of the Liberal Party in a more rightward direction. The ascent of Paul Martin, Jr., formerly the Liberal Finance Minister (credited with the federal budget surpluses of the last few years), to the leadership of the Liberal Party, and the Prime Ministership, may create the possibility of a more truly centrist Liberal Party.

There is also the fact that left-wing and far-left infrastructures such as feminist groups (who are indeed often tightly enmeshed with governmental bureaucracies) outweigh in resources such right-wing infrastructures (such as, most notably, the almost entirely economically focussed National Citizens' Coalition and Fraser Institute think-tank) by astronomical factors. It is this lack of a major institutional infrastructure or framework (for example, no galvanizing right-of-center magazine that could play a role like the early National Review in the United States) -- that is probably the gravest weakness of the Canadian Right. There is also a fundamental lack in Canada of something like the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which publishes fine scholarly quarterlies and books, and constitutes a good focus for a more elevated sort of traditionalism and conservatism. The academic engagement and scholarships offered by ISI have played a major role in the ongoing "culture wars" in America.

Although there is a quite substantial amount of debate about economic issues and economic conservatism, as far as social conservatism and right-wing patriotism, these have almost no register on the Canadian political scene. Left-liberals are quite content to allow the presence of a soulless "managerial Right" that manages the economy -- so long as they themselves get to control all social and cultural issues.

A major focus of the Right in Canada was, until recently, The Report (formerly appearing under the names Alberta Report, British Columbia Report, and Western Report) which had about 50,000 subscribers, mostly in Alberta. However, the magazine has now folded. In March 2004, a new magazine called Western Standard is being launched, which might be able to grow to fill a role once held by the Report magazines. Some Canadian newspapers, notably The National Post (formerly owned by Canadian-born conservative press baron Conrad Black, who has now basically withdrawn to Britain -- and is now embroiled in a deep scandal of his own), had some degree of right-wing content, including a few surprisingly acerbic columnists. However, the conservative presence in The National Post (the newspaper had only been founded in 1998), and other daily papers formerly owned by Black in the Southam chain has greatly diminished after their takeover by the longtime prominent Liberal Izzy Asper (the owner of a television network and several radio stations in Canada). There are now a handful of conservative opinion-columnists, and a few prominent conservative academics, especially in Alberta. There are also a few smaller socially traditionalist publications, such as The Interim: Canada's Life and Family Newspaper, and Catholic Insight (Toronto).

However, this is all very, very little, compared with the comparatively massive right-wing presence in the United States. The presence of a large, organized, political Right in the U.S., and its virtual absence in Canada, will probably lead to increasingly divergent futures for both countries. Many of the more pleasant aspects of life in Canada are likely to disappear with the increasing triumph of ever-more-insistent, utterly unchecked and unimpeded left-liberal and far-left policies. The political situation in Canada, with the virtual non-existence of a serious, intellectual Right, cannot be described as healthy for Canadian society.

Persons of traditionalist or conservative outlooks in Canada are faced with the unappealing prospect of the spiraling into oblivion of many congenial aspects of Canada, about which they can do virtually nothing. Their feelings of chronic hopelessness may perhaps to some extent be assuaged by looking to more hopeful developments in the United States, or in Europe and Russia.

If the center-right fails to ever achieve a majority in the Federal Parliament, there will come increased calls for regional devolution, so that, for example, Alberta or all of Western Canada may carry out social and economic policies more congenial to itself. This regional devolution would also coincidentally address many of the problems which Quebec has had with Canada, and possibly reinforce the more traditionalist, more inward-looking aspects of Quebecois nationalism. Such scenarios of regional devolution might, ironically, perhaps be the best hope for some fragmentary survival of traditionalism and conservatism in Canada.

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

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