On the 153rd anniversary of Canadian Confederation (Part Three)
By Mark Wegierski
This series is based on my paper, An Ineluctable Direction of Progressive Development?: The Ongoing Failure of the Right in Canada (read by Dr. Tomasz Soroka) 8th Congress of Polish Canadianists (Polish Association for Canadian Studies) “Canadian (Re)Visions: Futures, Changes, Revolutions” (Lodz, Poland: University of Lodz, Faculty of Philology) PACS, September 25-27, 2019.
Joe Clark finally having retired from the leadership of the federal P.C.s, the stage was set for the merger between the Canadian Alliance (led by Stephen Harper), and the federal P.C.s (led by Peter MacKay), which was finalized by December 2003. In an electrifying move, the adjective “progressive” was dropped from the name of the new party, now simply being called the Conservative Party of Canada.
The new party immediately became more competitive on the federal scene. Stephen Harper won the leadership of the new Conservative Party. In the 2004 federal election, the Liberals under Paul Martin, Jr. were reduced to a minority government.
The Liberals were basically clinging to power for most of their tenure in government under Martin, for example, resorting to the defection of Belinda Stronach from the Conservatives, to avoid falling to a non-confidence motion.
But in November 2005, the Liberals were finally defeated in Parliament, when the NDP joined in to vote against them.
In the ensuing federal election of 2006, Stephen Harper won a minority government. He kept himself in power by pursuing mostly moderate, centrist policies. In 2008, Harper himself called an election, and won a stronger representation, although a majority still eluded him. Finally, in 2011, the Conservatives were defeated in Parliament. However, Harper finally won a majority in 2011. This was the first putatively conservative majority since that won in 1988.
Harper continued with largely centrist policies, although he had won a majority, thus disappointing many “small-c conservatives”. Indeed, in the area of immigration policy, the high levels apparently set in stone since Mulroney, continued unabated. The arrival of a Conservative majority government in 2011 (after two minority governments), it is argued, failed to see any significant enactment of substantively conservative policies, despite the frequently overheated rhetoric of its liberal opponents.
Indeed, dozens of books highly critical of Harper appeared shortly before the 2015 federal election, accusing him of trying to establish a “dictatorship”.
Ironically, in the 2015 federal election, the NDP under Tom Mulcair, actually appeared to be more centrist than the Liberals. Justin Trudeau, the son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, won by appealing to young people and minorities, many of whom had never voted before. Indeed, the Conservative vote in the 2015 federal election was only slightly numerically smaller than in the 2011 victory – they were swamped by the new Liberal voters. When the campaign began, the NDP was in the lead, so one might have theoretically seen an NDP government that was more centrist than the Liberals, winning the election.
However, the NDP’s centrist phase did not last long – in the wake of his defeat in 2015, Tom Mulcair was de-selected as leader, and the NDP opted for the very trendy Jagmeet Singh to take his place.
Justin Trudeau’s victory in 2015 was a signal for a new progressive surge in Canada, of the overturning of whatever fragmentary conservative measures Harper may have been able to introduce. Indeed, Justin Trudeau declared Canada the world’s first “post-national state”. And now, Trudeau is proposing a Digital Charter, to combat an ill-defined “hate on the Internet”, as well as establishing a program to give Canadian mainstream media outlets close to six hundred million dollars over six years. This is on top of the yearly 1.5 billion dollar subsidy to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
In the 2017 federal Conservative leadership contest, Maxime Bernier came within a fraction of a percentage point of winning. Had he won, there would have been a united, somewhat more “small-c conservative” Conservative Party contesting the 2019 federal election rather than Bernier’s quixotic People’s Party of Canada initiative.
In the October 2019 federal election, the PPC won a mere 1.64 percent of the vote, but the Liberals were able to hang on to a strong minority government – which will probably be supported by the New Democratic Party (NDP) which is even further to the left. Andrew Scheer’s leadership of the Conservative Party proved uninspiring.
It seems rather disappointing to conservatives, that after all the efforts of the Reform Party, and the years in the wilderness between 1993 and 2004, the current Conservative Party still does not appear to be substantively conservative. The whole point of the Reform Party was to create one, more substantively conservative, party, on the political scene in Canada.
The Conservatives had been handed “a gift” with the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Two Liberal ministers had resigned over the scandal, and ran as independents – one of whom (Jody Wilson-Raybould) won. An MP also left the Liberal Party, to sit as an independent, but she did not run in the October 2019 federal election. The scandal also forced the resignation of Justin Trudeau’s closest adviser (although he was brought back after a few months), as well as of the Clerk of the Privy Council (Canada’s most senior bureaucrat).
Another “gift” to the Conservatives was Justin Trudeau’s blackface/brownface scandal – but in the end it had comparatively little impact on the election outcome.
It could be argued that, whenever there was an opportunity for the Right to score a major victory in Canada, it almost always became a fateful fork in a road not taken. The result of this ongoing failure is that the Canadian polity has become seriously unbalanced.
It should also be remembered that decades of progressive dominance have eroded much of any possible conservative social base in Canada, and greatly eroded the principles which people who call themselves “conservative” typically hold. The progressive governments have usually consciously and deliberately practiced “activist”, “transformational” politics, whereas most of the conservative governments have confined themselves to administrative tinkering.
Indeed, given the progressive dominance in the mainstream media, the education system and the academy (from early childhood education to post-graduate studies), the government bureaucracies, the judiciary, the various cultural industries (especially in so-called Can Lit), and the large corporations and banks, it can be seen that any “small-c conservative” tendencies are continually being ground down. Indeed, the resources available to progressives outweigh those available to substantive conservatives, by astronomical factors.
While social liberalism has become entrenched in Canada, this goes hand in hand with economic conservatism or a plutocracy. It is social conservatism that has virtually no register on the Canadian political scene. This combination – social liberalism and economic conservatism -- has been called by certain critics as “the managerial-therapeutic regime”, or sometimes, “woke capitalism”. Multiculturalism, alternative lifestyles, as well as the consumption society and an economy of never-ending growth, have all become unquestionable.
With the passing years, it becomes less and less likely that any kind of substantively conservative party will ever come to power in Canada. Also, the currently untempered, unceasing mass, dissimilar immigration, will almost inevitably, decisively transmogrify Canada.
It is argued that to have such one-sided politics in Canada is a contradiction of Canada’s longstanding traditions and history, as well as of democracy itself. Among the aims of this presentation is an attempt to bring attention to this current one-sidedness of Canadian politics, as well as to carry out a criticism of this one-sidedness, in hope of a more balanced politics in Canada’s future.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.