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Looking at the structural problems of Canadian conservatism

By Mark Wegierski
web posted August 22, 2011

It must be said that Canadian conservatism has not made too many extensive and discernible advances in Canada, despite the winning of a majority government in the federal Parliament, by the Harper-led Conservative Party, in the federal election of May 2, 2011. What is most sorely lacking are some kind of major infrastructures outside the framework of the federal Conservative and provincial Progressive Conservative parties. (In provincial politics in Quebec, the centre-right is grouped around the Action democratique du Quebec (ADQ); in Alberta, the provincial Progressive Conservatives are being challenged by the decidedly more right-wing Wildrose Alliance; while in British Columbia, there is one large centrist Liberal Party.)

There are a number of well-known foci, for what could be broadly considered conservatism, outside of the party structures. These would include the Fraser Institute, the National Citizens' Coalition (NCC), and the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation (CTF). However, all three organizations are almost exclusively focussed on economics, and all have a relatively low profile, compared to the multifarious infrastructures of left-liberalism. Indeed such groups as ideological feminists receive huge funding from various levels of government.

The right-leaning economist, Brian Lee Crowley, has recently established a think-tank called The Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

In the Western provinces, there is the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (FCPP), and in the Atlantic provinces, there is the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS).

After the failure of The Western Standard some years ago, there have arisen in 2011 two new, broadly right-of-centre publications – The Dorchester Review (which is named after the British nobleman who gave Canada the Quebec Act of 1774), and The Canadian Observer (which in its first issue, announced its ambitions to be a Cite Libre [1] of the Right). 

The remnants of the long-standing Report newsmagazines in Western Canada (which had reached a height of about 80,000 subscribers, mostly in Alberta) are now represented by the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy.

The main, broadly right-leaning "ginger group" in Canada is Civitas, which has endeavoured to raise its profile somewhat in the last few years. Its main activity is the annual conference. Civitas was somewhat of a successor to the short-lived Charlottetown Society of the early 1990s, which failed when its main founder untimely passed away.

There has also arisen in recent years the Manning Centre for Building Democracy (MCBD), which could be seen as both inside and outside the Conservative Party.

The Manning Centre has helped to launch a prestigious e-journal: c2cjournal.ca .

There has also arisen in recent years the Canadian Constitution Foundation. An off-shoot of the Canadian Constitution Foundation is the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), led by John Carpay. After three highly successful annual conferences on legal and cultural issues, the CCF has decided to focus all its efforts on litigation. The annual conferences, all of which took place in Toronto, were very warmly received, and it is unfortunate that they are no longer held.

Joseph Ben-Ami, a well-known conservative activist, has established a small think-tank called the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies.

The Toronto-based Mackenzie Institute (despite a far higher profile in the late-1980s) now appears to be the personal enterprise of one indigent person. The full name of the Institute was rendered in earlier years as The Mackenzie Institute for the Study of Terrorism, Revolution, and Propaganda.

The author is also aware of an association called Societe Macdonald-Cartier Society.

For non-partisan celebration of the Canadian Monarchy, there is the Monarchist League of Canada.

The profile of social and cultural conservatism in Canada is rather nugatory. The main social conservative publications are The Interim: Canada's Life and Family Newspaper (and its website, lifesite.net) and Catholic Insight (Toronto). The main pro-life, pro-family association is called the Campaign Life Coalition.

There is a French-language, Quebec-based, social conservative intellectual journal, called Egards.

The most prominent think-tank of what could be called broadly religious conservatives is the Centre for Cultural Renewal (formerly the Centre for Renewal in Public Policy), which has also endeavoured to raise its profile in recent years, merging with another think-thank called CARDUS. However, it is a think-tank which does not yet offer scholarships or grants (beyond one, as far as the author of this article can recall). In earlier articles, it had been suggested that the CCR should try to move in the direction of becoming an institution like the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) in the United States. The ISI, which is mostly traditionalist conservative, offers very extensive scholarships to students, as well as publishing scholarly journals and books, and holding various seminars and conferences for promising students and academics.

The impact of the so-called right-wing blogosphere is certainly far less in Canada than in the United States. The impact of various personal blogs (such as those of Kathy Shaidle or Colby Cosh) is difficult to accurately gauge. There are as well the party-based Blogging Tories. The website conservativeforum.org is only an archive site. Free Dominion could be called a "self-posting forum" where commentary is not formally structured. Enter Stage Right (as well as the Canada Free Press) is still the only formally structured, consistently-edited, frequently updated, conservative Canadian e-zine, that the author of this article is aware of.

It is also commonly considered that mass-circulation newspapers like The National Post, Calgary Herald, Ottawa Citizen, and The Toronto Sun are heavily right-wing. However, that is not really the case.

There has also arisen a right-leaning cable-based news station – Sun TV News Network.

In the U.S., there are hundreds of private, frequently religiously-affiliated colleges, which may constitute the basis for a network of conservative dissent. In Canada, there are only a few private colleges, notably, Trinity Western University in British Columbia, and Redeemer College University in Ontario. There is also some conservative presence in much of the U.S. academy. In Canada, conservative professors are few and far between, perhaps the department of political science at the University of Calgary is the only one with a significant conservative presence.

Taking into account the disparity in resources as between "small-c conservatives" and left-liberals in Canada – which is clearly astronomical – the situation of conservatism in Canada may indeed be seen as rather difficult.

One supposes that one of the few possible reassurances for so-called "small-c conservatives" is that they, after all, have human nature and commonsense on their side. However, what traditionalists call "human nature" is considered merely a fiction by most left-liberals – who believe that human beings are almost entirely determined by their environment and can indeed be shaped in any direction left-liberalism chooses. ESR


[1] Cite Libre was the name of the intensely left-wing and intensely intellectual journal founded by Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his associates in 1950s Quebec – when the prospects for the Left in Quebec and Canada seemed very thin indeed. Cite Libre was arguably the launch-pad for the so-called Quiet Revolution in Quebec, and the somewhat later "Trudeau revolution" in all of Canada.

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.





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