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An introduction to the thought of George Parkin Grant, on the centenary of his birth (Part Three)

By Mark Wegierski
Web posted September 3, 2018

The world of Canadian politics has been undergoing unusually dramatic shifts. In the 1980s, the Tories or Progressive Conservatives (P.C.'s), traditionally the party of Canadian nationalism, protectionism, etc., had become a liberal-capitalist party, pushing free-enterprise and free-trade. The Liberals, whose conventional policy had always been pro-U.S. continentalism (or, so-called “amalgamation”) had, in the 1980s, become Canadian nationalists. The Liberals fought against the Free Trade Agreement in 1988 under the leadership of John Turner. Turner might have in fact been more substantively conservative than Brian Mulroney on many issues. The New Democrats (New Democratic Party – NDP – Canada’s social democratic party) often described themselves as the most consistent Canadian nationalists in that decade. In the 1990s, however, it seemed that all of the parties in the federal Parliament had become liberal-capitalist, with greater or lesser degrees of fervour. There have remained though, large cultural industries and structures -- together commanding greater resources than some major political parties -- which appear to make the persistence of Canadian identity possible. These might suggest to some that Canadian nationalism is alive and well, and that Canada -- to put it in Grantian terms -- has some chance of resisting the Americans.

However, it might be noted that the context of Canada today is entirely different from that of the Canada of the early 1960s when the struggle over the future of Canada between Diefenbaker and Pearson took place. According to Grant, the defeat of Diefenbaker in the 1963 election represented Canada's final integration into the American technological empire. Prime Minister Diefenbaker had refused to accept U.S. nuclear weapons on Canadian soil, with the result that virtually all of the media instrumentalities and pollster expertise of the North American managerial classes were turned against him, in the ensuing election of 1963. Despite his thoroughgoing pessimism, Grant expressed some hope for an alliance of the old conservative nationalist communitarianism (such as that represented by Sir John A. Macdonald and his National Policy), with the new nationalist collectivism of the Left, to fight for what remained of Canada -- against the dynamic, technological, liberal, individualist, and capitalist America.

Today, Canadian nationalism has apparently been pushed into the position of a strong extra-parliamentary opposition. However, it should be examined closely what the messages being offered by such archetypically Canadian institutions as the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) actually consist of, in relation to Canadian nationalism.

If one accepts George Grant's Loyalist thesis, this means that Canada was, in essence, a British-inspired society at the moment of its founding -- British North America. (The Act of Confederation, which received final approval from the British Parliament, was called in full the British North America Act.) It would seem logical that the spirit of Britishness was the only force which could have resisted Americanization. Yet, post-Pearson Canada is based on an explicit rejection of the British origins of Canada.

Gad Horowitz himself has made an extraordinarily harsh critique of the current multiculturalism policies, and calls for the reassertion of English-Canadian nationalism, which he sees in political and not ethnic terms. Canada, if it is to be a country with a definable identity, can only be so as a British-inspired society, at least on the level of institutions and political culture. The denial of Britishness amounts to an embracing of Americanism, or so Gad Horowitz argues. And it is only in a British-inspired Canada that socialism can exist, because the essence of Americanism is individualist liberalism and capitalism. So, therefore, social democrats in English Canada must be English-Canadian nationalists.

In relation to Quebec, Horowitz was astutely advocating the formal recognition of its "special status" as early as the 1970s. This recognition -- which might well have taken the wind out of the Quebec separatists' sails -- was rejected by "the rest of Canada" in 1990 and 1992. Both the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Agreements failed.

Horowitz's argument does seem to look somewhat archaic, in the current-day context of English-speaking Canada. Like George Grant's definition of conservatism, Horowitz's definition of socialism is quite unusual. Today, the New Democratic Party is in the vanguard of multiculturalism -- and no other major party has criticized it (apart from some elements of the more conventionally right-wing Reform Party and its successor, the Canadian Alliance). Horowitz's definition of socialism is more akin to that of the old, pre-war British Labour Party, or that of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.) in Canada, from which the New Democratic Party had emerged (the name was changed in 1961).

Eugene Forsey, a member of the old C.C.F., and a leading constitutional scholar, was someone who was conservative in regard to parliamentary institutions and Canada's political culture generally, while being social democratic in regard to economics. He was one of only a few figures prominent on the national scene who expressed reservations about the new 1982 Constitution because it weakened Parliament, and made Canada more like America, with a formal "bill of rights" (the Charter of Rights and Freedoms), subject to judicial review (or judicial fiat), as opposed to the British and Canadian tradition of the sovereignty of Parliament.

Socialism, as Horowitz defines it, simply does not exist anymore. The New Democratic Party most enthusiastically supports multiculturalism. Ostensibly liberationist social issues are also massively promoted. At the same time, consumerism, commercialism, big corporations, etc., are becoming more and more powerful, and Canada seems to be slipping into "the new economy" (where corporations make ever-more massive profits, while ever-more working people are laid off), and into the usual neoconservative budget cutbacks.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.




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