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Canada in context (Part Three)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted September 12, 2022

Political, constitutional, juridical, and socio-cultural aspects of the origins and development of the Canadian State

In 1968, the young left-wing intellectual Pierre Elliott Trudeau, later dubbed “the Philosopher-King” or “the Northern Magus” swept the federal election as leader of the Liberal Party, in a wave of what was called “Trudeaumania.” He initiated what was later called “the Trudeau revolution” – the embrace of countrywide bilingualism (which was equivalent to massive state promotion of French), state-funded and -endorsed multiculturalism, high levels of immigration from non-European countries, an internationalist and (to some extent) Sovietophile foreign policy (looking towards a “postcolonial” and “Third World liberation” model for Canada), and profound disdain for all forms of social and cultural conservatism, as well as for Western Canada (especially Alberta). Among his social liberal achievements were the revocation of the Anti-Sodomy Statutes (something which occurred in America only in 2003), the liberalization of abortion laws, and the development of a permissive criminal justice system focussed on rehabilitation (including the abolition of the death-penalty). Viscerally opposed to Quebecois nationalism/separatism as well as to English-Canadian traditionalist residues, Trudeau proclaimed, “…there is some hope that in advanced societies, the glue of nationalism will become as obsolete as the theory of the Divine Right of kings.”

Although Trudeau failed to win the majority of seats in English-speaking Canada except in 1968, he remained in power from 1968 to 1984 (except for nine months in 1979-1980) -- based on rock-solid support from Quebec, as well as some assistance from the NDP, English-speaking Canada’s social democrats. Trudeau’s so-called National Energy Policy (NEP) was ferociously criticized in Western Canada, as a looting of the Western provinces for the sake of “Central Canada” (i.e., Ontario and Quebec – whose combined number of seats in the federal Parliament was nearly sufficient for a working majority). The capstone of Trudeau’s achievements was the introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms into the Canadian constitutional system, as part of the so-called “patriation” of the Canadian constitution. Some have argued that, since Britain had clearly granted Canada self-governing status through the Statute of Westminster in 1931, the notion that Trudeau actually had to “patriate” the Constitution was in itself questionable.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was, to a great extent, an enumeration of Trudeau’s most cherished ideals, which had by now largely become the “pan-Canadian” ideals. Trudeau had enjoyed, virtually unhampered, the power given to a Canadian Prime Minister who is able to consistently maintain a working majority in the federal Parliament. In his wake, however, any future Canadian Prime Minister will have to work within the framework of the Trudeau-inspired Charter of Rights and Freedoms and have his or her legislative program subject to judicial review in reference to the Charter. It is hard to find a single figure who has had as profound an impact on the history of his or her country, as is the case with Trudeau and Canada.

In 1984, Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney swept into power with one of the largest majorities in Canadian history, winning Quebec by a degree of co-operation with Quebec nationalists/separatists. While to some extent an economic conservative, Mulroney firmly believed in the left-liberal vision of Canada in regard to all social and cultural issues. He massively won the 1988 election by turning it into a referendum on the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

However, Mulroney’s distaste for social and cultural conservatism, as well as for Western Canada (especially Alberta), where these tendencies were probably the most pronounced, clearly contributed to the arising of the Reform Party of Canada in 1987 (co-founded by Preston Manning, the son of former Social Credit Premier of Alberta Ernest C. Manning).

Mulroney was unable to win the approval of Canada for the new constitutional package of the Meech Lake Accord. Signed in 1987, the ratification process failed in 1990, especially over the controversy concerning the recognition of Quebec as “a distinct society” – resisted by much of public opinion in English-speaking Canada and especially by two smaller provinces in English-speaking Canada. The subsequent Charlottetown Agreements were signed in August 1992 by all the provincial premiers, but the ratification process – a countrywide referendum -- failed in October 1992. To a large extent, they were rejected by English-speaking Canada because of an underlying feeling that “they gave Quebec too much” – while being rejected by Quebec because it was felt that “they gave Quebec too little.” This resulted in a burgeoning tide of separatism in Quebec, where a new party, the Bloc Quebecois, proposed to run candidates to the Federal Parliament – though only, of course, in the province of Quebec. The Parti Quebecois had existed at the provincial level in Quebec since 1970, and had held power for considerable periods of time, launching the first referendum on what it called “sovereignty-association” in 1980, which was defeated by a ratio of about 60 to 40.

In June 1993, Mulroney stepped down as the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and as Prime Minister. At the leadership convention, Kim Campbell was chosen as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, immediately becoming the new Prime Minister.

To be continued.

Partially based on an English-language text that appeared in Polish translation under the title “Kanada – eksperyment wielokulturowosci.” (Canada: an experiment in multiculturalism) trans. Olaf Swolkien. Miedzynarodowy Przeglad Polityczny (International Political Review) (Warsaw, Poland: Fundacja Srodkowoeuropejska – The Foundation for Central European) no 5 (no 10) (December 2004-January 2005), pp. 221-231. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based, Canadian writer and historical researcher.


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