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View From The North
October 30, 2007

Conservatives Face a Tough Battle
in the Social Environment of Canada

by Mark Wegierski

In Canada today, the Conservative Party truly faces an uphill battle against the Liberal Party and the extraparliamentary Left.

Canada seems to combine the most liberal aspects of America and Europe. Like some European countries, it embraces social liberalism — as demonstrated by the federal Parliament’s acceptance of “same-sex marriage” in 2005 — under the direction of the Canadian judiciary (based especially on the court decisions in Ontario and British Columbia in 2003).

What conservative critics call “judicial activism” is in Canada a comparatively late but now flourishing development that began in 1982 with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter essentially enshrined virtually the entire agenda of Pierre Elliott Trudeau — the emphatically Liberal prime minister from 1968 to 1984 (except for nine months in 1979–1980) — as the highest law of the land. After Brian Mulroney’s huge Progressive Conservative majorities of 1984 and 1988, with abysmal records with respect to social and cultural conservatism, Liberal Jean Chrétien comfortably won the elections of 1993, 1997, and 2000. Chrétien’s successor, Paul Martin Jr., lost the Liberal majority in the June 2004 election but continued with a minority government until January 2006.

Unlike some European countries, Canada lacks a “hard right” that can attract up to 20 percent of the vote, has no “organic peasantry,” and has few right-wing intellectual traditions. Canada, which has very high rates of immigration, has strongly embraced multiculturalism, affirmative action (officially called “employment equity” in Canada), and programmatic “diversity.”

Canada has also acquired some of the more negative aspects of American society — such as the excesses of pop culture, the trend to political correctness, and growing litigiousness. However, it lacks many aspects of American society that may temper these trends. The government accounts for about half of the gross domestic product (in contrast to about a third in the United States). Taxes are high. The medical system is socialized. The gun-control laws are stringent. Fundamentalist Christianity plays virtually no role. Canada has a rather small and underfunded military, and there is major elitist disdain towards the military. Canada’s security provisions, refugee policy, and control of its borders are lackadaisical.

The Trudeau Legacy

Canadians have historically displayed an unusual deference to governmental authority. Before 1965, Canada was probably a more conservative society than America. Now, however, the paradigm at the top has been fundamentally altered in the wake of the Trudeau revolution, and most Canadians have followed.

Indeed, right-of-center outlooks are rarely present in the political conversation in Canada (except perhaps in the western Canadian province of Alberta). It could be argued that any existing right-of-center tendencies are being continually ground down.

Evidence of this abounds in the left-liberal predominance in the Canadian media (especially in the taxpayer-funded CBC), the educational system (from daycare to universities), the judiciary system, the government bureaucracies, the so-called high culture (typified by government-subsidized CanLit), the North American pop culture and youth culture, the big Canadian banks and corporations, and (on most issues) the leadership of the main churches in Canada.

Numerous left-wing, extraparliamentary infrastructures enjoy funding (largely from government) that dwarfs that of putatively right-wing infrastructures, such as the mostly economically focused National Citizens’ Coalition and Fraser Institute (which relies strictly on private donations). The effectiveness of these left-wing infrastructures has contributed to the disproportionate intellectual influence of the socialist New Democratic Party (NDP) — the NDP has usually held only about 25 seats in a federal Parliament of about 300 seats. Trudeau was a former NDP member, and some have indeed suggested that he “hijacked” a more traditionalist and centrist Liberal Party in a radical direction.

In the last 15 years (presumably in reaction to the collapse of Soviet Communism) left-liberalism has also clearly become far more willing to concede some major fiscal and economic issues to the “managerial Right” — while continuing a ferocious struggle against any more-substantive conservatism. It appears that, in the main, only “fiscal conservatism” is permissible in Canada.

Hostile Environment
The near-total left-liberal intellectual hegemony and comparatively little authentic academic or journalistic debate do not offer rosy prospects for a truly humane future for Canada. There is certainly no intellectual balancing of Left and Right in Canada today. This concretely means that a Conservative electoral triumph — should it even occur in such a difficult environment — is likely to be overwhelmed by ferocious infrastructural opposition — in much the same way that Mulroney’s huge majority in 1984 was sandbagged.

The Conservatives — holding on to their minority government (the largest number of seats but without a majority in the federal Parliament), won in the January 2006 election — are hoping to finally win a majority when the next election ensues. (Because of the minority-government situation, an election can happen any time a more important bill is voted down in the federal Parliament when the three opposition parties — including the separatist Bloc Québécois — combine against it.)

The ongoing, decades-long, “prior constraint” against the exercise of any meaningful degree of power in Canada by the “centre-right opposition” fundamentally contradicts Canada’s parliamentary and democratic ideals. (The centre-right opposition has included the Reform Party of Canada, founded in 1987, which eventually transformed into the Canadian Alliance, then merged with the “ultra-moderate” federal Progressive Conservatives in December 2003 — renamed together as the Conservative Party.) It remains to be seen whether the anticipated federal election will somehow give some scope for a more substantive conservatism in Canada.

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