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View From The North
February 5, 2009

The Crisis of Canadian Polity Since the 1960s: A Precis
by Mark Wegierski

[The origins, development, and decline of Canada]

The evolution of the Canadian state has been marked by continuing conflict between two nations — English and French Canada (Quebec). The English-Canadian identity has been monarchist, Loyalist, pro-British, anti-American, socially conservative, and economically statist. The Quebec identity has been Catholic traditionalist, socially conservative, but with a tendency to support the Liberal Party in federal elections for most of the twentieth century. In the aftermath of the so-called Quiet Revolution of the early 1960s, Quebec has moved further and further away from Catholic traditionalism — which once constituted the very core of French-Canadian identity.

Longstanding Quebec and New Democratic Party (NDP, the social democratic third party) support for the federal Liberal Party allowed for the thoroughgoing reshaping of English Canada after 1965 in a decidedly anti-traditional and left-liberal direction, during the Prime Ministerial terms of Lester B. Pearson (1963-1968), and Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1968-1984, except for nine months in 1979-1980).

The capstone of this process was the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. It effectively took away power from elected federal and provincial parliaments and gave it to unelected judges and tribunals. This is a situation similar to (but far more pronounced in Canada) that which occurred with judicial activism in the U.S. The intent was to place the left-liberal social agenda forever beyond the reach of popular will. At the same time, Canada was integrated into the structures of American capitalism. The Liberal Party today tends to be socially liberal (multiculturalism, high immigration, feminism, gay rights), and economically and fiscally conservative.

Much of Quebec has reacted against English Canada’s current drive towards designated minorities and multiculturalism by embracing the collectively based (though largely anticlerical) Québécois nationalism. Two attempts to placate Quebec — the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Agreements — both failed (in 1990 and 1992, respectively). They were opposed both from the Right (Preston Manning, the founder of the Reform Party, who claimed they gave too much power to Quebec), and from the Left (Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who saw them as undermining the centralized federal government). English Canada typically opposed these agreements because they gave Quebec too much; many Québécois opposed them because they gave Quebec too little. The country remains fractured.

Although English and French Canada were traditional societies for a long time, their cohabitation in the Canadian state tended to reinforce a progressive drive in both. In the end, the Canadian state presides over what is, outwardly, probably the world’s most post-modern (or, "hypermodern") society.

Reflective persons aware of other national traditions (such as those historically seen in most of Europe and today in East-Central Europe) often find the current-day left-liberal concept of Canadian identity incoherent, puzzling, and self-destructive. Such a concept appears fundamentally unable to command real loyalty, allegiance, patriotism, sacrifices for the common good, and duty to the country. The traditional identity of English Canada — pro-British, Loyalist, monarchist — has been thoroughly repudiated.

Indeed, the current Canadian regime could be seen as a congeries of arrogant, soulless bureaucracies dominating a society that feels little real allegiance toward the administrators. With ideas of multiculturalism and related concepts, the current Canadian state largely denies both English and French Canada’s longstanding historical traditions. Some would argue that Canada’s left-liberal official culture is almost entirely artificially maintained by government largesse. It has to be so precisely because it makes very little or no appeal to perennial historical and social realities, deliberately cutting itself off from its roots. In that sense, it is utterly different from the patriotic étatisme of Sir John A. Macdonald (National Policy), R. B. Bennett (Fair Deal), or the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a more socially conservative precursor of the NDP.

The Greater Toronto Area (along with some bits of Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, and Quebec City) is the overwhelming social, cultural, and media node of the country. The rest of Canada is effectively reduced to a hinterland. What this amounts to is that, to a great extent, left-liberalism dominates Canada socially and culturally through its hegemony over a few trendy and/or grungy areas in the city of Toronto. Those regions outside the node have to make extraordinary efforts to have their voices heard and social concerns acknowledged.

The aboriginal peoples of Canada — Indians, Métis, and Inuit — have been historically subject to severe persecution. However, their current-day attempts to wrest vast territories and resources at the expense of other Canadians, and their exclusive claim to the status of a native-born majority immemorially linked to the land, tend to delegitimize the French and English Canadians’ senses of identity, reducing them to interlopers rather than founding nations.

There seems to be little prospect of changing the massively reconstructed post-1965 and post-1982 Canada. The two slim hopes for change would be the election of a working center-right majority government at the federal level, or the regional devolution of the country, where regional leaders would counter the centralized state and cultural apparatus.

Canada has not had a working “small-c conservative” majority government at the federal level since the early 1960s. Brian Mulroney (the Progressive Conservative Prime Minister from 1984-1993), continued and intensified nearly all aspects of social liberalism — notably, raising immigration in 1987 from the 54,000 or so persons of Trudeau’s last year in office, to about a quarter-million persons per year, where it has remained ever since. (From the mid-1960s, immigration had averaged about 100,000 persons a year — at the time this was considered by many to be extraordinarily high.)

Mulroney also acquiesced when the Canadian Supreme Court struck down vestigial restrictions on abortion in 1988, leaving Canada without any restrictions on abortion whatsoever. At the same time, Mulroney brought in the Canada-U.S. Free Trade deal, following in this the conventional Liberal policy of economic conservatism. Mulroney’s imposition of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), Canada’s equivalent of a value-added tax, while interpreted as a “hard-right” move by some, could also be seen as a conventionally Liberal tax grab. Trudeau had indeed been able to drag the Liberal Party in the direction of economic socialism, but his anti-traditional social liberal agenda has turned out to be a far more important and lasting part of his legacy.

If neither of the aforementioned events (federal “small-c conservative” majority, or regional devolution) occurs relatively soon, ordinary life in Canada could become decidedly and progressively more uncomfortable (both socially and economically) for nearly all Canadians as the decades advance. Among other reasons, there will be social liberalism’s habitual disdain for the traditional family, its promulgation of destructive childrearing and educational theories, and its unwillingness to carry out real punishments for real crimes. And it may be surmised that the careless profligacy of a social liberal welfare-state and consumption society will be simply untenable over more than a few decades.

The continuation of cultural, intellectual, and academic endeavor in Canada, insofar as it tries to be free of prevalent strictures, is under severe threat. Without some reflective resistance to prevalent forces, any possible popular counter-tendencies will simply atrophy. The deprivation of critical intelligence about human nature, the real textures of social existence, and the cultural underpinnings of economic endeavor will leave Canadian society wide open to social, cultural, and economic disasters and calamities. The life of both the mind and the spirit in this society will also tend to become a road without an exit, a bleak, barren wasteland, if current trends continue unopposed.

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View From The North is copyright © 2009 by Mark Wegierski and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved. Please forward this copyright info and links when sending to friends and colleagues.

Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer, social critic, and historical researcher and is published in major Canadian newspapers, as well as in U.S. scholarly journals such as Humanitas, Review of Metaphysics, and Telos, and in U.S. magazines such as Chronicles and The World & I. His writing has also appeared in Polish, British, and German publications.

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