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View From The North
July 21, 2014

In search of true federalism in Canada:
Old Canada, New Canada, and Canada Three

by Mark Wegierski
fitzgerald griffin foundation

Mark Wegierski

TORONTO, CANADA  — Although there is no returning to the Old Canada that existed before the 1960s, it is possible that the New Canada could reach out to incorporate some better aspects of the Old Canada — to create a new synthesis of “Canada Three” — rather than continue on the path of ever-intensifying left-liberalism. A return to true federalism by strengthening the role of provinces and regions in Canada could lead to a more balanced society in the future.

What is the Canadian identity? There have been at least two, very different ones — the one that existed before the 1960s, and the one that exists today. Traditional Canada was defined by its founding nations — the English (British) and the French (the latter centered in what became the Province of Quebec in 1867). The two nations long predated the Canadian Confederation — the creation of a federation with distinct provinces and with clear delineation of the powers of the federal and provincial governments. The Confederation was a marriage of the British Parliamentary tradition and the concept of a federation.


Strengthening the provinces and regions in Canada may lead to a more balanced society.


The founding document of the Canadian State was the British North America Act, approved by the British Parliament in London in 1867. The Aboriginal peoples were included insofar as they were traditionally considered under the special protection of the Crown.

Most Canadians today (living in New Canada or “Canada Two”) have little or no memory of what it was like to live in British Canada. They either reject it out of hand or simply buy into a completely negative view of pre-1960s Canada. The main architects of the post-1960s New Canada were the Liberal Prime Ministers Lester Pearson (1963-68) and Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1968-1984, except for nine months in 1979-80). Some people call it the “Trudeaupia.”

Nevertheless, the term “New Canada” was quirkily deployed by Reform Party leader Preston Manning in his book with this title (Toronto: Macmillan Canada, 1992) as the name for the model of Canada that he himself proposed. “New Canada” would be a more decentralized federation, in which provincial and local governments would wield greater authority than the centralized federal government. The long-neglected provinces and regions, such as Western Canada, would be better represented at the federal level (a huge and overbearing federal government being part of the Trudeau legacy).

The Western Canadian-based Reform Party (which became a country-wide party in 1991) had arisen in 1987 as a center-right alternative to the federal Progressive Conservatives. The federal Progressive Conservatives, despite their majorities in the federal Parliament, won in 1984 and 1988 after long periods of Liberal Party rule in Canada, had mostly carried out liberal policies.

Presumably, Manning chose the term “New Canada” to partially disguise the real conservatism of the Reform Party platform. Manning took the idea of “reform in order to preserve” very seriously. He sometimes seemed to argue positions that seemed “radical” for ends that were conservative.

During the debate over the proposed Meech Lake Accord (1987-90) and Charlottetown Agreements (1992) — which explicitly recognized Quebec as “a distinct society” and might have led to a more decentralized federation — prominent liberal commentator Richard Gwyn referred contemptuously to the Canada that the Meech Lake Accord and Charlottetown Agreements would engender as “Canada Two.” This is not the sense in which I am using this term. (Neither the Meech Lake Accord nor the Charlottetown Agreements ever became the law of the land.)

Among the leading figures critical of present-day Canada are William D. Gairdner (who has brought out a new edition (Toronto: Key Porter, 2010) of his ground-breaking book, The Trouble with Canada: A Citizen Speaks Out (Toronto: Stoddart, 1990), and Ken McDonald, whose best-known book is probably His Pride, Our Fall: Recovering from the Trudeau Revolution (Toronto: Key Porter, 1995).

Canada now is officially defined as a multicultural society. Canada’s identity is presumed by most observers to be constituted out of the “mosaic” or “kaleidoscope” of heterogeneous cultures. Since 1988, after the Canadian Supreme Court struck down some residual restrictions, Canada has no laws whatsoever regulating abortion. Same-sex marriage has been deeply entrenched since the federal Parliament approved it in 2005. The move toward same-sex marriage had gotten underway in 2003 when two provincial courts struck down the traditional definition of marriage.

The upholding of multicultural and gender politics orthodoxy is policed by various quasi-judicial tribunals, including the so-called Human Rights Commissions (there is one at the federal level, and one in every province). These commissions can sharply punish speech deemed critical of various minorities and political arrangements. Their operations have been pointedly described in Ezra Levant’s Shakedown: How Our Government Is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2009).

There are also now varieties of separatism. The first, the Quebecois sovereigntists, arise out of the French/English duality of what were very traditionally called the two founding peoples of Canada. They view the Canadian State with antipathy. A second movement, also emerging since the 1960s, could be called radical Aboriginal separatism. The idea is that since the land was all "stolen" anyway, the Canadian State has no inherent legitimacy.

Some Canadian institutions, such as the taxpayer-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), tend to view certain groups as “un-Canadian.” The CBC views those who hold what are considered “reactionary” or “mean-spirited” social and cultural outlooks as simply not part of “the Canadian Way.” Such outlooks are usually characterized as American-inspired and hence “un-Canadian.”

The so-called cultural industries in Canada are also mostly government (that is, taxpayer) subsidized, especially the “CanLit” (Canadian literature). Unfortunately, many of these public cultural institutions pride themselves on their total exclusion of anything smacking of traditionalism or conservatism. There are, in fact, multifarious techniques for depicting almost all of traditional Canada as hideous to “decent” human sensibilities.

Except for certain residues in political institutions, British Canada has been all but annihilated. Nevertheless, Canada still remains in the penumbra of the WASPs, as many of them — whether in corporate or governmental structures — consider themselves one of the most progressive, most politically correct groups in Canada. Their elites enjoy lives of enormous material comfort and cushy sinecures, even as the New Canada conceptually vitiates all that their ancestors once held dear.

It is clearly impossible to return to the Old Canada. Nevertheless, it is possible that there may be the chance for a “post-New Canada” or “Canada Three” that will move in the direction of various scenarios of provincialization. More authority would begin to be exercised at the provincial and local levels.

The contradictions between the centralized big government in Ottawa, to which huge economic resources are perforce committed, and the vapid cultural and spiritual hollowness at the core of the administrative bureaucracies will likely become increasingly apparent.

Prior to the establishment of the European Union — a bad idea that has made Europe into a massive bureaucratic and almost nightmarish state — a much better plan was proposed and ultimately rejected. That idea was the “European Community,” which was to be a “union of sovereign states.” This idea could serve as a model for a future Canada, what I have called “Canada Three.” This could be a positive, uplifting synthesis of the best elements of both, the traditional and the current-day Canada.

The “Canada Three” scenario could be similar to ideas of the so-called “Swiss model” or cantonization — where most authority is exercised at the local level, without central government interference — and a variety of populist mechanisms exist for expressing the will of the people, such as referenda on major issues.

Radical decentralization would allow for various arrangements that would actually make “Canada Three” a stronger and more rooted union of its constituent parts. It would also hopefully strengthen intermediary institutions such as churches and local associations.

True federalism would allow for the expression of divergent views that would ultimately have a unifying effect on all of Canada. Such an uplifting synthesis of the Old and New Canada is urgently needed so that Canada can become the great country it was meant to be — “the true North, strong and free.”

View From The North is copyright © 2014 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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