George Grant’s vision of Canada increasingly attenuated (Part Two)
By Mark Wegierski
Unfortunately, others, notably shallow Progressive Conservative party operatives, adopted the term “Red Tory” as an excuse for opportunistic policies, that supported an ever more bloated and intrusive administrative state. They became “socialists” without embracing true community, and “liberals” without embracing genuine individualism and freedom of speech.
Grant was prescient in pointing to the centrality of the 1963 federal election, for subsequent developments in Canada – although, as has been noted above, he did not focus exclusively on what later came to be called social conservatism.
It can be seen that, before the 1960s, all the major parties had partaken of a “traditionalist-centrist consensus”, i.e., they were all socially conservative to some extent, while differing in regard to economics. Notions of traditional nation, family, and religion; a strong work-ethic; and strict law-and-order were held by all of the major parties. The Old Left, Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the precursor to the much different New Democratic Party (NDP), while fighting on behalf of the majority of working Canadians, was not socially radical. Notions of radical feminism, multiculturalism, and gay rights, that came to the fore after the 1960s, would have been of little concern to the Old Left.
The adoption of the new Canadian flag (the Maple Leaf Pennant, also sometimes dubbed “the Pearson Pennant”) in 1965 pointed to the fact that massive social and cultural change was in the offing. It is a longstanding idea in the study of politics that a change of a country’s flag is a marker of “regime change”.
With the arrival of “Trudeamania” in 1968, the country was thrust into ever more massive social and cultural change, which continued unabated for the sixteen years that Liberal Pierre Elliott Trudeau held the Prime Ministership. Trudeau’s further success in the elections of 1972, 1974, and 1980, can largely be attributed to the fact that Quebec voters delivered virtually every seat in Quebec to the Liberal Party. Also, importantly, the Liberal minority government of 1972 was supported by the New Democratic Party.
A minority government is when a party has a plurality but not a majority of seats in the federal Parliament. Sometimes a party with slightly less seats than a plurality will obtain the support of another party or parties in the Parliament, thus potentially allowing it to form the government. A majority government is when one party has a majority of seats in the Parliament. Incidentally, the term “federal Parliament” can be used to describe just the Canadian House of Commons, as I have used it here, although it can also refer to the Canadian House of Commons and Canadian Senate together. Canadian Senators are appointed by the Prime Minister of the day, in consultation with the provinces, and the powers of the Canadian Senate are highly residual. In federal elections, all of Canada votes to elect members of the federal Parliament (i.e., the House of Commons) from geographic areas called ridings. The Canadian electoral system is usually called “first-past-the-post”. There are also ten provinces that have separate legislatures and elections (with Premiers). The federal and provincial powers have been very carefully delineated in the British North America Act (1867) (the Act of Confederation), and the Constitution Act of 1982. Royal Assent is still required for legislation to become law, but it is most often conferred by the Governor-General at the federal level, and the Lieutenant-Governors at the provincial level (one Lieutenant-Governor in each province) (rather than by Queen Elizabeth II in person). There are also the northern territories in Canada’s Far North, which have traditionally been under direct federal jurisdiction (owing to their very small populations), but there have been moves towards greater autonomy there, especially with the creation in 1998 of Nunavut, the official Inuit homeland.
Guaranteed roughly a quarter of the seats in the federal Parliament from Quebec, Trudeau needed then to pick up only a majority of seats in Ontario, to win an over-all majority in the federal Parliament. Trudeau had indeed realized that a majority in the federal Parliament could probably be cobbled together from only Ontario and Quebec. He treated most of Western Canada with contempt.
The only discontinuity in Trudeau’s tenure was when Joe Clark’s P.C.s unexpectedly won a minority government in the 1979 federal election. However, the P.C.s quickly lost the so-called “non-confidence vote” in the federal Parliament, meaning that another election had to be called. The Liberals once again won a majority in the federal Parliament, in 1980. Joe Clark’s government had lasted only nine months. Joe Clark, a so-called “Red Tory” in the P.C. party, was one of the most craven supporters of virtually the entire agenda of left-liberalism. Indeed, so-called “small-c conservatives” had only a very tenuous representation in the (ostensibly) “big-C” Conservative party.
A society that in 1965, was often seen as very socially conservative, was transmogrified into one of the most “progressive” societies on the planet, by 1984 – especially with the introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms into the Canadian constitutional structure in 1982. The Charter essentially enshrined virtually the entire Trudeau agenda, as the highest law of the land. The Charter was quickly backed up by an increasingly “activist” Canadian Supreme Court, where one would have been hard-pressed to find even one designated conservative.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.