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On the 155th anniversary of Canadian Confederation – the case against current-day Canada (Part Two)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted June 20, 2022

Examining the arrival of “soft-totalitarianism” on the 155th anniversary of Canadian Confederation

“Small-c conservatives” had had enough, and in November 1987, Preston Manning co-founded the Reform Party. Preston Manning was the son of Ernest C. Manning, a longtime Social Credit Alberta Premier. With a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, he had worked as a management and political consultant. Although initially a Western Canadian regionalist party, the Reform Party became a country-wide party in 1991.

In the 1993 federal election, while the Liberals under Jean Chretien (a lawyer who was a protégé of Pierre Trudeau, with the reputation of a “street-fighter”) won a comfortable majority, the Reform Party won 52 seats (51 in Western Canada, 1 in Ontario), while the separatist Bloc Quebecois won 54. The Progressive Conservatives (under the leadership of academic and lawyer Kim Campbell, Canada’s first female Prime Minister) were reduced to two seats! One of these seats was won by Jean Charest, a fluently bilingual, Quebec-born lawyer who had been a young Minister in Mulroney’s Cabinet and became leader of the federal P.C.s until 1998. He was adamantly opposed to any co-operation with the Reform Party. He left the federal P.C.s in 1998 and entered Quebec provincial politics as leader of the Liberal Party, eventually becoming Premier of Quebec (2003-2012).

In the 1997 federal election, the Reform Party won 60 seats (all of them in Western Canada). As a result of the usual operation of the “first-past-the-post” electoral system, the Liberals under Jean Chretien won a working majority with 38 percent of the popular vote, while Reform won 19 percent, and the Progressive Conservatives, also 19 percent (winning only 20 seats). The Progressive Conservatives refused to fold, when Preston Manning launched the United Alternative movement, which culminated in the creation of the Canadian Alliance. (The full name of that party was the Canadian Reform-Conservative Alliance.) Joe Clark, who was P.C. party leader between 1998-2003, stubbornly spurned any notion of an alliance with the Reformers. Thus, he continued to play the role of a “bungler” or “spoiler”.

In 2000, Preston Manning lost the leadership of the Canadian Alliance to Stockwell Day, a former Treasurer of Alberta, who mobilized social conservatives. However, in the 2000 federal election, Stockwell Day was pilloried pejoratively as a “fundamentalist Christian extremist” and Liberal Jean Chretien handily won another majority. The Canadian Alliance, with 25 percent of the countrywide popular vote, won 66 seats, 64 in Western Canada, and 2 in Ontario. The P.C. party won 12 seats (9 of them in Atlantic Canada) with 12 percent of the countrywide vote.

As a result of a caucus revolt against Stockwell Day, which at one point attracted as many as thirteen MPs (who styled themselves as “the Democratic Representative Caucus”) a leadership race ensued, which was won in 2002 by Stephen Harper. Harper had been a Reform M.P. in 1993-1997, but he did not seek re-election in 1997, and become head of the National Citizens’ Coalition (NCC), a right-wing lobby group. With a Master’s in Economics, he was also passably bilingual.

Joe Clark resigned from the P.C. party leadership in 2003, thus clearing the way for a leadership selection process, that brought in as leader Nova Scotian Peter MacKay, a corporate lawyer and longtime politician, as leader.

Finally, in December 2003, a merger was at last effected between the Canadian Alliance (under the leadership of Stephen Harper) and the federal Progressive Conservative party (under the leadership of Peter MacKay). Over 90 percent of the respective memberships of both parties voted in favour of the merger. The new party was called the Conservative Party, significantly dropping the “Progressive” adjective. Harper won the leadership of the new party in March 2004.

In the June 2004 federal election, the Liberals under Paul Martin, Jr. (a patrician shipping magnate) were reduced to a minority government (a plurality of seats in the House of Commons). Harper was able to win minority governments in 2006 and 2008, and finally the long-awaited Conservative majority in 2011. However, the combination of an unexpected timidity, and a brutally hostile social, academic, media, and elite context in Canada, meant that Harper wasn’t able to achieve much. Certainly, there was no whiff of massive, transformational change in a different direction. Harper could have substantially helped “small-c conservatives” and social conservatives, without touching abortion and same-sex marriage.

In the October 2015 federal election, the Liberals came roaring back with a strong majority, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau (Pierre’s son). About the most meaningful job he held before he won the leadership of the Liberal Party was part-time high school drama teacher. Despite his weak resume, he had one priceless asset – his surname. 

The coming to power of another Trudeau presages another era of massive, transformational change in Canada. Indeed, immigration was raised to 300,000 persons a year, and subsequently to over 400,000 persons a year. Abortion rights and same-sex marriage have also been tightly entrenched. Also, doctor assisted suicide is now legal, and complete marijuana legalization has been enacted.

As a result of the 2017 Conservative Party leadership selection process, Andrew Scheer narrowly defeated Maxime Bernier, a corporate lawyer and corporate executive who had held a number of Cabinet posts in the Harper government, including Minister of Foreign Affairs. Scheer had never held a meaningful job outside of political office, his most prominent achievement being Speaker of the House of Commons. Andrew Scheer managed to alienate Maxime Bernier to the point that Bernier founded his own breakaway party, the People’s Party of Canada.

In the October 2019 federal election, the Liberals were reduced to a minority government (a plurality of seats in the House of Commons). However, the Conservative Party leader, Andrew Scheer, proved ineffectual, and he had to resign. In the 2020 Conservative Party leadership contest, Erin O’Toole prevailed against Peter MacKay, by portraying himself as a “true blue” conservative. MacKay, who had held a number of important Cabinet posts in the Harper government, including Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Defence, and Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, had famously said that social conservatism was a “stinking albatross” around the neck of the Conservative Party. Erin O’Toole had served in the military, as well as becoming a successful corporate lawyer, before running for office. He had served as Minister of Veterans’ Affairs in the Harper Cabinet.

In the federal election of September 2021, O’Toole pivoted towards the centre, hoping to win more seats in Atlantic Canada, Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia. He was especially hoping for some kind of breakthrough in the “905” region (the suburbs around Toronto). However, his strategy seemed to backfire, and the Conservatives won two less seats in 2021 (119), than 2019 (121). The Liberals once again won a slightly strengthened minority government, with 32 percent of the popular vote. It should be noted, though, that the Conservatives won a majority of the popular vote (34 percent), but much of it was concentrated in the huge margins of victory in Alberta.

Based on strong “anti-vaxxer” and anti-lockdown sentiments, Maxime Bernier’s PPC was able to win about 5 percent of the popular vote in 2021, with about 800,000 votes. (He had won only 1.64 percent in 2019). However, he was unable to win a single seat in the House of Commons, mainly because of the typical dynamics of the “first-past-the-post” electoral system.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

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