A comparison of the conservative traditions in America and Canada (Part Four)
By Mark Wegierski
In contrast to Canada today, which could be seen as mostly a left-liberal country, the United States could be perceived as more conservative. There are the superpower exigencies of America which require it to maintain a large and effective military. There is the vast influence of Christianity, both of fundamentalist Protestants and tradition-minded Catholics. There is a large network of conservative think-tanks and foundations. There are also hundreds of more traditional, mostly religious-based, colleges in the United States.
In the United States, there appears to be much more of a sense of space and debate within the generalized right-wing, between such groupings as paleoconservatives, social conservatives, neoconservatives, libertarians, paleolibertarians, right-wing Greens, “social conservatives of the Left” (such as Christopher Lasch), classical liberals, religious conservatives (sometimes called “theocons”), and so forth. However, some critics have charged that this generalized right wing is in fact dominated by neoconservatives and Republican Party operatives, which tends to weaken the saliency of traditionalism in the U.S.
Canadians have been traditionally and are even today characterized by a deference to authority. When the ruling paradigm was conservative, they tended to be more conservative than Americans (in the positive sense of conservatism). Canada throughout its earlier times could be seen as a more polite and orderly country than America – something which has arguably persisted even today in the form of the lower crime rates and greater civility in political discourse.
The disadvantage of this deference was that when the ruling paradigm was changed from the top in the Sixties and later, most Canadians have tended to follow, in a conformist fashion. Today, they tend to be far more ostentatiously politically-correct than most Americans. Indeed, there is virtually no heritage of independence, self-reliance, or belief in rambunctious free speech in Canada. Canadian officials point proudly to their laws against so-called hate-speech as highly necessary. They say they do not have “the American hang-ups” about restricting freedom of speech.
In the United States, far more persons are putatively conservative, and there appears to be far more of a real social base for conservatism. However, the solid conservative base is arguably poorly led and misled by narrow cliques within so-called “movement-conservatism” and the Republican Party. In Canada, the conservative leadership sometimes appears to be sounder, but is hamstrung by unfortunate circumstances in the social, political, and cultural environment.
The processes of massive social and cultural transformation in Canada are only beginning. On March 9, 2010, Statistics Canada released projections that so-called visible minorities (this is a term of official usage) will constitute a third of the Canadian population in 2031. They are projected to be 63 percent of the population of Toronto and its suburbs (43 percent in 2006); 59 percent of the population of Vancouver (42 percent in 2006); and 31 percent of the population of Montreal (16 percent in 2006). Unlike in the United States, the centrifugal forces in Canada are very strong, typified by the official multiculturalism which requires all levels of Canadian government to support and valorize – to a greater or lesser extent -- the distinct cultures of the various diasporas. The so-called majority culture is becoming ever more attenuated. At the same time, more intellectual forms of traditionalism, conservatism, and nationalism, have been virtually excised from the academy and the mass media.
Part of Canada’s problems may have their origins in the British establishment. The WASP elites are probably the most self-hating and politically-correct grouping in Canada. Ironically, they maintain themselves in very comfortable lives while looking with disdain at the “reactionary” lower-middle and working-classes, who may have greater residues of genuine patriotism. Others who appear to be without a bright future in Canada are the so-called “white ethnics” such as Ukrainian-, Italian-, and Polish-Canadians. The term “multiculturalism” – which once also referred to “white ethnic” fragment cultures -- seems to be increasingly taken to mean “multiracialism”.
Conservatives have, since 1896, faced the problem of their lack of support in Quebec. The voters of Quebec have, in the federal elections from 1993 to 2008, given most of their seats in the federal Parliament to the separatist Bloc Quebecois – only to massively switch their allegiance to the NDP in 2011. Despite strenuous efforts, the Conservatives have won only 10 seats from Quebec in 2006, 10 seats in 2008, and only 5 seats in 2011. A centre-right party existing at the provincial level, the Action democratique du Quebec (ADQ) after surging in an earlier provincial election, has now considerably faded. The Quebec issue appears intractable for the Conservatives. At the same time, until the federal election of 2011, it appears that most of the immigrant communities, including “white ethnics” and visible minorities, have tended to support the Liberal Party. (Some exceptions being Ukrainians and Balts, who tended to support the P.C.s and Conservatives.) In the future, the Liberal Party can probably count again on its Toronto-Montreal-Vancouver bloc, where, in 2006 and 2008, the Conservatives failed to win a single seat. As these urban areas grow ever larger, their influence in the Canadian polity will increase. At the same time, in the rural hinterlands, a growing Aboriginal population has become increasingly radicalized. Aboriginal issues clearly have a far greater saliency in Canada than in the United States.
Without much of an intellectual and think-tank infrastructure, conservatism in Canada does not seem likely to be able to translate the strong majority of the Conservative Party won in the federal election of 2011, into an instrumentality for activist, highly transformational change.
Now mostly lacking an active, living and sometimes rambunctious right wing as in the United States, Canada -- it could be argued -- is deprived of a source of critical intelligence about the realities of human nature, society, and culture, and of the social and cultural underpinnings of economic achievement. Thus, in the future, it may in fact become more prone than the U.S. to various social, cultural, as well as economic disasters and calamities.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.