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Some Canadians hoping for "regime-change" in Ottawa

By Mark Wegierski
web posted October 27, 2003

On October 15, 2003, the prospects of the broader Right in Canada brightened somewhat for the first time in decades. Overcoming years of negativity, the Canadian Alliance (which had emerged out of the Reform Party of Canada in 1998-2000), and the federal Progressive Conservative party agreed to unite themselves (pending the approval of their memberships by December 12, 2003), as the Conservative Party of Canada (the former name of the Progressive Conservatives from decades ago).

Since the Canadian federal election of 1896 when the mostly French-speaking province of Quebec switched its vote, en masse, from the Conservative to the Liberal Party, Canada has been characterized at the federal level by long periods of Liberal government, with comparatively brief Conservative interludes. Indeed, the Conservative Party had re-designated itself as the Progressive Conservative Party, and had latterly eschewed nearly all aspects of what is called in Canada "small-c conservatism."

Brian Mulroney

The unwillingness of Brian Mulroney, the Progressive Conservative Prime Minister of Canada from 1984-1993, to carry out some substantively conservative policies, almost certainly resulted in the arising of the Western Canadian-based Reform Party in 1987 (which formally became a nation-wide party in 1991). It should be noted, however, that the Reform Party of Canada was much different from the U.S. Reform Party (especially in its Buchananite incarnation). The Reform Party of Canada was comparatively far more credible and attracted about a fifth of the nation-wide vote in federal elections in 1993 and 1997. The frequent characterization of Canadian Reformers as "far right" was wildly inaccurate. The 1990s and current-day Canadian political spectrum is such, that many of the more liberal Republicans and more conservative Democrats in the U.S. often approximate outlooks that would have probably placed them on the supposed "hard right" of the Canadian Reform Party.

Although the Reform Party was even more pro-American than Mulroney, earlier proposals for a Canada-U.S. Free Trade deal (Mulroney's major accomplishment) had been, historically-speaking, strenuously opposed by more traditional conservatives in Canada, who had looked to Britain. Mulroney also precipitously raised immigration, from the 54,000 or so persons in Liberal Prime Minister Trudeau's last year in office (1983-84) to about a quarter-million persons a year, where it has remained ever since. With Canada's population at about 30 million, it is more than double the official U.S. immigration rate, per capita -- and probably the highest rate of immigration per capita in the world. The GST (Goods and Services Tax), the Canadian equivalent of a value-added tax, while interpreted as a "hard right" move by some, could also be seen as a stereotypically liberal tax grab. In terms of society and culture, Mulroney appeared beholden to the multicultural, feminist, and other politically-correct agendas, and, despite his then rather unpopular rhetoric of "deficit-fighting," actually incurred huge deficits, doubling the total federal government debt to about $500 billion (Canadian) by the end of his tenure in office.

Mulroney had arrived on the scene in the wake of the massive transformation of the Canadian state, society, and culture, begun by Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson in 1965, and spectacularly continued in 1968-1984 (except for nine months in 1979-80), by Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Except for the first election of 1968, when "Trudeaumania" swept the country, Trudeau failed to receive a majority of seats in English-speaking Canada in the successive federal elections. The Liberals were also assisted by the presence of the social-democratic third party in English-speaking Canada -- the New Democratic Party (NDP), which had evolved out of the much different and sometimes rather socially-conservative CCF (Co-operative Commonwealth Federation). Some have argued that the Liberal Party had also been effectively "hijacked" by Trudeau, away from its somewhat more traditionalist earlier identifications.

The initial revolutionary act in 1965 was the replacement of the Red Ensign, Canada's traditional flag (which had, like Australia's today, a Union Jack in its upper-left corner) with the Maple Leaf Pennant, which many Canadian traditionalists saw at that time as a Liberal Party banner. The culmination of the process was the introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms into the Canadian Constitution in 1982, which virtually set down Trudeau's entire agenda as the highest law of the land.

Most of the developments in the Canadian state, society, and culture occurring in the wake of Trudeau have consisted of a further extension and pushing forward of his social liberal agenda. In the last decade, however (presumably in reaction to the collapse of Soviet Communism) left-liberalism has become far more willing to concede some major fiscal and economic issues to the "managerial Right" -- while continuing a ferocious struggle against small-c conservatism and social conservatism. It could be argued that, given the left-liberal predominance in the Canadian media, in the education system (from daycare to universities), in the judiciary and justice system, in the government bureaucracies, in so-called high culture (typified by government-subsidized "CanLit"), in North American pop-culture and "youth culture," in the big Canadian banks and corporations, and (for the most part) in the leaderships of the main churches, any existing small-c conservative tendencies are being continually ground down. There is also the panoply of special interest groups, who receive extensive government and some corporate funding. Left-liberals have tried to maintain the centre-right parties in as eviscerated a shape as possible, building up the federal Progressive Conservatives at the expense of the Canadian Alliance, and bleaching out substantive conservative thinking as far as possible from both parties. Even as elections come and go, the long-term trend is mostly towards the ever-intensifying undermining of conservative and traditionalist impulses in Canada.

Given the left-liberal dominance in so many social and cultural areas, the election of a substantively conservative government at the federal level in Canada, may indeed be possible to be perpetually stymied. It could be argued that the federal government of Canada has in the last three decades become almost entirely a vehicle for a regnant left-liberalism, and is highly likely to remain so. About the most realistic possibility for partial "regime change" in Ottawa is the now seemingly inevitable replacement of current Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien (who has categorically promised to resign by February 2004 at the latest), by Paul Martin, Jr. (the former finance minister, who is credited with achieving the federal budget surpluses of the last few years). As a so-called "fiscal conservative," Paul Martin is seen as being on the "right wing" of the Liberal Party, although he appears to be quite thoroughly socially liberal.

The new Conservative Party is unlikely to make much headway in the teeth of a hostile social, political, and cultural environment. With a thin background infrastructure in no way comparable to well-funded left-liberal extra-parliamentary groupings, it would indeed be difficult for the new Conservative Party to win a working majority in the federal Parliament. In the November 2000 federal election, the Canadian Alliance won 66 seats, all but two from Western Canada. (The federal Progressive Conservatives won 12 seats -- nine of them from the Atlantic Maritime region.) While the New Democratic Party is often considered to be in a weak position, especially today, when it holds only 14 seats in the Federal Parliament (out of a total of 301 seats), it has, in fact, been remarkably successful at driving forward the Liberal agenda. Trudeau was himself a former NDP member.

Another possible challenge to the mostly Ottawa-and-Toronto-centred left-liberalism could arise from the ideas of maximal regional devolution (decentralization or so-called "provincialization") becoming more salient in Canada -- such as the so-called "firewall" proposals which are being considered by the Western Canadian province of Alberta. The recent crushing defeat of the separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ) in the Quebec provincial election, by the provincial Liberals, might mean some forward movement in constructive decentralization initiatives across all of Canada.

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

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