The Hidden Strength Of Red Toryism In Canada, Part One
Red Toryism had a more positive role for government in society and the common good, but that’s supposedly gone now, with the rise of the Reform Alliance in the 1990s and its eventual growth into the modern Conservative Party of Canada, which now governs Canada with Stephen Harper at the head of a majority government.
So Red Toryism is dead…isn’t it?
In fact, I don’t think that Red Toryism in Canada is as far gone as other observers believe. Even today, when the old Canadian consensus is supposedly dying out, I’ve found a lot of evidence that many elements of Red Toryism are still alive and vital in Canada. Indeed, even the more populist version of conservatism advocated by Western Canadians like Preston Manning is not as different from ‘traditional’ Red Toryism as most people believe.
Now, just over halfway through Stephen Harper’s first majority government is a good time to study whether Red Toryism is really as dead in Canada as many people seem to think. To do that, we can analyze some of the key principles of Red Toryism as outlined by B.C. scholar Ron Dart. In an extensive article, Professor Dart analyzes eleven of the main principles of Red Toryism. Examining each of these principles in turn can determine whether they are no longer as relevant in Canada as some people claim.
1. Tories are concerned about the insights of the past and the truths learned by those who have come before us.
At first glance, this doesn’t seem to exist much in Canada anymore. Many Canadians don’t know very much about our national history. In his book Canadians: A Portrait Of A Country And Its People, Roy MacGregor cites journalist John Ibbitson, who claims that immigration has “swamped” the history of the old Canada. Ibbitson urges Canadians to be “ahistorical” by forgetting the old issues like Quebec nationalism, the Aboriginal Treaties, the National Energy Program, Meech Lake, etc., and instead seeing Canada through the eyes of those most recently arrived.
Despite Ibbitson’s pleas, many Canadians don’t seem very inclined to follow his advice. The Idle No More protest movement, for instance, is heavily based on reminding Canadians about the Treaties that the Canadian Crown signed with the country’s Aboriginal peoples to gain legal access to the land, and to defend their Treaty rights. These rights are enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and have been repeatedly confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada. More generally, elders also play a critical role in Aboriginal societies, providing advice for leaders and youth based on the lessons of the past.
This trait exists just as much among non-Native Canadians as well. Western Canadians, especially in Alberta, are often leery of intervention by a federal government whose actions they felt often benefited the provinces east of Manitoba at the West’s expense. Alberta, in particular, still has bitter memories of the National Energy Program, which did so much damage to its economy. These feelings fueled Western alienation and the rise of the Reform Alliance under Preston Manning. They also exist at the other end of the country. Former Newfoundland & Labrador Lieutenant Governor Ed Roberts told Jeffrey Simpson about the idea of the ‘Fighting Newfoundlander’, who stood up for his province against a bullying federal government in Ottawa.
Such feelings run deep in Quebec, too. Quebec’s provincial motto is “je me souviens”, or “I remember”, and its history has been marked by the Francophone population’s long refusal to assimilate into an English-speaking continent. Quebec’s controversial language laws are one of the most notable examples of this refusal, steps taken to maintain their Francophone character and distinct society.
The actions of the federal government itself have also played into various elements of our history. Stephen Harper has worked extensively to play up elements of Canada such as the War of 1812, the monarchy, and the North, to boost his party’s image and also to gain support for its agenda. Senator Hugh Segal penned an editorial citing John Diefenbaker’s legacy, doubtless to further build support for Conservative initiatives such as Harper’s Arctic sovereignty project.
One may question the value of these beliefs and actions, but they’re solidly rooted in our history. Indeed, one of the biggest problems facing Canada today, much as it has always been, is the fact that we often don’t know each other’s history. Our perspectives, whether Western alienation, Quebec nationalism, Newfoundland & Labrador’s assertiveness, and so much more, has been affected by the past and how it’s shaped our present.
2. Tories have a passion for the commonweal and the commons. The good of the people and the nation, with each finding their place in an organic whole for the common good, is an essential part of Tory politics.
One common claim, popularized by the Manning Centre For Building Democracy, was that Canadians are becoming more individualist in their beliefs, more conservative and less likely to support government intervention and social programs. Whether or not that’s true is another matter. According to Jeffrey Simpson, Canadians’ prime interests in government spending are things like education, health care and poverty reduction, with much less support for things like justice or defence spending. Frank Graves believes that Canadians are growing increasingly concerned about issues like income mobility, doubting that hard work alone will guarantee success, while support for minimal government is itself shrinking. Thomas Walkom believes that Canadians by and large don’t have much ideology, or are centrist, balanced between communal support for people in need and the belief that governments should keep their noses out of private affairs like sexuality and abortion. An anonymous commenter by the name of Citizen X believes that Canada continues to remain a generally centrist nation.
Even conservative pundits, politicians, businesspeople and writers are concerned about the impact market decisions and desires have on the greater Canadian society as a whole. And this is just what conservatives have expressed concern about, ironically sharing many of the same concerns as progressives and leftists.
At the provincial level, Alberta is considered to be the most individualist and conservative province. But even here, however, former Premier Ralph Klein’s “Third Way” proposals to increase the role of private health care largely failed due to widespread opposition from his own caucus. The Wildrose Alliance, the province’s leading Opposition party, has also specifically stated that any reforms it would make to the provincial health care system would comply with the Canada Health Act. Many conservative Americans fiercely oppose Obamacare, but even in Alberta most conservatives accept the need for public health care. They support a private sector role for health care because they believe that it will complement the public one.
If all of this is true, then why did Canadians give the Harper Conservatives a majority in 2011? The Conservative party’s own founding principles talk about a balance between progressive social policy and fiscal responsibility, and that governments must respond to those who need help and compassion, even as it emphasizes that individuals are responsible for helping themselves. Andrew Coyne believes that under Harper the Conservatives continue to maintain much of the status quo they inherited from previous governments, while Dan Gardner points out that Canadian conservatives are generally much much more moderate than American Republicans. Tom Flanagan, the Conservative party’s former campaign director, claims in The Literary Review Of Canada that the Liberal consensus lives on, and is simply under new management.
In his seminal book The New Canada, which discussed the early years of the Reform Alliance movement, Preston Manning specifically discussed and debunked the idea of abolishing public health care and the social safety net. Rather, Manning said that the Reform Alliance way of addressing the problem was for government to ensure people had the tools to solve their own problems. As quoted by Mel Hurtig (in his book The Betrayal of Canada), Brian Mulroney also built support for the 1988 free trade agreement by claiming that it would raise extra government revenue that would go to support the social safety net.
Of course, the New Democratic, Liberal and Green parties all go further than this. Even in 2011, the election that got Stephen Harper his majority, over 59% of Canadians voted for these three parties. If Canadians were no longer concerned about the common good, would these parties have really gotten that much support?
3. Tories do not separate ethics from economics. The tendency to divorce ethics and economics runs contrary to the best of historic Toryism that grounds political life in the classical virtues of courage, wisdom, justice and moderation.
Much of what was discussed in regards to principle #2 can also be repeated here. As previously noted, many Canadians continue to support a positive role for government in various aspects of life. They also believe that social spending can benefit those less fortunate and society as a whole.
Canadians aren’t always convinced that what business wants to do is necessarily a good thing. Naturally, there are those on the political left who protest various projects proposed by oil companies or other private businesses, but what’s striking in Canada is how and when such opposition arises from right-wing commentators.
Enbridge is trying to make the case for building the Northern Gateway pipeline by highlighting the advantages that it will bring for all Canadians. However, the pipeline is opposed not only by environmentalists, but by British Columbians such as lifelong federal Conservative Party member Alex Tsakumis, who condemns Northern Gateway as “completely wrong-headed”, saying that he “doesn’t give a damn about it.” Another prominent pipeline project, the Keystone XL pipeline that would send oil from Alberta to the United States, was criticized by the late Peter Lougheed, former Premier of Alberta. Lougheed believed that Alberta was better off refining its bitumen locally and keeping the refining jobs here.
Other people, many of whom are not known for their progressive street cred, have said similar things about foreign ownership of Canada’s essential natural resources. Prominent Canadian oil executives have spoken out about the need for Ottawa to ensure a certain level of Canadian ownership of the oilsands. Prominent business writer Diane Francis has called for tougher rules on foreign takeovers, opposing the takeover of Saskatchewan’s iconic Potash Corporation. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, and Canadian resource company CEO Dick Haskayne both agreed with her.
Concerns about foreign ownership don’t just exist in the natural resources sector, either. Authors such as John Ralston Saul, Mel Hurtig (in his book The Truth About Canada) and Rudyard Griffiths have all noted how prominent Canadian businesspeople and writers such as Peter Munk, Gordon Nixon, Dominic D’Alessandro, Donald Macdonald, Roger Martin, Dick Haskayne, Gerald Schwartz, Ian Tefler, Thomas Caldwell and Scott Hand have all expressed worries about how much of Canada’s economy is owned by foreigners.
Despite all the talk of Canadians shifting to the right and becoming more conservative and individualistic, there continues to be a prominent and positive role for government action in Canada.
Contrast all this with the received wisdom that it doesn’t matter where capital is located, and that only the market should determine who owns businesses or what decisions they make. Even conservative pundits, politicians, businesspeople and writers are concerned about the impact market decisions and desires have on the greater Canadian society as a whole. And this is just what conservatives have expressed concern about, ironically sharing many of the same concerns as progressives and leftists.
Some critics might dismiss all this as self-serving, as the businesspeople and pundits are merely trying to protect their own interests. That claim doesn’t take into account the writings of businesspeople like Dick Haskayne, who recently penned the book Northern Tigers: Building Ethical Canadian Corporate Champions. Nor does it take into account the opinions of famous Canadian entrepreneur Brett Wilson, who speaks glowingly of the time he took away from business to spend with his family, and the great reward that can come to businesses who practice corporate social responsibility. Such Canadians, on every part of the spectrum, can and frequently do show great concern for how the decisions of the market impact the greater Canadian society.
Such a blending of ethics and economics can also be seen among Canadians in general. As previously noted, opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline in B.C. goes well beyond environmentalists, with many ordinary citizens concerned about their own livelihoods in case of an accident. Similarly, Royal Bank of Canada ended up in extremely hot water after it began replacing Canadian workers with temporary foreign workers to pay them less money. The company issued a public apology for its actions, but many people saw its actions as being too little, too late.
4. Much of the Tory tradition has a deep respect for the land and recognizes, only too keenly, that the environment is a branch that we sit on. If we cut the branch off, we will fall and experience great hurt and harm.
One of the prime motivations behind the Idle No More movement is its opposition to the changes to environmental law recently made by the Harper government, claiming that the changes risk the contamination of our clean drinking water. Its advocates note that these changes pose a risk to all Canadians, whatever their background. Opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline, as demonstrated by blogger Alex Tsakumis, is not limited to progressive environmentalists. Other conservatives, such as former Nova Scotia PC Environment Minister Mark Parent, have also spoken to the need to pay attention to green issues.
More generally, Preston Manning, one of Canada’s most iconic conservatives, has come out in recent years as a passionate advocate of what he calls “green conservatism,” and stating in the Calgary Herald that Albertans need a “wake up call” on the environment. Notably, he also supports the idea of applying “full cost pricing” to energy production, including carbon emissions, and thinks the concept of a “carbon tax” is a misnomer. The Manning Foundation for Democratic Education, which Preston Manning heads, also recently sponsored a study published by the University of Calgary calling for “full cost carbon pricing” on contaminants, water use and greenhouse gas emissions. The report talked about how difficult, if not impossible, it is to reclaim clean air and water if they are destroyed, and how important it is to save them for future generations. This is much like the “seven generations” principle advocated by First Nations people who believe it is important to consider the impact that today’s decisions have on the next seven generations of descendants.
5. Tories do not artificially separate state and society. The state has a vital role to play in creating the common good as does society, and the task is to decide what is necessary for one and all, hence the role of the state.
Despite all the talk of Canadians shifting to the right and becoming more conservative and individualistic, there continues to be a prominent and positive role for government action in Canada. The Harper government continues to actively promote the role it has played in ensuring the health of the Canadian economy through its Economic Action Plan on the Internet and in TV ads, with investments in such things as job training, infrastructure and more. The home pages of many Conservative Members of Parliament are rife with the announcements of federal support for local projects. National Post columnist Andrew Coyne declared that the 2012 federal budget was the “terminus of Tory radicalism”, committing the federal government to do all of the things it has always done. Preston Manning has advocated for governments to serve as a “facilitator” in creating the conditions that enable stakeholders to come together to solve issues of mutual interest.
Things are no different at the provincial level. Even John Ibbitson, one of Canada’s more conservative pundits and a leading advocate of what he calls the “Big Shift” among Canadians shifting to the right, admits that the Red Tory Danny Williams’ market interventions and demands that the province get a bigger share of oil royalties brought pride and prosperity to Newfoundland & Labrador, with policies that are widely popular among Newfoundlanders.
In my home province of Alberta, the place where the more individualistic, market-based conservatism supposedly has its deepest roots, Alberta has done such things as actively build Internet access for rural communities, provided various subsidies, tax rebates and royalty relief programs to the oilpatch and created the Alberta Treasury Branch as a means of providing an alternate source of credit to Albertans. It is unlikely that this Crown Corporation is going anywhere, given its strength and the value of its investments. Even the Wildrose Alliance, the most conservative of Alberta’s major political parties, is on record as supporting everything from having government intervention to increase and expand the market for natural gas to reduce electricity price spikes for consumers and businesses, to creating incentives to have more of Alberta’s bitumen refined in the province instead of being shipped elsewhere, a policy that remains very popular with Albertans.
Many other examples, of course, exist all across Canada at every level of government.
6. Tories are concerned with the common good, which also means an attachment to the commons. There is of course room for private space and concerns, but it must be balanced with concern for the public space and place that people share in common with one another. Tories are also concerned that the classical liberal emphasis on acquiring wealth and possessions often ends up eroding the common space people share, and ends up excluding people in the greatest need.
Much of what was mentioned in previous entries also applies to this element of Red Toryism. The Harper government continues to promote its action to support the economy; businesspeople like Brett Wilson and Dominic D’Alessandro support the commons through philanthropy and express concern about foreign ownership of our natural resources and economy; Danny Williams’ skilful use of government power has made Newfoundland & Labrador prosperous and enabled the population as a whole to benefit from their resources; Preston Manning talks about the positive role government can play in facilitating relationships between stakeholders on environmental matters; opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline crosses partisan lines in British Columbia; Alberta has provided alternative sources of credit to citizens through the Alberta Treasury Branches and provides various subsidies to the oil and gas industry; the Idle No More movement states that its actions concern issues that affect all Canadians, and not just Aboriginals; and the federal Conservative party’s founding principles talk about the need to support those citizens who are in genuine need of help.
The province of Quebec has been perhaps the most active in building a common space for citizens through the use of its language laws, most notably Bill 101. During and before the 1950s, Francophone Quebecers often lagged behind Anglophones in income and business ownership, even as they were frequently required to learn English to speak to their employers. The government of René Lévesque tried to change that with Bill 101. Bill 101 required the children of immigrants to study in French, restricted the display of English on public signs, and more. The law was widely condemned as racist, and several of its provisions were struck down by the courts. Thousands of Anglophone Quebecers left for other provinces in protest.
However, 30 years later, Quebec’s language laws have proven themselves to be very successful. Since Bill 101 was established, Quebec Francophones have made valuable gains in income and business ownership, to the point where they are now pretty much equal to Anglophones. Bill 101 has also helped establish a new sense of social and linguistic peace in Quebec, as many Anglophones and Francophones have come to accept it. Even prominent Anglophone critic Julius Grey, who opposed several provisions of the law in court, stated that the law as it exists now is a worthwhile one for society, as it has helped break down old linguistic barriers. It has also contributed to the strengthening of French in Quebec, as many immigrants to the province now learn French and continue to build the province’s Francophone community.
There are several more elements to Red Toryism, which will be the focus of the second part of this essay.
Harold Cardinal,The Rebirth of Canada’s Indians. Edmonton, Alberta: Hurtig Pubilishers, 1977. Pages 140–144.
Richard Clippingdale,Robert Stanfield’s Canada: Perspectives of the Best Prime Minister We Never Had. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008. Pages 73–74 and 110–111.
Kelly Cryderman, “Albertans Need A ‘Shock’ On The Environment: Manning Says It’s Time For New Ideas.” Calgary Herald, May 22, 2009.
Tom Flanagan, “Re: ‘Has the Centre Vanished?’ by Stephen Clarkson.” Literary Review of Canada, November 2011. Page 30.
Rudyard Griffiths. Who We Are: A Citizen’s Manifesto. Vancouver, B.C.: Douglas & McIntyre, 2010. Pages 23–24.
Mel Hurtig, The Betrayal Of Canada. Toronto, Ontario: Stoddart Publishing Company, Limited, 1991. Page 136.
Mel Hurtig, The Truth About Canada: Some Important, Some Astonishing, And Some Truly Appalling Things All Canadians Should Know About Our Country. Toronto, Ontario: McClelland and Stewart, 2008. Pages 191 and 204–207.
Preston Manning, The New Canada. Toronto, Ontario: Macmillan Canada, 1992. Pages, 94–109, 168, 258–259, 304 and 314–317.
John Ralston Saul. A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada. Toronto, Ontario: Viking Canada, 2008. Pages 215–216.
Jeffrey Simpson, Faultlines: Struggling For A Canadian Vision. Toronto, Ontario: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994. Page 157.
This two-part article was originally published in November 2013, discussing some of the key elements of “Red Toryism” in Canada and how they continue to be an important part of Canadian politics and society.
Originally published at www.vivelecanada.ca.