Varieties of Canadian Conservatism
By Mark Wegierski
The divisive leadership contest in the federal Conservative Party of Canada will soon be resolved. The leading candidates are Pierre Polievre, seen as tending towards populism, and Jean Charest, considered a centrist. The social conservative candidate is Leslyn Lewis. There is currently a debate in Canada as to what “conservatism” means. This article endeavors to transcend the sterile “centrism vs. populism” discourse within the Conservative Party.
All of the members of the Conservative Party signed up before June 3, 2022 (of whom there are close to 700,000) will get to vote on a mailed-in ranked ballot. However, the vote is filtered through a system in which every riding counts as a 100 points, regardless of its numbers of members. In cases where there are less than a hundred members, each vote counts as a point. This voting system is thought to increase Jean Charest’s chances of winning the leadership.
Whereas the various right-wing factions in Canada have comparatively little influence, in contrast “ultra-moderates” or “centrists” or “Red Tories” have exerted a profound influence on the Conservative Party. Admittedly, the term “Red Tory” can have an elevated meaning, as in the thought of the Canadian traditionalist philosopher George Parkin Grant (1918-1988), which constituted a “social conservatism of the Left”. But it can also be used to describe opportunist Conservative Party activists, who had earlier inveighed against the supposed “bigotry” of the Reform Party.
The term “small-c conservative” arose in Canada because the Progressive Conservative Party — or “big-C” conservatives — had abandoned conservatism, especially under the supposedly “strong leadership” of Brian Mulroney. In the 1980s, ideological conservatives were derided as “cashew conservatives” – and Mulroney himself snidely declared that all of the ideological conservatives in Canada could fit into a telephone booth. The current Conservative Party of Canada was created as a result of the merger in December 2003 between the Canadian Alliance (which had emerged out of the Reform Party of Canada in 1998-2000), and the federal Progressive Conservative Party. There are still many different factions within the current-day Conservative Party of Canada.
Hollywood, television, advertising, rock and rap music, pornography – all operate on a for-profit basis, and all are anathema to social conservatives and paleoconservatives alike. Ditto, the bureaucratic, transnational – and increasingly woke — corporations. The so-called “managerial-therapeutic regime” is economically conservative but socially liberal. Neoconservatives are deemed gung-ho capitalists who disdain the common good; libertarians are libertines; and “Red Tories” are seen as opportunists who have adopted left-liberal outlooks.
Paleoconservatives and social conservatives, conversely, uphold law and order, nation, family and religion. They see much to admire in Quebecois nationalism, with its visceral disdain for federal state centralism. Their shared philosophical outlooks, notwithstanding their reputation for obdurate reaction, should allow for coalition building with other groups such as ecologists and trade unionists. Only by remaining true to their core principles will they change hearts and minds and engender shifts in public policy.
Sociologist Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and researcher