Canadian Conservatism, a Coroner’s Report
by Mark Wegierski
Canada today, despite its great over-all wealth, is a society of contrasts. While the problem of Quebec separatism which was so central in Canadian history since the 1960s may be fading, new challenges are arising. While Canada is still, to a large extent, a more pleasant place to live than the United States (especially when one compares life in the two countries’ large cities), there are issues looming on the horizon which could present severe challenges to a safe, civil, prosperous life – the permanence of which all too many Canadians today take for granted.
There are a number of significant differences between the Canadian and American societies today, which may have a profound impact on the type of future the countries will have. In the years 2006 to 2015, Canada had a federal Conservative government, while during most of that time, Obama was President of the United States. This was a fairly unusual situation whereby the U.S. arguably had a more left-liberal government than Canada. The comparative fiscal discipline of the Harper Conservatives was striking, when viewed against the fiscal profligacy of the Obama Administration. Liberal Justin Trudeau has been Prime Minister of Canada since 2015, whereas Donald Trump was President of the United States from 2016 to 2020. There appears to be very little prospect of a Trump-like figure arising in Canada. The victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential election created enormous volatility and unpredictability in U.S. politics. However, he was defeated in 2020, in an election that was extremely close in the crucial battleground states. Now that Joe Biden is President, an attempt to enact a revolutionary transformation of America that will forever keep the Republicans out of power at the federal level may be in prospect.
Holding a majority in the federal Parliament (which conjoins executive and legislative authority) is putatively more effective than, for example, just holding the U.S. Presidency. However, there are other differences between Canada and the United States that indicate that the Conservative majority in 2011 to 2015 may not have been as powerful and effective in Canada as might appear to be the case. There was the instance, for example, when the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) carried out the longest filibuster in Canadian history, to try to block back-to-work legislation in regard to the labour dispute at Canada Post (the Canadian postal corporation).
One important difference between Canada and the U.S. is the absence of a more organized, coherent, political Right in Canada. While there are many similarities between the left-liberal media, academic, cultural, juridical, and governmental establishments in Canada and the U.S., Canada manifestly lacks a rambunctious right-wing. In the U.S., in contrast, there has been a wide-ranging and extensive debate among various groupings of the broader and far more dynamic right-wing, including paleoconservatives, neoconservatives, right-wing Greens, libertarians, paleolibertarians, classical liberals, “social conservatives of the Left” (such as Christopher Lasch), and religious conservatives, sometimes called “theo-cons”.
Nevertheless, in more recent years, the debate appears to have slackened, becoming dominated by neoconservatives and shallow Republican Party operatives. Another trend to be noted is the atrophy of “paleo” elements in most forms of libertarianism. And today’s National Review – traditionally the flagship journal of all of American conservatism — is a weak shadow of its robust and intellectually trenchant former self.
Two huge factors have contributed to the US being more politically conservative – the first being that, as “the one remaining superpower,” the United States has effectively maintained its armed forces, notwithstanding the efforts of the Obama Administration to create an increasingly “woke” military, especially in its higher ranks; and secondly, the large presence of Christian religion in the U.S., including both Protestant fundamentalists and tradition-minded Catholics. It should also be remembered that, for now at least, taxation is low in the U.S., relative to Canada; that U.S. gun-control legislation is minimal, relative to Canada; and that the U.S. medical system has (until recently) been largely driven by free-enterprise, compared to Canada.
In regard to immigration, Canada has received about a quarter-million immigrants a year – about 75% of them from non-European sources — since 1988. This mass, dissimilar immigration began in the mid-1960s, but the total immigration since that time had been about 100,000 persons a year. Indeed, it had reached a mere 54,000 in Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s last year in office (1983-1984). It was Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who had raised it precipitously, where it has remained ever since. The population of Canada is now close to 38 million. Unlike the U.S., where criticism of mass, dissimilar immigration is permitted, this is virtually a closed issue in Canada. Indeed, Justin Trudeau has raised immigration to the unprecedented levels of over 400,000 a year, for the next three years.
Connected to policies of mass, dissimilar immigration are policies of multiculturalism. Canada has been a pioneer in this domain – the city of Toronto today is probably the most diverse city in the world, with probably close to 200 groups represented. All levels of government, federal, provincial, and municipal are required to support the cultural endeavours of ethnic groups. Ethnic groups also claim absolute cultural self-determination, rejecting the earlier assimilation model. Multiculturalism today should really be called multiracialism, as it is “visible minorities”, a term officially used in Canada, rather than “white ethnics” such as Ukrainian-, Italian-, Portuguese-, and Polish-Canadians, who are overwhelmingly the focus of government, media, and corporate concern.
Related to multiculturalism is “employment equity”, the Canadian term for affirmative action, which operates on behalf of the following “designated groups” – women, visible minorities, aboriginal peoples, and persons with disabilities – in all levels of government, as well as in much of the private sector. In one major “pay-equity” settlement, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, a quasi-judicial tribunal, ordered the Federal Government to pay about $3.5 billion (Canadian) to women working or formerly working for the Federal Government. By contrast, the entire budget for the Canadian military in the year 2000 was about $10 billion.
The Aboriginal peoples of Canada, traditionally called Indians, Metis, and Inuit are now hoping to wrest vast resources and territories from other Canadians, based on re-negotiation of earlier treaties and claims of compensation for past abuse. In Canada’s Far North, a semi-sovereign entity called Nunavut has been created, and has been receiving about $500 million (Canadian) in every year of its existence, to cover its budget deficit. In attempting to explain how the money going to Aboriginal peoples has apparently not benefited the average Aboriginal person, some critics have suggested that a small coterie of Aboriginal leaders and activists – while living extravagant lifestyles themselves – often do not pass on many of the benefits to their own group.
In August 2002, there was an attempt to further entrench “employment equity” in the Federal Civil Service – twenty percent of all new hires were to be “visible minorities”, and senior managers were to receive performance bonuses depending on how many of the latter they hired. Although there were a few scattered voices of protest, this is fact seemed like a continuation of policies that had been in place for at least thirty years. The Harper government several years ago promised a review of employment equity policies, but this did not go anywhere.
Ironically, in the wake of BLM in the United States, Canada is awash with claims of “systemic racism” and a group of Black civil servants has launched a lawsuit against the Federal Government, claiming pervasive discrimination, and asking for $900 million (Canadian).As for disabled persons, they have doubtless been included under employment equity to give the policy a veneer of “kindness” and “compassion.” In reality, little is being done for disabled persons today, apart from disability support payments and some subsidies for housing and assistive devices, which are not exactly generous. However, the inclusion of disabled persons as a “designated group” inclines this rather heterogeneous category of people and their care-givers to support the current-day “equity regime,” and increases still further the social stigma of publicly challenging employment equity.
Canada is also permeated by the bilingualism (French and English) policy. This means that Canada is an officially bilingual state, and that most positions and especially senior positions in the Federal Civil Service require knowledge of both French and English. The effect of this has been to increase the chances of French-Canadians and members of Canada’s liberal English-speaking elites, more of whom tend to be bilingual, of obtaining civil service positions. It has tended to discriminate against ordinary, English-speaking Canadians. New Brunswick, an Atlantic Maritime province with a French-speaking population of about 35%, is officially fully bilingual, and Ontario, with a French-speaking population of about 5%, has been urged to move to full official bilingualism. However, the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec, where one of seven inhabitants doesn’t have French as a first language, embraces unilingualism in its government and official policy: French only.
Government, typically white-collar jobs at the federal, provincial, or municipal levels, are often considered to be undemanding, with comparatively large benefits relative to private sector compensations, so policies such as employment equity tend to exclude increasing numbers of persons, especially white males, from remunerative employment. And it now happens that persons are typically hired only if they bridge two or three designated categories. The government sector is also clearly permeated by varying degrees of political correctness, so a person with more conservative or traditionalist views is unlikely to be hired.
The intellectual, cultural, and academic life of Canada is more dominated by “political correctness” than the United States. Unlike the U.S., homeschooling is comparatively rare in Canada, there are fewer private schools at the primary and secondary level, and there are very few private, post-secondary institutions. The hundreds of private, more traditional, usually religious-affiliated colleges in the U.S. may allow for the existence of a community of more traditionally-oriented scholars that can have some impact on U.S. politics. Intelligent persons of a conservative or traditionalist outlook are almost completely isolated in Canada, and have little hope of achieving a tenured academic appointment – or even of finishing a Ph.D. Policies similar to employment equity operate, de jure or de facto, at virtually every Canadian university. These determine admissions to undergraduate, as well as graduate programs — and especially to professional programs like law and medicine; the disbursement of scholarships and other aid to students; and the hiring of all academic faculty, librarians, library assistants, and other academic and non-academic support staff.
The Canadian media, including the publishing world, is also more hostile to persons of conservative or traditionalist outlooks than is the case in the United States. And the so-called “alternative media” and “alternative publishers” in Canada are even more unwelcoming to conservatives than the mainstream publishers. So, again, we see the Right being stymied in Canada. Even the sharpest and most reflective persons of conservative or traditionalist outlooks in Canada are unlikely to becoming opinion-columnists in Canadian newspapers, or acclaimed authors with books appearing with credible publishers. Virtually the entire government-subsidized world of “CanLit” is inimical to conservatism.
The atrophy of the broader Right in Canada means that Canadians are cut off from certain stimulating intellectual and creative ideas and political options. It also means that any remaining socially conservative instincts of the general populace are untutored, and therefore easily pejoritized as “bigotry” by the left-liberal elites. Many people go through their entire lives in Canada without ever hearing a seriously-presented, conservative or traditionalist argument. It could be argued that it is diversity of thought that is most important, and most Canadians of any cultural or social group will never get beyond the prevalent, politically-correct, dogmas and taboos.
Because of the atrophy of traditional religion in Canada, the gay rights and radical feminist agendas have advanced more quickly than in the United States. The birthrate in Canada has also fallen far below replacement level, in marked contrast to the United States, where even the birthrate of “non-Hispanic white” (to use the official term of the U.S. Census) women is comparatively high. At the same time, Canada has a very high rate of abortion.
Many Canadians grudgingly put up with these various Canadian syndromes because they are linked to a very generous welfare-state. Apart from the obvious “true believers” in the left-liberal cadres, most of whom also clearly enjoy comfortable lives, most ordinary people also tend to fall into line, unwilling to jeopardize their public sector job, or the government subsidy to their business, for the sake of what seem like distant and questionable notions. Canada prides itself on its very generous medical system. The issue of healthcare is growing increasingly salient in Canada, especially with a rapidly-aging population.
At the same time, Canada today does not meet some of the traditional criteria of a state. It fails to properly control its borders, and its armed forces, except under Harper, have been critically underfunded, to a point of near-atrophy. The federal government under the Chretien Liberals (1993-2003) had been able to achieve a budget surplus owing mainly to the high income tax rates; the 7% Goods and Services Tax which is levied on virtually all economic activity (Harper had lowered it to 5%); the reform of Unemployment Insurance (now called Employment Insurance), which significantly cut benefits; the so-called clawback of Old Age Pensions, over a certain, relatively modest income threshold; and the reduction of federal transfer payments for healthcare to the provinces. Considering these facts, the achievement of a federal budget surplus under Prime Minister Chretien and his Finance Minister, Paul Martin Jr., who was Prime Minister from 2003-2006, is less of a “miracle” than it might appear.
The Conservative Party was finally able to win a strong majority in the federal Parliament in the 2011 federal election. This was the first putatively conservative majority in the federal Parliament since 1988. However, in October 2015, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals rebounded, and won a strong majority. Their return to power meant the undermining of whatever small steps in a conservative direction that Stephen Harper had undertaken. In the October 2019 federal election, the Liberals hung on to a strong minority government (a plurality of seats in the House of Commons) – which has been supported by the federal New Democratic Party (NDP), which is even further left.
Left-leaning infrastructures such as feminist groups (who are indeed often tightly enmeshed with governmental bureaucracies) outweigh in resources such right-leaning infrastructures, such as the Fraser Institute think-tank, by astronomical factors. And, although there is a quite substantial amount of debate about economic issues and economic conservatism, as far as social conservatism and right-wing patriotism, these have almost no register on the Canadian political scene. Left-liberals are quite content to allow a soulless “managerial Right” to manage the economy – so long as they get to dictate all of the social and cultural issues.
Some Canadian newspapers, notably The National Post, formerly owned by disgraced Canadian-born conservative press baron Conrad Black, have some right-wing content, including a few surprisingly acerbic columnists. There are a handful of prominent conservative academics, especially in Alberta. There also arose in April 2011, a right-leaning news outlet on television – Sun Network News – but it closed abruptly on February 13, 2015, putting around 200 people out of work. Ezra Levant has also founded a major news website – The Rebel Media. Candice Malcolm has created a substantial media initiative – True North Canada. There is also the website, The Post Millennial. However, all this is small fry, compared with the comparatively massive right-wing presence in the United States. The presence of a large, organized, political Right in the U.S., and its absence in Canada, will probably lead to increasingly divergent futures for both countries. Many of the more pleasant aspects of life in Canada are likely to disappear with the increasing triumph of ever-more-insistent left-liberal and left-wing policies. The political situation in Canada, with the virtual non-existence of an intellectual and cultural Right, cannot be healthy for Canadian society.
Persons of traditionalist or conservative outlooks in Canada are faced with the unappealing prospect of powerlessly watching many congenial aspects of Canada spiral into oblivion. Their feelings of chronic hopelessness may perhaps be assuaged by contemplating more hopeful developments in the United States, or perhaps in East-Central Europe and Russia.
Considering that Harper had been so badly stymied in his efforts at systemic reform through the federal Parliament, there might arise increasing calls for regional devolution, so that, for example, Alberta or all of Western Canada could enact more congenial social and economic policies. Harper, during his majority government, failed decisively, and such scenarios of regional devolution may, ironically, be the best hope for some fragmentary survival of traditionalism and conservatism in Canada. The more the Left opposed Harper, thwarting the work of the Conservative federal majority government, the more it may have created the preconditions for frustrated Conservative voters to turn to devolutionist scenarios.
Sociologist Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and researcher