On the Sesquicentennial (150th Anniversary) of Canadian Confederation: The decline of the Tory tradition in Canada since the 1980s (Part II)

One should also mention John Gamble, who unfortunately became increasingly embittered at his treatment by the PC party in the 1980s, and eventually drifted into unqualified extremism. Brian Mulroney owed a huge political debt to Gamble for keeping the anti-Clark forces alive – thus contributing to Joe Clark’s weak showing in the leadership review and Mulroney’s subsequent win in the leadership convention of 1983. Despite the fact that Gamble was the PC party’s official candidate in the riding, the collusion of the PC and Liberal Parties led to his defeat in 1984 by the setting up of a supposedly “independent” candidate who “unexpectedly” won the riding. Another example of disdain for a more substantively conservative candidate was the way Peter Worthington (a co-founder and former editor of The Toronto Sun) was maneuvered out of the PC candidacy in the Toronto riding of Broadview-Greenwood in 1984, thus being forced into a difficult run as an independent. So what were at that time two of Canada’s more substantive conservatives were shut out of the huge, 211-seat, Mulroney landslide victory of 1984.

There had been in the large PC caucus of 1984 and 1988, an attempt to form a “small-c conservative” ginger-group, snidely characterized by the media as “the Dinosaur Club”. Given Mulroney’s contempt for “small-c conservatism”, the climate at the ginger-group meetings was likely to have been without much cheer.

The Conservative Party under Stephen Harper had carried the hopes of a large, centre-right and centre coalition. Its more salient (5) supporters included: social conservatives, neoconservatives, libertarians, classical liberals, purely fiscal conservatives, as well as some federalists and “soft sovereigntists” in Quebec, some disaffected right-wing Liberals and perhaps some socially conservative former NDP supporters. However, it would be of considerable importance to the future of Canada, if the voice of what could be called „true toryism” could somehow be heard within the diverse medley of the Conservative Party.

The notion of Canada ever being a more conservative society than America has largely disappeared from the perception of both the general public and the media and intellectual elites of Canada. Yet, until the 1960s, it could be argued that Canada was indeed a more substantively conservative society. In contrast to the United States, however, Canada was almost always in its history characterized by a far greater degree of “niceness” and politeness than America, mostly avoiding such aspects of American society as racism and excessive commercialism. It is not too popular today to say that the roots of Canadian politeness may actually lie in an earlier social conservatism. The attempts by the current-day “politically correct” to “demonize” Canada’s past and even some current-day realities would be outrightly ridiculous if they were not so deeply entrenched now among the Canadian intellectual and media elites. One would want to laugh at “politically correct” persons who claim to be Canadian nationalists, while characterizing Canada historically, and to some extent even today, as a presumed nexus of “white evil.” Nothing confident, socially healthy, or truly tolerant can be built on the ground of ever more pronounced self-hatred.

It should also be considered that Canadians have been typified as being deferential to authority. In the pre-1960s, when the “traditionalist-centrist consensus” was in place, this contributed to making Canada more socially-conservative. However, once the ruling paradigm was changed from the top, this has meant that many Canadians have become among the most ardent exponents of “political-correctness” in the world. (6)

It should be remembered that, insofar as America remained more liberal than Canada, the Liberal Party pushed for „Free Trade”, increased contacts with the United States, and advocated continentalism (typified by Frank Underhill and, to some extent, Mackenzie King). Now, when America appears to be more conservative than Canada (owing to a variety of reasons), the Liberal Party has suddenly discovered what it calls Canadian nationalism (what is called „the unique socially-compassionate political culture of Canada”).

What is also somewhat ironic is that there has apparently occurred a similar dialectical “flip” between the United States and Europe, as the United States and Canada. It has been argued that America today (frequently characterized by its willingness to exercise power) is a considerably more conservative society than those seen in Europe, and especially in the Western European countries (characterized as a so-called “postmodern paradise”). (7)

However, it could be argued that Canada, America, and the European Union are today, to a large extent, just three “super-states” of somewhat different forms of the “managerial-therapeutic regime.”  What appears to have occurred is the near-total reconstruction of what it means to be a “European”, an “American”, and a “Canadian” today.

It is an interesting question which of those societies is best equipped to weather the coming storm of the conflict with Islam, the challenge of such powers as China and India, and the burgeoning rise of what was during the Cold War named the Third World. It’s possible to argue that what remains of Western civilization will mostly become localized in Eastern Europe (8) and Russia. Considering that possible context, the reconciliation of the Western, Eastern, and Southern Slavic nations may become a matter of world-historical importance.

Canadian nationalism has historically manifested itself though two main communal identities, the British and the French. It could be argued that what is found today in the Liberal and New Democratic Parties is an advanced and elaborate form of „doublethink” — simultaneously embracing Canadian „nationalism” (defined in an almost entirely liberal and left-wing way), and the excesses of multiculturalism, which tend to vitiate any sense of real Canadian identity.

What is nationalism? One of the more usual definitions of the goals of nationalism is in terms of an effective foreign policy; a large and well-equipped military; and evocative traditional state-symbols and institutions, which strongly bind the nation together. One might well ask what sort of nationalism have the Liberals given Canada since the 1960s? It could be seen as gutless neutralism, practical disarmament, and the undermining of almost all traditional symbols and institutions.

It may not be a good sign for the condition of Canada or Quebec that considerable numbers of Quebecois nationalists think they can separate from Canada – and leave the military under Canadian jurisdiction! It is one of most elementary concepts in politics that an independent state must maintain the monopoly on the use of force within its boundaries. If that degree of “postmodern” ambiguity is possible today on the part of some Quebecois nationalists, surely there can be prospects for various other, far less drastic, conditions of ambiguity that will allow Quebec to remain part of Canada. This seemed to be what Mario Dumont and the ADQ had been working towards.

A corollary of a more robust nationalism is what has been mentioned in an earlier article: cultural sovereignty. The absurdity of those who typically call themselves Canadian nationalists today, is highlighted by their definition of the term “cultural sovereignty” —  which they still sometimes use. They mean to refer to almost anything produced by what have been called Canada’s “cultural industries.” Yet the arbiters of current-day Canadian culture have almost entirely cut themselves off from Canada’s more authentic roots. It could be argued that the current-day Canadian so-called “high culture” – as far as its natively English-speaking Canadian component — has virtually no authentic existence outside of a few, narrow, mostly Toronto- and Vancouver-based “arts cliques.” Precisely because it has cut itself off from its roots, this inauthentic culture simply has to be heavily subsidized by all levels of government.

At the same time, it could be argued that there is now virtually one unified “North American” (U.S. and Canada) pop-culture, driven mostly by Hollywood. The mavens of Canadian culture today usually think that “the response” to Hollywood – insofar as they feel the need to differentiate themselves from America — is to be even more antinomian, even more “edgy”, even more “politically-correct”, than Hollywood. Thus, today’s typical Canadian books, visual and plastic art, public architecture, plays, popular music, television shows, and news programs could be characterized as quite similar to America’s – only worse (from the standpoint of a more traditional view of Canadian culture).

The CBC has made a prominent television special celebrating Louis Riel (whom it is rather difficult to see as a real Canadian hero), yet there has never been a major epic movie or television special made about Sir Isaac Brock, who died saving this country from an American invasion. It is currently little known that the campaigns of Sir Isaac Brock and his Indian ally, Tecumseh (9) are studied to this day as examples of military achievement. (Ironically, it’s possible that those achievements are better known to Americans, especially those studying military history, than to Canadians.) And then they wonder at the CBC why Canadian culture is on the verge of disappearing.

Gad Horowitz, a well-known social democratic Canadian political philosopher, made (a considerable number of years ago) an absolutely amazing criticism of multiculturalism, and defence of English-Canadian nationalism.

“…[O]ur national politicians are afraid to challenge the professional ethnics and the provincial empire builders who perversely demand for their groups a status similar to that of the French. The continuation of our strong emphasis on regional and ethnic differentiation perpetuates fragmentation, prevents the emergence of any clear Canadian or English Canadian identity, and leaves the door wide open for Americanization… Instead of giving the French alone a special status, we are disintegrating the country by giving all ethnic groups and provinces special status. Canada may never be a national community because of the French presence. English Canada can be a national community, but only if our image of Canada is transformed from a political union of provinces and tribes into a political union of two communities, one English and one French. We must have the courage to combine accommodation of the French particularism with resistance to intra-English particularisms…

Most mosaic celebrators take the line that the very nothingness of Canada is its most praiseworthy characteristic. „How wonderful to live in a country that has no flag.” How wonderful to live in a non-nationalistic nation, a nation that is not a nation, „a land of many cultures”…

When this way of talking is not fake, it is literally nihilistic…

The whole ideology of the mosaic came into being not so much to justify cultural diversity as to justify the absence of a national community embracing that diversity. We have only the pluribus, not the unum. The mosaic ideology is not needed to preserve the diversity; it is a weak and often insincere apology for the absence of unity. What differentiates us from the Americans is not our cultural diversity — they have it too — but our failure to develop a national community…

If an overarching English Canadian national community existed, the ethnic and regional particularisms would evaporate, with no regrets and little nostalgia… The mosaic preserves nothing of value. It is literally nothing. It is the absence of a sense of identity, the absence of a common life which can be shared by the English-speaking regions and tribes of Canada… If the situation can be saved…English Canadian intellectuals…must become self-conscious nation builders, as „survivance” conscious as the Québécois.”


The fact that a well-known left-wing thinker stands very „far to the right” of all of today’s major political parties, on the issue of Canadian nationalism, may show in what a dislocated direction Canada has evolved.

Following the trail of Horowitz’s argument, it could be argued that English-speaking Canada was, in its history and founding, a traditionally British, considerably tory-oriented society — both in the wider sense of having a British political culture, institutions, and general temperament, with a respect for traditional institutions and „peace, order, and good government”; and in the narrower sense of being predominantly founded by persons who (regardless of their points of origin — the Thirteen Colonies, England, Scotland, Wales, or Ireland) identified themselves as British in both the general and ethnic sense.

It could be argued that the main roots of Canadian nationality lie in the United Empire Loyalists — the men and women who remained loyal to their Sovereign, and consequently rejected the American Revolution, preferring exile in comparative penury to life in a society which, as they saw it, placed a greater value on money, than on virtue, honour, and faith.The toryism of the Loyalists was similar in some ways to the traditional Catholic conservatism of Quebec — a society suffused with the spirit of Catholic Christendom — of piety, charity, faith, and honour.

Together, the French and British communities hoped to persevere and preserve some measure of their noble traditions on the North American continent, a task which has proved largely impossible.

The conservative alliance of the British and the French in Canada persisted in its most pristine form until 1896. Subsequently, Canada became characterized by an ever more centrist consensus focussed on the Liberal Party of Sir Wilfrid Laurier and of Mackenzie King (the longest-serving Canadian Prime Minister). It has been argued in earlier articles, that the developments after 1963 have marked an overturning of the “traditionalist-centrist consensus” – indeed, the creation of a “New Canada” – which could be called “Canada Two.”

It could be argued that the two main, highly tragic mistakes of the British North Americans or British Canadians were as follows. Firstly, there was their inability to properly distinguish between the more general and the purely ethnic aspects of their identity, which has, it could be argued, allowed “the mosaic ideology” to eventually undermine most of the more authentic notions of Canada. Secondly, there was their inability to reach a proper constitutional accommodation with Quebec (which most likely would have been some form of „dualism”), in which a traditional Quebec would have usually acted in support of, and not mostly in opposition to, the interests of the general polity.

In a well-considered conceptualization to undercut the excesses of multiculturalism in Canada, Gad Horowitz has suggested that Britishness is a so-called “political nationality” – which can (one would guess if there are still assimilative pressures being exercised) – be adopted by persons of any ethnicity or religion. Thus, calling Canada a British-inspired society is not inherently a vehicle for unwarranted exclusion.

Jack Granatstein, one of Canada’s leading historians, has said on television (TVO – The Agenda with Steve Paikin) that the real Canadian ideal is that Canada welcomes immigrants without prejudice but does require that they work at becoming successful here, and strive to become, in considerable measure, Canadians.

Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first and possibly greatest Prime Minister, had said, declaring his allegiances, “A British subject I was born, and a British subject I will die.”

Gad Horowitz, a very thoughtful social democrat, is remarkably daring in his description of what he sees as the main Canadian predicament since the 1960s. Nevertheless, the ideas he puts forward, and the suggestions he makes, do seem impossibly remote from current-day Canadian understandings.

What have been some of the greatest blows against British and British-Canadian identity? It could be argued in retrospect that the racialized self-definition of the British as “Anglo-Saxons” – especially in the late Nineteenth Century — has had a highly deleterious effect on English-speaking societies in the Twentieth Century and today. It undermined the notion of Britishness as a “political nationality” and thereby undermined British identity itself, once racialized identities (of the majority population) had become considered as thoroughly repellent. The term “Anglo-Saxon” in its racialized use gives unpleasant reminders of some of the worst aspects of English-speaking societies in the late-Nineteenth and early-Twentieth centuries.

Later, there appears to have occurred a dialectical “flip” among the stereotypical elite WASPs from racist blowhards – to the most ultra-politically-correct and self-alienated white grouping. It should nevertheless be remembered that they typically still enjoy living standards that are materially far, far more comfortable than both those of the “poor” whom they claim to champion, as well as of the “reactionary” lower-middle-classes whom they mostly despise. Many of them also continue to disdain Roman Catholics and “white ethnics” (the various Eastern- and Southern-European nationalities) – although ostensibly for “progressive” reasons.

The collapse of the British Empire in the 1950s has left a void in the Canadian social and cultural landscape that is difficult to replace. Ironically, Britishness is disappearing as an operative identity even in Britain. Indeed, there are books being written today about “the abolition of Britain.” A society once considerably characterized by politeness, commonsense, and a toleration of various personal and political eccentricity, has tended to become one of “yobs”, tawdry women, and police enforcement of “political correctness” – a milieu which, already in the early 1960s, had given the creative impetus to a novel like Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (later filmed audaciously by Stanley Kubrick).

It is an interesting question whether certain aspects of a more traditional English-Canadian character may contribute to Canada still being a “nicer” society than current-day Britain or the United States. Certainly, the archetypical Canadian politeness and the comparative livability of Canada’s large cities persist to some extent even today.

It could be argued that Canada, as “British North America”, may have synthesized the more salubrious aspects of both British and American societies, combining something like the orderliness and politeness of Britain with the material prosperity and more democratic attitudes of living in a huge, resource-rich North American country. Thus, Canada may have removed “the nastier edge” of certain aspects of Britain (the excesses of the class-system of the nineteenth-century English haute-bourgeoisie (10)), as well as of the United States (an excessively commercial and materially-driven society).

Today, the obviously democratic, “progressive” strands in Canadian history are often seen as prefigurations of the “Trudeau consensus” that has taken hold since the late 1960s. However, it’s possible to argue that that is a fundamental misapprehension that does not take into account the highly radical nature of the Trudeau transformations – which have amounted to a “regime-change.” It has been argued earlier that, before the 1960s, virtually all of social, cultural, and political life in Canada existed within the “traditionalist-centrist consensus.”

Britishness has long ago been washed away by ever newer definitions of Canadian identity – and now, even some of those newer definitions of Canadian identity – once considered quite “progressive” – are being washed away by the roaring tide of ever more radically interpreted multiculturalism and “hyper-modernism”.

Mark Wegierski

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