Wegierski: A brief history of conservative publications in Canada – updated to 2023

A survey of conservative publications in Canada tells a sorry tale of short-lived efforts lacking the ideological coherence and material support necessary to make a significant impact. Any group of conservative writers and thinkers needs to be aware of the struggles of those who have gone before and to learn, if possible, from their mistakes.

One of the most well-known quotations by Conrad Black concerns his promise (or threat) to establish a publication in Canada which would be a “National Review North.” Although Lord Black certainly created a revolution in the Canadian newspaper world, whose effects continue to be felt today, he did not manage to create a publication that could play as profound a role in Canadian politics as the early National Review played in the creation of an American conservative movement. Black never allocated the funding for a profound intellectual journal of conservative opinion in Canada (although The National Post and other Black papers partially undertook such writing). In earlier decades, The Toronto Sun (descendant of The Toronto Telegraph) had carried a number of conservative columnists (some of whom were remarkably acerbic), but lacked the consistent intellectual credentials to avoid classification by critics as a “tabloid”.

In the 1980s, with a huge Progressive Conservative majority, there was some quickening of conservative intellectual life in Canada, but all struggled to achieve a lasting impact. The businessman William A. B. Campbell launched a magazine called International Conservative Insight, but the venture disappeared when it became apparent he wasn’t going to turn a profit from this initiative. There was an attempt to produce a right-leaning newsmagazine in Ottawa called Seven Days, but it failed after a few issues.  Dr. Branka Lapajne had somewhat more success with a monthly newspaper called The Phoenix, which continued for a few years before closing. There was also a brief attempt to launch a right-leaning student newspaper at the University of Toronto called The University of Toronto Magazine, but the paper faced troubles right from the start, for example over name duplication, and never managed to find its feet. Launched with great fanfare, Peter Worthington’s Influence magazine collapsed after about two years. It began with a misstep – billing itself as directed at “men of influence” — and tried to sell itself as a magazine for wealthy businessmen, rather than for conservatives per se. The newsletters of the University of Toronto P.C.s, Rabble & Reaction, and of the young Ontario P.C.s, Blue Wave, were sometimes interesting but had nothing more than a local reach. The period was characterized by a variety of initiatives, none of which found a sustaining audience.

Finally, there arose The Idler, a precocious journal of literary-artistic-cultural pretensions, with some sotto voce conservative philosophizing. It was in a non-glossy large-magazine format, with artistic covers in colour, the interior in black and white, and some interesting illustrations. It had a broad variety of contributors, many of whom were literary aspirants who avoided forthright political statements. The main problem with The Idler could be summed up by saying that it offered a tiny, frothy dessert confection – as opposed to the “meat-and-potatoes” that many conservatives were hungering for at the time. The very title seemed redolent of affectation and political inaction. Considering that it often made a point of putting down ordinary people, it never achieved much of a circulation (apparently – 8,000 at the maximum).  The major conservative publications of the time were the Alberta Report/B.C. Report/Western Report of the Byfield family. Alberta Report had a circulation of about 60,000; B.C. Report about 15,000 (in the province of British Columbia); and Western Report (in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba), about 5,000. Even the most successful conservative publications were limited in their readership and impact.

Some of the most long-lasting publications had an economic focus. The National Citizens’ Coalition put out a newsletter-type publication, and the Fraser Institute produced Fraser Forum, which continually improved in physical quality. The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation also publishes a magazine.

The trend of short-lived and varyingly ambitious ventures continued into the early 1990s. At this time, The Idler finally folded when foundation funding was withdrawn. William D. Gairdner, the author of the bestselling The Trouble with Canada tried to launch a newsletter-type publication called Speaking Out that failed with the first issue. In Toronto, Judi McLeod, who had been a prominent Toronto Sun columnist, launched Our Toronto Free Press, a free-distribution monthly newspaper (which has subsequently become a webzine). Toronto’s free-distribution monthly newspaper Transforum was open to contributions from across the spectrum. There was also a free-distribution newspaper called Toronto Westend Express, in which some conservative articles appeared. Young writer Michael Taube attempted a ‘zine called From The Right, which lasted only three issues. It was packed with interesting articles during its short lifespan. A major magazine (glossy, full-colour) open to contributions from across the spectrum was The Next City, which was supported by the Donner Canada Foundation. Gravitas (non-glossy, black-and-white, but with high-quality paper) also funded by Donner, was a brief, brave attempt at a conservative intellectual magazine of considerably greater social and political engagement than The Idler. It too failed to take off, perhaps because it was perceived to be too narrowly intellectual.

The only real success among Canadian conservative publications were the Byfield newsmagazines. By the 1990s, the magazines looked in format somewhat like Time or Newsweek (glossy, full-colour covers, although mostly monochrome inside) and contained a variety of features.

In summation, the 1980s was a dreadful time for conservatives in Canada – unlike in the U.S. and Britain. Living in megapolitan Toronto before the coming of the Internet, it often must have seemed to conservative thinkers that nothing belonged to them except the few cubic centimeters inside their skull (as Orwell had put it). The Idler was certainly not an answer to this dilemma. With the rise of the Reform Party in the 1990s, there was greater hope — but attempts to create an enduring conservative intellectual magazine (Gravitas came closest to it) continued to fail. In Part Two, the author will look at how subsequent ventures fared.

The Conrad Black media revolution of the mid- to late-1990s, it could be argued, reconstructed the hitherto unspectacular Southam papers (and the former Financial Post) into a snazzier, as well as more intellectually diverse, format – with some surprisingly sharp-edged conservatism that had virtually never before been seen in Canada. As Black’s fortunes ebbed, the ideological sharpness of the papers markedly diminished, but the changes could not be entirely expunged. Black had also controversially taken over Saturday Night, which, however, at no time came to resemble a conservative magazine. Indeed, as far as the author knows, that venerable magazine has now completely folded.

The Byfield newsmagazines, practically a Canadian conservative institution for decades, failed shortly after the beginning of the Twenty-First Century. It is difficult to say what exactly happened; some have argued that the Byfields simply got tired of their draining undertaking. Those circulation numbers certainly appeared to have made the magazines sustainable. In the aftermath of the Byfield failure, Ezra Levant and others established The Western Standard (newsmagazine format). It certainly seemed to be able to fill the “niche” left by the collapse of the Byfield newsmagazines. The demand for “only news-stories” largely excluded freelancers from the magazine. The Western Standard also folded in curious circumstances; apparently, the investors were demanding a quick return on their investment. It should be known by now that that should be a secondary consideration, for political publications.

Social conservatism in Canada is now represented mostly by The Interim: Canada’s Life and Family Newspaper (and the website, lifesite.net), and Faithful Insight magazine (a successor to Catholic Insight). Two major magazines were published by the CARDUS think-tank, Convivium, and Comment.  However, Convivium had become an online-only publication – its last print issue appeared in January 2017. On February 18, 2022, even the online version of Convivium was closed to new submissions – although the website archive is expected to remain. Comment continues to appear.

I recall seeing in the 1990s a thin magazine of the Canadian TFP (Tradition, Family, Property), and a broadsheet called Michael Journal, published by the remnants of the Quebec Créditistes.

There is today the major, French-language, Quebec-based social conservative journal, Égards


The arising of the Internet after 1995 did certainly open up some new forums for Canadian conservatives. The main edited e-zine has for a long time been enterstageright.com (as well as Judi McLeod’s Canada Free Press); the main self-posting forum is freedominion.ca ; and conservativeforum.org is an archive of interesting articles that is not updated.  In recent years, Free Dominion has been subjected to vicious “lawfare”, and its situation is highly tenuous.

In 2007, there arose the major webzine quarterly, c2cjournal.ca .

There has arisen Ezra Levant’s The Rebel (or The Rebel Media) website, with dozens of bloggers contributing to it.

Another substantial media initiative is Candice Malcolm’s True North Canada.

There is also The Post-Millennial website.

Another substantial website is The Hub ( thehub.ca ).

Representing Western Canada, there is the new Western Standard website.

Three websites of the “culturalist opposition” are actforcanada.ca, capforcanada.com, and eurocanadian.ca .

There are also the party-based Blogging Tories. The impact of lesser-known websites, and more prominent personal blogs (such as those of Kate McMillan, the late Kathy Shaidle, or Richard Klagsbrun) is sometimes ephemeral and difficult to estimate. It still remains to be seen whether political discourse on the Internet can become a basis for generating enough financial resources and infrastructural “weight” in society to create major social, cultural, and political shifts.

In recent years, there have arisen a few conservative print publications – The Dorchester Review (with mostly reviews of works of history) (published twice a year – in a classic “quarterly” digest format); The Canadian Observer (which, after a promising start, has failed) (newmagazine format); and Convivium (magazine format, glossy, full-colour cover, monochrome inside) published by the social conservative think-tank CARDUS. In January 2017, the last print issue of Convivium appeared. On February 18, 2022, even the online version of Convivium was closed to new submissions – although the website archive is expected to remain. They also publish a quarterly called Comment, in a smaller “digest” format (full-colour cover, monochrome inside).

The author liked the first editorial of The Canadian Observer, which said it wanted to be a “Cité Libre of the Right”. (Cité Libre was the intensely intellectual and intensely left-wing journal founded by Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his associates in the 1950s in Quebec, when the prospects for the Left in Canada seemed especially thin. It was said to be the seedling from which both the so-called Quiet Revolution in Quebec, and the subsequent “Trudeau revolution” in all of Canada, arose.)

There is also a local, agrarian-focussed magazine published in Eastern Ontario, The Landowner.

In July 2013, a daily webzine, Freedom Press Canada Journal, was launched with great fanfare, but it mostly stopped publication after November 30, 2013, and has now apparently been entirely removed from the Internet. New postings had begun to very sporadically appear on the website (freedompress.ca) since mid-2014, but now the whole website appears to be no longer extant.

In any case, Canadian conservatives are still looking for a “National Review North”. The main concept behind an intellectually- and ideologically-focussing magazine and/or daily-updated webzine is that it would be a nucleus around which other political institutions such as think-tanks and other publications could grow.

It was clearly the early years of National Review which were the most important in creating the American conservative movement. It remains to be seen whether Canada can ever begin to follow along a similar path.

This journey through the history of attempts at creating a sustainable conservative publication in Canada as an intellectual anchor (the role that the early National Review played in America), raises two points: the fragmented conservative community in Canada might lack either the will or the necessary focus to unite together around an authoritative Canadian conservative publication; while the Left in Canada, on the other hand, has amply displayed the ability to maintain more than one iconic publication.

Mark Wegierski

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