The Hidden Strength Of Red Toryism In Canada, Part Two

Posted on Monday, November 04 at 18:00 by JaredMilne


The first part of this essay reviewed six of the main principles of Red Toryism, and whether they were still present in Canadian politics. The second part of this essay analyzes the other five, and analyzes how they relate to the federal Conservatives getting a majority government under Harper. 

7. Tories believe that education should not only be used to teach specific skills, but also to encourage people to think critically about life. Facts and statistics are not only the only important parts of education-education should also lead people reflect on what life should truly be about and how to live it.

This Red Tory trait is the most difficult one to objectively measure, particularly in the political field. Every individual person will have their own ideas of what they want to do with their lives, and what goals are most pursuing.

However, we can see some indication with Canadian businesspeople and political thinkers like Brett Wilson, Preston Manning and Dick Haskayne who, as previously noted, have emphasized the benefits of corporate social responsibility, environmental sustainability and philanthropy. While the American economist Milton Friedman decried the idea of “corporate social responsibility” and claimed that businesses don’t have any obligations other than to their shareholders, people like Manning, Haskayne and Wilson have shown how business can be concerned about more than just profits. Similarly, the “teach-ins” organized by the Idle No More movement were meant as a way to educate people about the problems faced by Aboriginal people and the Native perspective in dealing with them.

However, in an era when university tuition continues to increase, government funding for higher education continues to be cut, and liberal arts programs, especially, are under pressure because of the belief that they are not worth pursuing in a competitive economy, this is perhaps the Red Tory trait that has faded the most in Canada. Indirect education, such as that advocated by activist groups like Idle No More or individual Canadians like Manning, Haskayne and Wilson, will likely play an increasing role in complementing the formal education offered by schools and universities.

8.    8. Tories believe that we are fallible beings, capable of the best, the worst and the mediocre. This means we must hear from those who see differently. A bitter ideological approach of left, right or centre brings the danger that, in life as in politics, ideology rather than dialogue will carry the day. Tories recognize that good intentions can go bad, and are suspicious of too much power being placed in any person, place or institution.

As we have seen, conservative people, governments and parties in Canada can and frequently do take certain actions that are stereotypically considered progressive or left-wing. They have supported carbon pricing, stimulus packages and government support of industry, opposed the proposed routes of oil pipelines, providing public sources of credit to citizens, supported intervening in electricity markets to curb price spikes, advocated for government facilitating relations between stakeholders, expressed concern about the amount of foreign ownership in Canada’s economy, and more.

Some conservative pundits, such as Terrence Corcoran, lament what they view as the “incremental” political strategy advocated by the likes of Tom Flanagan. Others, like Jonathan Kay, in his review of Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks’ book The Trouble With Billionaires, has written about how it is easier for a poor person to become wealthy in the more interventionist Canada than it is in the laissez-faire United States. Kay admitted that he was struck by how reasonable he found many of McQuaig’s and Brooks’ arguments, pointing out that they were making a very capitalist argument when they note that market economies prosper when the middle class has the income to buy more products and services. What irritated him was not the basic arguments the authors were making, but what he considered the book’s tone of active dislike for rich people.

The same traits are also observable with apparently left-wing parties, too. The federal Liberal party that was condemned for Pierre Trudeau’s huge increases to the national debt later balanced Canada’s books in the 1990s under Jean Chretien and Paul Martin. Even as they created the long gun registry and signed the Kyoto Accord, the Chretien Liberals were also cutting taxes. Frances Russell cited Toronto Star columnist Anthony Westell, who pointed out that under Jack Layton the NDP moved solidly towards the centre, spending just as much time attacking the Michael Ignatieff Liberals as they did attacking Stephen Harper in the 2011 federal election. In Nova Scotia, the recently defeated government under Darrell Dexter balanced the budget and cut funding to education, and it was seen by some observers as not doing enough to keep its social activist base happy. As leader of the federal NDP, Tom Mulcair has ruled out raising taxes on the wealthy if elected, despite star candidate Linda McQuaig’s support of the idea.

Canada’s major political movements are quite comfortable with ignoring rigid ideology if they deem it necessary, and in many cases have been rewarded by Canadians for doing so. The other essential Tory trait, that of being wary of too much power concentrated in any one person or institution, was reflected in Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber’s resignation from the Conservative caucus. In an article posted on his website, Rathgeber criticized the way staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office would try to dictate to elected MPs what they should say or do. He believes that the Harper government has failed to support transparency and open government. He also said that sitting MPs should not behave like “trained seals”, and expressed concern about how much power was being amassed in the PMO. Similarly, conservative Harper supporters at the conservative Free Dominion website have expressed their anger at the Harper government’s use of omnibus bills in Parliament, which they consider an abuse of democracy.

The story is no different in Alberta. The Wildrose Alliance party, viewed as the most right-wing of the major parties in Alberta, is now debating whether to revisit some of its most contentious policies. This reflects leader Danielle Smith’s comments about the party needing to do some ‘soul-searching’ about some of its policies, which were rejected by Albertans. Political columnist Don Braid considers this an attempt to move the Wildrose to the political centre.

Finally, one might note the emphasis on dialogue that is so important to Red Toryism. This is an issue within Red Toryism itself. As conservative blogger Patrick Ross has noted, those who advocate for a more individualist conservatism certainly don’t deserve to be pilloried as “un-Canadian” for their views. They are part of the larger conservative tradition in Canada, which can evolve and grow from the conservatism of 1867. Certainly few Red Tories today would advocate forcibly assimilating Canada’s Aboriginal peoples the way that so many Canadians, liberal and conservative alike, wanted to do in the 19th century!

For that evolution to take place, more positive dialogue is necessary, not the insults that different groups and entities throw at one another. This cuts both ways-certainly Red Tories don’t deserve to be attacked as ‘not true conservatives’ any more than individualist conservatives deserve to be attacked as un-Canadian! Notably, Red Tory writer Richard Clippingdale notes that prominent Red Tory thinker Robert Stanfield would have seen some worrying trends in the Conservative party of Stephen Harper, but he would also have seen several encouraging trends. Clippingdale also noted that several of the current Conservative government’s own goals would have fit into a pattern inspired by Stanfield.

9.    9. Tories believe that religion has a positive role to play in society, and that religious institutions and teachings can provide important lessons and connections to the past.

This is another Red Tory trait that has faded somewhat over the years. Controversial social issues such as abortion and gay marriage are largely seen as settled, and Stephen Harper has renounced any idea of reopening them. In general, Canadians have far less support for open, evangelical conservatism than there is in the United States.

Even then, however, there are signs that there is still controversy among conservatives over issues traditionally supported by religious activists. Conservative MPs such as Stephen Woodworth and Mark Warawa have made Parliamentary motions that would revive the abortion debate, and anti-abortion activists are campaigning in Harper’s own riding. Conservative MP Rob Anders urged anti-abortion activists to “stack” Conservative nomination meetings. Conservative blogger and political thinker Patrick Ross cites polls that have over 60% of female Canadians supported restrictions of some sort on abortion.

Support for Israel is also an important conservative issue, including among religious conservatives, and Harper has been active in doing so. His support is being recognized by Toronto’s Jewish community by their naming a new Israeli bird sanctuary after him. Harper’s support is based on such things as Canada’s voting against Palestinian statehood at the United Nations, and his refusal to condemn either Israel’s 2006 offensive against Hezbollah or its expansion of its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Critics such as Marci McDonald wonder if this is part of a larger, though downplayed, affiliation between Harper and Canadian evangelicalism, although McDonald admits that it’s unclear how much Harper’s spiritual beliefs have impacted his politics.

As he noted in The New Canada, Preston Manning has also been up front about his own spiritual beliefs, and how they led him to public service. He also specifically notes that, as important as it is, true faith distinguishes itself from spurious faith in that it does not seek to forcibly impose its solutions on people who do not want it. The Idle No More movement, in standing up for the Treaty rights of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples, also has important spiritual roots in that, as Aboriginal activists Harold Cardinal and Ovide Mercredi have noted, many Aboriginals feel that their religious identities are intimately tied up with their Treaty rights. Asking them to abandon their Treaty rights is almost like asking them to abandon their religions.

10. 10. Tories believe that there is in reality a good, a better and a best, as well as a bad, worse and worst. Beyond debates on matters such as freedom, individuality and equality, there must also be a question of what ideals these matters help us attain. What do we actually use the liberty and individuality we possess for?

The question of whether people want to strive for something more fulfilling than simply acquiring more money and possessions is well worth debating, as well as what exactly the best goals are to pursue in life. However, like trait #7 this is difficult to objectively measure. Some goals may be viewed as more worthy than others, and what one person might view as a waste of time could in someone else’s opinion be well worth striving for.

However, as a people Canadians have often had a positive influence on the world well out of proportion to our small population. As noted by Roy MacGregor, Canadians have given the world everything from the Canadarm to kerosene to caulking guns to Pablum to the telephone to insulin to standard time to combine harvesters to green garbage bags to the electron microscope to instant potatoes to snowblowers to AM radio to the Blackberry to electric stoves to IMAX to the Robertson screw to Muskol to the snowmobile to the paint roller to five-pin bowling to the Wonderbra and Trivial Pursuit.

Throughout history, Canadians have often played extremely influential roles, whether in Hollywood (from actors like Mary Pickford in the early days of Hollywood to the likes of James Cameron today), in sports (Dr. James Naismith was the inventor of basketball), the World Wars (when Canadians fought with all their hearts for freedom in World War II, and caused even the Imperial Germans to fear them in World War I), the battle against cancer (with the Terry Fox runs that have raised millions for cancer research), international diplomacy and peacekeeping (Lester Pearson helping to defuse the Suez Canal crisis, creating modern military peacekeeping in the process), the fight against apartheid (John Diefenbaker getting South Africa expelled from the Commonwealth, or Brian Mulroney’s supporting role in opposing apartheid) and opposition to genocide (Romeo Dallaire’s courageous efforts to protect innocent Rwandans). Even today, Canada continues to be a leader in scientific advancement and contributions to the arts, punching well above our weight.

Not all of these things were done out of altruism, of course. In many cases, the people behind them wanted to profit from what they had created. However, the fact that they might have personally gained from their efforts did not prevent many other people from benefiting as well, and the overall effect many Canadians have had on the world has been a highly positive one. In that respect, for all of our other failings as a society, Canada has often striven for the better and the best.

11. 11. Tories recognize the way the British, French and Aboriginal institutions have all contributed to the founding and development of Canada. This is in contrast to “boutique” multiculturalism, which ignores how these cultures have built Canada and continue to remain so important today.

Despite the idea promoted by some versions of multiculturalism that all cultures are relative, and that only individual rights matter, the fact remains that the British, French and Aboriginal cultures have an important place in how Canada has grown and developed. That role also continues even today.

Many of the examples cited for previous Red Tory traits also apply here. The Idle No More movement certainly doesn’t think that Aboriginal people are just individual Canadians with rights. The support for Bill 101 in Quebec also clearly indicates the feeling many Francophones in that province feel for maintaining their culture. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms affirms the educational rights of the French- and English-language minority communities, and the Treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples.

Many conservatives oppose the idea of multiculturalism. In his book The New Canada, Preston Manning laid out the Reform Party’s opposition to multiculturalism and its belief that the federal government should treat all Canadians strictly equally. Particular treatment for certain Canadians, such as Francophones or Aboriginals, ought to be left to local governments. Political commentator Ezra Levant goes further, decrying multiculturalism as enabling violent extremists to import their violence and attack other citizens. Levant specifically lays out Western values, such as the separation of church and state, that ought to be supported over other cultural values imported by certain immigrants. In both cases, the conservative movement specifically supports maintaining the values that we have inherited from Britain.

More generally, one can observe how many immigrants integrate into Canada. While they might speak their ancestral languages to friends, family and other people within their own cultural group, they typically learn English and/or French to interact with other Canadians. This applies even to Francophones outside Quebec-in Edmonton, for example, I have observed how immigrants from African countries that used to be colonized by France or Belgium use French to interact with the local Franco-Albertan community, who then help them integrate into Canadian society.

This illustrates how multiculturalism and the idea of founding cultures in Canada can in fact get along. Our founding cultures may not disappear, but they do change and evolve, as immigrants bring their own cultural experiences and traditions. Old grudges and religious practices that are incompatible with Canadian law, such as the requirements of Shariah law, are unlikely to be welcomed, but such things as music, literature, food and religious beliefs that do not clash with Canadian law can only enrich the country. Perhaps multiculturalism ought to be more centred within a specifically Canadian context, illustrating how our founding cultures have grown and changed with the influences of new arrivals.


With all this in mind, some people may still wonder why Canadians gave Stephen Harper a majority government in 2011. His views, stemming from his days leading the National Citizens Coalition, are supposed to be quite clear, as is his image of a hardline, hard-right leader who doesn’t care for dissent.

In my view, Canadians gave Stephen Harper a majority government precisely because he has moved towards the centre and pursued many of the centrist, Red Tory policies mentioned above. He might like to personally go much harder to the right, but he can’t if he wants to maintain the support not only of many Canadians, but of many of his own more moderate party members. That’s why Tom Flanagan talks about the old Liberal consensus being under “new management” in The Literary Review of Canada. The end result is that Harper has had to try and achieve his goals through what Flanagan calls “incremental conservatism”, whereby he’s had to try change things gradually, one step at a time. Journalist Tim Harper noted that, even back in the 1990s, Harper was promoting compromise and change, and that while Harper projects a bold public image he’s more willing to quietly compromise than people might think. This is what made many Canadians comfortable enough to give him a majority government.

Finally, as many of the above examples show, Red Toryism has powerful roots even in Western Canada. In fact, I think that the populist conservatism associated with Western Canada and the Red Toryism associated with Central Canada are in fact much more common than most observers realize. The roots of Western alienation and the protests of the Reform Alliance movement came from the feeling that the West was often shut out of federal decision-making and that federal policies favoured Central Canada at the West’s expense. In terms of their actual policies and ideas, however, Western conservative populists have often had much in common with Red Tories, even today.

Even if you believe that they only do this for political gain, the fact that they see political gain from doing indicates that Red Toryism continues to have a lot of traction in Canada.

Red Toryism isn’t dead in Canada. It may be understated, but it’s still very much alive.

Sources cited:

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.

Tom Flanagan, “Re: ‘Has the Centre Vanished?’ by Stephen Clarkson.” The Literary Review Of Canada, November 2011. Page 30.

Roy MacGregor, Canadians: A Portrait Of A Country And Its People. Toronto, Ontario: Viking Canada, 2007. Pages 14 and 177.

Preston Manning, The New Canada. Toronto, Ontario: Macmillan Canada, 1992. Pages, 94-109, 168, 258-259, 304 and 314-317.

Ovide Mercredi and Mary Ellen Turpel, In The Rapids: Navigating The Future Of First Nations. Toronto, Ontario: Viking Press, 1993. Pages 21 and 106-109.



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