The Canadian high Tory Tradition and Our New Republican Party
Our new Prime Minister, Paul Martin, has finally ascended the throne he has so long desired for many a year. Jean Chretien is now gone, and the Liberal party, guided by Martin, will take Canada further to the political right than the centrist or soft left liberals would say amen to at this stage in the Canadian journey. Is it wise and prudential, the thoughtful might ask, at a point in Canadian history when the Liberal party will swing further to the right, to create a party that is further right than Paul Martin and the Liberal party? Is such a party ever likely to defeat the Liberals? This, we must assume, was the purpose of the merging and coming together of the PC party and the Alliance party.
We might further ask this rather simple question: does such a ‘conservative’ merger truly represent the historic High Tory Tradition within Canadian politics or is such a merger not just another form of Canadians being colonized by the American imperial way? I think the answer is rather obvious and clear for those who have some grounding in the Canadian High Tory Tradition.
The recent decision by some in the PC party and most in the Alliance party to merge and create a right of centre republican party of Canada is both a historic move and a short sighted manoeuvre.
The PC party, in Canada, has often been sent to the desert to think about its misdeeds and errors of practical judgement. The Laurier, King, Trudeau and Chretien years are etched in the memory of most.
The Liberals do demand their due when the Conservatives have faltered and failed. But, the reverse and converse are true, also. When the Liberals tripped and tumbled the Conservatives have been there to step into the political fray. The Conservatives have stepped in by being true to the Canadian High Tory Tradition, though. The recent decision by the PC party to ignore, deny and reject its historic vision will neither take them to the victory seat nor endear them to most Canadians. Canadians are not a people who are fond of right of centre political parties, and if Martin is going to tow the Liberal party further right than Chretien then it is not likely Canadians will smile fondly (nor vote for) a national party that is more republican than the Liberal party in Canada seems keen to be.
The last two decades plus have seen, certainly since Mulroney, the language of Canadian conservatism come to be defined, shaped and moulded by the meaning of American republicanism. What is American republicanism? It places high value on a lighter state, less taxes, regionalism, the role of society (often in opposition to the state) and an emphasis on larger military and police to deal with crime and punishment in a swift and lethal manner. The close alliance of Bush and the Alliance party must be duly noted; it is no accident that Harper genuflected so dutifully to Bush and his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. It does not take much perception to note and notice the way the Alliance party salutes and doffs the cap to such an agenda. The USA is the great, good place and the embodiment of all that is noble and liberty loving in this runaway world.
The Canadian High Tory Tradition has, from the beginning, been wary and suspicious of both American republican principles and American imperialistic ambitions. Canadian Tories, unlike the Liberals, have never been as keen to bow the knee to Uncle Sam to the south of us. The Canadian High Tory Tradition has had an abiding passion for the common good of this nation and the role of the federal government in protecting such a good. Citizenship within such a perspective means being concerned with the good of
one and all both within Canada and on the much larger international political stage.
Stephen Leacock, in his much loved Canadian classic, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912), said ‘In Canada I belong to the Conservative party’. When Leacock thought conservative, what did he think? Leacock finished his doctoral thesis in 1903, and the topic of the thesis was ‘The Doctrine of Laissez Faire: A Critical Essay on The Evolution of Theory and Practice in Reference to the Economic Functions of the Modern State’. The title, of course, is rather long winded and rather Victorian, but Leacock was no fan of ‘laissez faire’. How would Leacock view the Alliance party and their support of free trsde? He would certainly not see them as conservative.
In fact, in the 1911 election, Leacock worked overtime to oppose the Liberal Prime Minister,
Wilfred Laurier (who held high the notion of free trade and annexation with the USA). Is this the sort of conservative that would support the merger of the PC party and the Alliance party? I don’t think so!
Leacock walked the extra mile to assist and support most of the founders of the League for Social Reconstruction (LSR) in Montreal in the 1930s when McGill University attempted to banish such folk.
The LSR and CCF were forerunners of the NDP. What kind of conservative was this? It is important to
note that the High Tory Tradition in Canada has often had much affinity with important aspects of the political Left. Leacock was not an exception to this rule. He was at the centre and core of it.
Leacock’s My Discovery of the West (1937) was written as a frontal assault on the Social Credit party. The Social Credit party was the forerunner to the Alliance party. It does not take too many connecting of the dots to realize that Stephen Leacock would have little or no interest in a merger of the PC party and the Alliance party.
Canadian High Tories (or Conservatives) are not the same as American republicans, and, when such a merger occurs, either the Tory or the republican must go. The recent merger has banished the Canadian High Tory. Most Canadian Tories would rather vote Liberal or NDP than Alliance. The Canadian PC party could have been rebuilt by saying a firm NO to the Alliance party, then recreating and rebuilding the PC party to the left of Martin. Such a rebuilding would have drawn social liberals in the Liberal party and social democrats in the NDP. Leacock, I suspect, would be pleased with such alliances.
Leacock said, ‘In Canada I belong to the Conservative party’. Leacock, as a good Canadian High Tory and Conservative, understood what these terms meant in a very different way than the language is used today.
The more Canadians are drawn into the orbit and gravitational field of the American empire, the more they will forget their own unique and indigenous traditions. This is what it means to be a colonized people, and there is always a comprador class to facilitate such a transition. The merging of the PC party and the Alliance party, and the equally worrisome leadership of Paul Martin in the Liberal party, is part of the comprador class in Canada furthering the colonization of the True North. I conclude with a quote from Shakespeare: what new hell is this?
Ron Dart teaches in the Dept. of Political Science and Philosophy at the University College of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, B.C. He is editor of The Red Tory Review and has published numerous articles and two books of poetry. Dart is also the political science advisor to the Leacock Home/Museum in Orillia.