*Liberal Hegemony has made the current situation in Canada very difficult indeed.
Canada, at that time often called the Dominion of Canada, was founded on July 1, 1867, 155 years ago, with the passage of the British North America Act in the British House of Commons in London. Informally, it was a union between two historical nations of the north: The English Canadians and French-Canadians. Most of its population is located in Quebec. Insofar that they are traditionally under the protection of the Crown, the Aboriginal peoples were also included.
In 1867, Canada was organized into four provinces–Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia–each with local legislatures and Premiers, and a countrywide federal legislature and prime minister based in Ottawa. Later, Canada expanded to include the 10 provinces and 3 northern territories it now has. Prime ministers are the heads of the largest parties or majority coalitions of parties in Canada’s House of Commons. This is where legislative and executive functions co-exist. The members of legislatures are elected from geographic electoral districts of roughly equal population (though greatly varying territorial size) colloquially called ridings, based on “first-past-the-post” voting. That means that the candidate with the largest number of votes (even if that number is considerably less than 50 percent, given various “third parties” in contention) wins the riding. A Senate is made up of elected members and it is weaker than that of the U.S. Senate. The monarch’s appointed governor general, and the provincial lieutenant governors, are representative of Queen Elizabeth II and provide royal assent to legislation. British North America Act has clearly defined the boundaries of provincial and federal jurisdiction.
Until 1896, Canada was mostly dominated by the Conservatives/”Bleus,” led by the illustrious statesmen Sir John A. Macdonald (Canada’s first prime minister) and Sir George-Etienne Cartier. With its foundation principles of peace, order and good governance, the Dominion of Canada was deeply anti-revolutionary. However, after 1896, Canada has tended to elect Liberal governments, based on the overwhelming support of Quebec voters in federal elections. In 1957, the staunch Tory, John G. Diefenbaker, won a minority government, and, a year later, one of the largest majorities in Canadian history (partially based on unusual support from Quebec voters). However, in 1962, Diefenbaker’s majority was reduced to a minority government.
The federal election of 1963 was one of the most crucial in Canadian history. Diefenbaker faced Liberal Lester B. Pearson. As aptly told by Canadian traditionalist philosopher George Grant, in his 1965 book, Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism, Diefenbaker was sand-bagged by the managerial and pollster expertise of the North American capitalist classes, who resented Diefenbaker’s resistance to accepting U.S. nuclear weapons in Canada. Pearson initiated a number of significant reforms. The most emblematic was replacing the Red Ensign with the Maple-leaf design to be the Canadian flag. The Red Ensign featured the Union Jack at the top left, along with the shield from Canada’s traditional coat-of arms on a background that was scarlet and royal red.
Although it was not extensively debated at the time, many political theorists see the change of a country’s flag as a marker of “regime change.” This eventually became the case in Canada, especially with the ascendancy of Liberal Pierre Elliott Trudeau after 1968, dubbed “Trudeaumania.” The term “Dominion of Canada” all but disappeared from official documents and was replaced by “Government of Canada.” Most countries identify themselves as a distinct realm (whether a kingdom or republic), separate from the government. This change in nomenclature was a precursor to the current primacy of Canada’s federal government.
Ever since this transformative period, the Canadian right has been fighting one losing battle after another. One of the central reasons for the Canadian right’s continuing failure since the 1960s has been the ongoing establishment of vast liberal-leaning media, juridical, academic, educational, bureaucratic, and corporate structures–a nexus of interests that certain American and European critics have called “the managerial-therapeutic regime”–which could be characterized as socially liberal and economically conservative. These multifarious structures and arrangements are also sometimes called the “Trudeaupia.” There is also the fact that “North American” pop-culture is the primary “lived cultural reality” for most people in Canada, which tends to reinforce socially liberal, consumerist/consumptionist, and antinomian attitudes, especially among the young. Unlike most other Western countries, where countervailing factors of various kinds exist to the hegemony of the managerial-therapeutic regime, current-day Canada probably is an example of such a managerial-therapeutic system in its “purest” form.
With no authentic left or right, Canada’s social, political and cultural life has been less open to democratic input and popular will. It could even be described as “post-democratic”. The absence of strong democratic participation in Canada and the lack of input from the public should concern all political analysts. Its pretense that it upholds democracy is questionable insofar the system keeps itself under massive “prior constraints” to a wide range of opinions, ideas and beliefs. This profound absence of balance is extremely harmful to an “ideal-typical form” of democracy.
Canada today may be seen as combining the most liberal aspects of America and Europe; indeed, Canada may be (apart from a few Scandinavian countries) the world’s most liberal society. Canada, like other European countries, is very socially liberal. This can be seen in the Canadian federal government’s acceptance of homosexual marriage. Although a vote on the issue took place in the federal House of Commons in 2005, it was with direct referral to the Canadian Supreme Court. What conservative critics call “judicial activism” is in Canada a comparatively late but now flourishing development, which only really got underway with the introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) into the Canadian Constitution.
The Charter, clearly a left-liberal rather than classical liberal document, essentially enshrined virtually the entire agenda of Pierre Elliott Trudeau as the highest law of the land. After Brian Mulroney’s huge Progressive Conservative (that was the official name of the party from 1942 to 2003) majorities in 1984 and 1988, whose record in regard to social and cultural conservatism was abysmal, Canada’s federal Liberal Party (headed by Jean Chretien) comfortably won the elections of 1993, 1997, and 2000. Liberal Paul Martin Jr. was reduced to a minority government (a plurality of seats in the House of Commons) in 2004.
Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party in power (2006-2015) tended towards centrism and moderation, despite the overheated rhetoric of his left-wing critics. This was partly due to the fact that Harper held only a minority government in 2006-2011, failing to win a majority in the 2006 and 2008 elections. His majority government in 2011-2015 was also a disappointment for “small-c conservatives” (the term by which more ideological conservatives in Canada are known–as opposed to the “big-C” Conservative Party, which has been less ideologically conservative) and social conservatives. He failed to change the predictable pattern of Liberals returning to power. He did not do anything to convert or dismantle liberal redoubts within the media, academia and judiciary.
Justin Trudeau (Pierre’s son) won a strong Liberal majority in 2015. He was reduced to a minor government during the 2019, 2021 federal election. However, he still managed to govern comfortably, mostly with the support from the New Democratic Party, which is further left. There have been many “third parties” throughout Canadian history. The NDP is one of the most well-known. )
Canada has now embraced some of the more negative aspects of American society–such as the excesses of pop-culture, political correctness, and growing litigiousness. Canada is missing many American characteristics that could temper these trends. These countervailing elements include the greater prominence of the military and the presence of organized religion (both with respect to fundamentalist Catholics and traditionalist Protestants), homeschooling being a significant social trend, hundreds of private traditional-leaning colleges and large networks of right-leaning think tanks and publications. America also boasts a stronger tradition of left-wing independent-minded, anti-corporate and ecological dissent. This is exemplified by Ralph Nader and Christopher Lasch. Rachel Carson, Helen Nearing and Wendell Berry are just a few examples. However, the American right is in a better place, but any real assessment should note that progressive elites are increasingly dominant in America. They have taken over one institution after the other. America is the global center of “political correctness.”
The Canadian medical system is stringently socialized to an extent unheard of in the United States. Although most services are free, most require payment. However, most of the medical care must be rationed, which can lead to lengthy delays. Canadians cannot buy additional medical services. This is why wealthier Canadians often travel to the United States to receive medical treatment. There are now 1.3 million people in Ontario (of a total population of about 14.5 million people) without a family doctor. Canadians are often praised for their medical system, which is often viewed as central to “Canadian values”. It has been argued that it makes Canada more caring, compassionate and ethical than the morally indifferent United States. Canadians will often accept almost any government request if it means they have access to quality healthcare.
Canada’s control of its borders is also very lackadaisical. Canada is known for its high immigration rates. It has also embraced affirmative action, multiculturalism and diversity with a startling intensity. For more than three decades Canada’s official immigration numbers have been twice that of the United States per capita. They are probably the largest in the world. With a population now reaching about 38 million persons, Canada had been receiving about a quarter-million immigrants every year. (The Liberals recently raised the numbers to 300,000, and, in 2021 and coming years, to over 400,000 a year.)
Unlike the United States, fundamentalist Christianity plays virtually no role in Canada. Comparatively to the United States of America, Canada is relatively closed on the abortion debate and other social issues. Canada has strict gun control laws, at least in terms of legal gun ownership. Justin Trudeau has relaxed the laws regarding legal gun ownership. This contrasts with Harper’s strict mandatory minimum sentencing.
In another extreme contrast to the United States, in relation to its geographic size and NATO responsibilities, Canada has virtually no military (the entire armed forces, including army, navy, air force, and reserves, number about 92,600 men and women) and there is major disdain throughout much of Canadian society (and especially among elites) towards the military. This weakness in international security has led to decades of politically and morally crippling dependence on the United States.
Canadians appear to be characterized both today and in their earlier history by an unusual deference to governmental authority. Before 1965, Canada probably was a substantively more conservative society than the United States (in the better sense of conservatism), but now, when the paradigm at the top has been fundamentally altered–in the wake of the Pierre “Trudeau revolution”–most Canadians are manifestly willing to follow the new, politically correct line from Ottawa. Canada has a very poor heritage in independence and self-reliance. There are also few Canadians who believe in free speech. Many Canadian citizens and officials proudly point to the strict and restrictive laws that restrict freedom of expression, often under too broad-based “hate speech”, laws. Many Canadian officials and citizens often claim that they don’t have the American “hate speech” hangups.
What may be said in Canada’s favor is that it is still a comparatively law-abiding and peaceful society, with a far more pleasant quality of life in Canadian large cities than is so in America’s cities. Canadians can avoid costly personal health care in America by using the medical system. Canada’s situation is evolving in some ways. The laws are being enforced more asymmetrically, particularly in relation to protests. This is based on “victim status”, which can be seen as if the perpetrators were victims.
It could be concluded from the combination of points above that right-of-center positions are rarely seen or heard in Canada (except perhaps in the Western Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as in the ambiguous case of the now mostly secular, French-speaking, Quebec nationalism, which, after the 1960s, has been frequently characterized by a powerful separatist movement). The Canadian media is dominated by left-liberals, especially in the taxpayer-funded CBC (the “BBC of Canada”)–which can be described more as a television and radio version of NPR/PBS that has the same reach of America’s main news channels. Left-liberals also predominate in the education system (from daycare to universities), in the judiciary and justice system, in the government bureaucracies, in so-called high culture (typified by government-subsidized “CanLit”), in North American pop-culture and “youth culture,” in the big Canadian banks and corporations, and (on most issues) in the leaderships of the main churches in Canada. Any remaining right-of center tendencies are constantly being eroded. A wide range of special-interest organizations receive substantial government funding and corporate support. The social, political and cultural conditions of Canadian conservatives are very dire.
Decades of “wearing down” has resulted in the ever-more-limited ability of a conservative–be he a social, political, or cultural conservative–to participate and influence the Canadian polity. Participation in these debates is essential for democracy.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based Canadian writer and historical researcher.