Remember our political heritage
Published in the Ottawa Citizen, September 6, 2008
Republican presidential nominee John McCain took a calculated risk in selecting Alaska Governor and arch social conservative Sarah Palin as his running mate.
On the one hand, she is inexperienced at the federal level. On the other and in as little as four years’ time, she will have all the experience she needs to lead the U.S. fight for energy independence gratis its most northerly frontier.
It’s a stark reminder of Canada’s deficiencies in this and other regards.
It was John Diefenbaker who first drew attention to Canada’s vast northerly potential. Speaking to a Toronto audience in 1957, he invoked Conservatives’ sacred trust with the traditions of John A.Macdonald.
“It has an appointment today with destiny, to plan and to build for a greater Canada,” he said, in oratorical flight that would leave Barack Obama in the dust. “We intend to launch a national policy of development in the northern areas which may be called the New Frontier Policy. ”
Today, as many learned papers attest, sovereignty itself is at stake in Canada’s northern waters. In a passing salute to Diefenbaker, the prime minister is scrambling to overcome years of neglect with funding for geological mapping, ice breakers, and road works in the North West Territories, but nowhere in his or anyone else’s political platform will we see what Donald G. Creighton, in 1969, called “a comprehensive program for the defence of Canadian political and economic independence.”
Like Diefenbaker and Macdonald before him, Canada’s pre-eminent historian extolled Canada’s potential for greatness. Canada became a political reality because of economics and geography and remained so because a centralizing government and an anglo-Canadian alliance safeguarded it from annexation by the United States, Creighton argued. But by painting Britain as an imperialist coloniser from whom Canada needed freedom, the Liberal party distorted history and pushed Canada into the arms of the Americans.
This and other insights about the High/Red Tory tradition are available in a book entitled Radical Tories the Conservative Tradition in Canada. Written by Charles Taylor (the journalist) in 1982, it admonishes the neo-conservative politics of the Mulroney era that also, through the signing of the free trade agreement, set Canada on its path to North American integration. Among other things, it gave the U.S. first call on Canada’s oil resources. When the Mulroney coalition fractured in 1993, the Red Tory progressive element scattered and tried to regroup but progressivism had by then been co-opted by Liberal social engineers, rendering it suspect in any meaningful conservative context.
In any case, these Red Tories failed to recall that the arch Red Tory and political philosopher, George Grant, was vehemently pro-life. And, according to Ronald Dart, political scientist at the University College of the Fraser Valley, Eugene Forsey, constitutional expert, founder of the CCF and he of the Anglican Prayer Book Society, was able to translate his deep roots in the High Tory tradition to radical social action for the poor. Moreover, observes Dart in an online essay about Creighton and Forsey, the liberal protest and advocacy left share some worrisome leanings with the libertarian right: “both … are suspicious of formal party politics and the state, and both … elevate society as the antidote … to the ills of the state.”
Taylor and Dart agree that true toryism sees society, the state, formal party politics, and the civic sphere working in an organic way. Taylor worried particularly about a Liberal party ideology George Grant described as “the dominant influence of the modern era, and which pulls us all toward a universal and homogeneous state of almost certain tyranny.” As if on cue, the forces of political correctness and human rights commissions are enacting precisely this tyranny.
Is it too late to reclaim Canada for Canadians?
“A nation that repudiates or distorts its past runs a great danger of forfeiting its future,” Donald Creighton told a Trent University audience in 1965. Today, diasporic immigration patterns, federal devolutionary trends and North American integration continue Canada’s deconstruction.
Yet evidence persists that Canadians are ready for a party of moderate social conservatism - term limits on abortions, civil unions for gays; and moderate Red Toryism - government intervention if necessary but not necessarily government intervention, institutional (social and political) integrity, strong central government that relates directly to individual Canadians; economic and political independence. But you aren’t likely to find it among the parties fighting this election campaign.
MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.