A succinct overview of Toryism in Canada
I read this column by David Orchard in The Globe & Mail some years ago. The year 2000 in fact; despite David's ill-considered defection to the Liberal Party, this little column neatly summarises the difference between Toryism as it has been practised in Canada since before Confederation, and the US-style Republican thought that has triumphed in the Conservative Party of Canada under the Reform element.
Globe and Mail, March 6, 2000
What makes me a Conservative
by David Orchard
Preston Manning has decided who is a real Conservative. Joe Clark is not; neither is David Orchard. Judged by Mr. Manning's criteria neither is John Diefenbaker, Robert Stanfield, R.B. Bennett, Robert Borden, Arthur Meighen, John A. Macdonald, Winston Churchill or Benjamin Disraeli.
My encyclopedia defines "conservative" as: "A political outlook that involves a preference for institutions and practices that have evolved historically, over radical innovations and blueprints for reshaping society."
Edmund Burke coined its classic definition: "A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve."
William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge further elaborated conservative sentiment. Once wholehearted supporters of the French Revolution, the terror in France changed their minds and both reacted against the ideology of liberalism. (Businessmen, wrote Coleridge, were often subversive, not conservative.)
In the 1830s, a youthful Jewish radical named Benjamin Disraeli thought the Tories, who had lost their traditions, could be purged of reaction and reinstalled as leaders of the people. In 1837, he was elected to Westminster as a rather different kind of Conservative MP. "The rights of labour are as sacred as those of property," he asserted and attacked the Poor Law for treating relief to the poor as a charity. "I maintain that it is a right," he said.
When Conservative Prime Minister Robert Peel broke his campaign promise to oppose free trade, Disraeli condemned his betrayal in a speech that would become a classic in parliamentary history. The government fell and the party disintegrated. From its ruins, Disraeli built the modern Conservative Party. To outflank the Liberals with their merchant support, Disraeli reached out to the working class. Along with fellow Tory, Lord Shaftesbury, the great 19th century social reformer who led the long battle for the 10-hour workday, he championed the rights of workers.
Children at four were working in the mines. There were no limits to the hours of work. Life expectancy in working class areas was 21 years. The Liberals and factory owners argued against any regulation. Young people were learning a useful work ethic, they maintained.
In power, Disraeli regulated the hours of work and legislated protection for unions and the environment. "Power has only one duty," he declared, "to secure the social welfare of the people." According to Alex Macdonald, an early Labour MP, Disraeli did more for the working class in five years than the Liberals had in 50.
"The dream of my life," Disraeli explained, "was to re-establish Toryism on a national foundation." His guiding principles -- "to elevate the condition of the people" and "maintain the institutions of the country" -- stand in stark contrast to Manning's call to dismantle ever more national infrastructure.
In Canada, as in Britain, the Conservatives are the nation's oldest political party. Created by John A. Macdonald and George-Etienne Cartier, the party achieved Confederation against the vehement opposition of the Rouges, forerunners of the Liberal Party, some of whom argued for union with the United States.
The Conservatives refused to allow the entry of U.S. railways, and faced down a campaign by American rail owners to overthrow their government. The idea of building an all-Canadian railroad to British Columbia was vehemently opposed by the Liberals: How could a new country of four million inhabitants promise to build the world's greatest railway? they asked. If built, it should at least follow the cheaper, easier route south of the Great Lakes and the contracts be awarded to U.S. business.
"Never," replied Cartier, "will a damned American company have control of the CPR." Manitoba, then British Columbia and the entire northwest entered Canada and the railroad was built.
While Mr. Manning claims a conservative believes in wide-open borders, Canada's great Conservative leaders were adamant in their opposition to free trade with the United States. The idea was, Macdonald said, "sheer insanity" that would have "as its inevitable result, annexation." How could Canada keep its political independence after it had thrown away its economic independence, he asked.
Cartier was no less blunt. "What will be the consequences of industrial reciprocity?" he asked. "The factories of Canada will lose the advantages they now possess and eventually the largest manufacturing industries will be concentrated in the U.S." The end result would be union of the two countries, "that is to say, our annihilation as a nation."
In 1911, the Liberals, under Wilfrid Laurier, negotiated a free-trade agreement with the United States. The Conservatives, under Robert Borden, defeated it. "Laurier," Borden said, "was calling for a greater Canada, but it seemed to be a greater United States the Liberals had achieved."
Contrary to Mr. Manning's view that government's role is to stay out of the economy, Robert Borden and his interior minister, Arthur Meighen, nationalized five railway systems to create the CNR. Meighen's successor as Conservative leader, R.B. Bennett, likewise had no fear of government enterprises and believed they could be efficient. Corporations, he said, are creations of Parliament and Parliament can regulate them.
Kicking off his 1927 leadership campaign, Bennett said: "The first thing we must do in this country is build up a strong national consciousness -- a virile Canadianism -- we have suffered from an inferiority complex long enough."
In power from 1930 to 1935, Bennett introduced the CBC, the Canadian Wheat Board and the Bank of Canada, the institution that allowed Canada to finance its entire Second World War effort without borrowing abroad.
In direct opposition to Mr. Manning's postulation that a conservative believes smaller government is better government, Bennett said, "Reform means government intervention. It means government control and regulation. It means the end of laissez-faire." He described the Conservative Party as being "for the greatest good, for the greatest number of people," and was labelled "a Tory of the Left."
The Conservatives under John Bracken and George Drew moved right, adopted a business orientation and were largely unsuccessful at the polls. In 1956, however, John Diefenbaker won the leadership and moved the party sharply left -- and to victory. He called on Canadians "to take a clear stand in opposition to economic continentalism" and the "baneful effects of foreign ownership." Condemned as a "prairie Bolshevik," he replied: "To those who label me as some kind of party maverick and have claimed that I have been untrue to the great principles of the Conservative Party, I can only reply that they have forgotten the traditions of Disraeli and Shaftesbury in Britain and Macdonald in Canada."
In 1983, Brian Mulroney strongly opposed John Crosbie's proposal for free trade with the United States. He was swept to power. In office, however, Mr. Mulroney reversed his views, broke the Conservative Party's historic position and ushered in the North American free-trade agreement. In 1993, the party was dealt the most dramatic repudiation in a western democracy, and was reduced to two seats.
When the Conservative Party adheres to its people-come-first roots, its following is strong. Each time it loses its sense of nationhood, moves too far right and adopts a narrow business agenda -- exactly the stance being advocated by Preston Manning today -- the party itself loses, too.
Mr. Manning's affection for a survival-of-the-fittest society is not conservatism; it is classic liberalism.
The environmental movement, based upon the impulse to preserve, is a conservative idea. The liberal free-market model, which Mr. Manning preaches, ridicules and opposes this impulse, slashing national institutions, escalating the clear cutting of our forests, the genetic manipulation of our agriculture and food supply, recklessly revolutionizing without regard for the consequences. The Disraeli/Macdonald concept of preservation and the public good are polar opposites to this view, as is the very definition of conservatism.
Mr. Manning's so-called Canadian Alliance attempts to import directly from the United States a brand of right-wing evangelism, package it with a Canadian name and declare the product to be Canadian conservatism. But the United States has no conservative party -- its political tradition is an expressed reaction against conservatism -- and it doesn't belong here.
Preston Manning's movement falls well short of the values Canadian conservatvies cherish. The older, deeper pro-Canadian conservatism that elevates the condition of the people, as Disraeli put it, is tried and proven conservatism. It is the key to the victory of the Conservative Party at the polls and to our survival as a sovereign nation.
David Orchard is the author of The Fight for Canada - Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism and was runner-up to Joe Clark in the 1998 federal Progressive Conservative leadership contest. He is a farmer in Borden, SK.