The Trouble With Canada … Still by William Gairdner
(Key Porter, $24.95, 534 p)

In print less than two years after his splendid Book of Absolutes, William Gairdner’s The Trouble with Canada…Still, his twelfth major work to date, promises to be yet another bestseller. In a country whose inhabitants are so contentedly in thrall to the “Swedish model” that they suffer both figuratively and literally from the Stockholm syndrome, Gairdner’s is no mean feat. He achieves it moreover while writing serious books: historically and philosophically erudite, meticulously researched, and rather heftier than the cuisine minceur publishers typically serve up these days, with their eyes fixed on the bottom line.

As the adverb in the title indicates, Gairdner’s current book is a revised and completely updated sequel to his original Trouble with Canada (1990). In the intervening two decades, so many of his earlier admonitions about the tumescent growth of Canada’s political class and the correlative diminishment of its civil discourse and moral character have been reified, that one could hardly blame him if he were presently in the throes of a full-blown Cassandra-complex. But Gairdner’s optimism and good humour leaven every page, even as his wistful recollections of Canada’s erstwhile traditions of liberty and personal responsibility – his patriotism, in the best sense of the word – fill one with the kind of nostalgia that Cato must have felt.

Twenty years after the fall of International Communism, one might assume that the socialist idea would have been fatally discredited by now. And yet every modern Western democracy is a suffocating Welfare State. In their enchantment with “social justice”, Canadians in particular have been afflicted by historical amnesia, oblivious, as Gairdner points out, to Canada’s roots in the British traditions of liberty and limited government, and the noxious experience with State tyranny out of which modern democratic ideas first arose. Canadians even smugly proclaim the Welfare State as a defining national value and founding institution, unaware that, in fact, it’s a rib torn from the Great Society of cut-throat-capitalist Amerika.

William Gairdner at the book launch for The Trouble with Canada...Still which was hosted by the IMFC in Ottawa.

Replete with such ironies, Gairdner’s book is the sort of historical and ideological primer that ought to be required reading for Canadian voters. Gairdner shows that ideologies are hardly the arbitrary constructions that so many sophisticated “third-way” Canadian intellectuals pretend, but are complexes of ideas with a necessary and organic consistency. They can’t be “mixed;” the two principal political philosophies – one of universal human freedoms, self-reliance, and equality before the law (modern-day conservatism), the other of victimological grievance, identity-group “rights”, special entitlements, and State-engineered equality of outcome (modern-day liberalism) – are mutually antagonistic and can only thrive at each other’s expense. Social conservatives take note: the Welfare State’s assault on sexual continence, marriage, the family, the Church (and the freedom to raise children and live in accordance with such traditional moral norms and institutions) is of a piece with everything else it does. Equalizing income (by tearing down the rich) and equalizing lifestyles (by tearing down “exclusionary” socio-moral barriers and distinctions – as in gay “marriage”) are two sides of the same debased coin.

Equality is, of course, the State’s charitable bequest to its citizens. But as Gairdner shows, it is an ontological and ethical monstrosity, which can only be created by Procrustean mutilations of human nature. No society that eschews force and respects freedom and justice has ever been “equal,” inasmuch as human beings have never been equal. Natural differences in intelligence, gender, talent, ingenuity, and effort can only be equalized by treating citizens inequitably: handicapping those who excel by dint of ability or enterprise while rewarding mediocrity or sloth; we will naturally get less of the former and more of the latter. As it happens, incomes in socialist economies are no less unequal than in capitalist ones, while their disparities extend across a more beggarly range of human misery.

With none of the sanctimony displayed by the enemies of free market capitalism, Gairdner demonstrates how fundamentally immoral is the redistributionist ethos. Since the State neither produces nor possesses any wealth of its own, what it “gives” to some, it must confiscate from others. (Canadians either don’t understand this, or their consciences have been narcotized by their own idleness and greed.) Our moral “right” to this or that government service or benefit is a right to pauperize someone else. And “rights” breed like rabbits these days; private desires gestate into legal entitlements in the time it takes for a politician to calculate the number of votes in the new cohort of desiderants.

In the Welfare State, Gairdner notes, the envy that often lurks behind the beneficent face of egalitarianism has become pandemic, since “soaking the rich” means “soaking each other to pay each other” (76 percent of social spending currently goes to middle- and higher-income Canadians). “Everyone,” as Gairdner observes, “tries to live at the expense of everyone else” (with government skimming off a healthy commission for its ersatz generosity with taxpayers’ money). It’s a state of mutual depredation and enslavement: Hobbes state of nature masquerading as a community of Good Samaritans.

It puzzles Gairdner that corporations and businessmen are reflexively accused of avarice, while those grasping constituencies that demand more and more of the former’s profits, and the sticky-fingered State middle-men who get rich in the transference process, are assumed to have been born without the taint of original sin. Gargantuan government debt (payable by unborn taxpayers) may yet make the Welfare State unsustainable, but until then it seems guaranteed, by democracy itself, to grow. We have already reached the Swedish threshold at which two thirds of Canada’s citizens are directly or indirectly employed by, or net-recipients of the largesse of, the nanny State, with the other third producing the wealth that pays their wages and benefits. A “democratic” majority living off the labour of a minority helot-class of entrepreneurs is not likely to vote to change things soon. Not surprisingly, as Gairdner points out, there isn’t a single democracy in the Western world whose government hasn’t grown exponentially (while individual freedom and self-reliance have correlatively diminished) since the early twentieth century.

Democratically reinventing society

For 70-odd years, by means of relentless propaganda (backed up by the constant threat of imprisonment), the Communist State asserted itself to discredit and repeal all traditional moral norms and social arrangements (the family, the Church, the marketplace, etc.), which it deemed to be in deadly competition with itself for the loyalty of its subjects, and an impediment to its progressive agenda for reinventing the wheel of civilization. By gentler and subtler methods of coercion, to be sure, the modern democratic Welfare State, as Gairdner demonstrates, has belatedly accomplished what the likes of Mao and Pol Pot could only have dreamed of.

Under its self-appointed mandate to redress every imaginable inequity and misfortune (including those we have brought upon ourselves), Canada’s political class has sired a pullulant brood of “rights” – to universal day care; in vitro parenthood; the right of gays to marry; transgender bathroom rights; the right not to be offended; the right of the obese to wider airline seats, or the best spaces in their condo parking lots. In the reasoning of the Canadian government, if an elephant should desire to pass through the eye of a needle, it is his Charter right to do so; whereby needle manufacturers must be required to make bigger needles.

Having conferred them upon a grateful citizenry, the state, of course, must enforce these neoteric “rights.” In the Sixties, the New Left (including unrepentant apologists for Soviet totalitarianism) accused both Canada and the United States of being a “police state.” In Canada today, the same Axis of Progress has given us pay equity police, minimum wage police, affirmative action police, language police, smoke-free car police, wheelchair accessibility police, Canadian content police, thought and speech police on campus and in the media, human rights constabularies (with their voluntary citizen vigilantes of political correctness), and an official police force that ignores violent crime when it is committed before its gaze by victimologically privileged minorities (as at Caledonia) or anti-capitalist protestors (the G-20).

In deference to this bounty of special entitlements, the tersely non-specific human rights that have been recognized as inalienable for centuries – private property, freedom of speech, freedom of association and religion – are the first to be set aside by our legislatures, courts, and human rights tribunals. By sacrificing on the altar of homosexual “equality” a Christian’s freedom to operate his business in accordance with his conscience, the state repeals all of the ancient liberties named above. In lowering standards (under the rubric of “affirmative action”) in order to “discriminate for” certain groups, the state necessarily discriminates against all others, violating the foundational principle of justice itself: that we play by the same rules of the game. In the process, the state supplements marginal and episodic racial discrimination with racism and sexism that are government-mandated and universal in scope. If any doubt remains that it is tone-deaf to irony, the state so vitiates our once sacred right of private property that homeowners and shopkeepers are now sent to jail for trying to protect their possessions against thieves.

The primary target of social reconstruction, as Gairdner demonstrates, has been the traditional family, inasmuch as its superannuation makes it that much easier for the nanny state to capture the deracinated individual into its infantilizing orbit. As even liberals have acknowledged, generous welfare subsidies to single mothers reward casual, out-of-wedlock coitus, usurp the role of the father (freeing him to resume his sexual marauding with a clear conscience), render marriage redundant (indeed, once married, mothers might have to forfeit government support), and create multi-generational dependency.  The de-stigmatization and legal recognition of common-law and, most recently, homosexual unions have removed the ancient but apparently unmerited social privilege of traditional marriage.  As apostles of the modern orthodoxies of egalitarianism and relativism, the State strikes a pose of official neutrality toward all (“alternative”) lifestyles, while, at the same time, promoting the non-normative ones as vibrant blooms of diversity in Its Heather-Has-Two-Mommies pedagogical propaganda.

With billions in funding for Leftist women’s organization – but not a cent for pro-family groups – the government of Canada has vigorously proselytized the agenda of radical feminism, especially its risible fable that men and women are innately the same, whereby disparities in wages are the result of misogynist prejudice, and differences in roles merely “socially constructed.” The radical feminist argument for abortion, at the same time, is that it liberates women from an unequal biological burden; but then, if it serves the sisterhood on occasion to acknowledge innate gender differences, why not?

Gairdner thoroughly debunks these shibboleths in his chapter on the subject. He points out, more importantly, that when women are exhorted to “provide,” they are no longer available to “nurture.” The natural contract of the traditional family is dissolved, to the obvious detriment of children, in particular, and society in general, which soon inherits all of the resultant social pathologies.

Gairdner also notes the propaganda potential of “universal daycare” (the very definition of the Welfare State, it seems to me) and its eerie similarity with totalitarian measures to remove children from the reactionary influences of mothers and fathers and give them new birth as creations of the state. But then our public schools, with their programs of sex education and condom distribution, and “value-free” moral and cultural pedagogy, already do that.

Which brings me to Gairdner’s chapter on multiculturalism and immigration – the means to obliterate at a stroke all of the ancient traditions and institutions of Canada’s civil society. The democratic state can no longer deport its population to re-education camps, of course, but it can at least reconstitute it. In Canada, the relativism that is the ideological taproot of official multiculturalism scoffs at claims of cultural superiority (even as, in the curricular propaganda of government schools, it diabolizes our founding Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian heritage as a miasmal swamp of racism, sexism, and hegemonism). Rather than encourage new Canadians to embrace Canada’s founding culture, multiculturalism ghettoizes them in “equally valid” but separate ethnic polities. Though the 20th century ought to have taught us that ethnic tribalism is the most primitive and vicious of human instincts, it serves the state’s atomistic agenda splendidly. And if multiculturalism fails in depotentiating Canada’s native traditions, norms, and institutions, wholesale demographic replacement through third-world immigration may well provide a final solution. Let’s call it democratic ethnic cleansing.

Harley Price has taught courses in religion, philosophy, literature and history at the University of Toronto, U of T’s School of Continuing Studies and Tyndale University College. He blogs at