Espousing radically conservative views on abortion, capital punishment and same-sex unions in a largely liberal country is not the route to 24 Sussex Drive,” wrote Robert Lewis, editor of Maclean’s magazine recently. Mr. Lewis was responding to protests that the magazine’s July 10 cover headline “How scary?” beside a photo of newly-elected Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day, was a bit over the top.
Is Mr. Lewis right? Is Canada a largely liberal country? If so, is that ideological orientation carved in stone? And are the views on the three issues Mr. Lewis cited, which, until about 20 years ago would have been considered quite “mainstream,” now really all that “radical?”
Mr. Lewis is technically correct that ideological liberals outnumber ideological conservatives in Canada. Recent polling indicates that 33 per cent of Canadians identify themselves as liberal, while 25 per cent say they’re conservative; contrasted with American figures of 45 per cent conservative versus 25 per cent liberal.
As bona fide members of Canada’s conservative minority, we find a mere eight point spread between conservative and liberal support in Canada encouraging – in fact, it’s quite remarkable, in a country where the media, entertainment, educational, and government establishments all constantly promote left-liberal indoctrination by the shovelful.
There appears to have been a turning of the tide. While Canada’s highest profile liberal pundits tend to be aging lefties like Alan Fotheringham, Pierre Burton, Dalton Camp, Mordecai Richler, and Catherine Ford, the up-and-comers of commentary these days are increasingly from the right, even if they are not all pro-life – people like David Frum, Michael Coren, Ezra Levant, Mark Steyn, Michael Taube, Diane Francis, and Christie Blatchford. Three (at least) of the latter group are Jewish, incidentally, which I mention only to puncture liberal boilerplate about Canadian conservatism being a near-exclusive preserve of evangelical, Anglo-Saxon Christians.
Of course there are young liberal commentators and senior citizen conservative ones, but I detect a trend. There is also an analogy to be drawn in the relative ages of Stockwell Day and Jean Chretien. Mr. Chretien is literally and ideologically yesterday’s man; Mr. Day is a man of the present and future.
In his editorial, Robert Lewis also noted (with fingers crossed?) an Ekos Research poll indicating that “after its initial spurt, Alliance support had stalled at 16 per cent.” It was a short stall. The latest poll numbers I saw showed the Day-led Alliance at 24 per cent and trending upwards, with the Liberals, still comfortably out in front but trending downward, and the Tories and the NDP in danger of slipping into single digits.
Speaking of the Tories, it has been fascinating to watch the sympathetic ride federal Tory leader Joe Clark’s clothes-less emperor act has received from the mainstream media, most of whose members are apparently horrified that those hicks and hillbillies of the former Reform party might actually be gaining political momentum. With a few notable exceptions, Canada’s print and broadcast media are populated by a clique of left-liberal, secular humanists, who desperately want to believe their own propaganda that Canadian Alliance folks are a bunch of no-account, Bible-thumping extremists from the West.
However, their monotonous litany of negative prognostication about Mr. Day’s and the Canadian Alliance’s prospects seems more and more like whistling past the graveyard. From day one, they underestimated the CA’s predecessor, Reform – a “fringe movement” that would never elect a member to Parliament. Deborah Gray – who recently served several months as Canada’s interim Opposition Leader – fixed that.
Reform had peaked after coming in third in the 1994 election. Wrong again. The United Alternative was a fanciful idea that would never survive its founding convention. Slight miscalculation there too. The nascent Canadian Alliance would self-destruct in bitter division among Reform members over whether to endorse the new party. The motion passed with a 92 per cent majority.
The Alliance would implode in a divisive leadership campaign. Nope. Stockwell Day was scared to face Joe Clark in Calgary Centre due to the riding’s large proportion of gays and urban sophisticates. A COMPAS poll found in a two-way race Mr. Day would dust Mr. Clark 56 per cent to 27 per cent, and according to COMPAS president Conrad Winn, the survey showed “Liberal females would flock to Mr. Day.” Oh.
Then there is the “Stockwell Day will never be able to attract votes in Quebec with his ‘radical’ views on social and moral issues” drone. Well, it’s not exactly a popular groundswell yet, but the recent bombshell announcement that most of the federal Tory party’s Quebec wing executive, including 16 Quebec riding presidents and others representing hundreds of members are shifting their support to the Canadian Alliance, indicates that the increasingly nervous liberal establishment is probably wrong about that too.
While Mr. Lewis is probably right that conservative views on hot-button social issues are not a ticket to 24 Sussex Drive, it looks like they may not be an insurmountable obstacle to taking up residence there either.