The situation of the Canadian Alliance illustrates the
difficulties small-c conservatives face

The news since April 24, 2001, is full of stories about the caucus revolt in the Canadian Alliance against Stockwell Day. Although showing initial promise, Day has gotten himself into a cycle of negativity from which it seems impossible for him to escape. Much of the Canadian Alliance’s failure in the November 27, 2000 election and subsequent months can be explained by looking at the social and political context of current-day Canada which, it could be argued, is almost unremittingly hostile to small-c conservatism.

The caucus rebels appear to have succumbed to this unrelenting pressure, figuring that dumping Day is now probably the only way to lessen the ongoing assault. Despite some attempts to recreate the Alliance as a generically centrist coalition, ideological small-c conservatism continues to be the wellspring of the party. It seems that the Alliance stands or falls depending on the state of small-c conservatism in Canada.

It could be argued that, since the 1960s, left-liberalism and the Liberal Party in Canada have advanced in a great roaring tide of massive social transformation and reconstruction, putting small-c conservatism and social conservatism virtually outside publicly permissible discussion. Figures like Preston Manning have been unable to effect much change in this regard. Clearly, there is a real dearth of either opinion journalists or politicians articulating small-c conservatism or social conservatism with passion. The nominal right wing is often entirely wrapped up in technocratic, purely fiscally conservative, economically strident but socially flaccid, approaches.

In the run-up to the 1984 federal election, Mulroney had allowed the aura of a right-winger to settle over him. Yet, in all the important social and cultural areas, he subsequently proved to be a “small-l liberal.” Mulroney welcomed the decision of the Canadian Supreme Court in 1988 that marked the triumph of pro-abortion forces. Despite the rhetoric about budget-cutting, Mulroney let the deficit balloon out of control, and money continued to flow freely to special-interest groups. Free trade had never been part of true traditional conservatism in Canada. The GST could be seen as a conventionally liberal tax grab. In 1987 and following years, immigration was raised to about a quarter million persons a year, whereas it had been about 54,000 in Trudeau’s last year in office (1983-84).

Because of Mulroney’s diversion of two terms of huge Progressive Conservative majorities, it could be argued that the necessary democratic alteration of right-wing and left-liberal parties in power has not occurred, at the federal level in Canada. The visceral disgust of many small-c conservatives and Western Canadians towards Mulroney made the rise of the Reform Party virtually inevitable. Until the rise of Reform, the “small-l liberal” three-party consensus meant that small-c conservatives had no credible party to vote for.

Today, small-c conservatives in Canada continue to face an uphill battle. Given the left-liberal predominance in the Canadian media, 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 in the leadership of the main churches, any existing small-c conservative tendencies are being continually ground down. There is also the panoply of special-interest groups, who receive extensive government and some corporate funding. Even as elections come and go, the long-term trend is towards the ever-intensifying undermining of all conservative and traditionalist impulses and residues in Canada. Insofar as most nominally conservative journalists and politicians have eschewed trying to raise debate on such fundamental matters, they have largely acquiesced in the status-quo of the current-day social and cultural regime.

What can be seen is that the left-liberal attacks on traditional notions of nation, family, and religion, on a real work-ethic, and on strict law and order, only grow more intense, even as these notions become increasingly attenuated in society. It could be argued that a great proportion of the norms and ethos which existed before 1965 or so have been abandoned wholesale, with the main, current areas of social and political contestation being very narrow indeed, when viewed from a longer-term, more historical perspective. Also, in the last decade, left-liberalism has become far more willing to concede many fiscal and economic issues to the “managerial Right” – while continuing a ferocious struggle against small-c conservatism or social conservatism. So neoconservatism is in fact in a far better position, and has achieved far greater successes, than social conservatism.

Perhaps the only thing that can challenge ever-intensifying attacks on the tenets of social conservatism is a profound chastisement of the federal Liberal Party at the ballot box, by a substantively conservative party, that will actually try to govern in an “activist,” “transformative” fashion. However, given the left-liberal dominance in so many social and cultural areas, the election of a substantively conservative government at the federal level in Canada, may indeed be perpetually stymied. It could be argued that the federal government of Canada has in the last three decades become almost entirely a vehicle for a regnant left-liberalism, and is highly likely to continue to be so. In such a case, ideas of maximal regional devolution can be expected to become more salient in Canada.

It remains to be seen whether the beginning of a debate about fundamental social and cultural matters is even possible for conservatives in Canada. Until such a debate is seriously underway, the Canadian Alliance will continue to blunder around in an increasingly hostile social and political environment.