A gross number of years ago, the British North America Act was passed by both Houses of Parliament in February, signed into law by Queen Victoria on March 29th, and came into effect on July 1st. This piece of legislation established a new country in North America – the Dominion of Canada.
The Conservative Party was in power in London when the BNA Act was passed and the Conservative Party under the leadership of Sir John A. MacDonald formed the first government in the new Canadian Parliament in 1867. While the Grits in the 20th Century would claim to be the “natural governing party” of Canada – and did everything they could, by hook and by crook, to transform the country so that their claim was a reality – Canada was founded as an essentially conservative country, loyal to the traditions we had inherited from Europe.
The Province of Quebec, which before 1867 had been Lower Canada, had been guaranteed its culture, language, and religion by Parliament and the Crown after it had been won from France in the Seven Years War in the late 18th Century. That culture was a very conservative one, including the strict practice of the Roman Catholic faith, and remained so until the 1960’s when Quebec underwent the “Quiet Revolution”. Today, secularism and socialism are prevalent in Quebec, which went NDP in the last federal election, and it often seems like Quebec’s zeal to protect her French language is all that remains of her old conservatism.
English-speaking Canada has solid conservative roots as well. Since 1867, the name “Canada” has referred to the entire country established in that year. Before 1867, the name “Canada” referred to the territory that is now the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Ontario, or Upper Canada as it was called prior to Confederation, was where the United Empire Loyalists had fled after the American Revolution. The United Empire Loyalists, like the Americans, had been British subjects living in the 13 Colonies. When the American leaders decided to declare their independence from Great Britain and to form a Republic, the Loyalists were those who wanted nothing to do with the project, who were loyal to the king and saw no compelling reason to throw off the old order in favour of a new one. This was a very conservative attitude and the American leaders referred to the Loyalists as “Tories”, which was the name of the conservative party in Great Britain at the time.
The War ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. In this treaty, the British government recognized the independence of the 13 colonies, that would then form the American Republic. It is this recognition and not their sinful act of rebellion against their God-given king that granted legitimacy to the American Republic. The Loyalists, facing persecution from the triumphant rebels in the former colonies, fled to territory that was still under British control. For most of them that meant Canada.
The United Empire Loyalists are sometimes slandered by pseudo-conservatives in Canada. The slander generally takes the following form: “The Loyalists chose to remain subjects of the king rather than to become free Americans, indicating a preference for being ruled, which manifests itself today in the willingness of Canadians to go along with the tyranny of big government and socialism”. This reasoning, however, is utter nonsense.
What such liberals – for although they call themselves conservatives, people who hold such views of our country and its founders are actually liberals – ignore is the fact that it was the “free” American Republic that introduced socialism and big government to North America. The American government brought in their progressive income tax a few years before we brought in ours. Canada’s income tax goes back to 1917. America’s goes back to 1913 (1). Our government sold income tax to us as a “temporary measure” to pay for WWI, a war we had been fighting for three years already when the income tax passed Parliament. That was the same year the United States joined that war – four years after they had reintroduced their income tax.
In the Great Depression in the 1930’s, American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the American welfare state in the “New Deal”. This created pressure on our government to follow suit, and similar programs were introduced up here later that same decade. The attitude of the two governments towards socialism could not have been more different however. FDR, in his first year in office, became the first American President to recognize the Bolsheviks as the legitimate government in Russia. While he was doing so, the Holodomor – the state generated famine that killed several million Ukranians – was underway. In contrast with FDR, whose soft-spot for Stalin would later be the cause of Eastern Europe’s being dominated by the Soviet Union for 40 years, our Prime Minister at the time, R. B. Bennett (a Tory), was zealously fighting the Red Menace in its domestic manifestations in the form of the unions and the Communist Party of Canada.
The bill which introduced liberal immigration to the United States of America was the Hart-Celler Act of 1965. In Canada, the equivalent legislation was passed two years later in 1967. Both Canada and the United States passed legislation which made private acts of discrimination illegal in certain circumstances. This legislation invented a previously non-existing “right” for ethnic minorities to not be discriminated against in hiring, promoting, firing, and the renting and selling of property and in doing so placed new limits on the rights of property owners and business owners. This legislation was the necessary first step towards “affirmative action” which is a euphemism for “reverse discrimination”. The United States passed this legislation in 1964. Canada passed this legislation in 1977.
Do not mistake me. I am not pointing all of this out in order to “bash” the United States. Our government has gone a lot further than the American government has in most of these negative directions.
My point is, that since the American Republic went down most of these roads before we did, our having gone down those same paths cannot be attributed to the fact that our country’s founders were loyal to the British Crown. That loyalty is in fact a conservative trait. The great shapers of conservative thought – Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Benjamin Disraeli, T. S. Eliot – were all royalists.
When the Fathers of Confederation brought the British provinces of North America together into the Dominion of Canada in 1867, the Dominion was established as a confederation of provinces under a constitutional, parliamentary monarchy, modeled after the parliament in London with which it would share a monarch. The upper house of the Canadian parliament would be a Senate rather than a House of Lords because it was considered more suitable for our situation here in North America. The British North America Act, the written part of our constitution (for we also inherited the unwritten British constitution, including the Common Law and the prescriptive rights of Englishmen), designed which areas of responsibility would belong to the federal government and which to the provincial.
It was a very conservative constitution.
The Liberal Party under Lester Pearson and Pierre Eliot Trudeau in the 1960’s, 70’s, and early ‘80’s did everything they could to tear Canada away from her roots and re-shape her into a progressive, socialist, left-wing utopia.
The conservative resistance to this revolution was not what it should have been, in part because conservatism was divided. I do not refer to the fact that the conservative vote was divided between the PC party and the Reform Party/Canadian Alliance. I refer to the fact that patriotic love for Canada and respect for Canada’s own branch of the English tradition was separated from conservative economic and social views. So-called “Red Tories” (2) displayed the former but little to none of the latter. Western populists associated with the Reform Party had many conservative economic and social views but were often hostile to Canada and its traditions.
Of the two parts of conservatism, patriotism and reverence for tradition, is by far the most important. Social and fiscal conservatism are meaningless without it.
Today, on our one hundred and forty-fourth birthday as a country, with the Conservative Party in power with a majority government, it is time for Canada’s conservatives to reflect upon the roots and traditions of Canada, and to blend a love and deep respect for for those traditions and roots and the country to which they belong with sound notions of fiscal responsibility, private property, economic liberty and support for traditional morality and social institutions.
Only then will Canadian conservatism truly be whole again.
Happy Dominion Day!
God save the Queen!
(1) If we count the income tax introduced by the Republicans during the war of 1861-1865 and later abolished it goes back even earlier than this. This income tax was abolished because it was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Hence, income tax had to be reintroduced to the USA by constitutional amendment – the sixteenth.
(2) “Red Tory” has numerous meanings. It was originally coined to refer to people in the Conservative Party influenced by the ideas of George P. Grant, a traditional conservative who naively believed socialism was less destructive of the social order than capitalism is. Those who self-identified as “Red Tories”, however, (which Grant did not) seldom possessed the classical philosophy, Christian faith, and social conservatism of Grant. The term eventually came to mean little more than “a socially liberal, progressive socialist who is a member of the Conservative Party” and small-c conservatives tend to use the term with this meaning as an insult.
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