Far too many Canadians today accept the myth that freedom is a demarcation point between our country and that of our neighbours to the south. Americans, we are told, believe in and place a high value upon freedom, whereas Canadians don’t. Liberals, who prove themselves most unworthy of their name by only believing in the kind of freedoms available in the society depicted in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and socialists, regard this as a point in our country’s favour. Neoconservatives, who believe strongly in individual liberty and the principle of democracy, regard this as our country’s shame. The premise which both the liberal/socialist left and the neoconservative right accept, however, is that freedom is an idea that is somehow inherently American and therefore foreign to Canada.
I don’t accept that premise. When the American Revolution divided the rebellious American colonies from the United Empire Loyalists it was not, no matter how much American propaganda tried to make it out to be, over freedom itself. King George III was no tyrant, nor was Parliament oppressing the thirteen colonies. Dr. Samuel Johnson, the great eighteenth century lexicographer, poet, essayist, and conversationalist, and a true blue Tory, ridiculed the talk about liberty coming from men who were themselves “drivers of slaves”. What divided the Americans from the Canadians, was not that the former believed in freedom and the latter did not, but different concepts of what freedom was and where it was to be found. The Americans were enamoured of the ideas that freedom is vested, first and foremost, in the individual, that only democratic, republican forms of government can safeguard individual liberty, and that such forms of government should be obtained through revolution if necessary. The Canadians believed that the conditions in which liberty can thrive and grow, are generated by the stability and order of a rooted society, whose civil and social institutions are grounded in prescription and tradition. Americans believed in rebellion, Canadians in loyalty, but both believed in freedom.
The United States of America, in other words, was founded upon liberal republicanism, the Dominion of Canada upon conservative Toryism. What is called neoconservatism today is a version of the former rather than the latter. Canadian neoconsevatives like to think that they introduced the concept of freedom or liberty into Canada, that it was foreign to the older Tory tradition, but this is not the case. As the greatest living proponent of conservative Toryism, Dr. Roger Scruton explained in his The Meaning of Conservatism three and a half decades ago, while traditional Tory conservatism is not about freedom per se, those things which Toryism does stand for – tradition, established authority, lasting institutions – provide the necessary context for a healthy form of freedom to develop and flourish.
Canada’s traditional Tories, while opposed to liberal republicanism, were not hostile to freedom. George Grant, Canada’s greatest conservative philosopher, in his brilliant treatise exposing the failure of modern liberalism to provide the justice it promises, English Speaking Justice, said that “liberalism in its generic form” is accepted by all decent men including conservatives, defining this generic form of liberalism as “the belief that political liberty is a central human good”. John Farthing, in his classic Tory defence of traditional Canada, Freedom Wears a Crown, treated freedom as being just that – a central human good – and argued that the foundation of freedom in Canada is her traditional order under the Crown-in-Parliament, and that attempts to replace that order with republicanism or majoritarian democracy were therefore as great of threats to the freedoms of Canadians as Soviet-style revolutionary dictatorship. Similarly, the Rt. Hon. John G. Diefenbaker, the last Prime Minister who was unmistakably a true, blue, classical Canadian Tory, in his 1972 collection of speeches, Those Things We Treasure, warned of how Canadian freedom was being endangered by the Trudeau government’s actions which undermined both Parliament and the monarchy.
“The Trudeau Government clearly does not believe in freedom”, Diefenbaker said in a speech entitled “A Time to Speak Out”, found in the second chapter “The Twilight of Liberty”. To support this claim, he points to a number of examples of authoritarian legislation, such as “an Act to establish a National Farm Products Marketing Council which will make farmers across Canada the pawns of bureaucrats.” There is one particular example I wish to focus on, however, and so will quote the former Premier at length:
The Trudeau Government seems to be dedicated to controlling the thinking of Canadians. Through the power being exerted by Pierre Juneau, as Chairman of the Canadian Radio and Television Commission, private radio and T. V. station proprietors in Canada are frightened to speak, fearful of being subject to the cancellation of their licences. One such station was CKPM in Ottawa, which dared to have an open line program critical of the Government. Pierre Juneau did come before a Committee of the House and he uttered lachrymose words in reply to the criticism levelled at him that he wishes to determine what Canadians shall hear, and to deny them the right to listen to what they will. His attitude was different when he spoke to the Association of Private Broadcasting Companies and in effect stated: “When I ope my lips, let no dog bark.” Under him the broadcasting network owned by the people of Canada is allowed to broadcast what he permits.
The CRTC was a new agency at the time Diefenbaker spoke these words. It had been created by the Broadcasting Act passed by the Liberal government in 1968. Previous Canadian broadcasting legislation was moderate, pertaining primarily to the establishment of a public broadcaster (the CBC) in the 1930s and an agency to oversee that broadcaster. The CRTC, however, was created as a body that would have regulatory oversight over all radio and television broadcasting in Canada, private and public. The creation of the CRTC was very much part of a major twentieth century trend of creating large bureaucratic agencies with vast regulatory powers, overseen by Cabinet Ministers who answer to the Prime Minister, whose own accountability to the Crown-in-Parliament has been greatly diminished, thus in effect, transferring most of the powers of government away from the Parliamentary assembly that passes legislation with the authority of the Queen and into the hands of both the Prime Minister and his Cabinet and the bureaucratic agencies that extend their tentacles into every aspect of the everyday lives of Canadians. Men like Farthing and Diefenbaker were right in warning against the threat to Canada’s heritage of freedom posed by this trend.
As dangerous to traditional Canadian liberties as the growth of bureaucratic agencies, the government’s increasing reliance upon the multiplication of regulations rather than legislation, and the shift in power from the Crown and Parliament to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet at the head of the expansive bureaucracy, all are, the CRTC in particular poses a special threat due to the nature of the area over which it has been given regulatory powers. A fundamental principle of the Canadian political tradition and the British tradition in which the Canadian has its roots is that while behaviour conducted in public is appropriately subject to restriction by the Queen’s laws passed in Parliament, private thoughts and feelings are not. It is not the place of government to tell people what to think and feel. When the Parliament of Queen Elizabeth I passed laws requiring attendance at the services of the Church of England, they did not also require subscription to the tenets of the Anglican faith upon the part of anyone other than the clergy, and these were given considerable latitude in their interpretation of the 39 Articles. This is because church attendance was a matter of religion, and hence a public matter, subject to legislation, but questions of personal belief were matters of conscience, and hence private, outside of the jurisdiction of government.
Through the CRTC, Diefenbaker maintained, the Liberal government was violating this tradition by trying to control what Canadians thought. It was not the kind of overt thought control that takes place in totalitarian societies where you are in danger of being captured by the secret police and put in prison or worse if you dare express contraband opinions. It was a more subtle kind of thought control in which the agency would control the thoughts of Canadians by controlling the channels through which they gain access to the information necessary to form their thoughts. It was given power to regulate the new radio and television media, which were rapidly replacing the print media as the primary and often sole sources to which Canadians turned for information. That the new electronic media were replacing the traditional print media is itself cause for lamentation but that is a subject for another time. In 1976 the Telecommunications Act extended their jurisdiction over other telecommunications, such as telephone services, and changed the agency’s name to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, keeping the old initials.
The CRTC answers to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and its mandate is to oversee and regulate radio and television broadcasting in Canada (including satellite and cable) to ensure that the policy defined in Section 3(1) of the Broadcasting Act is followed. Most of this policy can be summed up in the concept of cultural protectionism. The first subsection calls for Canadian ownership and control of the Canadian broadcasting system, the sixth for maximum use of Canadian creative talent and resources. While cultural protectionism is not a concept I find objectionable – indeed, I would argue that it is necessary up to the point where it starts to generate provincialism and that it is particularly necessary for a country like ours whose only neighbour shares the same language – I would also argue that the CRTC has failed to achieve any of the legitimate goals of cultural protectionism and has failed to protect any Canadian culture worth protecting. If you read the novels of L. M. Montgomery, set in rural P.E.I. and telling the story of Anne Shirley of Green Gables from just before Confederation until the end of the First World War, the Chronicles of the Whiteoaks of Jalna by Mazo de la Roche, a saga set in rural Ontario from the 1850s to the 1950s, the humorous short stories of Stephen Leacock and Robertson Davies’ three trilogies of novels (especially the first two) you will find, whether the communities depicted be Presbyterian, Anglican, or a mixture of the two, a distinct, North American adaptation of British culture, that was at one time recognizable as the culture of English Canada. Today, apart from remnant traces in rural Canada, this culture has largely disappeared. It disappeared in the period in which the CRTC has had jurisdiction over the airwaves. Nor can the CRTC be viewed as a success if we consider the matter from the angle of what we most needed protection from, i.e., the flood of cultural sewage flowing from the film and music studios of Los Angeles, California that has swept away most of what was good and decent in the cultures of both the United States and Canada.
This is because the CRTC has been engaged in a completely different kind of cultural protectionism. If you look at the Broadcasting Policy set forth in the Broadcasting Act you will see that declares that private, community, and public broadcasting (the CBC) are all to be part of an integrated, unified, “Canadian broadcasting system” that will offer “information and analysis concerning Canada and other countries from a Canadian point of view”. Since it also talks in more than one place about promoting such things as “equal rights”, “linguistic duality”, and “multiculturalism” it is hardly a stretch of the imagination to say that when the Broadcasting Act speaks of “a Canadian point of view” what it really means is “the left-wing point of view of the Pearson and Trudeau Liberals”. What the CRTC, charged with the task of enforcing this policy, in which private and community broadcasters are to be in sync with the CBC in an integrated system, is really protecting, then, is not the culture of Canada, or even Canada’s traditional cultural plurality, but the left-wing cultural policies introduced by the Trudeau government. It protects these policies, by interfering with the spread of information that might cast those policies in an unfavourable light, and by discouraging and hindering dissent from those policies, by treating them as a fundamental, not-to-be questioned, element of the “Canadian point of view”, although they would have been unrecognizable to Canadians only a few years before they were introduced.
Almost forty years ago, the Trudeau government passed the Canadian Human Rights Act, and while the event made the news, for four decades the radio and television media maintained silence about the bill truly meant and what its consequences were. The bill forbade discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, religion, and a slew of other things, which, translated into the language of ancient and traditional rights and liberties, meant that it told Canadians they were no longer free to associate with or refuse to associate with whoever they wanted, do business or refuse to do business with whoever they wanted, and worst of all, thanks to the notorious Section 13, express their thoughts if those thoughts happened to reflect negatively on people protected by their race, religion, sex, etc. This was a major abridgement of basic Canadian prescriptive liberties done in the name of the Trudeau doctrine of multiculturalism. The bill established an agency to investigate complaints, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and a tribunal to hear complains, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The former conducted its investigations at the taxpayers’ expense, those brought before the latter were subject to stiff penalties yet had none of the basic protections available to defendants in ordinary courts. Provincial governments followed the Trudeau government’s example and established their own equivalents. These Stalinist kangaroo courts were and are a grotesque mockery of our country’s tradition of justice and freedom. Yet one would never have known that any of this was going on if one turned only to the CBC or its various privately owned clones, for one’s information. The traditional print media, not subject to CRTC oversight, would sometimes report these things, particularly the Alberta Report magazine. The average Canadian, however, was clueless about what was going on.
In many cases the information that was blacked out by the radio and television news media would have greatly altered the way a story that was prominent in the news was received and perceived. I will give one example of this. In the late 1990s, when Jean Chretien was promoting proposed legislation that would change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples and a private member’s bill introduced by Svend Robinson that would add “sexual orientation” to the list of categories over which the Canadian Human Rights Act forbids discrimination, he promised out of the side of his mouth, that the rights of those whose faith teaches that sexual relations between members of the same sex is a sin would not be infringed upon, because religious rights are guaranteed in the Charter and religion is already a protected category in the CHRA. These promises received airtime all over the radio and television media. What was not covered was the fact that even as Chretien was speaking those words, Christians were being hauled before Human Rights Tribunals all over Canada and charged with discrimination for such things as refusing to help promote a cause contrary to their faith (Scott Brockie, Ontario), refusing to rent a single room to two men in the bed and breakfast they ran out of their own home (Dagmar and Arnost Cepica, PEI) or even purchasing ad space in a newspaper and filling it with references to Bible verses that condemned homosexuality (Hugh Owen, Saskatchewan).
For most of the last four years, an alternative to the CBC and its doppelgangers was available to cable and satellite subscribers in the Sun News Network. Affiliated with the Sun Media newspaper chain, Sun News offered a neoconservative perspective which, while perhaps not entirely to my Old Tory tastes, was a refreshing breathe of fresh air compared to stale views and stories available on the other networks. At least they believed in other freedoms than the freedom to screw and smoke whoever and whatever you wanted. Any number of stories, from the RCMP gun grab at High River to the attempts of activists in the Law Societies to force Trinity Western University to abandon her faith-based community covenant if she wished to open her new law school, received better coverage because Sun News was there both to investigate and report the facts about these stories herself and to keep the other stations accountable. It was also nice to have one station that did not bow down and worship everytime Justin Trudeau opens his mouth to say something vapid.
Sun News ceased broadcasting earlier this month because it had been losing money and its parent company, Quebecor Media, was unable to find a purchaser for it. Many believe that this is due to the CRTC’s decision not to grant them Category-1, mandatory carry, status when they applied for it in 2013, and that that decision was made by the CRTC to deliberately kill the station. Whether or not that is the case, I will leave it to others to say, although it would not surprise me as Sun News certainly did not fit in to the unified and uniform “Canadian broadcasting system”, that the CRTC seeks to protect. What I will say about it is that Sun News showed, in its four years of broadcasting, why it is important that points of view other than those offered by the CBC and approved by the CRTC be available. Now that Sun News is gone it is imperative that the CRTC’s stranglehold over the channels of information available to Canadians be broken.
The present Prime Minister has claimed all his political life to be a believer in freedom. Since becoming Prime Minister he has restored some of the symbols of the older Canadian tradition, the foundation upon which traditional Canadian freedoms rested. His current efforts to meet the threat of terrorism by expanding the powers of CSIS rather than deal with the Trudeau-era immigration and multiculturalism policies that render us vulnerable provide us with good reason to question his commitment to Canadian tradition and freedom. If he truly believes in freedom he must prove it by doing something substantial towards restoring the freedom we have lost. The CRTC, far from being a protective barrier preserving Canadian culture from being swamped by foreign and especially American culture, has failed to preserve the best of Canadian culture while allowing the worst filth from Hollywood in. It has instead become a wall between Canadians and the information they need about what has been done to their culture, traditions, and freedoms, in order to protect what is left and restore what is lost. To borrow and adapt some famous words from the last decent man to hold the office of American President, Mr. Harper, tear down this wall!
A Protestant Christian, patriotic Canadian, and a reactionary High Tory with a libertarian streak, at the same time a monarchist, indeed a royal absolutist, and a minarchist.
You can e-mail me at gerrytneal(at)hotmail(dot)ca