Posts Tagged ‘Conservative Party

What is Canadian conservatism?

- January 2nd, 2012
John A Macdonald

Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's longest serving Conservative prime minister

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post there has been plenty of chatter about whether Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is conservative enough.

Some, like Andrew Coyne, claim that this current crop of politicians with the C beside their name and the blue upon their ties long ago gave up any right to be called conservative at all. I would argue that there is more to conservatism that fiscal conservatism and pointed to several conservative achievements of this current government.

So what is conservatism, specifically Canadian conservatism?

In the United States Ronald Reagan described a conservative coalition as a three legged stool consisting of fiscal conservatives, defence conservatives and social conservatives. In Canada the conservative movement has been described as having three parts as well but, being Canadian, they are different from their American brethren.

In his 1996 Winds of Change speech, Stephen Harper outlined what he saw as the “three sisters” in a conservative coalition. Tom Flanagan described Harper’s plan in a post-election analysis.

The basic idea that Harper laid out at the Winds of Change conference was to reconstitute Brian Mulroney’s electoral coalition, which Harper analyzed in tripartite terms: populists in western Canada and rural Ontario (who then supported the Reform Party); traditional Tories in Ontario and Atlantic Canada (who were still voting PC); and francophone nationalists in Quebec (who were then voting for the Bloc Québécois [BQ]). Harper argued compellingly that all previous Conservative majorities in the 20th century, whether led by Mulroney, Diefenbaker, Bennett or Borden, had been constituted in this way. By implication, this tripartite electoral coalition was the only way to form a Conservative majority at the federal level in Canadian politics.

As Flanagan went on to point out the francophone nationalists did not turn out in this last election but voters belonging to ethnic minority communities did.

Now all of that may be well and good in describing a coalition but what does this coalition stand for?

In his 1993 essay, Ten Conservative Principles, the late Russell Kirk, editor of The Conservative Mind and The Portable Conservative Reader, declared that conservatism was difficult to pin down.

“Being neither a religion nor an ideology, the body of opinion termed conservatism possesses no Holy Writ and no Das Kapital to provide dogmata.”

–snip—

“The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata.”

So below are Kirk’s principles of conservatism.

  1. First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.
  2. Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.
  3. Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.
  4. Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence.
  5. Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety.
  6. Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability.
  7. Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked.
  8. Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.
  9. Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.
  10. Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.

To this I would add from Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Con Manifesto, “Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.”

None of this is particularly American or Canadian, it is simply conservative. In being conservative though it is also set aside from other political movements often associated with the right such as libertarianism. Libertarians may agree with conservatives on many things and both may vote for the Conservative Party but most libertarians I know would have trouble with the second part of principle 9.

So where do you sit? How do you view Canadian conservatism?

I’m not looking for electoral strategy or intricate policy proposals; I am looking for a discussion on what Canadian conservatism is and is not.

Leave your thoughts in the comments. Rude, belligerent or insulting comments will not appear.