Globe and Mail, March 6, 2000
What makes me a Conservative
by David Orchard
Preston Manning has decided who is a real Conservative. Joe Clark
is not; neither is David Orchard. Judged by Mr. Manning's criteria
neither is John Diefenbaker, Robert Stanfield, R.B. Bennett, Robert
Borden, Arthur Meighen, John A. Macdonald, Winston Churchill or
My encyclopedia defines "conservative" as: "A political outlook
that involves a preference for institutions and practices that have
evolved historically, over radical innovations and blueprints for
Edmund Burke coined its classic definition: "A disposition to
preserve and an ability to improve."
William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge further elaborated conservative
sentiment. Once wholehearted supporters of the French Revolution,
the terror in France changed their minds and both reacted against
the ideology of liberalism. (Businessmen, wrote Coleridge, were
often subversive, not conservative.)
In the 1830s, a youthful Jewish radical named Benjamin Disraeli
thought the Tories, who had lost their traditions, could be purged
of reaction and reinstalled as leaders of the people. In 1837, he
was elected to Westminster as a rather different kind of Conservative
MP. "The rights of labour are as sacred as those of property," he
asserted and attacked the Poor Law for treating relief to the poor
as a charity. "I maintain that it is a right," he said.
When Conservative Prime Minister Robert Peel broke his campaign
promise to oppose free trade, Disraeli condemned his betrayal in
a speech that would become a classic in parliamentary history. The
government fell and the party disintegrated. From its ruins, Disraeli
built the modern Conservative Party. To outflank the Liberals with
their merchant support, Disraeli reached out to the working class.
Along with fellow Tory, Lord Shaftesbury, the great 19th century
social reformer who led the long battle for the 10-hour workday,
he championed the rights of workers.
Children at four were working in the mines. There were no limits
to the hours of work. Life expectancy in working class areas was
21 years. The Liberals and factory owners argued against any regulation.
Young people were learning a useful work ethic, they maintained.
In power, Disraeli regulated the hours of work and legislated
protection for unions and the environment. "Power has only one duty,"
he declared, "to secure the social welfare of the people." According
to Alex Macdonald, an early Labour MP, Disraeli did more for the
working class in five years than the Liberals had in 50.
"The dream of my life," Disraeli explained, "was to re-establish
Toryism on a national foundation." His guiding principles -- "to
elevate the condition of the people" and "maintain the institutions
of the country" -- stand in stark contrast to Manning's call to
dismantle ever more national infrastructure.
In Canada, as in Britain, the Conservatives are the nation's oldest
political party. Created by John A. Macdonald and George-Etienne
Cartier, the party achieved Confederation against the vehement opposition
of the Rouges, forerunners of the Liberal Party, some of whom argued
for union with the United States.
The Conservatives refused to allow the entry of U.S. railways,
and faced down a campaign by American rail owners to overthrow their
government. The idea of building an all-Canadian railroad to British
Columbia was vehemently opposed by the Liberals: How could a new
country of four million inhabitants promise to build the world's
greatest railway? they asked. If built, it should at least follow
the cheaper, easier route south of the Great Lakes and the contracts
be awarded to U.S. business.
"Never," replied Cartier, "will a damned American company have
control of the CPR." Manitoba, then British Columbia and the entire
northwest entered Canada and the railroad was built.
While Mr. Manning claims a conservative believes in wide-open
borders, Canada's great Conservative leaders were adamant in their
opposition to free trade with the United States. The idea was, Macdonald
said, "sheer insanity" that would have "as its inevitable result,
annexation." How could Canada keep its political independence after
it had thrown away its economic independence, he asked.
Cartier was no less blunt. "What will be the consequences of industrial
reciprocity?" he asked. "The factories of Canada will lose the advantages
they now possess and eventually the largest manufacturing industries
will be concentrated in the U.S." The end result would be union
of the two countries, "that is to say, our annihilation as a nation."
In 1911, the Liberals, under Wilfrid Laurier, negotiated a free-trade
agreement with the United States. The Conservatives, under Robert
Borden, defeated it. "Laurier," Borden said, "was calling for a
greater Canada, but it seemed to be a greater United States the
Liberals had achieved."
Contrary to Mr. Manning's view that government's role is to stay
out of the economy, Robert Borden and his interior minister, Arthur
Meighen, nationalized five railway systems to create the CNR. Meighen's
successor as Conservative leader, R.B. Bennett, likewise had no
fear of government enterprises and believed they could be efficient.
Corporations, he said, are creations of Parliament and Parliament
can regulate them.
Kicking off his 1927 leadership campaign, Bennett said: "The first
thing we must do in this country is build up a strong national consciousness
-- a virile Canadianism -- we have suffered from an inferiority
complex long enough."
In power from 1930 to 1935, Bennett introduced the CBC, the Canadian
Wheat Board and the Bank of Canada, the institution that allowed
Canada to finance its entire Second World War effort without borrowing
In direct opposition to Mr. Manning's postulation that a conservative
believes smaller government is better government, Bennett said,
"Reform means government intervention. It means government control
and regulation. It means the end of laissez-faire." He described
the Conservative Party as being "for the greatest good, for the
greatest number of people," and was labelled "a Tory of the Left."
The Conservatives under John Bracken and George Drew moved right,
adopted a business orientation and were largely unsuccessful at
the polls. In 1956, however, John Diefenbaker won the leadership
and moved the party sharply left -- and to victory. He called on
Canadians "to take a clear stand in opposition to economic continentalism"
and the "baneful effects of foreign ownership." Condemned as a "prairie
Bolshevik," he replied: "To those who label me as some kind of party
maverick and have claimed that I have been untrue to the great principles
of the Conservative Party, I can only reply that they have forgotten
the traditions of Disraeli and Shaftesbury in Britain and Macdonald
In 1983, Brian Mulroney strongly opposed John Crosbie's proposal
for free trade with the United States. He was swept to power. In
office, however, Mr. Mulroney reversed his views, broke the Conservative
Party's historic position and ushered in the North American free-trade
agreement. In 1993, the party was dealt the most dramatic repudiation
in a western democracy, and was reduced to two seats.
When the Conservative Party adheres to its people-come-first roots,
its following is strong. Each time it loses its sense of nationhood,
moves too far right and adopts a narrow business agenda -- exactly
the stance being advocated by Preston Manning today -- the party
itself loses, too.
Mr. Manning's affection for a survival-of-the-fittest society
is not conservatism; it is classic liberalism.
The environmental movement, based upon the impulse to preserve,
is a conservative idea. The liberal free-market model, which Mr.
Manning preaches, ridicules and opposes this impulse, slashing national
institutions, escalating the clear cutting of our forests, the genetic
manipulation of our agriculture and food supply, recklessly revolutionizing
without regard for the consequences. The Disraeli/Macdonald concept
of preservation and the public good are polar opposites to this
view, as is the very definition of conservatism.
Mr. Manning's so-called Canadian Alliance attempts to import directly
from the United States a brand of right-wing evangelism, package
it with a Canadian name and declare the product to be Canadian conservatism.
But the United States has no conservative party -- its political
tradition is an expressed reaction against conservatism -- and it
doesn't belong here.
Preston Manning's movement falls well short of the values Canadian
conservatvies cherish. The older, deeper pro-Canadian conservatism
that elevates the condition of the people, as Disraeli put it, is
tried and proven conservatism. It is the key to the victory of the
Conservative Party at the polls and to our survival as a sovereign
David Orchard is the author
of The Fight
for Canada - Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism
and was runner-up to Joe Clark in the 1998 federal Progressive Conservative
leadership contest. He farms in Borden, SK and can be reached at
tel (306) 664-8443 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org