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Winnipeg Free Press, Sunday 02 November 2003

Toryism's Last Lament

by Trevor Harrison

MANY view the current Alliance-Tory rapprochement as healing a rift begun when Preston Manning founded the Reform party in 1987.

In truth, it is the culmination of a civil (and sometimes uncivil) war within conservatism going back more than 40 years between Tory conservatives and American-style conservatives (a.k.a., republicans).

George Grant, in his deservedly praised Lament for a Nation, correctly identified the two sides in this conflict in 1965. He saw Toryism (including Red Toryism) as the cornerstone of Canadian identity, based on economic nationalism, public order and tradition, and a paternal sense of noblesse oblige. In contrast, republicans were conservatives "only in a particular sense". Really "old fashioned liberals", they stood for "freedom of the individual to use his property as he wishes, and for a limited government which must keep out of the market-place."

In 1965, however, the battle within Canada to define conservatism was only beginning. Typical of the republican conservatives was Colin Brown, a London, Ont., millionaire who had made his money in the insurance business. Brown was opposed to almost every public-policy initiative going on at the time, especially medicare. But it was Robert Stanfield's election in 1967 as Tory leader that really proved the last straw. In Brown's eyes, Stanfield was a socialist.

Brown quit the Progressive Conservatives and founded the National Citizens' Coalition. Among the NCC's first board members was Ernest Manning, who had also fought against medicare as Alberta premier and shared Brown's belief that socialism was tightening its grip on Canada's body politic. The NCC was later joined by other right-wing organizations, such as the Fraser Institute.

Though the 1970s were dismal for Canadian conservatives of any stripe, the Canadian republicans saw models to be emulated south of the border. In particular, the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 breathed new life into the movement. Gradually, the neo-conservative philosophy slipped over the border, finding a particularly warm welcome in the Canadian West, especially Alberta. There, an American-trained intellectual cadre and an American corporate elite, centred in Calgary, built upon the existing political culture in promoting notions of private property, a minimal state, possessive individualism and the right to bear arms.

By 1987, Preston Manning saw the time was ripe to launch a conservative civil war. He formed the Reform party and over the next few years embellished and used fractures within Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative coalition to further promote his vision of political realignment. His vision was not altogether one of transforming the Canadian political system; it was to transform Canadian conservatism.

Today, the older Tory conservatives remain strong in the Maritimes, where tight community ties and the lack of a frontier ethic still insulate people, to a degree, against the kind of "red-meat" capitalism espoused by the republicans. Elsewhere, however, Toryism -- along with the notion of an organic community from which it sprang -- is in retreat.

A few notable Tory representatives remain, such as Joe Clark and -- despite Alliance depictions of him as a socialist interloper -- David Orchard. But the republican conservatives -- "old fashioned liberals" like Mulroney, Harper, Klein and Harris -- vastly outnumber them and attract any corporate money and press support that still eludes Paul Martin's "modern liberals."

So the long war over conservatism in Canada is at an end. The "merger" at hand will ensure Canada's Tory element is as dead as the Monty Python parrot. Even now, talk shows and newspaper columns in the West are filled with Alliance supporters cheering on the Tory demise. For republican conservatives, Toryism must die because -- like good Maoists in the past -- they view as blasphemy any deviation from market-driven individualism.

After Dec. 12, by which date the Tory and Alliance memberships will have endorsed the merger, conservatism in Canada will largely echo in tone and policy the American Republican Party, lacking only the stridency of the latter's religious right.

Nearly 40 years after George Grant wrote his book, final lamentations for Canadian Toryism are about to be sounded.


Trevor W. Harrison is an associate professor in sociology at the University of Lethbridge and research director of the Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta.

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