Doomers please adjust your tin-foil hats — we’re going deep.
Thank-you, I think, to Doom friend W.C. Varones, whose comment — "… The Conservatives are not neo-cons. They are common-sense centrists, …" — got me going. Pardon me if I get touchy whenever our present government starts messing around with the franchise.
The Civitas speech remains elusive, but something like its reputed contents came up in the campaign leading up to the January 23, 2006 Federal Election. The fun bit was preserved on Wayback from the Liberal Party’s home page as of December 17, 2005.
The article link isn’t live, but the speech link is. You can still find brief reference to the file
Although most of the evidence from this brief political episode was scrubbed off the internet, there remains this Dec 15. 2005 commentary  by the then-President of the Liberal’s BC Chapter. He also provides a handy list of some of the "good bits,"including …
- First, facts about Canada. Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it. Canadians make no connection between the fact that they are a Northern European welfare state and the fact that we have very low economic growth, a standard of living substantially lower than yours, a massive brain drain of young professionals to your country, and double the unemployment rate of the United States.
- In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, don’t feel particularly bad for many of these people. They don’t feel bad about it themselves, as long as they’re receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance.
- A country like Canada will never have as strong a national identity as you do in the United States. You just have to accept that and get questions of ethnicity out of the national government. It’s just a recipe for disaster otherwise.
I’m re-posting the whole speech (as once rendered by LPC) below. If this is the view from 24 Sussex, it sure doesn’t look like common-sense centrism to me.
Notes and References: "Jamie’s Campaign Update – December 15th", by Jamie Elmhirst, President Liberal Party of Canada (BC), Liberal Party of Canada (British Columbia), December 15, 2005.
Developments in Canada’s Political System
The Honorable Steven Harper
Montreal, Canada – June 1997
Steven Harper – vice president, National Citizens’ Coalition (Canada); former Member of Parliament, 1993-1997; former chief party officer/senior policy advisor, Reform Party of Canada; his articles have appeared in the Calgary Herald and Toronto’s Globe and Mail.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me begin by giving you a big welcome to Canada. Let’s start up with a compliment. You’re here from the second greatest nation on earth. But seriously, your country, and particularly your conservative movement, is a light and an inspiration to people in this country and across the world.
Now, having given you a compliment, let me also give you an insult. I was asked to speak about Canadian politics. It may not be true, but it’s legendary that if you’re like all Americans, you know almost nothing except for your own country. Which makes you probably knowledgeable about one more country than most Canadians.
But in any case, my speech will make that assumption. I’ll talk fairly basic stuff. If it seems pedestrian to some of you who do know a lot about Canada, I apologize.
I’m going to look at three things. First of all, just some basic facts about Canada that are relevant to my talk, facts about the country and its political system, its civics. Second, I want to take a look at the party system that’s developed in Canada from a conventional left/right, or liberal/conservative perspective. The third thing I’m going to do is look at the political system again, because it can’t be looked at in this country simply from the conventional perspective.
First, facts about Canada. Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it. Canadians make no connection between the fact that they are a Northern European welfare state and the fact that we have very low economic growth, a standard of living substantially lower than yours, a massive brain drain of young professionals to your country, and double the unemployment rate of the United States.
In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, don’t feel particularly bad for many of these people. They don’t feel bad about it themselves, as long as they’re receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance.
That is beginning to change. There have been some significant changes in our fiscal policies and our social welfare policies in the last three or four years. But nevertheless, they’re still very generous compared to your country.
Let me just make a comment on language, which is so important in this country. I want to disabuse you of misimpressions you may have. If you’ve read any of the official propagandas, you’ve come over the border and entered a bilingual country. In this particular city, Montreal, you may well get that impression. But this city is extremely atypical of this country.
While it is a French-speaking city — largely — it has an enormous English-speaking minority and a large number of what are called ethnics: they who are largely immigrant communities, but who politically and culturally tend to identify with the English community.
This is unusual, because the rest of the province of Quebec is, by and large, almost entirely French-speaking. The English minority present here in Montreal is quite exceptional.
Furthermore, the fact that this province is largely French-speaking, except for Montreal, is quite exceptional with regard to the rest of the country. Outside of Quebec, the total population of Francophones, depending on how you measure it, is only three to five percent of the population. The rest of Canada is English speaking.
Even more important, the French-speaking people outside of Quebec live almost exclusively in the adjacent areas, in northern New Brunswick and in Eastern Ontario.
The rest of Canada is almost entirely English speaking. Where I come from, Western Canada, the population of Francophones ranges around one to two percent in some cases. So it’s basically an English-speaking country, just as English-speaking as, I would guess, the northern part of the United States.
But the important point is that Canada is not a bilingual country. It is a country with two languages. And there is a big difference.
As you may know, historically, and especially presently, there’s been a lot of political tension between these two major language groups, and between Quebec and the rest of Canada.
Let me take a moment for a humorous story. Now, I tell this with some trepidation, knowing that this is a largely Christian organization.
The National Citizens Coalition, by the way, is not. We’re on the sort of libertarian side of the conservative spectrum. So I tell this joke with a little bit of trepidation. But nevertheless, this joke works with Canadian audiences of any kind, anywhere in Canada, both official languages, any kind of audience.
It’s about a constitutional lawyer who dies and goes to Heaven. There, he meets God and gets his questions answered about life. One of his questions is, "God, will this problem between Quebec and the rest of Canada ever be resolved?" And God thinks very deeply about this, as God is wont to do. God replies, "Yes, but not in my lifetime."
I’m glad to see you weren’t offended by that. I’ve had the odd religious person who’s been offended. I always tell them, "Don’t be offended. The joke can’t be taken seriously theologically. It is, after all, about a lawyer who goes to Heaven."
In any case. My apologies to Eugene Meyer of the Federalist Society.
Second, the civics, Canada’s civics.
On the surface, you can make a comparison between our political system and yours. We have an executive, we have two legislative houses, and we have a Supreme Court.
However, our executive is the Queen, who doesn’t live here. Her representative is the Governor General, who is an appointed buddy of the Prime Minister.
Of our two legislative houses, the Senate, our upper house, is appointed, also by the Prime Minister, where he puts buddies, fundraisers and the like. So the Senate also is not very important in our political system.
And we have a Supreme Court, like yours, which, since we put a charter of rights in our constitution in 1982, is becoming increasingly arbitrary and important. It is also appointed by the Prime Minister. Unlike your Supreme Court, we have no ratification process.
So if you sort of remove three of the four elements, what you see is a system of checks and balances which quickly becomes a system that’s described as unpaid checks and political imbalances.
What we have is the House of Commons. The House of Commons, the bastion of the Prime Minister’s power, the body that selects the Prime Minister, is an elected body. I really emphasize this to you as an American group: It’s not like your House of Representatives. Don’t make that comparison.
What the House of Commons is really like is the United States Electoral College. Imagine if the Electoral College which selects your President once every four years were to continue sitting in Washington for the next four years. And imagine its having the same vote on every issue. That is how our political system operates.
In our election last Monday, the liberal party won a majority of seats. The four opposition parties divided up the rest, with some very, very rough parity.
But the important thing to know is that this is how it will be until the Prime Minister calls the next election. The same majority vote on every issue. So if you ask me, "What’s the vote going to be on gun control?" or on the budget, we know already.
If any member of these political parties votes differently from his party on a particular issue, well, that will be national headline news. It’s really hard to believe. If any one member votes differently, it will be national headline news. I voted differently at least once from my party, and it was national headline news. It’s a very different system.
Our party system consists today of five parties. There was a remark made yesterday at your youth conference about the fact that parties come and go in Canada every year. This is rather deceptive. I’ve written considerably on this subject.
We had a two-party system from the founding of our country, in 1867. That two-party system began to break up in the period from 1911 to 1935. Ever since then, five political elements have come and gone. We’ve always had at least three parties. But even when parties come back, they’re not really new. They’re just an older party reappearing under a different name and different circumstances.
Let me take a conventional look at these five parties. I’ll describe them in terms that fit your own party system, the left/right kind of terms.
Let’s take the New Democratic Party, the NDP, which won twenty-one seats. The NDP could be described as basically a party of liberal Democrats, but it’s actually worse than that, I have to say.
And forgive me jesting again, but the NDP is kind of proof that the Devil lives and interferes in the affairs of men.
This party believes not just in large government and in massive redistributive programs, it’s explicitly socialist. On social value issues, it believes the opposite on just about everything that anybody in this room believes. I think that’s a pretty safe bet on all social-value kinds of questions.
Some people point out that there is a small element of clergy in the NDP. Yes, this is true. But these are clergy who, while very committed to the church, believe that it made a historic error in adopting Christian theology.
The NDP is also explicitly a branch of the Canadian Labor Congress, which is by far our largest labor group, and explicitly radical.
There are some moderate and conservative labor organizations. They don’t belong to that particular organization.
The second party, the Liberal Party, is by far the largest party. It won the election. It’s also the only party that’s competitive in all parts of the country. The Liberal Party is our dominant party today, and has been for 100 years. It’s governed almost all of the last hundred years, probably about 75 percent of the time.
It’s not what you would call conservative Democrat; I think that’s a disappearing kind of breed. But it’s certainly moderate Democrat, a type of Clinton-pragmatic Democrat. It’s moved in the last few years very much to the right on fiscal and economic concerns, but still believes in government intrusion in the economy where possible, and does, in its majority, believe in fairly liberal social values.
In the last Parliament, it enacted comprehensive gun control, well beyond, I think, anything you have. Now we’ll have a national firearms registration system, including all shotguns and rifles. Many other kinds of weapons have been banned. It believes in gay rights, although it’s fairly cautious. It’s put sexual orientation in the Human Rights Act and will let the courts do the rest.
There is an important caveat to its liberal social values. For historic reasons that I won’t get into, the Liberal Party gets the votes of most Catholics in the country, including many practicing Catholics. It does have a significant Catholic, social-conservative element which occasionally disagrees with these kinds of policy directions. Although I caution you that even this Catholic social conservative element in the Liberal Party is often quite liberal on economic issues.
Then there is the Progressive Conservative Party, the PC Party, which won only twenty seats.
Now, the term Progressive Conservative will immediately raise suspicions in all of your minds. It should. It’s obviously kind of an oxymoron. But actually, its origin is not progressive in the modern sense. The origin of the term "progressive" in the name stems from the Progressive Movement in the 1920s, which was similar to that in your own country.
But the Progressive Conservative is very definitely liberal Republican. These are people who are moderately conservative on economic matters, and in the past have been moderately liberal, even sometimes quite liberal on social policy matters.
In fact, before the Reform Party really became a force in the late ’80s, early ’90s, the leadership of the Conservative Party was running the largest deficits in Canadian history. They were in favor of gay rights officially, officially for abortion on demand. Officially — what else can I say about them? Officially for the entrenchment of our universal, collectivized, health-care system and multicultural policies in the constitution of the country.
At the leadership level anyway, this was a pretty liberal group. This explains one of the reasons why the Reform Party has become such a power.
The Reform Party is much closer to what you would call conservative Republican, which I’ll get to in a minute.
The Bloc Québécois, which I won’t spend much time on, is a strictly Quebec party, strictly among the French-speaking people of Quebec. It is an ethnic separatist party that seeks to make Quebec an independent, sovereign nation.
By and large, the Bloc Québécois is center-left in its approach. However, it is primarily an ethnic coalition. It’s always had diverse elements. It does have an element that is more on the right of the political spectrum, but that’s definitely a minority element.
Let me say a little bit about the Reform Party because I want you to be very clear on what the Reform Party is and is not.
The Reform Party, although described by many of its members, and most of the media, as conservative, and conservative in the American sense, actually describes itself as populist. And that’s the term its leader, Preston Manning, uses.
This term is not without significance. The Reform Party does stand for direct democracy, which of course many American conservatives do, but also it sees itself as coming from a long tradition of populist parties of Western Canada, not all of which have been conservative. It also is populist in the very real sense, if I can make American analogies to it — populist in the sense that the term is sometimes used with Ross Perot.
The Reform Party is very much a leader-driven party. It’s much more a real party than Mr. Perot’s party — by the way, it existed before Mr. Perot’s party. But it’s very much leader-driven, very much organized as a personal political vehicle. Although it has much more of a real organization than Mr. Perot does.
But the Reform Party only exists federally. It doesn’t exist at the provincial level here in Canada. It really exists only because Mr. Manning is pursuing the position of Prime Minister. It doesn’t have a broader political mandate than that yet. Most of its members feel it should, and, in their minds, actually it does.
It also has some Buchananist tendencies. I know there are probably many admirers of Mr. Buchanan here, but I mean that in the sense that there are some anti-market elements in the Reform Party. So far, they haven’t been that important, because Mr. Manning is, himself, a fairly orthodox economic conservative.
The predecessor of the Reform Party, the Social Credit Party, was very much like this. Believing in funny money and control of banking, and a whole bunch of fairly non-conservative economic things.
So there are some nonconservative tendencies in the Reform Party, but, that said, the party is clearly the most economically conservative party in the country. It’s the closest thing we have to a neo-conservative party in that sense.
It’s also the most conservative socially, but it’s not a theocon party, to use the term. The Reform Party does favor the use of referendums and free votes in Parliament on moral issues and social issues.
The party is led by Preston Manning, who is a committed, evangelical Christian. And the party in recent years has made some reference to family values and to family priorities. It has some policies that are definitely social-conservative, but it’s not explicitly so. Many members are not , the party officially is not, and, frankly, the party has had a great deal of trouble when it’s tried to tackle those issues.
Last year, when we had the Liberal government putting the protection of sexual orientation in our Human Rights Act, the Reform Party was opposed to that, but made a terrible mess of the debate. In fact, discredited itself on that issue, not just with the conventional liberal media, but even with many social conservatives by the manner in which it mishandled that.
So the social conservative element exists. Mr. Manning is a Christian, as are most of the party’s senior people. But it’s not officially part of the party. The party hasn’t quite come to terms with how that fits into it.
That’s the conventional analysis of the party system.
Let me turn to the nonconventional analysis, because frankly, it’s impossible, with just left/right terminology to explain why we would have five parties, or why we would have four parties on the conventional spectrum. Why not just two?
The reason is regional division, which you’ll see if you carefully look at a map. Let me draw the United States comparison, a comparison with your history.
The party system that is developing here in Canada is a party system that replicates the antebellum period, the pre-Civil War period of the United States.
That’s not to say — and I would never be quoted as saying — we’re headed to a civil war. But we do have a major secession crisis, obviously of a very different nature than the secession crisis you had in the 1860s. But the dynamics, the political and partisan dynamics of this, are remarkably similar.
The Bloc Québécois is equivalent to your Southern secessionists, Southern Democrats, states rights activists. The Bloc Québécois, its forty-four seats, come entirely from the province of Quebec. But even more strikingly, they come from ridings, or election districts, almost entirely populated by the descendants of the original European French settlers.
The Liberal Party has twenty-six seats in Quebec. Most of these come from areas where there are heavy concentrations of English, aboriginal or ethnic votes. So the Bloc Québécois is very much an ethnic party, but it’s also a secession party.
In the referendum two years ago, the secessionists won 49 percent of the vote, 49.5 percent. So this is a very real crisis. We’re looking at another referendum before the turn of the century. The Progressive Conservative Party is very much comparable to the Whigs of the 1850s and 1860s. What is happening to them is very similar to the Whigs. A moderate conservative party, increasingly under stress because of the secession movement, on the one hand, and the reaction to that movement from harder line English Canadians on the other hand.
You may recall that the Whigs, in their dying days, went through a series of metamorphoses. They ended up as what was called the Unionist movement that won some of the border states in your 1860 election.
If you look at the surviving PC support, it’s very much concentrated in Atlantic Canada, in the provinces to the east of Quebec. These are very much equivalent to the United States border states. They’re weak economically. They have very grim prospects if Quebec separates. These people want a solution at almost any cost. And some of the solutions they propose would be exactly that.
They also have a small percentage of seats in Quebec. These are French-speaking areas that are also more moderate and very concerned about what would happen in a secession crisis. The Liberal Party is very much your northern Democrat, or mainstream Democratic party, a party that is less concessionary to the secessionists than the PCs, but still somewhat concessionary. And they still occupy the mainstream of public opinion in Ontario, which is the big and powerful province, politically and economically, alongside Quebec.
The Reform Party is very much a modern manifestation of the Republican movement in Western Canada; the U.S. Republicans started in the Western United States. The Reform Party is very resistant to the agenda and the demands of the secessionists, and on a very deep philosophical level.
The goal of the secessionists is to transform our country into two nations, either into two explicitly sovereign countries, or in the case of weaker separatists, into some kind of federation of two equal partners.
The Reform Party opposes this on all kinds of grounds, but most important, Reformers are highly resistant philosophically to the idea that we will have an open, modern, multiethnic society on one side of the line, and the other society will run on some set of ethnic-special-status principles. This is completely unacceptable, particularly to philosophical conservatives in the Reform Party.
The Reform Party’s strength comes almost entirely from the West. It’s become the dominant political force in Western Canada. And it is getting a substantial vote in Ontario. Twenty percent of the vote in the last two elections. But it has not yet broken through in terms of the number of seats won in Ontario.
This is a very real political spectrum, lining up from the Bloc to reform. You may notice I didn’t mention the New Democratic Party. The NDP obviously can’t be compared to anything pre-Civil War. But the NDP is not an important player on this issue. Its views are somewhere between the liberals and conservatives. Its main concern, of course, is simply the left wing agenda to basically disintegrate our society in all kinds of spectrums. So it really doesn’t fit in.
But I don’t use this comparison of the pre-Civil War lightly. Preston Manning, the leader of the Reform Party has spent a lot of time reading about pre-Civil War politics. He compares the Reform Party himself to the Republican Party of that period. He is very well-read on Abraham Lincoln and a keen follower and admirer of Lincoln.
I know Mr. Manning very well. I would say that next to his own father, who is a prominent Western Canadian politician, Abraham Lincoln has probably had more effect on Mr. Manning’s political philosophy than any individual politician.
Obviously, the issue here is not slavery, but the appeasement of ethnic nationalism. For years, we’ve had this Quebec separatist movement. For years, we elected Quebec Prime Ministers to deal with that, Quebec Prime Ministers who were committed federalists who would lead us out of the wilderness. For years, we have given concessions of various kinds of the province of Quebec, political and economic, to make them happier.
This has not worked. The sovereignty movement has continued to rise in prominence. And its demands have continued to increase. It began to hit the wall when what are called the soft separatists and the conventional political establishment got together to put in the constitution something called "a distinct society clause." Nobody really knows what it would mean, but it would give the Supreme Court, where Quebec would have a tremendous role in appointment, the power to interpret Quebec’s special needs and powers, undefined elsewhere.
This has led to a firewall of resistance across the country. It fueled the growth of the Reform Party. I should even say that the early concessionary people, like Pierre Trudeau, have come out against this. So there’s even now an element of the Quebec federalists themselves who will no longer accept this.
So you see the syndrome we’re in. The separatists continue to make demands. They’re a powerful force. They continue to have the bulk of the Canadian political establishment on their side. The two traditional parties, the Liberals and PCs, are both led by Quebecers who favor concessionary strategies. The Reform Party is a bastion of resistance to this tendency.
To give you an idea of how divided the country is, not just in Quebec but how divided the country is outside Quebec on this, we had a phenomenon five years ago. This is a real phenomenon; I don’t know how much you heard about it.
The establishment came down with a constitutional package which they put to a national referendum. The package included distinct society status for Quebec and some other changes, including some that would just horrify you, putting universal Medicare in our constitution, and feminist rights, and a whole bunch of other things.
What was significant about this was that this constitutional proposal was supported by the entire Canadian political establishment. By all of the major media. By the three largest traditional parties, the PC, Liberal Party and NDP. At the time, the Bloc and Reform were very small.
It was supported by big business, very vocally by all of the major CEOs of the country. The leading labor unions all supported it. Complete consensus. And most academics.
And it was defeated. It literally lost the national referendum against a rag-tag opposition consisting of a few dissident conservatives and a few dissident socialists.
This gives you some idea of the split that’s taking place in the country.
Canada is, however, a troubled country politically, not socially. This is a country that we like to say works in practice but not in theory.
You can walk around this country without running across very many of these political controversies.
I’ll end there and take any of your questions. But let me conclude by saying, good luck in your own battles. Let me just remind you of something that’s been talked about here. As long as there are exams, there will always be prayer in schools.
QUESTION: I have Canadian roots. That’s why I have my maple leaf on. Please tell me about the distinct society law. Have there been court attempts to interpret that language? That’s in the federal constitution now? Excuse my ignorance.
MR. HARPER: No, there have been no formal attempts by the courts to interpret it. There has been no referral of this to the court by the government. The reasons is obvious. The establishment wants to sell distinct society in Quebec as meaning everything the sovereignties want it to mean, and then tell people in the rest of the country it means absolutely nothing at all. The concerns about it are threefold.
The concerns are that it would impact the division of powers asymmetrically between the provinces and the federal government. The concerns are also that it would affect minority rights, particularly in the province of Quebec. They have been under some attack. Some of you may know that there are restrictions on the use of English in some aspects of Quebec public policy.
But I think the third is the one which has had the least discussion and should be the biggest concern. In putting such a phrase in the constitution, whether it has any overt legal significance sends a very clear message to the international community that Canada recognizes Quebec as a nation. Down the road this would further the claims of Quebec sovereignties to separate unilaterally if they got a mandate to do so. And I think that’s the most dangerous thing about it.
QUESTION: Can you tell us something about the supply side criteria in Canada? It looks so depressed here. But what about marginal tax rates, entrepreneurship, or the ability or nonability to start new companies, unemployment, welfare — the basic supply-side criteria for analyzing a country?
MR. HARPER: I can try to do that quickly. We do have high marginal tax rates. High tax rates of all kinds. We have some of the highest capital gains taxes in the OECD. We still have very generous welfare rates. And our extremely generous unemployment insurance is really, basically, a subsidy to seasonal work.
So we have inflexible labor markets in large parts of the country and considerable disincentives on higher income individuals.
To just give you a little of the real dark side of that, there was a survey in the Chamber of Commerce just recently. It got almost no publicity, one of those selected news items. One out of ten Canadian businesses says it will relocate its operations to the United States within the next two years unless these things change.
The bright side is that, in the recent election campaign, there were several proposals for significant change in the platforms of two of the opposition parties.
The Reform Party promised to reduce high marginal rates and to cut the capital gains rate in half. The Progressive Conservative Party promised to severely reduce the payroll tax burden. That’s another serious disincentive we have. And also to look at reducing some of the high marginal rates as well. So these things are beginning to be questioned.
QUESTION: From my own rather parochial perspective, because I’m interested in United Nations affairs. Canada’s government has always seemed to be a big booster of the United Nations. And Mr. Chretien was down in Washington not too long ago, saying that if the United States wanted to kick the UN out of New York, he’d bring it up here.
My question involves Maurice Strong, the Canadian who’s now one of the top UN officials in charge of reforming that organization. He seems to be a rather mysterious character, worth a lot of money, sort of a global citizen. What do you know about Mr. Strong, and what is his agenda?
MR. HARPER: Well, let me handle the second question first. It is a small country, but don’t assume I know every other Canadian. I probably don’t know much more about Mr. Strong than you do, although we have some mutual friends. But he is known privately for his far-left views on many economic issues, in particular. He was once president, I believe, of Ontario Hydro. He was considered a disaster in that function.
Everything I hear about him would suggest to me, the same as you, that he is a very, very dangerous individual, and one to be watched very carefully.
The first part of the question was on the United Nations. Canada has always been, at critical junctures, a supporter of NATO, NORAD, and the United States. However, a lot of public sentiment has been fairly neutralist in its philosophy. Many Canadians — obviously not myself — fancy themselves as some kind of a third force that’s neither pro-American nor pro-Soviet or pro- Third World — something in between.
So that’s where you get the strong support for the United Nations. Canada contributes a great deal to the UN relatively, and takes a great deal of pride over always being praised by UN bodies. This distresses conservatives like myself quite profoundly, but I will warn you, it’s a widespread view, and I will always say, one that could only be maintained as long as you basically provide us with military protection.
QUESTION: First, I want to thank you for a very interesting and highly informative presentation. It was just excellent.
MR. HARPER: Thank you.
QUESTION: I’d like for you to look forward a bit. I know it is difficult, and maybe in the current context even dangerous. But if you would, give us your thoughts about what might happen politically down the road in Canada.
MR. HARPER: It’s so difficult to do that. And that’s the reason I emphasized the crisis nature. Because the very existence of the country is really uncertain in the next four to five years. Quebec will have a referendum. We don’t know which way it will go. But it certainly could go either way. And we don’t know what forces that will set in motion.
It isn’t just Quebec. The Reform Party itself represents a constitutional agenda that challenges the way our entire political system operates. And there’s widespread dissatisfaction with that system.
The forces that held this country together traditionally, a series of East-West economic policies, have been undermined in the last decade by free trade. Don’t get me wrong. I think that’s a positive thing. But they were so central to the concept of the country and how it was governed. It’s just very uncertain.
However, let me just make two predictions. One is that Canada will be profoundly changed in the next five to ten years. I just don’t believe the confederation we have today will look the same. Whether Quebec separates or not, there are going to be very major changes.
The second thing is that Canada, in spite of its ongoing social democratic, welfare-state mentality, will continue to move to the right on fiscal, economic and social policy, with minor deviations, because that’s the way the world is going.
When Canadians face the choice of either preserving their welfare state or adapting themselves to the world economy, they always, at times of crisis, choose to adapt themselves to the world economy.
And I think that the basic decision on the free trade agreement will continue to be a dominant force for the good. We can see how these conservative values are winning in some spheres. But whether they will change the underlying drift to liberal social values, and to governments that, through new means, want to control people’s lives, I severely doubt. But that’s the battle we’ll be fighting everywhere.
QUESTION: I understood you to say that the Reform Party only operates at the federal or national level. How are the local provincial governments and the local governments organized politically in the Western provinces?
MR. HARPER: That’s a very good question. In the four Western provinces, the party system is very similar to what it was before the Reform Party burst onto the scene. There continue to be, in each province, three political parties — the NDPs, the Liberals, the PCs — with the exception of British Columbia, where there is a provincial Reform Party and there is no provincial CP Party. There are historical reasons for that.
But this provincial Reform Party, while it attracts many Reformers, has no formal political affiliation with the federal party. It was created locally, and for local reasons. But I think it’s fair to say that increasingly, particularly in the three Western provinces, the remnant PC party is PC only in name. It’s increasingly becoming dominated by people who are Reformers federally.
At the highest level, there still tend to be federal Tories. But the big thing that happened in this election, and few analysts have caught it, is essentially the federal PC party was eliminated as a significant political factor in Western Canada. In this election it didn’t just simply fail to win seats; it got almost no votes west of Manitoba. It’s basically gone.
Increasingly, provincial PC politicians, whatever their instincts, are finding themselves having to align themselves with Reform and with its constitutional agenda.
QUESTION: Two quick questions. There was recently a proposal I read about from Preston Manning that would allow the different provinces to have control over the languages and the culture of that particular province. While I guess it was met with a lot of opposition, it seems to me that that actually would go against the Reform Party’s message of having the one nation of Canada, because it would further fragment Quebec from the rest of Canada.
That’s one question.
The second is a little bit more pragmatic. In looking at where the votes, the bodies, are, it’s the Ontario Province. Obviously, there’s animosity between the PC and the Reform Party as far as an alliance. But obviously the hundred seats that the Liberals gained there have to be winnowed down somehow in order for the Reform Party ever to have control over Canada. What is the Reform Party doing about that?
MR. HARPER: First the language question. There are some fairly obvious problems with the idea of decentralizing language, particularly in the human rights area. However, I’m a very strong believer that this, in some form, is essential.
The country Canada should be modeling itself after in all kinds of ways is Switzerland. When you have a multilingual state, particularly one where, thankfully, the language groups are geographically divided, you cannot run language policy at the national level.
This was Pierre Trudeau’s great error. His idea was to social engineer a bilingual country from coast to coast. This has been a disaster economically. It’s created all kinds of linguistic antagonisms in the country.
So in some form or another, that’s the route you have to go. A country like Canada will never have as strong a national identity as you do in the United States. You just have to accept that and get questions of ethnicity out of the national government. It’s just a recipe for disaster otherwise. On the second question, I’ve written a long, long article with Dr. Flannigan at the University of Calgary on the evolution of the political right in Canada.
Everybody knows that to have a stable national conservative force, you’re going to have to have one political party. The split of the vote between the PCs and Reformers in Ontario is a severe problem. However, it’s fundamental because it isn’t just over the details of economic and social policy. This fundamental divide on the constitutional agenda isn’t going to go away, as long as the Quebec question is just sitting there on the horizon, like a huge rain cloud. It’s the division between the Whigs and the Republicans. It cannot be reconciled. One party is going to win out.
My sense is that time is on the Reformers’ side. The provincial government in Ontario is a Progressive Conservative government led by Premier Mike Harris, who’s very conservative economically. And he has increasingly been distancing himself from the federal PC Party. He hasn’t overtly supported Reform, but he is definitely not supporting the PC Party. In fact, there was just a news item today that apparently the federal PC leader has formally cut off communications with Mr. Harris.
Ultimately if the crisis continues, Canadians are going to be asked which side they’re on. And you’re either on the side of these ethnic secessionists or you’re against them. The Reform Party is against them. The other parties are somewhere in the middle. And Reform is not going to lose that contest in the long term, if that continues to be the battle.