As I was writing the post just below, Divisions (2), and also thinking about something a friend wrote on social media, I got to thinking about other divisions and, of course, electoral politics. I was born in 1942, William Lyon Mackenzie King was the prime minister; my mother often said that, in the 1940s, it seemed that he would never cease to be prime minister, and she thoroughly detested him; it wasn’t all of his policies she hated, it was, mainly, how he approached the war, and a few other things ~ she was, later, fond of the Canadian poet F.R. Scott’s rather bitter epitaph:
He seemed to be in the centre because we had no centre,
No vision to pierce the smoke-screen of his politics.
Truly he will be remembered wherever men honour ingenuity,
Ambiguity, inactivity, and political longevity.
Let us raise up a temple to the cult of mediocrity,
Do nothing by halves which can be done by quarters.
Now, Canada fought a good war, we made four absolutely vital contributions:
- We were the true “breadbasket of the empire,” our farmers fed our large Army and much of Britain’s, too;
- We were a major part of the “arsenal of democracy,” our factories and shipyards turned out all of the things, from tanks and trucks and bombers and corvettes to Bren guns and grenades that were needed to help defeat the Axis powers;
- We managed the all-important British Commonwealth Air Training Plan that was a key element in the allies’ eventual success; and
- We played a huge and a significant leadership role in the Battle of the Atlantic ~ the only battle Churchill said that he really feared losing.
But under King we did each with apparent reluctance, seemingly trying to never serve any vital interest if there was even a remote chance that any political constituency might be offended ~ something that reminds me of Justin Trudeau in 2018. Our large and entirely commendable war efforts were, in the main, directed, sometimes despite King, by the indefatigable C.D. Howe, and the national unity concerns were assuaged by recruiting the universally respected Louis St Laurent.
The King era was characterized by extraordinarily tepid leadership at the top but brilliant work by strong ministers in a small cabinet. It also began Phase 1 of a national political civil war. I think that in the First World War many Canadians had either understood or had been, largely, indifferent to Quebec’s objections to conscription. But in the 1940s we had better mass communications and many Canadians were less understanding of Quebec’s reluctance to participate in that war, especially as Canadian casualties mounted after Hong Kong and then in Italy and then in France, Belgium and Holland. Louis St Laurent did not try to explain French Quebec’s misgivings to English Canada, his job was to maintain, by force of his own stellar reputation and personality, just enough support in Quebec and, as he easily did, to “outclass” the vocal, crypto-fascist, French Canadian opponents to the war. But there was another division fomenting inside the Liberal Party of Canada: both Howe and St Laurent had a new vision for Canada in the post-war world; both saw Canada as an important actor on the world stage; both were frustrated by King’s timid leadership; it is very probable that had St Laurent, the foreign minister, rather than King, the prime minister, led Canada’s delegation to the UN’s founding conference in San Francisco in June of 1945 that Canada, not France, would have been the fifth member of the Security Council (or that it would have had only four members. as originally planned). St Laurent, especially, was known, liked and respected in both London and Washington; both he and Howe were highly regarded as leaders and as statesmen … King was not; Churchill distrusted him because he has actively supported Chamberlain’s appeasement policy and it seems to me that both Churchill and Roosevelt saw him as little more than an errand boy.
The internal, Liberal civil war was between the timid, semi-isolationist, detachment preferred by King and the Howe-St Laurent vision of an almost aggressively progressive, nationalist and globalist Canada that would be a prosperous “leading middle power” in the world.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives were having their own civil war. George Drew, who was in some respects a model for Leslie Frost, arguably Ontario’s (perhaps Canada’s) best ever provincial leader, was an old fashioned, prosperous, small town, Main Street lawyer who moved from civic (Guelph) to Ontario politics and then into the federal arena. He was a social moderate who even promised, but didn’t deliver, enhanced social spending, but he was also a strident anti-communist and he was a staunch opponent of Mackenzie King’s national war effort. On the other side was John Diefenbaker ~ an early populist (one biographer called him the ‘Renegade in Power‘) who was a morally upright man with too many firmly held but not always well thought through opinions. Diefenbaker was a brilliant campaigner, before television took over.* He and his regular opponent Prime Minister Mike Pearson were the last of the old-style, whistle-stop, back of the train campaigners. Diefenbaker, like St Laurent and Pearson, was a fervent Canadian nationalist but he had a nasty anti-America streak which was especially pronounced when John F Kennedy took over the White House … I think Diefenbaker and Nixon might have gotten along if Nixon had kept to the Truman-Eisenhower agenda. The civil war inside the old Progressive-Conservative presaged that, ongoing in Canada right now, between the outsiders and what we now call, thanks to Daryl Bricker and John Ibbitson, the Laurentian Elites. John Diefenbaker was a true outsider, he and e.g. Tommy Douglass were indeed renegades and radicals; the elites supported Louis St Laurent over George Drew but they much preferred Drew to Diefenbaker who, with some reason, terrified them all … that’s why Peter Newman’s book, Renegade in Power was, and remains, controversial and influential: Diefenbaker did want to shake up almost everything; he stood against what we now know as the Laurentian Consensus; he was, simultaneously a brilliant, visionary leader and deeply flawed politician and human being
So the Conservatives were split between the outsiders and the Laurentian Elites and the Liberals were split between the “little Canada,” isolationists, and the globalist, liberal internationalists. Eventually, Joe Clark and then Stephen Harper would, step by painful step, lead the outsiders to victory in the Conservative Party, and Pierre Trudeau would throw aside everything St Laurent and Pearson had accomplished and turn Canada, with the devout approval of the Laurentian Elites, back into the sort of petty, self-centred isolationism that Mackenzie King would have loved.
The divides have, I think, grown both wider and deeper. Almost twenty years ago the noted Canadian historian Michael Bliss wrote an essay for the Globe and Mail, about what he saw as the “fault line” which, he said, ran along the Ottawa River and divided Old Canada (his words) which lay East of that river (Quebec and Atlantic Canada, in other words) from New Canada (Ontario and the West). “The political culture of Old Canada,” he wrote, “is the culture of the government grant, the subsidy to business, the handout to the unemployed, the handout to your political friends. In Atlantic Canada and Quebec, politicians are proud to announce handouts, proud of the activities of HRDC, content to play the old patronage games … [and] … These areas of Canada hold conservatively to the last generation’s faith that big government and tax-and-spend politics are the answer to slow growth, and that most of the changes Mr. Long and other Alliance politicians are talking about would be ruinous. It’s Red Toryism, whether it comes with a Québécois or a Celtic accent. It’s represented in national politics by the Bloc, the PQ remnant, and the Chrétien wing of the Liberal party, the Liberals who haven’t been able to understand why anyone would see the Prime Minister as yesterday’s man … [but, he asks] … what if Old Canada is becoming Yesterday’s Canada? West of Quebec there is much more interest in generating growth by shrinking government, liberating individuals and the private sector, and learning how to be truly competitive in a rapidly changing world. The politics of handouts isn’t nearly as popular in areas of the country where fewer Canadians think they need them, where it’s no longer fashionable to tug the forelock to the well-fed local MP. The Alliance will put all its electoral chips on appealing to the political culture of New Canada. Some of its supporters dream that they might hit the ultimate jackpot: If the Alliance sweeps B.C. and the prairies, and takes two-thirds of Ontario’s seats, then New Canada governs with a majority. Old Canada is left out in the cold.” Of course “the Alliance” became the Conservative Party of Canada and its base is in New Canada, the Liberal‘s stronghold is almost all of Old Canada, they are occasionally the first but normally the second or even third party in much of New Canada. Professor Bliss said, almost two decades ago, that “we have been seeing the West and Ontario find common ground in the 1990s: common economic ground as the fastest-growing parts of the country, common cultural ground as immigrant- and multicultural-friendly societies, common political ground in rethinking the role of government.” A recent look at immigration settlement says the same thing. A government report based on the 2001 census says that “In Toronto and Vancouver, recent immigrants make up more than one-fifth of the population (23% and 21%, respectively). In Montreal their share is 9%, in the five second-tier cities taken together 8%, and in the five third-tier cities and the rest of Canada it is about 2.5%. In some urban areas in Ontario that are included in the rest of Canada (Kitchener, London, Windsor), recent immigrants account for 7% to 8% of the population, a share nearly as large as that of Montreal. This means that very few recent immigrants make their home in smaller cities and in rural and small-town Canada.” Immigrants come looking for opportunity; they find it, disproportionately, in New Canada. Of course, there are plenty of Chinese and Indian people in Montreal and Halifax and Fredricton, but there are, proportionately, two or three times as many in Toronto and Calgary and Vancouver … and those numbers have grown, I think.
So, we have growing divisions between the (often Conservative) outsiders and the (generally Liberal) Laurentian Elites, between the isolationists and the globalists, the people who Stephen Harper called the somewheres and the anywheres, in his new book, ‘Right Here, Right Now,’ but the new isolationists are, once again, Liberals, as they were in Pierre Trudeau’s time, while more and more (but not all) Conservatives, especially new Canadian Conservatives, are globalists, even if they want significant reforms to how globalism works for the working class. There is also a deep divide between the free-spending Trudeau Liberals and the fiscal conservatives in the Conservative party and in the Liberal Party, too. Plus there is a worrisome divide opening, yet again, between the West and Quebec. All these divides add up to trouble for Canada. Just as one example, as I mentioned a couple of days ago, Alberta and Saskatchewan want, and in my opinion Canada needs to get prairie oil to seaports and refineries on both coasts, but there is massive opposition in lower mainland BC and in Quebec to any new pipelines. Something has to give. Someone has to broker a good deal. The Trudeau Liberals have staked out a green, fundamentally anti-oil position and are now trying, frantically, to backpedal their way into some sort of half-way position that they hope will not offend everyone. It’s unlikely to work for them; the Albertans think they are not trying even half hard enough and the greenies think they have gone way too far in buying the Trans Mountain Pipeline from Kinder Morgan. The combination of Liberal incompetence and political gamesmanship is endangering Canada.
Please read this insightful article about the re-emerging threat of Western Canadian alienation. The author says, and I agree fully, that many people are coming to the “quiet but smouldering realization that Ottawa is fiddling while Alberta burns. Ottawa, fully captivated by visions of UN glory, seems utterly oblivious to the real, tangible impacts that passing bills like C-48 (the tanker ban) and C-69 (the everything-else ban) will bring … [and] … If you think a Quebec independence referendum was big news, your socks will be blown off by the Alberta one. The fight for cultural independence will pale in comparison to the fight for economic survival.” The current situation is well captured by Bruce MacKinnon in the Halifax Chronicle Herald in this image:
The situation may be made worse now because, as the Globe and Mail reports, “Quebec will receive $13.1-billion in equalization payments next year – a $1.4-billion increase – while Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador continue to be left out even though Canada’s oil-producing provinces are facing deficits and hard times.” I don’t think that this is intentional on the government’s part, I suspect it’s just part of a bureaucratic process but it sends an unwelcome signal at an inopportune time.
It is time for Canadians to recognize that we are a divided people living in a deeply divided country and we need to come together to try to find leaders who can work past those divisions rather than exacerbating them. I do not believe that Justin Trudeau is any kind of leader at all and certainly not the kind we need. I believe there are good leaders on both the Conservative and Liberal front benches …
… and I believe that Canada needs two strong, well led, centrist political parties that can steer the country forward, veering ever so slightly left and then ever so slightly right every few years, towards prosperity, unity and a responsible leading role in world affairs. “Peace, order and good government” is not too much to ask and it is a good goal for both parties.
* I recall the coming of television, especially the now-famous Kennedy-Nixon TV debate. Most people thought then, and I think a fair reading of the transcripts today suggests that Nixon ‘won’ the debate as such, even his quip about his wife’s “good Republican cloth coat” scored points, but he lost the ‘image’ battle and that turned out to be much more important. Nixon looked bad, a bit untrustworthy on TV ~ largely because of his ‘five o’clock shadow,’ while Kennedy looked young and fresh and vigorous. There were even suggestions that the Kennedy team ‘sabotaged’ Nixon by bribing the studio make-up person …