Is Canada a Left Wing Country?

One of the myths about Canada is that it’s a left-wing country.

According to this myth conservatism – with its emphasis on limited government, free markets and individual freedom—just won’t sell here, it’s too alien a concept for Canadians to accept.

Big government socialism, on the other hand, is supposed to be as Canadian as maple syrup. Socialism is supposed to define us a nation. It’s who we are.

Even some conservatives buy into this argument.

In his book, Harper’s Team, Tom Flanagan, who was formerly a campaign manager for the Conservative Party, writes “Canada is not yet a conservative or Conservative country. We can’t win votes if we veer too far to the right of the median voter.”

If this was true, of course, if Canada really was a socialist country, those of us who believe in conservative ideals should simply give up. Trying to sell conservatism would be a waste of time. The smart thing to do would be to join the Liberal Party and wait for slush fund kickbacks.

But is Canada really a left wing country?

For much of our history that certainly wasn’t the case.

As William Watson documents in his book Globalization and the Meaning of Canadian Life, for much of our history government power in Canada was more limited and less interventionist than the American government.

Watson notes, for instance, Americans started collecting income tax in 1913, while Canada didn’t introduce such a tax until 1917. Our policy of subsidizing railway construction was actually a copy of a previous American policy. And while Canada did eventually duplicate elements of the American New Deal programs during the depression, our version of the New Deal was more cautious.

If anything Canada’s tradition was one of private initiative and individual liberty.

Of course, that all came to a halt in the late 1960s with the coming of the Pierre Trudeau dynasty. Rather than building on Canada’s past traditions, Trudeau triggered a social and political revolution that degraded our heritage and overturned our historic values.

At that point, Canada did indeed begin to drift into socialist waters – with a devastating result for our economy. Trudeau’s interventionist policies, his expansion of government, his fiscally irresponsible measures left a legacy of high taxes, gigantic national debt and bloated bureaucracies.

Yet, ironically while Trudeau’s economic policies were dismal failures, his political revolution was a total success. His left-wing vision of Canada became, in essence, the unofficial orthodoxy of the country’s political establishment.

Anyone who challenged this orthodoxy, anyone who promoted the idea of free enterprise or individual freedom or less government (all of them traditional Canadian values) was deemed outside the political mainstream, or worse – labeled an extremist.

This is what created the illusion that Canada was a “left-wing country”.

And it is an illusion. There is a definite disconnect between the left-leaning views of our establishment and the views of the Canadian population as a whole.

And this disconnect explains why Canadian conservatives managed to achieve important victories in the last few decades.

True blue conservative Mike Harris won back to back majorities governments in Ontario; Preston Manning created the conservative/populist Reform Party; Brian Mulroney enacted a free trade agreement. The Liberal Party, under Jean Chrétien, balanced the budget. The conservative-leaning ADQ has emerged as a political force in Quebec.

What’s more, after they occurred, conservative successes became mainstream. Even the Liberal Party, for instance, now supports free trade. Balanced budgets are almost mandatory for governments. And no one talks anymore about nationalizing our industries.

So much for Canada being a left wing country!

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Gerry Nicholls
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