Alberta’s Left Turn
For as long as I can remember I have heard Alberta described as Canada’s “most conservative province” but I have long questioned the accuracy of this designation. It might have been true at one time. In the fall of 1936, Stephen Leacock, the famous Canadian professor, economist, social commentator, and humorist began a lecture tour of the Western provinces and he described his experiences in My Discovery of the West: A Discussion of East and West In Canada, which was published by Thomas Allen in Toronto in 1937. In his ninth chapter, “Monarchy in the West”, Leacock wrote that:
People who know nothing about it always imagine that the West of Canada is far less British than the East. Apart from the Maritime Provinces this is not so. It is even the reverse of truth.
From this he went on to argue that the large number of Americans who had moved up to the Canadian West between 1905 and 1914 made “no great difference as to the British connection and British institutions” because Americans had been British originally, and were reverting to their roots. He put it in these memorable words:
It used to be said that the last shot fired in defence of British institutions in America would be fired by a French-Canadian. It looks now as if there would be one more shot after his. It will be from the gun of an American whose name will be something like John Bull McGregor. His people will have been among the McGregors of Mississippi and the Bulls of the New York police: so he won’t miss what he shoots at.
If Leacock’s assessment of 1936 Alberta was accurate, that those settling the province valued Canada’s British institutions, had not a trace of republicanism, and that the former Americans among them would be the ones to fire that last shot on behalf of the Crown, then it might have been true to say, at that time, that Alberta was the most conservative province in the Dominion. That was then. This is now.
In Canada, a conservative is someone who believes in and supports the traditional British institutions of this country. This was historically true even of conservative French Canadians – and until the 1960s French Canadians were very conservative indeed – for while their primary concern might have been the preservation of their language, Roman Catholicism, and their traditional way of life, they understood that these things had been guaranteed by the Crown since 1774 and that had all of British North America gone over to the American Republic in the Revolution their language, religion, and culture would not have survived. The two best articulations of the political meaning of conservatism in the Canadian context, John Farthing’s Freedom Wears a Crown and John G. Diefenbaker’s These Things We Treasure, the first by a central Canadian who grew up in Ontario and Quebec, the second by a Westerner, who grew up and practiced law in Saskatchewan before entering federal politics, both argued that Canada’s British institutions were the foundation and framework of our traditional rights and freedoms and that the latter stand and fall with the former.
If Alberta were the most conservative province in Canada that would mean that the ideas in the preceding paragraph would be more prevalent in Alberta than anywhere else in the country. Is this the case? Hardly. Indeed, one of the most curious things about many who identify as conservative in the province of Alberta is an inability to put two and two together and come up with four on this matter.
From 1963, when Lester Pearson became Prime Minister until 1984 when Pierre Trudeau stepped down as Prime Minister, the Liberal Party of Canada waged an aggressive war against Canada’s British institutions and traditions. They removed the designation “Royal” from many institutions including the post office and the navy. They insisted that we needed a new flag of our own, even though the Canadian Red Ensign had been declared our country’s flag by Order-In-Council in 1945, three days after the end of the war in which it had been baptized our national flag in the blood of the soldiers who fought under it in our country’s finest hour. It was the Union Jack in the canton that made the old flag objectionable to them. These are just two examples, many more could be provided. At the same time the Liberal Party was attacking Canada’s British heritage and institutions it was also attacking and undermining the basic traditional freedoms of Canadians.
Yet, many Albertan “small c conservatives” don’t seem to get this. To the last man they have an intense loathing for Pierre Trudeau and the Liberal Party. Yet, many of them show little interest in turning to Canada’s British institutions, traditions, and heritage. Indeed, I have known more than a few of them to approach our British heritage with an attitude of contempt scarcely distinguishable from Trudeau’s own. Royalism is the sine qua non of conservatism in Canada, a non-negotiable, and Pierre Trudeau was notorious for, among other things, his disrespect for Her Majesty, yet you will encounter in Alberta, far more than anywhere else in Canada, people who claim to be Trudeau-hating conservatives but who are republicans rather than royalists. Self-identified Albertan “conservatives” tend to be continentalists – sometimes to the point of being annexationists – and free traders, both of which, ironically, are positions that historically belonged to the Liberal Party. It is further ironic that free trade was only embraced by the Conservative Party in the 1980s under the leadership of Brian Mulroney, the Conservative leader most hated in Alberta, whose misgovernment drove traditional Conservative Party voters, not only in Alberta but throughout the West, into the Reform Party of Canada.
This does not sound like a conservative province – more like a belligerently regionalist province with a chip on its shoulder. Localism is an important element of conservative thought, but in a form similar to the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity, never anti-patriotism.
Where then does Alberta’s “conservative” reputation come from?
Is it the most socially conservative province?
When one thinks of social conservatism – in the sense of opposition to the moral and social disintegration that has taken place in the United States, Canada and the rest of the Western world since World War as manifest in such things as the collapse of social authority, no-fault divorce, birth control, abortion, the sexual revolution, cohabitation without marriage, serial marriages, alternative sexualities, and the like – three voices come to mind as having spoken louder on behalf of social conservatism in Canada than any other – George Grant, William Gairdner, and Ted Byfield. All three were from central Canada.
Yes, that’s right, all three. Ted Byfield, the founder of the Alberta Report which joined Christian social conservatism with a defiant Western and particularly Alberta populism, was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. That, in itself, does not perhaps say much, especially since moral and social decay, and worse, government brainwashing of the young against traditional norms, has gone further in Ontario, under the premierships of McGuinity and Wynne than anywhere else in the country. Nevertheless, it is in Alberta that the Rev. Stephen Boissoin was dragged before the Human Rights Tribunal – they have one of these odious kangaroo courts in Alberta too – for writing a letter to the editor, criticizing the actions of the politicized homosexual movement.
More substantially, Albertans more than any other Canadians, love American popular culture and oppose any attempt on the part of the national government to protect domestic Canadian culture. While our cultural protectionist policies have been a complete failure, and indeed have done harm rather than good, my point is that there is nothing that has done more to erode traditional social institutions, the authority of parents, teachers, and churches, and moral standards, than Hollywood films, pop and rock music, and television programming. A social conservatism that is wed to an objection, at the theoretical level, to cultural protectionism on the liberal grounds of market freedom, is a social conservatism that has laid down, raised the white flag, and given up.
The other grounds on which some have claimed that Alberta is the most conservative province are those of fiscal and economic conservatism. Fiscal conservatism is the idea that the state should live within its means and not export its costs into the future for posterity to pay. The economic ideas regarded as being conservative in Alberta are actually economic liberalism – free markets, free trade, and low taxes to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit, promoting economic growth that creates jobs and generates wealth. These two ideas are not always compatible. The goal of economic liberalism is constant growth so it always calls for lower taxes, whereas fiscal conservatism recognizes that to meet its goal, of not creating burdens for future generations, taxes may sometimes need to be raised in the present. It has been my impression that for most Albertan conservatives when these two ideas and goals clash, it is economic liberalism that wins out over fiscal conservatism. At any rate, actual economic conservatism is a variation of economic liberalism called economic nationalism, in which the government passes laws and taxes that favour and protect domestic production, thus exporting its costs not to future generations but to foreign companies and countries, as an entrance fee for access to the national market. Needless to say this idea would go over like a ton of bricks in Alberta.
Which brings us back to what I said at the beginning about capitalism and socialism – they are not polar opposites, but two sides of the same coin. That Alberta, the bastion of economic liberalism in Canada, would flip the coin and a give a majority government to the socialist party of high taxes and even higher spending, the very opposite of fiscal conservatism, is less of a shock than it would have been had the province managed to put fiscally conservative economic patriots into power.
The NDP is about more than socialism, of course. It is also about feminism, abortion-on-demand, anti-white racism, climate change alarmism, the Orwellian thought control that is political correctness, and the triumph of the abnormal over the normal and the average over the exceptional. Albertans will find to their horror that it is these latter things, even more than socialism, that they have in store for them under an NDP government.
The NDP is also, however, the most anti-Canadian of parties, when Canada is rightfully understood as the British country, confederated under the Crown in Parliament in 1867, upon a foundation rooted in Loyalism. The NDP wish to complete what the Pearson-Trudeau Liberals started in the 1960s-1980s, and obliterate our British heritage completely, abolishing the upper chamber in Parliament, and severing the country’s ties to the monarchy. Had Alberta truly been the most conservative province in the country, the NDP’s contempt for Canada’s British traditions and institutions would have prevented them from ever giving the NDP a single seat. Many Albertans, however, chose to join what ideas they had that were fiscally or socially conservative, to a very unconservative anti-Canadian, anti-patriotism that is not that far removed from that of the NDP, making this election’s outcome much less of a surprise, although no less of a disaster.
(1) Section 33 effectively nullifies all the rights and freedoms listed in section 2, and sections 7 through 15.