Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Redefining Populism and a Battle for Religion

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

In 1963, The Anglican Congress sought out Pierre Berton, to write a book on Christianity in Canada.

Inspired by Vatican II, a modernizing of the Catholic faith, they wanted to also change focus, and become a "listening" church, "hearing" things the world around them was saying. (1)

They chose Berton because he was an agnostic. They didn't want another religious text, but an articulate and honest account of the Church at the time.

And Berton delivered. The resulting book; The Comfortable Pew became a best-seller and a topic of conversation for some time.

But not everyone was impressed.

Ted Byfield and the Opposition of Fundamentalists

Ted Byfield was a controversial journalist, publisher and author, perhaps best known for his cult-like disciplinary school, the Company of the Cross. He was responsible for the gruelling canoe trip that resulted in the deaths of twelve boys and one instructor in 1978.

When Berton's book hit the shelves, Byfield, then an Anglican, was outraged. In response, he wrote his own book: Just Think Mr. Berton (A Little Harder).

A die-hard fundamentalist, Byfield was opposed to any modernization of the Anglican Church. Sin was sin. You can't modernize that.
“If adultery or homosexuality is wrong in the sight of God, then all the task forces in Christendom aren’t going to make it right. If God is timeless and changeless, then human conduct considered wrong in the eighth century is just as wrong in the twentieth” (2)
And if Berton's book was a call for the Church to become socially relevant, Byfield's was the exact opposite, and he became a man on a mission.
The book defended traditional religious morality and practice and denounced the increasing attempts of Christian churches to become socially 'relevant.' This foray into journalism reawakened Byfield's appetite for the news business, and in 1973 he convinced the other members of the Genesee board to begin publishing a weekly newsmagazine, St. John's Edmonton Report. Edmonton Report was followed into production four years later by St. John's Calgary Report. In 1979 both magazines were merged into Alberta Report. By 1986 an identical but renamed version of Alberta Report ...

Articulate and controversial, the Alberta Report has been, since its inception, western Canada's most prominent and consistent organ for the dissemination of conservative values. In articles and, more especially, editorials and columns (written by Ted and, in recent years, his son Link and other guest writers), the magazine has stood firmly for corporal and capital punishment, the teaching of fundamentalist Christian religion in schools, the rights of the family (that is, the parents), and free enterprise, while espousing an often virulent hatred of metrification, pro-choice advocates, feminism in general, public school curriculums and methods of discipline, divorce, human rights commissions, 'mainstream' Christianity, homosexuality, penal reform, sex education, unions, public ownership, teachers' associations, and rock music. (3)
And the Alberta Report would help to launch the Reform movement.

The Merging of Ideas

After two years of Brian Mulroney, the West was once again ready to rise up. Ted Byfield was part of a group discussing a new party, where the only thing the government would legislate was morality. Another group of wealthy oilmen wanted to remove any impediments to their industry, and Preston Manning really wanted to be prime minister. He felt that the time may finally be right to launch the party that he and his father had envisioned in their Political Realignment.

A socially conservative party.

The oilmen provided the capital, Manning the political platform and Byfield the propaganda, by writing a series of articles calling for the need of a new party to represent the west. In fact it was Byfield who came up with the party slogan: "The West Wants in".

He also provided free advertising for any party events, making sure he attracted the "right" people. Those who read his magazine and shared his views. They provided the much needed "populist" base, for an AstroTurf party representing corporate interests.


1. The Comfortable Pew Revisited, By Michael Creal, Catholic New Times, January 16, 2005

2. The Wisdom of Ted Byfield, The Van Maren Traditionalist Views, December 22, 2009

3. Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada. By Trevor Harrison Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995. ISBN: 0-8020-7204-6, pg. 50-51

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