Thursday, April 28, 2011

It Now Comes Down to the Battle Between Two Little Books

The common misconception about Stephen Harper is that he brought Republican style, divisive politics to Canada.

That's certainly true. His connections to the American Tea Party/Religious Right/Republican movement, are vast and well recorded. But this brand of conservatism originated in Canada when Harper was just a lad, pulling wings off butterflies, or whatever he did to pass the time.

And it started with a battle between two little books, both written by Conservatives, in the same era, but with completely different visions.

In 1965, scholar George Grant, wrote Lament for a Nation, fearing that the fall of Diefenbaker, would spell the end of Canada as a sovereign state: "To lament is to cry out at the death or at the dying of something loved. This lament mourns the end of Canada as a sovereign state." George P. Grant (1).

The book was an instant best seller and though written by a conservative, became the new battle cry for the left. And as an expansion of Diefenbaker's "One Nation" philosophy, it also, in many ways, became a thesis for the Red Tory.

However, at about the same time, another Canadian conservative was writing a little book, called Political Realignment: Challenge to Thoughtful Canadians. It was a bit controversial at the time, because its publication was funded by a group of wealthy businessmen, but Ernest Manning with the help of his son Preston, laid out their vision for a Conservative Canada. It became the framework for a party of the right-wing, that would be based on pure ideology and the 'will of God'. (2)

Manning's book caught the attention of Colin Brown, founder of the National Citizens Coalition, that Stephen Harper would eventually head. In fact, it was Manning who suggested that the NCC incorporate, and he would be on the advisory board.

I've read both Lament and Realignment, and could find no common ground.

Ron Dart, professor of Political Science, Philosophy and Religious Studies at University College of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, BC, wrote a book The Red Tory Tradition: Ancient Roots, New Routes.
The recent decision by the Progressive Conservative party [2003] and the Alliance party to fold into and become the Canadian Conservative party does raise some interesting and important questions. What does it mean to be a Canadian conservative? Who defines the term? Why, at this juncture and point in Canadian political life, is the more republican interpretation of the term trumping, censuring out and banishing the older Tory interpretation of what it means to be a conservative?

Those with little or no sense of the Canadian political journey will not even realize there was and is a Tory tradition that has, in many ways, been the backbone of Canadian conservatism. It is this High/Red/Radical Toryism that needs retrieving and remembering at this point in history. The right of centre, republican read of conservatism is before us night and day. This needs little comment or commentary.
And he also saw the clash of the books:
The 1960s in Canada (and in many other parts of the world) were an unsettling and turbulent time. Much was up for redefinition. Two important political tracts for the times were written, in Canada, in the 1960s. Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (1965)and Political Realignment: A Challenge to Thoughtful Canadians (1967). As we briefly unpack and unravel these missives, we will get a feel for how Canadians have, in our history, understood the meaning of conservatism in different ways. It is as these two traditions lived in tension, there was some degree of political health. It is as these two traditions have fragmented, the republican brand of conservatism has redefined Canadian conservatism in a right of centre manner. (3)
Two Conservative visions for Canada. One Republican the other Tory. Why is the Republican version winning?

Money probably. Manning's movement has been very well financed and never changed direction. Pure ideology. While the Tory tradition was more organic, changing with the times and the needs of Canadians.

In fact, there was often little difference between the PCs and the Liberals, so elections were always about the platform.

Isn't it funny how things come full circle?

Four decades ago did either man see that their books would do battle, literally and figuratively?

Because you see, George Grant is Michael Ignatieff's uncle, and of course Stephen Harper not only headed the 'Realignment' inspired National Citizens Coalition, but was Preston Manning's lieutenant in the Reform Party. He also wrote it's policy:
Harper said that “the agenda of the NCC was a guide to me,” while then NCC President David Somerville crowed that Reform “cribbed probably two-thirds of our policy book.” (4)
So in many ways this election has been about the clash of "conservative values". Republican or Tory? And the clash of visions. American or Canadian.

And I'm afraid I'm now feeling like one of those authors almost 50 years ago "To lament is to cry out at the death or at the dying of something loved. This lament mourns the end of Canada as a sovereign state." George P. Grant (1).

Republican is winning. Are we going to let it?


1. Lament For a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism, By George Parkin Grant, McClelland & Stewart, 1965

2. Political Realignment: Challenge to Thoughtful Canadians, By Hon, E. C. Manning, McClelland & Stewart Limited, 1967, Kingston Public Library call no. 320.971 M31

3. Ernest Manning And George Grant, By Ron Dart, ViveleCanada

4. Stephen Harper vs. Canada, By Scott Piatkowski, August 8, 2005


  1. The Harper Song (Steve, it's time to leave):