Parliamentary Bookshelf Vol 37 No 3

Article 8 / 10 , Vol 37 No 3 (Autumn)

Parliamentary Bookshelf

Conservatism in Canada, edited by James Farney and David Rayside, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2013, 400 pp.

Following three consecutive Liberal Party majority victories in 1993, 1997, and 2000, there was a sense among many that the Liberal domination of Canadian politics might be indefinite. Sure, Jean Chrétien may not have been beloved exactly, but when his superstar Finance Minister Paul Martin inevitably took over the party’s leadership, its majority would only expand.

So went the narrative in the aftermath of the 2000 election in which the Liberals, after two terms in government, picked up seats, securing yet another victory against a divided Right without breaking a sweat. The dread this inspired on the part of Canadian conservatives was perhaps best captured in a 2001 book written by two rightists entitled Gritlock: Are the Liberals in Forever? It was a serious question.

Yet by 2004, the Liberals found themselves rocked by the Sponsorship scandal, while the once seemingly intractable divisions which separated the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives had been resolved in the form of a new Conservative Party of Canada. Led by Stephen Harper, it reduced the Liberals to a minority in the 2004, won its own minority in 2006, and increased its seat counts in 2008 and 2011 – winning a long-coveted majority mandate in the latter election.

While these developments provoked a great deal of media commentary, a comprehensive scholarly study of the rise of both small “c” and big “c” Canadian conservatism had proven elusive until now. Conservatism in Canada is a perceptive and provocative collection of essays which insightfully identifies Canadian conservatism as a multifarious, complex, and sometimes conflicting, body of ideas, values, and policy commitments, rather than treating it as a monolith.

Edited by James Farney and David Rayside, the collection skillfully explores the diverse strains of conservative ideology within both federal and provincial politics. It aims to address the roles of each branch of government and, the relationship between them, while simultaneously seeking to determine to what extent Canadian conservatives can be regarded as distinct from their American and European counterparts.

Ambitious in scope, Conservatism in Canada offers an in-depth discussion of both domestic economic and cultural questions, as well as foreign policy. While some of the collection’s essays advance their arguments more persuasively than others, nearly all of the contributions prove to be highly engaging, scrupulously balanced, and deeply revealing.

In their introduction, Farney and Rayside argue that conservatism is best understood as encompassing four major ideological currents: neoliberalism, moral and social traditionalism, populism, and nationalism. To what extent do these four currents find or fail to find expression in conservative political parties? The editors submit that, in the Canadian context, neoliberalism exerts a dominant role with moral and social traditionalism and populism taking a back seat, though still possessing a considerable measure of influence. Nationalism persists in efforts to construct citizenship along traditionalist lines, but the sort of feverish xenophobia common in European and, increasingly, American conservatism is judged to be largely absent in Canada, given broad public acceptance of immigration.

Conservatism in Canada presents essays in three different sections: the first section explores the philosophical, religious, and attitudinal dimensions of Canadian conservatism, while the second and third focus on the federal Conservative Party and provincial conservatism, respectively.

The first section begins with a richly informative essay by Christopher Cochrane which analyzes public opinion and the conceptual divisions that shape and structure policy disagreements, not only between those on the Right and those on the Left, but also between different schools within conservatism. A final essay by Steve Patten is less persuasive, however. It advances the plausible claim that neoliberalism has triumphed within partisan conservatism in Canada but fails to support the claim effectively.

The Harper Conservatives have no doubt employed neoliberal rhetoric in calling for smaller government and freer markets and embraced certain neoliberal policies, such as tax cuts and free trade agreements. However, they also contributed to bailing out General Motors and Chrysler and increased corporate subsidies/coporate welfare programs, two moves widely repudiated by neoliberal purists. Moreover, some of the policies cited as evidence of the Conservatives neoliberalism – their preference for targeted tax breaks and refusal to address climate change – bear no clear relationship to neoliberal ideology, even by Patten’s definition. Targeted tax breaks have been met with contempt in neoliberal quarters while prominent neoliberal economists have acknowledged the dangers of climate change and championed initiatives such as a Dion-like carbon shift on standard externality grounds.

For those most interested in the radical reconfiguration of party politics brought about by the creation of the Conservative Party in 2003, the second section of Conservatism in Canada has much to offer. An analysis of the organizational structure of the Conservative Party by Tom Flanagan, the University of Calgary political scientist who managed the 2004 Conservative campaign, is helpfully informed by an insider’s perspective. Flanagan argues persuasively that the Conservative Party has become wedded to a permanent campaign model centered on national control, message discipline, and pre-writ attack ads. He sees the opposition moving in this direction as well, creating a “Darwinian world of electoral competition” driven by an “arms race logic” which threatens the ability of political parties to serve as vehicles for policy development and member representation.

Recent years have seen the development of major new conservative political parties in Quebec, Alberta, and, most notably, Saskatchewan with the right-of-centre Saskatchewan Party currently in government. Conservatism in Canada’s final section ably addresses these developments while discussing the evolution of the more established Progressive Conservative parties, as well as provincial public opinion trends. It opens up with an illuminating and historically grounded analysis of how differing social, religious, and economic dynamics have determined which type of conservatism takes greatest hold in a particular province. This general survey is followed by a number of pieces which discuss conservatism in individual provinces.

While each contribution in this section is laudable, a standout piece by David K. Stewart and Anthony M. Sayers pushes back strongly against conventional wisdom in challenging the widely accepted notion of Alberta as a monolithically conservative province. Making excellent use of a wealth of polling data, it convincingly establishes that Albertans are neither adamant neoliberals nor stalwart social traditionalists. Rather, their political convictions on both economic and social issues are not far off from the national centre, though they are far more sceptical of and opposed to centralized government action than citizens of any other province save for perhaps Quebec.

Conservatism in Canada concludes with the editors’ contention that Canadian conservatism can ultimately be regarded as distinct from European conservatism on the basis of its greater/relative acceptance of ethno-cultural diversity, and from American conservatism on the basis of its relative secularism. In commenting on the interaction between the various ideological currents outlined in the introduction, they argue again for neoliberalism’s dominance, while suggesting that conservatism’s “reverence for the past,” expressed primarily in its support for “traditional norms on gender and sexuality,” is in tension with its celebration of the ever-expanding expanding individual autonomy that has undermined these very norms. This is an interesting, but underdeveloped, claim which demands further reflection.

Wide-ranging, stimulating, and brimming with insight, this work is an excellent addition to existing scholarship on the character of Canadian conservatism.

Mathew Giroux
M.A. candidate (History),
Laurentian University

Canada and the Crown: Essays on Constitutional Monarchy, edited by D. Michael Jackson and Philippe Lagassé, Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, Montreal, 2013, 312 pp.


The Crown and Canadian Federalism, by D. Michael Jackson, Dundurn, Toronto, 2013, 336 pp.

The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth, celebrated in 2012, provided monarchists and constitutionalists alike with an opportunity to re-examine the significance and role of the Crown as a part of Canada’s identity and government in the 21st century. The task was not without its challenges. For many, there is something curious about having the person who is Queen of the United Kingdom as Canada’s Sovereign as well as the head of state of more than a dozen other realms of the Commonwealth. The fact that Elizabeth II is personally respected, admired and even revered, for her sense of duty and near faultless service over many years is not really relevant to those who question the value of the Crown as an undemocratic institution and a pointed reminder of our colonial past. For others, however, the Queen’s long reign represents the best of a modern monarchy; its stability, continuity and almost mystical prestige provide a counterpoint to the leadership of government that, at its worst, is often seen as too partisan and divisive.

Explaining and defending the Crown in Canada has become the mission of a number of scholars, writers and parliamentarians. Chief among them are D. Michael Jackson, David Smith, Serge Joyal and Christopher McCreery. They and others have contributed essays to Canada and the Crown: Essays on Constitutional Monarchy. This is the second volume on this topic to be published in recent years by the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations of Queen’s University – the first, The Evolving Canadian Crown, appeared in 2010. In this new collection, a mix of history, constitutional theory, law and practice is used to support the ongoing importance and relevance of the Crown in Canada. Contributions cover a wide range of topics including the tenure of the fourth Governor General, the Crown and Quebec, recent changes to the Law of Succession, the use of prerogative powers, and the Crown’s relations with First Nations. Overall, it is a useful collection describing how and why the Crown is still relevant in today’s Canada. For those who believe in the value of the monarchy, this book provides ample justification for their convictions.

The complex nature of the Crown in its multiple relationships involving the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, Canada, and the provinces is currently being revealed through a legal challenge in the Quebec Superior Court. The case questions the process followed by Ottawa to accede to changes to the rules of succession implemented by statute at Westminster. Following their approval by all the Commonwealth realms, these changes will allow a first-born child, regardless of sex the right to inherit the Crown. They will also eliminate some restrictions with respect to marriage of members of the Royal Family to Catholics. The court challenge is based on the degree of consent required under the Constitution Act, 1982 to effect these changes. The federal government insists that it has the authority, acting on its own, to give Canada’s approval to these new rules of succession. The opponents, two professors from Laval University, contend that approval requires the consent of all the provinces under the section 41 unanimity clause. The case is now scheduled to be heard next June.

This court case touches upon two of the major themes raised in Canada and the Crown: the Crown’s unambiguous British identity and its pivotal role in Canada’s constitutional architecture. For many, the British reality of Canada’s Sovereign recalls a time when the nation was not independent and when tolerance of anything non-British, if it existed at all, was limited to a begrudging acknowledgement of the French fact. Little of this has anything to do with the Canada of today, which openly embraces official bilingualism and celebrates the cultural diversity of its large immigrant population. In addition, the successful Canadianization of the office of the Governor General, including the popular tenure of two recent occupants who were born outside the country, also encourages some, including contributor John Whyte, to believe that the time has come to let go of the British Crown and consider an alternative model of government. Whyte contends that a hereditary monarchy is a poor reflection of Canada’s social values and that civic republicanism is a better model for the modern state. For others like David Smith and Robert Hawkins, the higher profile of the modern Governor General actually supports the need to maintain the British dimension of the Canadian Crown. The short tenure of the Governor General challenges the occupants of that office to fully comprehend and exercise their vice-regal duties. They argue that abandoning the direct connection to the Queen would risk the loss of non-partisan stability and continuity anchored in a hereditary monarchy older than Canada itself. Indeed, the British Sovereign serves as the model for the Governor General in the exercise of both its dignified and its efficient responsibilities.

Likewise, the Canadianization of the constitution raises other questions about the future sustainability of the Anglo-Canadian Crown. Originally a British statute passed by Westminster acting in its imperial capacity, the British North America Act was finally patriated as the Constitution Act, 1867 and augmented by the Constitution Act, 1982, with the inclusion of a long-sought amending formula and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. More and more, Canada has assumed, and continues to develop, its own distinct identity beyond its rich inheritance from Britain. Can the current Crown in its multiple relationships and compound capacities continue to be a meaningful focal point of executive powers, legislative functions and judicial authority? Most of the authors of Canada and the Crown believe that it can and should.

Nonetheless, some of these authors express their support for the Crown defensively, in a way that acknowledges serious questions about the value or the need for the institution in the 21st century. This point is clearly underscored by the title of the book’s summary essay by Philippe Lagassé, “The Contentious Canadian Crown”. It is also evident in the essay by Peter Russell and his lament for an educational system that does not adequately teach an understanding of the Crown’s role. Similarly, the advocacy for the use of Cabinet Manuals, by James Bowden and Nicholas MacDonald, to clarify the processes that should be followed in difficult constitutional situations implies some misgivings about the ability of government officials to deal adequately with unusual circumstances, such as the prorogation episode of 2008. The speculation that subsequently swirled around the Governor General raised concerns about the political involvement of the office in carrying out its constitutional responsibilities. This aspect of potential partisanship is also raised by Richard Berthelsen in his account of the history of the Speech from the Throne. Contrary to the tradition of Openings of Parliament at Westminster, where the speeches are invariably short, amounting to little more than a list of bills to be introduced by the Government over the session, the Speeches from the Throne delivered by the Governor General are becoming longer and more clearly partisan in flavour. Over the long term, the essential neutrality and impartiality of the Governor General is being compromised. David Smith, a staunch believer in the Crown, regretfully acknowledges this trend by noting how the position of the Queen and its Canadian surrogate has been depreciated in every significant respect. While acknowledging how the current government has done much to elevate the status of the Sovereign, Smith also recognizes that the government is prepared to utilize the surrogate for plainly political purposes. This reality as well as other factors undermines the desirability of using the office of the Governor General to build a remedial relationship with the First Nations, a topic explored in separate essays by Stephanie Danyluk and Jim Miller.

The contributors who take a more historical perspective seem less encumbered by this defensive approach. Carolyn Harris, for example, presents an interesting assessment of the Marquis of Lorne as the fourth Governor General. In many ways, his mandate from 1878 to1883, which was enhanced in its first years by the participation of his wife, the Princess Louise, created the template followed by many of his successors. What was striking about his tenure was the democratic, relatively egalitarian understanding that both he and his wife demonstrated while in Canada. During this time, the Crown enjoyed an immensely positive public profile. This is also reflected in the article by Serge Joyal, who writes of the long history of a favourable association of the Crown with Quebec, an association now lamentably abandoned, as Linda Cardinal points out. For his part, Christopher McCreery, who writes in separate articles of the expanding role of the Lieutenant Governors, as well as that of the vice regal secretary, presents a careful analysis of both positions in sustaining the Crown in Canada.

One of the editors of Canada and the Crown is also the author of The Crown and Canadian Federalism. D. Michael Jackson is an unwavering champion of the Crown. His position on its value in Canada’s history is exuberant throughout his well-paced account, which focuses particularly on the role and powers of the Crown’s representatives in the provinces, the Lieutenant Governors. As Jackson readily admits, his text “contains modest original research” with little reliance on primary sources. Instead, his book seeks to benefit from the recent research of others and communicate their results to a wider public, “providing a readily accessible exploration and explanation of the Crown and Canadian federalism.” In his view, it is clear that the Crown has played an indispensable part in fostering the development of Canada’s federal system of government, its bilingual identity and its multicultural reality. His boundless admiration for the Crown is based not just on its constitutional importance but equally on its significance as the focus for the nation’s “values and traditions and heritage, of loyalty, identity and ethos.”

The Constitution Act, 1982 has firmly secured the position of the Crown in Canada’s structure of government. Section 41 stipulates that changes to “the office of the Queen, the Governor General and the Lieutenant Governor of a province” can only be achieved through the unanimous approval of the Senate and House of Commons, as well as the legislative assembly of each province. Unless the United Kingdom embraces a republican government, Canada is likely to remain a constitutional monarchy for years to come. However, the security of the Queen’s status as the nation’s head of state does not depend exclusively on the law. It relies more fundamentally on the support and consent of the people who appreciate and value the Crown in all its dimensions. This support is harder to secure, but as the publication of these two books attest, there are those who are willing to make the effort.

Charles Robert
Principal Clerk,
Chamber Operations and Procedure at the Senate of Canada

The Global Promise of Federalism, edited by Grace Skogstad, David Cameron, Martin Papillon and Keith Banting, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2013, 312 pp.

Though its title does not indicate as such, the Global Promise of Federalism is a well-deserved Festschrift for political scientist Richard Simeon, the distinguished scholar of Canadian and broader federalisms. Simeon, whose career coincided with the great challenge to Canadian federalism represented by the nationalist and separatist impulses in Quebec, the rise of the New West, and the mega-constitutional politics from the 1970s to the early 1990s resulting in the Charter, patriation and failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, has been a keen scholar, advocate and critic of federalism for nearly 50 years.

Indeed, during this period, at a time when the study of Canada seemed to have existential implications, Simeon produced from his perch at Queen’s, and then the University of Toronto, a steady stream of important and ground-breaking works, not the least of which were a series of studies for the 1985 Macdonald Royal Commission. Simeon also played a key role in the “comparative turn” in Canadian political science starting in the 1990s, wherein that discipline’s scholarship took a much more expansive and global approach in its methodology and focus.

As a collection on federalism, this book is a useful and practical contribution. The introduction is a thoughtful overview of some ofthe key issues that have shaped Simeon’s scholarship and driven the field in recent years: the “chicken and egg” debate over societal values vis-à-vis founding institutions as a key determinant for a federation’s causation; the question of the importance of democracy and trust within a polity as a basis for whether or not federalism can root itself successfully; and, of course, federalism’s capacity to evolve over time.

Many of these themes are reflected, and expounded, upon in the collection’s 10 chapters, all of which are very good. Topics touch upon a broad range of fields and issues, from federalism and democracy, and theology and identity, to case studies on Cyprus, Spain and comparative Canadian-Australian federalism. A highlight is Alain Noel’s forceful argument about the importance of politics, ideology, identities and majority/minority relations within a federation; here, we have a sharp reminder that the often messy politics of a place needs to be “brought back into” studies of the state and federalism, and that the bloodless mechanisms of federalism are often shaped by people. Using the Quebec-Canada example, Noel’s chapter acts as a sobering reminder of federalism’s limitations.

The global perspective within the collection echoes not only Simeon’s academic evolution, but that of the broader Canadian discipline, and speaks to the importance that Canadian scholars and practitioners of federalism, such as Simeon himself, have played in international debates and the evolution of federations around the world. This shift in focus is also present when one thinks of the collection as a Festschrift; a very interesting addendum by Simeon himself, “Reflections on a Federalist Life,” personalizes some of his thinking as his scholarship (and some of his political views) evolved, and is both provocative and informative. Simeon’s comments on “public engagement” and his role in the Meech Lake Accord remind readers that the scholar can be an activist as well. The anecdotes, stories, and, yes, even limericks contained in this addendum reveal a man of humour and commitment, and it is easy to see why so many scholars – both from Canada and abroad – were part of this tribute.

With a shift in so many disciplines in both the social sciences and humanities away from the study of Canada (though not away from Canadian-taxpayer supported funding), larger questions about the policy implications of no longer focusing solely upon Canada are salient. The broader question such a book asks, is: Where to now? Questions around Canadian federalism will continue to remain central to the evolution of this nation state, but with the retirement of so many giants of Canadian political science (along with Simeon, Peter Russell and Alan Cairns come to mind), is the discipline up to the task of exploring not only the global promise of federalism but federalism’s ongoing evolution, right here at home? This collection, whose editors and contributors are ably taking up the task, suggests that the discipline, and the study of federalism – in all its forms and spaces – is indeed in good hands.

Dimitry Anastakis
Professor (History), Trent University

Fire on the Hill, by Frank Rockland, Sambaise Books, Ottawa, 2013, 354 pp.

Sitting in the Library of Parliament I am somewhat amazed at how this piece of history survived the tragic fire that consumed the Centre Block of Parliament Hill on February 6, 1916. The quick action of the clerk “Connie” MacCormac, in ordering the closing of the large iron fire doors before evacuating, saved the library and its vital contents for future generations. But what really happened that evening? Was it mere carelessness of a smoker of cigars or was there something more sinister at play? Those are the questions that Frank Rockland explores in a thrilling fictional tale of conspiracy, politics and spies.

The plot of the novel centres on Inspector Andrew MacNutt and his wife Katherine. As head of the Dominion Secret Police, Inspector MacNutt has been attempting to keep the Canadian border secure against a network of German saboteurs run out of New York by Captains Franz von Papen and Karl Boy-Ed. After the Americans declare von Papen persona non grata and order him back to Europe, the Germans send Count Jaggi to replace him via Canada. Operating under the guise of the Belgian relief effort, Count Jaggi insinuates himself into the Ottawa establishment meeting regularly with Conservative Prime Minster Sir Robert Borden, Leader of the Official Opposition Liberals, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, future Liberal Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and the Governor General. Jaggi, a womanizer with a particular fondness for those already married, grows closer to Katherine MacNutt in an attempt to learn her husband’s plans against the saboteurs. The setting of the novel oscillates between Ottawa and New York and slowly builds towards the fateful night of February 6 where the Inspector, Mrs. NacNutt and the Count are all found in the reading room of the Centre Block where the fire is thought to have begun.

Rockland does an exceptional job of placing the reader in the historical Canadian context of the First World War. The reader will explore elements of the social and political changes that were underway during the period, such as the role of women in the war effort, the great divide between English and French Canadians about possible conscription, and the formation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In addition, the writer does an extraordinary job in portraying the social customs and historical elements of the piece in a thoughtful and informative manner that aficionados of history will find compelling. My only critique of the novel is that the conclusion may leave the reader less than satisfied, as it makes little effort to adequately tie up the loose threads that are spun throughout the preceding 34 chapters. However, it does leave the writer with an opening to continue the development of these characters in a subsequent book.

Overall, Fire on the Hill is a weighty contribution for those who are fans of historical fiction, and specifically, those who enjoy speculating about historical events from the perspective of conspiracy. It is a novel that is true to its historical underpinnings and does not sacrifice fact for plot development. The book, which will keep readers engaged chapter after chapter, leaves readers with an urge to learn more about what life was like on the home front and about the key political and social figures at a turning point in Canadian history.

Michael Burke Christian

PhD candidate (Communications and Culture), York University