Events

The Impossibility of Conservatism in Canada?

June 23, 2005 // 9:00am10:30am

The Canada Institute hosted a roundtable discussion on conservatism in Canada with Public Policy Scholar Stephen Brooks. The discussion focused on the dim prospects for conservatism to return to the forefront of Canadian politics and government. Brooks examined the reasons behind the "impossibility of conservatism in Canada" and discussed the resulting impact on Canada-U.S. relations.

The summer issue of the Wilson Center's Centerpoint newsletter featured an interview with Brooks, "Scholar Explores Continental Divide," in which he highlighted the conclusions from the roundtable discussion. The Vancouver Sun also published an op-ed piece by Stephen Brooks, "Canadians aren't buying the conservative message," which was based on his presentation at the Wilson Center.

The prospects for conservatism in Canada
The recent failure of Canada's Conservative Party to capitalize on the scandal-plagued Liberal Party's precarious minority government situation represents just the latest in more than a decade of setbacks and defeats for conservatives in Canada. Some have seen in the Conservative Party's failure to break through second party status in Ontario evidence that the conservative message simply cannot be sold to enough Canadians--that it is out of sync with the political culture of the vote-rich center of the country.

The inability of the Conservative Party under Stephen Harper to find a message that resonates with Ontario voters, during a period in which the Liberal government was reeling from the revelations of the Gomery Commission, has been interpreted by some as a failure of leadership on Harper's part. But others see in this latest failure to evidence that the conservative message cannot be sold to enough Canadians. The Liberal Party represents the safe comfort zone of the Canadian political culture, so that even when presented with evidence of scandal and malfeasance on an impressive scale, English Canadian voters are wary of moving over to what is portrayed by the Liberals and many national opinion-leaders in Canada as the "dark side" of the political spectrum.

Brooks argued that the electoral victory of conservatism is probably close to an impossibility in Canada, but not for the reasons conventionally given. These reasons generally focus on the nature of the Canadian political culture. In fact, however, Brooks explained that structures and particular characteristics of key elites in Canada are more important than the values and beliefs of the general population in de-legitimizing conservative values and their carriers.

Brooks discussed the consequences of the "impossibility" of conservatism in Canada for Canada-United States relations. These include Canada's refusal to actively support the United States and Great Britain in their military intervention against Iraq. But the consequences do not end with security matters; Brooks also explored some of the social and economic consequences for Canada that follow from the marginalized status of conservatism in the Canadian public conversation.

 

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