The Dilemma of Canada's New Right

Article excerpt

THE CANADIAN ALLIANCE WAS CREATED from the Reform Party in 2000 to present a more attractive image to Ontario's targeted voters in the upcoming election. Despite some gains, the strategy failed.

Now the Alliance faces three options for the future, each problematic for a party that wants to capture power in Ottawa. As long as the Alliance expresses an evangelically inspired social conservatism that commands little appeal among Ontario's relatively libertarian middle class, a breakthrough remains improbable.

Yet the problem is deeper. Canada's Liberal-dominated majoritarian federal politics, which permit the government to disdain the Alliance's Western base, endangers national unity and must be addressed.

THE YEAR 2000 PROVED EVENTFUL, POSSIBLY EVEN A DECISIVE TURNING POINT in the fortunes of Canada's political right. The newly rebranded Canadian Alliance selected a personable new leader, Stockwell Day, to replace its predecessor Reform Party's co-founder and longtime leader Preston Manning. In the November federal election the Alliance outpolled its more centrist and secular rival, the Progressive Conservatives, more decisively than did Reform in 1993 or 1997. Yet the Canadian Alliance failed to make the breakthrough in Ontario needed to take its place as a viable national party. It is hemmed in between its socially conservative and populist Western support base on one wing, and by its more libertarian, business-oriented Ontarians on the other.

A particular problem is the Alliance's association with evangelicalism. Canadians are less comfortable with evangelicalism than Americans. Evangelicals supply a familiar and accepted feature of political life in the United States, but not in Canada. The sought-after United Alternative to the right of the Liberals founders on these divisions. The result is Liberal domination of Parliament based primarily on support in Ontario and without wide appeal in the West. The Chretien government proclaims itself Canada's champion of national unity. Yet its complacent and shortsighted concentration on Ontario generates interregional tensions and endangers national unity by corroborating for many Westerners what John Ralston Saul calls their "victimology." Meanwhile, Canadians are betraying a growing disconnect with their parties and elections. Turnout is down and polls suggest that some 60 per cent of Canadians now believe that advocacy groups represent their interests better than parties. [1]

Religion and the Canadian Alliance

In his book on Preston Manning and his father Ernest, Albertan Lloyd Mackey observes that his province's evangelicalism is moderate, and has led Alberta's evangelicals to their province's political centre. But evangelism is suspicious of the state, he notes, as it mandates Christians to perform service grounded in love through Christianly intercession. Reliance on government for welfare benefits and other services can reduce the impact of faith on society, denying Christians their opportunity or incentive to provide service. [2] Generally suspicious of government activity that stifles individual (especially faith-based) initiative, breeds dependency, and erodes self-reliance, self-esteem, and personal responsibility, Canada's evangelicals are often, though not always, social conservatives. Moreover, as George Rawlyk notes, there has been a progressive Americanization of Canada's evangelicals, much as other aspects of Canadian society have undergone Americanization. [3] This means that the more "irenic and med iating" form of evangelicalism practised in Canada is increasingly influenced by its harder-edged counterpart in the United States.

Americans take for granted a prominent role for evangelicals in their political life. Evangelicals' political influence can be seen in the role of Marvin Olasky, a Texas professor and the inspiration for President George W Bush's "compassionate conservatism." Olasky proposes that locally run social services offered by faith-based and other voluntary organizations replace governments in providing assistance to the poor, the unemployed, and those in crisis generally. …