Politics and Values: Is the Neo-Conservative Revolution Over?

By Dasko, Donna | Canadian Speeches, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Politics and Values: Is the Neo-Conservative Revolution Over?


Dasko, Donna, Canadian Speeches


Unprecedented political volatility reflects profound changes in the social values of Canadians. Better educated, more involved, more demanding, and more racially and culturally diverse than the people of any other country, Canadians seem to keep changing their political minds. Initial overwhelming disapproval of cuts to cherished government social programs was followed by strong approval of spending restraints, which is now being followed by demands for greater spending in such key areas as health care and education. But the days when government was seen as the answer to everything are gone forever, and the best assurance of the country's future is seen in the ability of Canadians to figure out what is really important. Prepared notes for a speech delivered to The Canadian Club of Toronto, January 27.

I think some of you know that Michael Adams, my husband and colleague at Environics, has just written a book called Sex in the Snow. I want to take this opportunity to say that the book is not a biography -- not an account of life at the Dasko-Adams residence nor a description of a typical workday at Environics.

Nineteen-ninety-seven should be a big year for politics in this country. There should be a lot of polling to be done, which warms my heart, but also a lot of competition in the polling industry, so my colleagues and I are looking around for some innovative polling ideas. We've got a great idea from the 1987 British election -- Margaret Thatcher's last election running against Labor Leader Neil Kinnock. The right wing newspaper, The Sun, decided to hire a medium, Nella Jones, to do a poll of historical figures to see how they would vote in the election. They ran a headline "Stalin Picks Kinnock, "and the story went on to say that Margaret Thatcher was the choice of Lord Nelson and Winston Churchill and Henry VIII. Anyway, maybe we'll consider this.

The title of my speech today is the neo-conservative revolution--is it over? By neo-conservatism I mean, in general terms, the declining role of government in Canadian life, but more specifically, I am referring to the era of fiscal restraint and government cutbacks. I want to begin by talking first about the bigger picture -- the wide ranging changes in the economy and society that provide the context for political change. I will then turn to the topic of politics and try to look into the future. Have Canadians had enough of fiscal restraint or do they want more of the same? Are they like the actor Peter Finch in the movie "Network," ready to stand up and say "I won't take it anymore"?

From the beginning of our history, government has played a much more dominant role in Canada than in the United States. The so-called National Policy of Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald set up protectionist walls which created an indigenous manufacturing industry in central Canada. Coupled with the National Policy was our National Dream--the trans-national railway which, unlike the U.S., was a government initiative. In the post-war years, governments in Canada were active in economic development and took the lead in creating an extensive social safety net. These initiatives included old age security, unemployment insurance, family allowance, equalization grants, the Canada Assistance Plan, crown corporations, the Canadian broadcasting system, including the CBC, bilingual policies, and, the most cherished of all, national health insurance. These policies and structures came about through a process that political scientists call accommodation among Canada's various elites. The elites were willing to compromise with each other and the population was willing to defer.

However, this Canada is rapidly changing. It's not just government that has changed -- every government program I just mentioned has either disappeared, been downsized or is in deep trouble -- but the society has changed as well.

My company, Environics, conducts a huge study of Canadian social values once every year, where we measure the rise and decline of about 80 different value dimensions, things like openness to others, adaptability to change, respect for authority, and so on. …

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