Foreign Correspondent: Canada
BARRIE, ONTARIO, CANADA. Canada was born a second-hand country, and has remained so beyond a hundred years. Begot by the British Empire, it has dwelt in the graces of the United States and gathered from both the elements to compose its ethos: security. Intent on shelter from its cold winters and finding stability in its natural resources, Canada continues without distinction. Its only unique flavor, bilingualism, is a constant source of irritation and conflict. Canada is composed, content, somber and secure.
For a Canadian, freedom is indifference. Nearly half the electorate fails to vote in national, provincial or local contests. The British-North America-Act, the country's founding charter, makes no mention of individuals—much less individual rights. It assigns certain duties to the provinces (equate: states), and leaves everything else in the hands of the federal government. Municipalities have no autonomy—they are "creatures of the province." As a consequence, individual Canadians believe—justly—that they have no power over their government. Thus, they chose to ignore it. However, it does not ignore them.
There are four statist political parties, all vying for the benefits of endowing security on the nation: old-age security, medical security, job security, profit security, business security, union security, etc. The parliamentary system presently finds the Liberals "in power", but in a minority position. The socialist New Democratic Party "holds the balance" with 31 of 264 seats. In opposition are the Progressive-Conservatives with 107 and Social Credit with 15. Generally speaking, each group lives up to its party name—though there are some peculiar exceptions.
The Liberal Party, under suave but aging Pierre Trudeau, has effectively legalized abortion and "removed the state from the nation's bedrooms". It's also pushed for softer drug laws and penitentiary reform. In almost every other area, it has been consistent with the liberal doctrine of the U.S. and Britain. Except for a slightly puzzling position on price and wage controls. In spite of ranting from the P.C.s, the Liberal Government has refused to impose wage or price controls. The position is not founded on principle—since it "has a plan for such emergency controls"—but more on indecision. The party economists also seem to be aware that U.S. controls have an overflow effect on Canada. And, the politicos probably consider the reaction to "voluntary controls" suggested some time ago—total lack of cooperation. So, the party's pragmatism offers some dim hope for freedom.
The Progressive-Conservative Party, hungry for power, is a compendium of contradictions, led by a lack-luster, unintelligent Robert Stanfield. Eager to Progress away from the Conservative stance of its former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, the party has ignored social issues and pressed forward with an almost blatant fascism. The party, like its leader, can rarely be pinned-down on issues—preferring simply to find fault in the technique of the Liberals. Its last campaign was run on the sole premise of "stimulating the economy", with heavy innuendos of imposing wage—if not price—controls. The Party is bankrupt in every sense of the word.
The Social Credit Party is only worthy of a light skim. It has one issue and one cancer: the theory of social credit. In essence, it states that paper currency has inherent value, and proposes that consumers be given an indirect credit by printing more money. It's commonly referred to as "Funny Money", and has earned the party a similar reputation.
The New Democratic Party is the nazi—that is, national socialist—party in Canada. It is avowedly nationalist and socialist. It wants Americans out and the government in. It now controls 3 of 10 provincial governments and, as mentioned earlier, holds "the balance of power" in the federal government. As one NDP legislator told me, "The party isn't moving toward communism—it has moved beyond it." As one Liberal Party officer told me. "The Canadian political system is simple. The NDP sets policy, the Liberals see that it becomes law and the PCs make sure it works." With a charismatic leader, the NDP could easily take over all those functions and do a re-run of Chile. At the moment, there is none in sight.
If the NDP should some day take power, there will be little left to do that hasn't been accomplished under the present "system". The government presently owns: the largest of two national TV & Radio networks, the larger of two national rail lines, all power-producing stations, several "natural resource industries" and (of course) the post office and roads. As well, it (federally or provincially) has direct control over: all schools, colleges and universities, all forms of mass transportation, most scientific research and most international trade. The state indirectly controls almost everything in Canada. And there is, at present, no promising avenue of escape.
Yes, there is a secessionist movement in Quebec, but not one of consequence. The basic ethic of the movement is Marxist, and its position is likely to remain one of minority. It is a handy tool for the provincial Liberal government in convincing the federal Liberal government to pass it a larger share of the booty. The Parti Quebecois is also a soother for those in some sympathy with the Trotskyite F.L.Q. (no more "Crisis" of the October, '70 variety is in evidence). Threats of Western Canadian secession last year were spiritless and heavy with political expedience.
The only vehicle of mainly consistent support for economic freedom has been the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. While they lack the libertarian ethic, and shun the word "capitalist", they strongly favor free trade. They have feigned any thought of becoming politicized, but seem to be more active in expressing their opposition to growing government controls. It seems unlikely that they have the wherewithal to make any significant dent in the existing government bureaucracy.
Aside from that, Canadian libertarians have little cause for optimism. Which is not to say that there aren't occasional, isolated expressions of rationality. There seems to be a meagre, yet growing number of freedom-conscious individualists. The prospect of a Libertarian Party in Canada is heartening, in that it could give these "cries in the wilderness" some unity and strength. In the meantime, the best a libertarian can hope for is maintenance of the status-quo: a minority government with pragmatists in power.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Foreign Correspondent: Canada".