COLUMN

Three wishes for a Canada once loved

The road turns. I can’t see where it goes, but one can only hope that the suicidal march into left-wing bogs has ended.

BARBARA AMIEL June 26 1995
COLUMN

Three wishes for a Canada once loved

The road turns. I can’t see where it goes, but one can only hope that the suicidal march into left-wing bogs has ended.

BARBARA AMIEL June 26 1995

Three wishes for a Canada once loved

COLUMN

BARBARA AMIEL

The road turns. I can’t see where it goes, but one can only hope that the suicidal march into left-wing bogs has ended.

The night of the Ontario election, I was sitting on my bed in London hanging on the end of a transatlantic telephone call at 3 a.m. My husband was in Switzerland where it was 4 a.m., but that was fine with him—he wanted to hear a blow-by-blow account of the demise of Bob Rae’s Ontario. My Toronto friend on the other end of the line was watching CBC where Bill Cameron was accompanied by all the usual suspects: Barbara McDougall, David Peterson and Stephen Lewis.

As I listened over the phone, I heard Lewis’s voice. He was saying that he, Lewis, never believed that the people of Ontario could turn to the politics of Michael Harris. “Did I get that right?” I asked. “Or is he kidding?” My friend said Lewis’s utterance was, in his view, utterly sincere.

Lewis’s remarks had a context. He had made a number of observations earlier that, as he himself pointed out, could get him in hot water with some of his friends. He didn’t think the NDP could win because they had done rather poorly in government, but he thought that the Liberals could take power. Essentially, Lewis was caught up in the notion that the CCF were really only Liberals in a hurry. In other words, for Lewis, the people of Ontario wanted their politics as usual, but just a bit slower please.

There are a lot of silly and stupid people in life, but Stephen Lewis is not one of them. Yet, there he was, 16 years after the election of Margaret Thatcher, 15 years after the election of Ronald Reagan, five years after the collapse of communism, well into Ralph Klein’s success, living next door to a country that had embraced Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America with a U.S. Democratic President who has just brought in a conservative budget proposal, and living in a world where the British Labour Party is totally remodelling itself as the party of low taxation and business—and Stephen Lewis couldn’t believe that Ontarians would embrace the politics of

Mike Harris! How could someone of his intelligence be so far removed from the pulse of his times and the people in Ontario?

This seemed so extraordinary that I began to muse on Lewis’s state of mind. His words were uttered in a way that was as close to self-analysis as I have ever heard him. One almost thought he was blaming himself for a political misjudgment: as a practising politician how was it that he did not fathom that the notions put forward by Harris would find an echo with the electorate?

Years ago, when I was in high school in St. Catharines, Ont., my best friend and I were involved with the CCF party, one of whose leaders was Stephen’s father, David Lewis. I can’t remember whether it was actually the ideas of the party that appealed to me or a rather handsome chap with a shock of dirty blond hair whom I spotted at a meeting, but when one is 16, these matters tend to blur. Still, my girlfriend and I used to trundle off to young CCF meetings. Back in those constipated years of the 1950s, being a CCFer was rather like being the member of some weird cult. CCFers were considered a strange group of radicals, not dangerous, but just peculiar. Rather like the way people feared lib-

ertarian conservatives such as myself all through the 1970s and 1980s.

One never quite gets over this tribal mentality of an outsider. I have seen it in Soviet Communists even when they were in power, and I have read examples of it with the Nazis who thought of themselves as outsiders even when they were running half of the world. And even though the ideas of the CCF evolved into the NDP, whose left-of-centre policies have until very recently been backseat driving all governments of the West, the CCF supporters who went to those funny little meetings of a dozen or so people in small rooms on dull Saturday afternoons have always retained that sense of being outcasts because indeed, at one time, they were. From Pierre Trudeau to Brian Mulroney to Bob Rae, social policy was effectively set by the left, and now its supporters cannot believe that all the notions they came up with since the 1960s in the name of the people are not self-evident truths. I suppose this gives them a special sense of betrayal when the electorate turns against them.

Their attitude is, perhaps, true of every group that obtains power from the outside, and it may also be part of my own mental makeup. For 25 years, my views have been part of a minority voice, and I still think of myself as an outsider. Of course, the classic liberalism in which I believe has not yet had 25 years in power. We are at the point that the feminists were at, for example, in about 1968.

The second strand that contributed to the isolation of Stephen Lewis, I think, is that great human quality of closing oneself up into a box and talking only to like-minded friends. The left never made much sense at any point, and the best of them emerged from that box at the end of the Spanish Civil War, when Arthur Koestier, George Orwell and André Gide saw the hollowness of so many of their policies. Perhaps the only advantage I have had over Stephen Lewis is that for most of my adult life, being an outsider, I have had to monitor the views of the left, with diligence. Just as I read The New Republic, The Nation, This Magazine and, lawd help us, The Toronto Star, he should have been reading National Review and The National Interest, as well as Commentary.

I don’t know whether Harris can follow through on the mandate he has been given. Brian Mulroney and George Bush were given mandates and both failed to follow through. If I could have three wishes for the Canada I once loved, it would be this: most important, to include the protection of private property in the Constitution; to get rid of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms clause that denies equal treatment of all citizens in order to remedy past discrimination; and to reverse and undo all the feminist laws and court decisions that have so corrupted Canada’s Criminal Code.

The road turns. I can’t see where it goes, of course, but one can only hope that the suicidal march into left-wing bogs has ended. As for me, I’m past this new game, but I caution my young conservative friends of the need to remain in touch with what the people—yes, the people—are thinking.