Sometime during the early 1980s Canada lost one of its most serious, influential and visionary political factions: the Progressive Conservatives.
In just a few short years, conservatism was literally run off the rails.
During that time, many of its more pragmatic ideals were sidetracked by the unfortunate coming together of two profound influences: The unnerving intellectual weakness of Brian Mulroney and the uncanny cowboy-charisma of Ronald Reagan.
Mulroney was simply unprepared to articulate the fundamental differences between Canadian-style conservatism and Reagan’s far-right philosophy of neoconservatism.
How unfortunate for Canadians.
Prior to Mulroney, the conservative movement embellished a progressive philosophy that fit all of Canada.
The grassroots conservative movement in Canada in the ‘60s and ‘70s was held together by a deep understanding of, and a loyalty to, such notions as community vitality, family history, personal responsibility, individual integrity and trust.
Often when I speak of these sorts of “values” and of their importance to Canadians today, some folks think I am either being awfully pedestrian or that I am pressing for the return to a pre-industrial agrarian past.
Neither could be further from the truth.
What I am suggesting, however, it that we owe it to ourselves to begin shaping a more contemporary political and social philosophy tailored to the economic and social needs of the 21st century, but which neither overshadow nor invalidate these basic values.
Mulroney simply did not understand the long-term difficulties in store for Canadians when he decided to ride trail with Reagan’s neoconservatives.
With his thin grasp of what a conservative Canada was really all about, he gave the cowboy what he wanted.
In the short term, America — through such shortsighted agreements like NAFTA — was able to gain an economic stranglehold on Canadian business and industry. This fact is now all too real for British Columbia loggers and Alberta cattlemen.
The longer-term effects of what Mulroney was willing to give away are what trouble me most.
Canada — as a country of small, innovative and essential businesses, established in healthy and vibrant small communities — was eaten away by a corporate philosophy that required political power to be transferred from local and federal governments into the hands of the economic elite.
An Agenda for Economic Renewal, Mulroney’s blueprint for this transfer of power, was based almost entirely on Reagan’s neoconservative view of the political and economic potential of the mega-corporation to regulate democracy.
Corporations in this scenario would derive their power, not from well-run, efficient and responsible ownership, but rather from their ability to move large amounts of capital around the world very quickly.
In order to get this money flowing, governments would have to insure that wages would remain low, pollution standards weak and taxing structures skewed.
Slowly, steadily the bedrock values of the Progressive Conservative Party gave way to questionable business ethics enshrined in a global mindset.
But Canadians would have no part of it.
Unwilling — perhaps unable — to give up the values of community, family and sensible stewardship they saw through the ruse and sent Mulroney riding off into the sunset.
However, in their rush to hopefully divert the collapse of local businesses and local governments voters were quick to grasp onto Liberal messages promising a strong social safety net and targeted environmental regulation as a cure-all.
What Liberal policy makers failed to understand (or simply failed to disclose) and therefore the voters failed to fully grasp, was the fact that Mulroney’s Agenda for Economic Renewal, would have to remain in place as a way to finance the Liberal’s “new socialism.”
As the Liberals took the reins in ‘90s, those old conservative values became further buried, not only by big business but by big government as well.
In short, Mulroney’s inability to see through the veil of American neoconservatism and Chrétien and Martin’s big push toward big government left far too many Canadians saying to themselves that government had managed to overthrow a country.
But, of course, this is not the end of the story.
Running Canada is not some rough and tumble “western” cast solely by good guys and bad.
Somewhere in this recent history, the New Democratic Party has managed to stay remarkably on track.
What conservatives once heralded as family, small and local, the NPD has fashioned into such notions as ecological agrarianism and quality economics.
As the Liberals continue to concoct bigger and bigger government to offset large corporate mergers, world banking and centralized government, the NPD have outlined an agenda steeped in community autonomy and home rule.
And most importantly, because it will serve a new generation of Canadians, the NDP has sought to restructure education away from the worship of MBAs by nourishing liberal arts and vocational training.
This all should be good news for the Yukon.
We are unique, independent and hardy folks.
And if it takes the NDP to give us back what we lost in the ‘60s, then bring it on.
There is no place in Canada more suited to a resurgence of conservative values than the Yukon.
We are small enough to be neighbourly, diverse enough to be innovative.
Yukon College has seen fit to fully embrace vocational enterprise targeted to the North.
Over the last 10 years, we have seen the results of a promising, clean and long-term cultural economy.
And given our deep connections to wilderness, bred in each us is a willingness to preserve what the rest of Canada has lost — a clean camp.
As a Yukon election nears, we will begin to see our beleaguered MLAs jumping ship, changing parties, rethinking loyalties, grasping for straws, dancing across the floor like ugly ducklings searching for a new partner.
Uncertain as to what dance is right for the times, they will appear awkward on the dance floor, even foolish.
Don’t you be fooled.
We have seen this before.
Come to think about it, didn’t Mulroney, Chrétien and Martin seem a little out of step.