[Excerpt from Stephen Harper And the Future of Canada by William Johnson (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2005) Pages 50-55]
Harper and Weissenberger wondered why Canada was different. They received a powerful lesson when, in October 1986, the Mulroney government—their government—made public a decision that shook all of western Canada. It announced that the maintenance of the newly acquired fleet of 138 CF-18 fighter jets would be done by Montreal's Canadair rather than Winnipeg's Bristol Aerospace. The $1.2-billion contract went to the Montreal firm despite the fact that the jury appointed by the government to evaluate the two bids had found the Winnipeg bid represented "the most favourable price and technical proposal," according to the briefing paper prepared by the PC caucus' own research staff. Though Bristol Aerospace offered to service the aircraft at lower cost and with a superior performance, Canadair won the contract…
Once again, as so often in our history, western Canada was treated as a colony destined to serve the interests of central Canada, and specifically Quebec. This decision, like others of the Mulroney government when Quebec's interests were involved, led the pair to reflect on the place of Quebec in recent Canadian politics. By coincidence, a book on the subject had been published shortly before, The Patriot Game: National Dreams & Political Realities, by Peter Brimelow. It was a shocker, a bombshell, a call to arms. For bright young men trying to make sense of their country at a time of disillusionment, it offered powerful medicine.
"Brimelow's book, that was a big influence at the time," Weissenberger says. "Whether you believe his analysis completely or not, it was strong. We both read it with great interest and discussed a lot of the points in it. Brimelow identified a number of areas of conflict within Canada that the current system was papering over, the Quebec question being the largest one. We were so impressed that we actually went to one bookstore and we said, 'OK, we want to buy ten copies of this book, what deal will you give us?' So we bought ten copies and gave them to all our friends."
Brimelow was a Brit who had received an M.B.A. from Stanford University and had then worked in Canada as a staff writer for the Financial Post and as business editor for Maclean's magazine. He wrote The Patriot Game as a kind of Parthian shot aimed at Canada after he left for the United States, where he would become a senior editor of Forbes magazine, and a senior editor of the conservative National Review. He wrote with wit and irony. His perception of Canada was depressing. He turned topsy-turvy all the political platitudes and pious assumptions of Canada's right-thinking (left-thinking) elites. Brimelow invited Harper and Weissenberger on a new voyage of discovery, and they willingly embarked. He described many fault lines in Canada. They included the inherent conflicts between central Canada and the other geographical regions, and the struggle for wealth and power between the mainstream society and the native. But the one fundamental conflict that he saw was undermining Canada, past, present, and future, was that which opposed French and English speakers, Quebec and the rest of Canada.
"The history and politics of Quebec are dominated by a single great reality: the emergence of the French-speaking nation. The process has been slow, complex, and agonizing. There have been false starts, reversals, and long periods of quiescence. But for over 200 years its ultimate direction has remain the same: toward ever-greater self-expression, as the growing plant seeks the light."
For Brimelow, the Liberal Party is the villain of Canadian history. It imposed a way of thinking about country, a vision, that was detrimental. In effect, the Liberal Party became the surrogate of French Quebec, ruling the country because our parliamentary and electoral system allowed a minority to rule that majority: French Canada voted as a bloc, while English Canada was split.
"Some time this [20th] century, English Canada lost its nerve," Brimelow wrote. "As the Anglophones retreated, the Francophones advanced. But their movement was not simply opportunistic. They were also impelled by the seismic upheaval in Quebec society that led to the so-called Quiet Revolution in the 1960s."
Brimelow saw the history of the previous century as essentially a competition between French and English to assert their nationality through the state, with the Liberals representing the French-speakers, the Conservatives representing the English.
But the competition proved unequal, in part because the Liberal ascendancy managed to impose a false consciousness on English speakers whereby the latter were seduced into accepting a political vision that was contrary to their reality and to their interests:
"The Canadian Liberal Party has been able to persuade English Canada that preserving the Canadian Confederation and common morality itself requires continual concessions to Quebec…The Liberal Ideology to a considerable extent is the projection of internal Quebec concerns onto the national stage, so that Canadian politics in the Liberal era have been essentially those of a sort of Greater Quebec."
The Liberals had a left-wing philosophy. They tailored their policies to attract needy minorities wanting protection and favours from the (Liberal) state. This included buying the loyalty of client constituencies with the money of the taxpayers with, for instance,
"the bewildering variety of subsidies and incentives orchestrated by Ottawa in the 1960s and 70s to stimulate development in the peripheral regions. If you have convinced yourself that economic growth is not best left to market forces but always requires government direction, it is easier to justify what might otherwise appear a crude attempt to bribe the regions to shut up about federal trade policies that benefit only Central Canada."
So it happened, according to Brimelow, that Canada acquired a hypertrophic welfare state, with a "New Class" of politicians, civil servants, employees of the multiple Crown corporations such as the CBC, welfare workers, teachers, journalists. And these opinion leaders were tributary to the Liberal ideology which they then propagated as the true national vision and the New Nationalism. Any other view was politically incorrect.
The Liberals were defeated in 1984, and Brian Mulroney brought the Progressive Conservatives to power. Bur, for Brimelow, this was again playing the same old Liberal game. Mulroney was from Quebec, he was perfectly bilingual, and Quebec's concerns were his priorities. He maintained and promoted the same old "Liberal Ideology."
The focus of Canadian politics on the concerns of central Canada, and especially of Quebec, was causing powerful strains east of Quebec and, above all, west of Ontario.
The attempt to remodel Canada into a Greater Quebec would provoke a reaction, Brimelow prophesied:
"The sectional divisions within English Canada will be a continuing problem. This is particularly true of the western provinces. They may lead some sort of rebellion against the Liberal hegemony, perhaps by supporting a right-wing, fourth party."
The Reform Party would be founded the following year.
"This was the time when Mulroney was bringing nationalists into his caucus—separatists, let's be honest. He was trying to play both sides against the middle. And then there was what we perceived as the crisis of the welfare state in Canada, with the debt problem. And there seemed to be essentially an ideological consensus between the three major parties. Everybody had essentially bought into the system; they weren't willing to consider an alternative—certainly not from the right. If anyone had a question about what to do in public policy, well, 'we're not spending enough money in the area,' right? [peals of laughter]. So we were looking at it from the other side and thinking, there have to be some other possible solutions to this. So, in retrospect I may not agree with all of Brimelow's points, but certainly it was a very important book for us at that time."
As Harper and Weissenberger saw it, Weissenberger in particular, Mulroney's attitude toward Quebec revealed a fundamental problem which made the much-needed conservative shift in the country nearly impossible…The West, notably Alberta, was once again being sacrificed to Quebec. And Mulroney, despite his rhetoric, was doing very little, they thought, to deal with the monstrous and crushing dimension of the state in Canada.
As Brimelow had pointed out:
"Canada suffers from a particularly acute form of the generalized late-twentieth-century crisis of the welfare state. Its politicians apparently feel unable to respond to this problem, partly because of what they believe is the danger of exacerbating sectional and linguistic divisions by withdrawing any subsidy or privilege."