The Right Coast

January 27, 2006
Worthwhile Canadian Initiative
By Maimon Schwarzschild

The Canadian election this week is surely good news for US-Canadian relations: the defeated Liberals were symbiotic with the Canadian legacy media, who may be even more smug, leftish, and anti-American than their US counterparts. Stephen Harper, Canada's new Prime Minister, is very unlikely to pander to these people: his opponents all. So from the American point of view, the results are welcome in much the way John Howard's victory in Australia was welcome, and Angela Merkel's in Germany.

The future of Canada, of course, will be foremost in Harper's mind: and it is not insignificant from the US point of view as well. Will Canada hold together as a country?

Andrew Coyne, a (small-c) conservative and an exceptionally sharp and well informed Canadian writer and blogger, has these thoughts about Harper and Canada's future. Coyne says that Harper and the Tories will be less "centralist" than the Liberals -- that the Tories will allow Canada's provincial governments more autonomy, and will "nanny" less from the federal capital in Ottawa -- and that the separatist impulse will therefore diminish in Quebec, since Quebec will enjoy more autonomy within Canada. David Frum thinks much the same thing (click on "The Real Threat to National Unity").

The Liberal idea, back when Canada's Liberals had ideas, was just the opposite: that more provincial autonomy would invite incremental separation by Quebec. Less government in Ottawa would create a vacuum, which would be filled by provincial institutions, which would tend towards creation of a separate country in French-speaking Quebec.

When Pierre Elliott Trudeau became Liberal leader and Prime Minister in 1968, he was determined to keep Quebec in Canada: he despised Quebec nationalism, which he (rightly, I think) considered parochial and deeply illiberal. About this, Trudeau was never Trudeaupian: he was famously tough about it, cheerfully sending the Army into Quebec and suspending civil liberties when separatist kidnappers tried to hold the country hostage in 1971.

In the 60s (and 70s) context, Trudeau may well have been right that a strong federal government was the only thing stopping Quebec from spinning off into a third-world Quebecistan. Today, Coyne and Frum (and Stephen Harper) are a much better bet. Quebec is more likely to make its peace with a more decentralised Canada, at least, than with a corrupt and patronage-driven latter-day-Liberal nanny-state in Ottawa.

Meanwhile, Canadian politics -- unsurprisingly -- are a very small world. Here is a revealing and interesting (half-hour video-clip) interview with Pierre Trudeau, several years after Trudeau left office in 1984, in which Trudeau attacks his successor for offering too much autonomy to Quebec and insists that Quebec separatism will destroy the country if there isn't a strong central government in Ottawa. The interviewer is... Barbara Frum, who was a prominent Canadian television journalist and personality, and mother of David Frum. (She died prematurely of leukaemia in the early 1990s. Unlike David Frum, she was not at all right-of-centre.) And Andrew Coyne's cousin Deborah Coyne - a Liberal law professor and political figure - had a romance and a daughter with Pierre Trudeau late in Trudeau's life.

Of course the US is not without family relationships in politics as well...