Text of Stephen Harper's speech to the Council for National Policy, June 1997
Ladies and gentlemen, let me begin by giving you a big welcome to Canada.
Let's start up with a compliment. You're here from the second greatest
nation on earth. But seriously, your country, and particularly your
conservative movement, is a light and an inspiration to people in this
country and across the world.
Now, having given you a compliment, let me also give you an insult. I was
asked to speak about Canadian politics. It may not be true, but it's
legendary that if you're like all Americans, you know almost nothing except
for your own country. Which makes you probably knowledgeable about one more
country than most Canadians.
But in any case, my speech will make that assumption. I'll talk fairly
basic stuff. If it seems pedestrian to some of you who do know a lot about
Canada, I apologize.
I'm going to look at three things. First of all, just some basic facts
about Canada that are relevant to my talk, facts about the country and its
political system, its civics. Second, I want to take a look at the party
system that's developed in Canada from a conventional left/right, or
liberal/conservative perspective. The third thing I'm going to do is look at
the political system again, because it can't be looked at in this country
simply from the conventional perspective.
First, facts about Canada. Canada is a Northern European welfare state in
the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it. Canadians make no
connection between the fact that they are a Northern European welfare state
and the fact that we have very low economic growth, a standard of living
substantially lower than yours, a massive brain drain of young professionals
to your country, and double the unemployment rate of the United States.
In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half,
don't feel particularly bad for many of these people. They don't feel bad
about it themselves, as long as they're receiving generous social assistance
and unemployment insurance.
That is beginning to change. There have been some significant changes in
our fiscal policies and our social welfare policies in the last three or
four years. But nevertheless, they're still very generous compared to your
Let me just make a comment on language, which is so important in this
country. I want to disabuse you of misimpressions you may have. If you've
read any of the official propagandas, you've come over the border and
entered a bilingual country. In this particular city, Montreal, you may well
get that impression. But this city is extremely atypical of this country.
While it is a French-speaking city – largely – it has an enormous
English-speaking minority and a large number of what are called ethnics:
they who are largely immigrant communities, but who politically and
culturally tend to identify with the English community.
This is unusual, because the rest of the province of Quebec is, by and
large, almost entirely French-speaking. The English minority present here in
Montreal is quite exceptional.
Furthermore, the fact that this province is largely French-speaking,
except for Montreal, is quite exceptional with regard to the rest of the
country. Outside of Quebec, the total population of francophones, depending
on how you measure it, is only three to five per cent of the population. The
rest of Canada is English speaking.
Even more important, the French-speaking people outside of Quebec live
almost exclusively in the adjacent areas, in northern New Brunswick and in
The rest of Canada is almost entirely English speaking. Where I come
from, Western Canada, the population of francophones ranges around one to
two per cent in some cases. So it's basically an English-speaking country,
just as English-speaking as, I would guess, the northern part of the United
But the important point is that Canada is not a bilingual country. It is
a country with two languages. And there is a big difference.
As you may know, historically and especially presently, there's been a
lot of political tension between these two major language groups, and
between Quebec and the rest of Canada.
Let me take a moment for a humorous story. Now, I tell this with some
trepidation, knowing that this is a largely Christian organization.
The National Citizens Coalition, by the way, is not. We're on the sort of
libertarian side of the conservative spectrum. So I tell this joke with a
little bit of trepidation. But nevertheless, this joke works with Canadian
audiences of any kind, anywhere in Canada, both official languages, any kind
It's about a constitutional lawyer who dies and goes to heaven. There, he
meets God and gets his questions answered about life. One of his questions
is, "God, will this problem between Quebec and the rest of Canada ever be
resolved?" And God thinks very deeply about this, as God is wont to do. God
replies, "Yes, but not in my lifetime."
I'm glad to see you weren't offended by that. I've had the odd religious
person who's been offended. I always tell them, "Don't be offended. The
joke can't be taken seriously theologically. It is, after all, about a
lawyer who goes to heaven."
In any case. My apologies to Eugene Meyer of the Federalist Society.
Second, the civics, Canada's civics.
On the surface, you can make a comparison between our political system
and yours. We have an executive, we have two legislative houses, and we have
a Supreme Court.
However, our executive is the Queen, who doesn't live here. Her
representative is the Governor General, who is an appointed buddy of the
Of our two legislative houses, the Senate, our upper house, is appointed,
also by the Prime Minister, where he puts buddies, fundraisers and the like.
So the Senate also is not very important in our political system.
And we have a Supreme Court, like yours, which, since we put a charter of
rights in our constitution in 1982, is becoming increasingly arbitrary and
important. It is also appointed by the Prime Minister. Unlike your Supreme
Court, we have no ratification process.
So if you sort of remove three of the four elements, what you see is a
system of checks and balances which quickly becomes a system that's
described as unpaid checks and political imbalances.
What we have is the House of Commons. The House of Commons, the bastion
of the Prime Minister's power, the body that selects the Prime Minister, is
an elected body. I really emphasize this to you as an American group: It's
not like your House of Representatives. Don't make that comparison.
What the House of Commons is really like is the United States electoral
college. Imagine if the electoral college which selects your president once
every four years were to continue sitting in Washington for the next four
years. And imagine its having the same vote on every issue. That is how our
political system operates.
In our election last Monday, the Liberal party won a majority of seats.
The four opposition parties divided up the rest, with some very, very rough
But the important thing to know is that this is how it will be until the
Prime Minister calls the next election. The same majority vote on every
issue. So if you ask me, "What's the vote going to be on gun control?" or
on the budget, we know already.
If any member of these political parties votes differently from his party
on a particular issue, well, that will be national headline news. It's
really hard to believe. If any one member votes differently, it will be
national headline news. I voted differently at least once from my party, and
it was national headline news. It's a very different system.
Our party system consists today of five parties. There was a remark made
yesterday at your youth conference about the fact that parties come and go
in Canada every year. This is rather deceptive. I've written considerably on
We had a two-party system from the founding of our country, in 1867. That
two-party system began to break up in the period from 1911 to 1935. Ever
since then, five political elements have come and gone. We've always had at
least three parties. But even when parties come back, they're not really
new. They're just an older party re-appearing under a different name and
Let me take a conventional look at these five parties. I'll describe them
in terms that fit your own party system, the left/right kind of terms.
Let's take the New Democratic Party, the NDP, which won 21 seats. The NDP
could be described as basically a party of liberal Democrats, but it's
actually worse than that, I have to say. And forgive me jesting again, but
the NDP is kind of proof that the Devil lives and interferes in the affairs
This party believes not just in large government and in massive
redistributive programs, it's explicitly socialist. On social value issues,
it believes the opposite on just about everything that anybody in this room
believes. I think that's a pretty safe bet on all social-value kinds of
Some people point out that there is a small element of clergy in the NDP.
Yes, this is true. But these are clergy who, while very committed to the
church, believe that it made a historic error in adopting Christian theology.
The NDP is also explicitly a branch of the Canadian Labour Congress,
which is by far our largest labour group, and explicitly radical.
There are some moderate and conservative labour organizations. They don't
belong to that particular organization.
The second party, the Liberal party, is by far the largest party. It won
the election. It's also the only party that's competitive in all parts of
the country. The Liberal party is our dominant party today, and has been for
100 years. It's governed almost all of the last hundred years, probably
about 75 per cent of the time.
It's not what you would call conservative Democrat; I think that's a
disappearing kind of breed. But it's certainly moderate Democrat, a type of
Clinton-pragmatic Democrat. It's moved in the last few years very much to
the right on fiscal and economic concerns, but still believes in government
intrusion in the economy where possible, and does, in its majority, believe
in fairly liberal social values.
In the last Parliament, it enacted comprehensive gun control, well
beyond, I think, anything you have. Now we'll have a national firearms
registration system, including all shotguns and rifles. Many other kinds of
weapons have been banned. It believes in gay rights, although it's fairly
cautious. It's put sexual orientation in the Human Rights Act and will let
the courts do the rest.
There is an important caveat to its liberal social values. For historic
reasons that I won't get into, the Liberal party gets the votes of most
Catholics in the country, including many practising Catholics. It does have
a significant Catholic, social-conservative element which occasionally
disagrees with these kinds of policy directions. Although I caution you that
even this Catholic social conservative element in the Liberal party is often
quite liberal on economic issues.
Then there is the Progressive Conservative party, the PC party, which won
only 20 seats. Now, the term Progressive Conservative will immediately raise
suspicions in all of your minds. It should. It's obviously kind of an
oxymoron. But actually, its origin is not progressive in the modern sense.
The origin of the term "progressive" in the name stems from the
Progressive Movement in the 1920s, which was similar to that in your own
But the Progressive Conservative is very definitely liberal Republican.
These are people who are moderately conservative on economic matters, and in
the past have been moderately liberal, even sometimes quite liberal on
social policy matters.
In fact, before the Reform Party really became a force in the late '80s,
early '90s, the leadership of the Conservative party was running the largest
deficits in Canadian history. They were in favour of gay rights officially,
officially for abortion on demand. Officially – what else can I say about
them? Officially for the entrenchment of our universal, collectivized,
health-care system and multicultural policies in the constitution of the
At the leadership level anyway, this was a pretty liberal group. This
explains one of the reasons why the Reform party has become such a power.
The Reform party is much closer to what you would call conservative
Republican, which I'll get to in a minute.
The Bloc Québécois, which I won't spend much time on, is a strictly
Quebec party, strictly among the French-speaking people of Quebec. It is an
ethnic separatist party that seeks to make Quebec an independent, sovereign
By and large, the Bloc Québécois is centre-left in its approach. However,
it is primarily an ethnic coalition. It's always had diverse elements. It
does have an element that is more on the right of the political spectrum,
but that's definitely a minority element.
Let me say a little bit about the Reform party because I want you to be
very clear on what the Reform party is and is not.
The Reform party, although described by many of its members, and most of
the media, as conservative, and conservative in the American sense, actually
describes itself as populist. And that's the term its leader, Preston
This term is not without significance. The Reform party does stand for
direct democracy, which of course many American conservatives do, but also
it sees itself as coming from a long tradition of populist parties of
Western Canada, not all of which have been conservative.
It also is populist in the very real sense, if I can make American
analogies to it – populist in the sense that the term is sometimes used with
The Reform party is very much a leader-driven party. It's much
more a real party than Mr. Perot's party – by the way, it existed
before Mr. Perot's party. But it's very much leader-driven, very
much organized as a personal political vehicle. Although it has much
more of a real organization than Mr. Perot does.
But the Reform party only exists federally. It doesn't exist at
the provincial level here in Canada. It really exists only because
Mr. Manning is pursuing the position of prime minister. It doesn't
have a broader political mandate than that yet. Most of its members
feel it should, and, in their minds, actually it does.
It also has some Buchananist tendencies. I know there are
probably many admirers of Mr. Buchanan here, but I mean that in the
sense that there are some anti-market elements in the Reform Party.
So far, they haven't been that important, because Mr. Manning is,
himself, a fairly orthodox economic conservative.
The predecessor of the Reform party, the Social Credit party, was
very much like this. Believing in funny money and control of
banking, and a whole bunch of fairly non-conservative economic
So there are some non-conservative tendencies in the Reform
party, but, that said, the party is clearly the most economically
conservative party in the country. It's the closest thing we have to
a neo-conservative party in that sense.
It's also the most conservative socially, but it's not a theocon
party, to use the term. The Reform party does favour the use of
referendums and free votes in Parliament on moral issues and social
The party is led by Preston Manning, who is a committed,
evangelical Christian. And the party in recent years has made some
reference to family values and to family priorities. It has some
policies that are definitely social-conservative, but it's not
Many members are not, the party officially is not, and, frankly,
the party has had a great deal of trouble when it's tried to tackle
Last year, when we had the Liberal government putting the
protection of sexual orientation in our Human Rights Act, the Reform
Party was opposed to that, but made a terrible mess of the debate.
In fact, discredited itself on that issue, not just with the
conventional liberal media, but even with many social conservatives
by the manner in which it mishandled that.
So the social conservative element exists. Mr. Manning is a
Christian, as are most of the party's senior people. But it's not
officially part of the party. The party hasn't quite come to terms
with how that fits into it.
That's the conventional analysis of the party system.
Let me turn to the non-conventional analysis, because frankly,
it's impossible, with just left/right terminology to explain why we
would have five parties, or why we would have four parties on the
conventional spectrum. Why not just two?
The reason is regional division, which you'll see if you
carefully look at a map. Let me draw the United States comparison, a
comparison with your history.
The party system that is developing here in Canada is a party
system that replicates the antebellum period, the pre-Civil War
period of the United States.
That's not to say – and I would never be quoted as saying – we're
headed to a civil war. But we do have a major secession crisis,
obviously of a very different nature than the secession crisis you
had in the 1860s. But the dynamics, the political and partisan
dynamics of this, are remarkably similar.
The Bloc Québécois is equivalent to your Southern secessionists,
Southern Democrats, states rights activists. The Bloc Québécois, its
44 seats, come entirely from the province of Quebec. But even more
strikingly, they come from ridings, or election districts, almost
entirely populated by the descendants of the original European
The Liberal party has 26 seats in Quebec. Most of these come from
areas where there are heavy concentrations of English, aboriginal or
ethnic votes. So the Bloc Québécois is very much an ethnic party,
but it's also a secession party.
In the referendum two years ago, the secessionists won 49 per
cent of the vote, 49.5 per cent. So this is a very real crisis.
We're looking at another referendum before the turn of the century.
The Progressive Conservative party is very much comparable to the
Whigs of the 1850s and 1860s. What is happening to them is very
similar to the Whigs. A moderate conservative party, increasingly
under stress because of the secession movement, on the one hand, and
the reaction to that movement from harder line English Canadians on
the other hand.
You may recall that the Whigs, in their dying days, went through
a series of metamorphoses. They ended up as what was called the
Unionist movement that won some of the border states in your 1860
If you look at the surviving PC support, it's very much
concentrated in Atlantic Canada, in the provinces to the east of
Quebec. These are very much equivalent to the United States border
states. They're weak economically. They have very grim prospects if
Quebec separates. These people want a solution at almost any cost.
And some of the solutions they propose would be exactly that.
They also have a small percentage of seats in Quebec. These are
French-speaking areas that are also more moderate and very concerned
about what would happen in a secession crisis.
The Liberal party is very much your northern Democrat, or
mainstream Democratic party, a party that is less concessionary to
the secessionists than the PCs, but still somewhat concessionary.
And they still occupy the mainstream of public opinion in Ontario,
which is the big and powerful province, politically and
economically, alongside Quebec.
The Reform party is very much a modern manifestation of the
Republican movement in Western Canada; the U.S. Republicans started
in the western United States. The Reform Party is very resistant to
the agenda and the demands of the secessionists, and on a very deep
The goal of the secessionists is to transform our country into
two nations, either into two explicitly sovereign countries, or in
the case of weaker separatists, into some kind of federation of two
The Reform party opposes this on all kinds of grounds, but most
important, Reformers are highly resistant philosophically to the
idea that we will have an open, modern, multi-ethnic society on one
side of the line, and the other society will run on some set of
ethnic-special-status principles. This is completely unacceptable,
particularly to philosophical conservatives in the Reform party.
The Reform party's strength comes almost entirely from the West.
It's become the dominant political force in Western Canada. And it
is getting a substantial vote in Ontario. Twenty per cent of the
vote in the last two elections. But it has not yet broken through in
terms of the number of seats won in Ontario.
This is a very real political spectrum, lining up from the Bloc
to reform. You may notice I didn't mention the New Democratic Party.
The NDP obviously can't be compared to anything pre-Civil War. But
the NDP is not an important player on this issue. Its views are
somewhere between the liberals and conservatives. Its main concern,
of course, is simply the left-wing agenda to basically disintegrate
our society in all kinds of spectrums. So it really doesn't fit in.
But I don't use this comparison of the pre-Civil War lightly.
Preston Manning, the leader of the Reform party has spent a lot of
time reading about pre-Civil War politics. He compares the Reform
party himself to the Republican party of that period. He is very
well-read on Abraham Lincoln and a keen follower and admirer of
I know Mr. Manning very well. I would say that next to his own
father, who is a prominent Western Canadian politician, Abraham
Lincoln has probably had more effect on Mr. Manning's political
philosophy than any individual politician.
Obviously, the issue here is not slavery, but the appeasement of
ethnic nationalism. For years, we've had this Quebec separatist
movement. For years, we elected Quebec prime ministers to deal with
that, Quebec prime ministers who were committed federalists who
would lead us out of the wilderness. For years, we have given
concessions of various kinds of the province of Quebec, political
and economic, to make them happier.
This has not worked. The sovereignty movement has continued to
rise in prominence. And its demands have continued to increase. It
began to hit the wall when what are called the soft separatists and
the conventional political establishment got together to put in the
constitution something called "a distinct society clause." Nobody
really knows what it would mean, but it would give the Supreme
Court, where Quebec would have a tremendous role in appointment, the
power to interpret Quebec's special needs and powers, undefined
This has led to a firewall of resistance across the country. It
fuelled the growth of the Reform party. I should even say that the
early concessionary people, like Pierre Trudeau, have come out
against this. So there's even now an element of the Quebec
federalists themselves who will no longer accept this.
So you see the syndrome we're in. The separatists continue to
make demands. They're a powerful force. They continue to have the
bulk of the Canadian political establishment on their side. The two
traditional parties, the Liberals and PCs, are both led by Quebecers
who favour concessionary strategies. The Reform party is a bastion
of resistance to this tendency.
To give you an idea of how divided the country is, not just in
Quebec but how divided the country is outside Quebec on this, we had
a phenomenon five years ago. This is a real phenomenon; I don't know
how much you heard about it.
The establishment came down with a constitutional package which
they put to a national referendum. The package included distinct
society status for Quebec and some other changes, including some
that would just horrify you, putting universal Medicare in our
constitution, and feminist rights, and a whole bunch of other
What was significant about this was that this constitutional
proposal was supported by the entire Canadian political
establishment. By all of the major media. By the three largest
traditional parties, the PC, Liberal party and NDP. At the time, the
Bloc and Reform were very small.
It was supported by big business, very vocally by all of the
major CEOs of the country. The leading labour unions all supported
it. Complete consensus. And most academics.
And it was defeated. It literally lost the national referendum
against a rag-tag opposition consisting of a few dissident
conservatives and a few dissident socialists.
This gives you some idea of the split that's taking place in the
Canada is, however, a troubled country politically, not socially.
This is a country that we like to say works in practice but not in
You can walk around this country without running across very many
of these political controversies.
I'll end there and take any of your questions. But let me
conclude by saying, good luck in your own battles. Let me just
remind you of something that's been talked about here. As long as
there are exams, there will always be prayer in schools.