Between 1967 and 1984 , the balance that served Tories well in the past would be, on occasion, quite elusive. But it would not disappear altogether. In fact, the mix of Robert Stanfield’s decency and urbanity, Joe Clark’s sincerity on Quebec and the emergence of a party united behind Brian Mulroney, as had not been the case under Stanfield or Clark, would preserve the right balance, despite early setbacks and defeats.
Robert Lorne Stanfield was in many ways the opposite of John Diefenbaker. Born to wealth, editor of the Harvard Law Review and a dollar-a-year employee of the Wartime Prices and Trade Board, Stanfield was suspicious of high-blown rhetoric and overblown visionary excess. His balance, moderation and independence from politics, with politics for him being neither a way to live nor a way to make a living, made him more temperate and dispassionate and remarkably less self-obsessed than Diefenbaker. His conservatism was classically of an incremental and modest nature. He tolerated no excess in either government or ideology.
Stanfield knew Canada’s business elite personally and was neither intimidated nor overly impressed by them. He had revived Tory fortunes in Nova Scotia after a long drought through his steady-minded pragmatism, inclusive politics and coherent and frugal approach to public administration. After winning the Tory leadership federally in 1967, his commitment to rebuilding the party with and within Quebec reflected his sense of realism and fairness. He learned French from a zero base in his mid-50s and surrounded himself with bright, experienced staff. These people brought journalistic, legal, economic, political or communications expertise to their tasks. To speak figuratively, it’s as if Stanfield sensed that the excesses of Diefenbaker had broken eggs without ever making an omelet, and on everything from Canada-US relations to Quebec, from the Bomarc missile problem to the early run on the dollar.
It is important to remember that Stanfield was as much about sustained and even-handed balance in the affairs of government as Diefenbaker was not. A sense of balance and calm as one sorts through issues and challenges is an essential ingredient of governing. Lurching back and forth or launching new initiatives without consultation does not advance the national interest as much as it devalues the modest and positive role government can and should play in society. Stanfield’s conservatism was characterized by its equilibrium, which is far more important than narrow ideologies of the right or the left. These elements of equilibrium were reflected in his approach to federal-provincial relations, economic policies, FrenchEnglish relations and Canadian foreign policy. Stanfield visited China in his official capacity as Leader of the Opposition even before Pierre Trudeau recognized the People’s Republic.
His approach to Québec was to recognize that two peoples, Englishand French-speaking, had formed a partnership when Confederation was cobbled together in the 1860s and that those two ”œnations” were at the foundation of Canada.
In this way, Stanfield’s conservatism and Conservatism not only reflected provincial-federal balance but also the central role of Quebec in the ongoing Tory legacy and mission. This harkens back to the Lord Elgin, Sir John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier frame. And beyond this sense of partnership between Frenchand English-speaking Canada, Stanfield also had a strong and abiding interest in the cooperative federalism envisioned by the original Constitution, namely the British North America Act of 1867. In this way, he was opposed to the ”œunlimited” federal spending power approach of Liberals like Trudeau. And on one level, the two problems of undue federal centralization and the anti-Quebec notion of special status intersected. He worried that the Trudeau Liberals feasted on crises in Quebec and actually helped to generate them with their dismissive and inflammatory approach to legitimate Quebec nationalism. Quebec nationalism, in its federalist or confederalist form, is not seen as negative by Canadian conservatives. For most conservatives, federalism is not a hierarchical structure with Ottawa at the pinnacle and the provinces at the bottom, treated either as junior partners or as wholly owned subsidiaries. Being a Tory, Stanfield tried to erase that imbalance. In neither section of the British North America Act is there a reference to a division between important or less important powers. Section 91 of the BNA Act lays out federal powers. Section 92 lays out provincial powers. And, in reality, for the vast majority of Canadians, the Section 92 powers and responsibilities of the provinces " roads, civil law, education, administration of justice, local policing, health care, natural resources " are far more important on a day-today basis than the Section 91 federal powers, such as foreign and monetary policy, or weights and measures.
Stanfield’s economic policies were profoundly centrist, but in the 1972 election he tilted to the ”œprogressive,” or ”œnation,” side of the traditional conservative position. In his Hamilton speech in the final weeks of the October campaign, he called for a Canada ”œwhere the accident of where and to whom one was born would not limit one’s prospects or future.” A few years earlier, at a Tory policy conference, the idea of a Canadian basic income floor for all had been advanced. While in opposition, during the ensuing 1972-74 Liberal minority government, Stanfield railed against an income tax system that made the government into profiteers at the expense of taxpayers during times of inflation " and how that same inflationary effect reduced the value of fixed income to pensioners. He advocated indexing pensions to the rate of inflation and de-indexing taxes " a policy John Turner, as finance minister, actually accepted and implemented.
This same Stanfield concern about the impact of inflation on middleincome earners, low-income earners and seniors led to the price-and-wagefreeze proposal (a 90-day freeze to break the inflation cycle) of the 1974 election campaign. It (and Tory disagreement about it) helped Trudeau win his 1974 majority. Trudeau himself opposed and ridiculed the Stanfield proposal " ”œZap! You’re frozen.” At the heart of the matter was Stanfield’s determination to confront forces like inflation, which enriched the tax coffers of all governments while oppressing the most economically defenceless.
For a Tory to stake his career on that kind of social justice was a profound statement of the ”œnation and enterprise” premise at the core of Canadian conservatism. That Stanfield would rather lose an election than abandon this principle is a seminal indicator of the difference between Canadian and American conservatism. That Trudeau essentially implemented a form of price-and-wage-freeze through the Anti-Inflation Board less than 24 months later no doubt contributed to the cynicism about Liberals that helped Joe Clark win his minority victory in 1979. What Stanfield also achieved was an urbanization of the party, to the extent that seats in big cities could be won by compelling figures who had earned a certain degree of renown and respect before their political days as Tory candidates. And because his policies were very much of the balanced variety, academics and young people were attracted to the party under his leadership. This was no mean feat in the face of the charisma juggernaut that Trudeau and the Liberals used effectively at every turn. Stanfield may not have been a great ”œtelevision age” communicator, but he was a man of ideas and reflections. And he expanded and developed the party through his special sense of equilibrium in ways that would benefit subsequent Tory leaders.
Stanfield also exposed the national fraud that was the War Measures Act. That FLQ cells had engaged in violent kidnapping or murder was not at issue. That Trudeau saw his popularity soar to remarkable heights is understandable. The promise that the Liberals had made quietly, beneath all the divingboard antics of their candidate in the 1968 campaign, was that Trudeau was a French Canadian who would ”œhandle” Quebec. There were many ways the government could have proceeded in October of 1970 that did not require the suspension of all civil liberties, as the proclamation of the War Measures Act did, or that did not require the arrest in the middle of the night of hundreds of French Canadians, not one of whom was ever charged. (Pierre Marc Johnson, then a student, but a future premier of Quebec, minister of justice and PQ leader, was arrested five times in several days.)
But the fact that Trudeau was nearly defeated a year later, in 1972, at the hands of Stanfield, speaks volumes to how assiduously he had worked to rebuild and reshape the Tory party. He gave the government the benefit of the doubt during the War Measures Act period, but he peppered them with daily questions, in essence doing what opposition leaders have a duty to do during a crisis. Later, long into his retirement, he very much regretted not defending civil liberties more intensely and not causing Trudeau more grief.
On election night, the unbeatable Trudeau came, in two ridings, within two seats and seven votes of being defeated by the Stanfield Tories. Bob Stanfield’s decency, his competence as a campaigner and his coherent policy had put the party to the left of Trudeau on social issues and to the right of Trudeau on fiscal and defence issues. In the end, he almost carried the day. A remarkable feat. Trudeau persevered with the support of the David Lewis New Democrats and moved to the left, easily winning a 1974 rematch by galvanizing unions and voters against the price-and-wage freeze of the Conservatives " which he promptly imposed after the election, making Clark’s victory in 1979 far more likely.
While the short Clark interregnum, from June 1979 to February 1980, would not be known for any deep economic achievement, Clark’s basic decency and political tilt to the Red Tory side of the debate kept the ”œnation and enterprise” part of the Tory vision very much alive. In terms of economics, his ill-fated mortgage interest deductibility proposal and his budget proposal to raise the excise tax on gasoline 18 cents per gallon were both flawed. The former proposal was politically sensitive but fiscally imprudent and the latter fiscally responsible but politically insensitive. But the failure that caught Clark and, in the end, destroyed his electoral prospects in the 1980 election was his inability to find the ”œnation and enterprise” balance between Ontario’s consuming role on the energy front and Alberta’s role as a pre-eminent oil producer. That both governments were led by largely centrist premiers who were themselves Tory did not help. Neither Bill Davis nor Peter Lougheed was deeply ideological.
But Clark’s inability to find the common ground and show national leadership sent Ontario voters to Trudeau in droves in 1980, opening the way to the National Energy Program, which, under Trudeau, fiscally attacked the Section 92 natural resources rights of the provinces while establishing a ”œfill the coffers” tax strategy for the federal fiscal framework. This, in turn, created the opportunity for Mulroney to win in 1984 , with a firm commitment to respect provincial resources and jurisdiction. In other words, history reveals that incompetence at the ”œnation and enterprise” task by the Tories inevitably leads to Liberal victory and excess " which, in turn, defines the next Tory ”œnation and enterprise” mission as one of rebalancing.
Mulroney’s victory at the Tory leadership convention in 1983 was, in a sense, a decision of the party to reconnect with the roots and soil of the Tory party of Sir John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier. The partnership with French Canada would become central once again.
The Sir John A. approach to assembling a broad coalition from many disparate pieces " a coalition that would be purpose-driven " would reemerge. The Conservative Party as a reflection of the national will, as opposed to an artificial imposition upon that will, would become the dominant force for a decade. A nation-building party that had a long view and a courageous intention would be offered to the public. Mulroney waged a masterful campaign for the leadership. Clark, having received a remarkable two-thirds endorsement at the party’s annual meeting in Winnipeg months earlier, used that endorsement as an excuse to precipitate a convention he could not win. The fact that former ministers of his, including John Crosbie and Mike Wilson, announced their own leadership plans made it clear how difficult his position was. Bill Davis came very close to entering the race but eventually decided against it. His decision opened up many key delegates in Ontario and Quebec to Mulroney, whose momentum was obvious as soon as the convention was announced. Even in a process in which Clark started with 66 percent of the delegates, he had been overcome by unnecessary hubris when Davis’s potential candidacy was first advanced. He quickly dismissed it as ”œregional.” Mulroney, on the other hand, welcomed it as a ”œnational voice for a strong Canada.” When Davis eventually declined, his supporters did not forget where civility had emerged and where condescension had resided. Within seconds of winning, Mulroney began the process of assembling a truly national team by calling on Erik Nielson (the MP for the Yukon), a long-time Diefenbaker posse member and Clark caucus supporter, to become House Leader. Within hours of his convention win he also quickly reached out to the organizers of the Big Blue Machine by hosting them for brunch at the Château Laurier. The organization was a group of pollsters, volunteers, organizers and policy and logistics people who had served Stanfield in 1972, and helped elect Bill Davis in 1971, 1975, 1977 and 1981. (Many of the Big Blue Machine people had been purposely left out of Clark’s 1979 campaign efforts.)
But as Mulroney proceeded to assemble a team of candidates and organizers that reflected different factions in the party and different voices across the country, the Liberals decided to do to him what they had twice done successfully to Stanfield. They decided to try and trip him up on language rights by helping to precipitate a crisis. And it would be their most ill-fated mistake. During the 1972–74 minority period, Liberals twice introduced motions affirming the Official Languages Act, long after the act itself had been passed. This was a way of deepening their support among francophone voters and causing the Conservatives difficulty. Trudeau and Diefenbaker got along well. Diefenbaker could be counted upon to sow disunity on this issue, which he obligingly did on more than one occasion, leading 17 Tories to vote against their own leader, Stanfield, and allowing Liberals to crow once again about their rightful role as minority Frenchlanguage protectors. In a sense, the Liberals, flush with the Big Red Machine dominance of Quebec federal politics, sought always to sever the Tories from their Macdonald-Cartier roots, knowing that to do so was to potentially reduce them to one-third of Parliament’s seats.
Liberals intended to do to Mulroney what they had done to Stanfield. Here was this fluently bilingual son of an electrician from Quebec’s North Shore purporting to give the Tory party a foothold of hope among francophone voters. As the Liberals manoeuvred with the same old bear trap in the months leading up to the 1984 election, they miscalculated in two ways. They had failed to account for the burden that would be lifted from the Tory caucus in this third round by the fact that Diefenbaker had passed away years earlier during the Clark administration. They also underestimated Mulroney’s visceral engagement on this issue " the extent to which he had internalized, at a young age, the French-English alliance and its central role in the success of Confederation, and, indeed, the country. They had either forgotten or, in that Liberal-centric way, never noticed that Brian Mulroney, as a young law student at Laval University in 1958, had organized a conference on the future of Canada focusing specifically on the French-English dynamic.
Rather than avoiding or diluting the debate, Mulroney embraced it. In March 1984 he went to Manitoba, where resistance to official bilingualism was still a key element of conservative angst, and, at a large and challenging public meeting, nailed his colours and those of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada to the official bilingualism pole. In so doing, Mulroney established his bona fides in every francophone riding in Canada. He established a common bond with Conservatives like Bill Davis, who, as minister of education and premier of Ontario, built what was then the world’s largest non-denominational French-language school system outside France. He forged a common bond with Richard Hatfield, the Tory premier of New
Brunswick who had continued the remarkable work of Liberal Louis Robichaud in making New Brunswick the only officially bilingual province in the country. He did the same with Peter Lougheed, who had waited line with other Alberta parents to enrol his own children in French immersion schools. He created a common bond with the Stanfield wing of the party, which had seen their leader fight on the right side of this issue against both the cynicism of the Liberals and the divisive self-reverence of Diefenbaker.
And, of course, this set him apart in the Quebec media and among nationalists in Quebec as someone who, whatever else he may stand for, would not be small-minded on the issue of minority language rights for francophones throughout the country. In a sense, while other Liberal miscalculations " TV debate missteps and patronage excesses " would make Mulroney’s well-crafted campaign and personal intensity unstoppable in English Canada, this cynical Liberal attempt at a pre-election ambush gave Mulroney his greatest opportunity.
And while history tells us how well he seized it and turned it to the Progressive Conservative Party’s immense benefit, the truth is that he faced mixed advice at the time. The senior caucus leader figure from Manitoba was not at the fateful public meeting in Manitoba. Conservative provincial leadership in that province was less than enthusiastic on the bilingualism front. And some in Ottawa counselled caution " a euphemism for not letting oneself get carried away by principle. Mulroney cut through all this and showed the heart and courage that would contribute to him winning the largest Tory majority in history.
That courage would set the tone for his administration, in the sense that large structural issues facing Canada would not be set aside for the sake of simply muddling through. He would confront the excesses that the essentially uninterrupted Liberal government from 1963 to 1984 had imposed on Canada. He would reconsider centralist and excessively statist policies that cried out for rebalancing, such as the NEP imposed by Trudeau. He campaigned openly on this, as well as on traditional Tory themes of lower taxes, a stronger national defence and more competent and engaged relationships with our allies, including the United States. He campaigned from the centre of the Tory spectrum, or just centre-right of the mainstream spectrum.
Mulroney’s 1984 campaign harnessed the disaffection with Trudeau and the seeming discomfort in office of Turner, despite his early surge in the polls. Mulroney was aided by a Liberal campaign that seemed never to come together and that eventually retreated to a hard-left nationalist position (always the Liberals’ primary redoubt), one that contradicted their prior probusiness and pro-American stance.
The NEP was dismantled by Mulroney and replaced with a series of regional energy accords that underlined provincial mineral and resource ownership. His new system of accords eliminated the confiscatory and market-distorting regulations and taxes that the Trudeau administration had imposed. It actually respected the terms of the BNA Act.
Those energy accords helped cement the fact that the Conservatives as a party, unlike the Liberals, actually believed in Sections 91 and 92 of the BNA Act. They also believed that there actually was a Constitution and that there were civil liberties in Canada before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982.
Mulroney reconnected the party and the government with his respect for regions, provincial rights and local identities, a respect which had been Macdonald’s strength and Elgin’s legacy. He exposed the Durham-Trudeau Liberal philosophy of ”œCanada by centralist design,” and defeated it clearly and effectively.
The party unity that Mulroney championed after becoming leader would serve him well as he dealt with large issues such as Free Trade, constitutional reconciliation, post-1988 GST tax reform, NAFTA and the Meech and Charlottetown accords. But party unity could not insulate him from the recession in the early 1990s, anti-GST anger, post-Charlottetown fatigue and a loosening of his coalition in Quebec.
Mulroney’s base of policy development " the energy accords and the various negotiations concerning the Meech Lake Accord, which almost brought Quebec back into the Constitution as a full signatory " were all positions on which he campaigned and on which he received encouragement from all the provinces to advance. That coherence was part of the economic and political strategy that made the great leap to Free Trade negotiations with the Americans possible. This was the ultimate political and policy initiative for ”œnation and enterprise” conservatism. At a premiers’ meeting in the summer of 1986, chaired by Don Getty of Alberta, those in attendance agreed that, as the Parti Québécois had been defeated by the federalist Liberal Robert Bourassa in Quebec, it was now time to have a ”œQuebec Round” and clear the ”œdeep hole” of Quebec never having signed the 1982 constitutional agreement that had repatriated the Constitution from Westminster with an entrenched Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
They had seen the reality of a popular Lévesque sovereignist government, aided by Trudeau intransigence, and knew that the election of a federalist nationalist Liberal like Bourassa was an opportunity one could ill afford to miss on the constitutional front. Leaving Quebec permanently out of the constitution could only mean trouble ahead.
And when the negotiation proceeded, it was a serious step forward for Confederation. The Trudeau faction in the country and in the Liberal Party, with many supporters in the media, could not accept the extent to which the original spirit of Confederation had been enshrined in Meech Lake " in terms of the balance between Sections 91 and 92.
They bristled especially at the notion that Ottawa’s previously unilateral power to appoint the entire Supreme Court and the entire Upper House would be bracketed by an agreement that formalized both consultation and provincial say, essentially opening the door to a democratic Senate. Liberals, then and now, have been largely untroubled by the fact that we are the lone federation in the world whose constitutional court and Upper House only has appointees from the central government. The notion of shared appointments to government bodies, where both sides are respected, is an important one " one that Liberals who are more centralist do not like. This runs to the core of the confederal balance " the Mulroney approach was to broaden it in a way that reflected the intention of the founding confederal negotiators, circa 1864-67 " and had been left unaddressed during the 1980-82 negotiations around the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and patriation.
One did not have to be a radical provincial rights advocate to understand that provincial autonomy, established in 1867 and at the very heart of Confederation itself, would be diluted by the judicialization of rights and freedoms with a federal Charter of Rights ultimately arbitrated by a federally appointed Supreme Court. For that arbitration and resolution process to be limited to a court, appointed by solely the federal side, compounds the problem. Canada is the only real federation that appoints its Supreme Court with no formal provincial input. It was that very problem that necessitated the ”œnotwithstanding clause” of the Charter of Rights, which underlined the right of any province or Ottawa to enact legislation ”œnotwithstanding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms” for a limited duration of five years. This was a small way of protecting provincial jurisdiction and the parliamentary sovereignty of provincial legislatures and Parliament from the full monty of Americanstyle judicialization.
When the notwithstanding clause was adopted in 1982, none of the provinces saw it as falling into immediate disrepute. Some might have held the view that the provinces were a necessary evil, not a strength " not an engine for managing and embracing diversity, social experimentation and developing local best practices of benefit to all. At their core, many centre-left Liberals and New Democrats would delight in a large central government with wide-ranging powers. Whatever benefits such an arrangement might engender (and to be fair, there might be some), that is not Canada and that is not the Conservative or conservative view of the rational balance of powers that a large-geography, small-population country like Canada needs. Mulroney’s approach ran right back to the historic alliance between the Tories and les bleus, right back to Maurice Duplessis’s coopération toujours, assimilation jamais and embraced the careful balances that leaders like Bob Stanfield had fought for in both provincial and federal office. This Tory-Liberal discrepancy concerning the provinces is directly connected to the differences between British universal liberalism à la Lord Durham and the more conventional and respectful of identities approach of British Tory Lord Elgin.
In the sweep of the Trudeau centralist assault on Meech Lake (not unrelated to Mulroney having achieved an agreement with all the provinces, and Quebec, which Trudeau had been unable to accomplish), otherwise decent and thoughtful premiers like Frank McKenna in New Brunswick, Gary Filmon in Manitoba and Clyde Wells in Newfoundland began unwinding the Meech Lake Accord (either through acts of commission or omission and often, but not always, in the best of faith) in a way that would contribute to the 1995 Québec referendum, a near-death experience shared by the entire country. In the case of McKenna, who held every seat in the New Brunswick legislature, his position was hard to fathom. In Filmon’s case, as he held a minority government in a legislature where Sharon Carstairs, the Liberal leader, held a balance of power and supported the TrudeauChrétien-Wells view, the weakness of his stance was at least explainable, if not justifiable.
Mulroney staked his career and government on the Free Trade proposition. It was a profoundly enterprising thing to do. It also had the remarkable virtue of uniting Quebec and Alberta voters, in a way that allowed for the election of an historic second Tory majority in 1988 and ratified the negotiated Free Trade agreement, including the vital dispute-resolution provision. This back-to-back majority had not happened for Tories in electoral terms since Macdonald’s leadership in 1871. That Mulroney also increased pensions, brought in the child tax credit to replace family allowance, negotiated mineral rights and revenues for the provinces and signed more land claim agreements with the First Nations than any other Canadian prime minister before or since reflected the full nature of his ”œnation and enterprise” vision. The GST, when introduced, reduced the government’s popularity from 32 percent to single digits in the 1990-91 polls, yet it was a compelling piece of public policy.
Mulroney had been weakened in the polls and, with his departure, the Conservatives chose a virtually unknown minister from British Columbia, Kim Campbell, as its new leader. In the election of 1993, the Lucien Bouchard nationalists disappeared from the Tory fold, the prairie populist conservatives broke away for Preston Manning, the GST anger was still present and Prime Minister Campbell’s Conservatives were reduced from 157 parliamentary seats to two, ushering in Mr. Chrétien’s 10year easy run.
During his time as prime minister, Mulroney preserved the intrinsic Tory balances of provincial rights and economic and fiscal prudence. (The operating side of the government, excluding the Trudeau debt-based interest costs, operated in the black for the first time since before John Turner became finance minister in the early 1970s.) Mulroney led the fight against apartheid and for Nelson Mandela; he also began the rebuilding of the military and set aside reciprocity for secure trade access to our largest export market. He unwound confiscatory Liberal tax regimes (NEP) and kept to core terms of Confederation that had been ignored for decades (the bridge to PEI), while opening new fronts such as the appointment of more women to cabinet, agencies, boards, commissions and diplomatic posts than ever before in Canadian history.
He also engaged fully on the environmental file with the help of Environment Minister Jean Charest.
In fact, in 1992, when Petro-Canada pulled out of the Newfoundland offshore oil exploration and drilling opportunity, Mulroney’s intervention, encouraged with intensity by John Crosbie, saw federal investment and back-stopping keep the initiative alive. That involvement helped set the groundwork, with the Atlantic Accord of 2005 (which replaced the confiscatory Trudeau NEP), for the remarkable economic rebirth we have seen since in Newfoundland. Dismantling the National Energy Program was not about reducing the nation-building role of the state in collaboration with the private sector, begun by Macdonald with the CPR. It was about diminishing the central government excess, in violation of the core values of Confederation, so that provincial mineral rights could be used to encourage strategic investment and growth. This is the growth that ultimately builds economies, jobs and private and public revenues and capacity. It is not perfect as a formula, but, in some contexts, it is vitally necessary and deeply productive. It also reflects the perfect balance between a confederal partnership and ”œnation and enterprise” policies and investment.
Mulroney’s ambition for the country was compelling and has not been repeated in any way since. That ambition perhaps broke another Conservative rule: that it can be folly to overestimate what any government can or should try to do. Manning and Bouchard had the perfect vehicles for fragmenting the Mulroney coalition, and in the process sending the Progressive Conservative Party into oblivion for more than a decade.