Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Red Tory Tradition by Ron Dart

The language of Red Toryism became popular in the mid-1960s when Gad Howoritz suggested that George Grant was a Red Tory. The publication and immediate success of Grant’s, Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (1965), made it abundantly clear that there were historic forms of conservatism in Canada that could not be equated with American republicanism. Horowitz, in his classic article, ‘Tories, Socialists and the Demise of Canada’(1965), argued that there was a ‘Tory touch’ in the Canadian political tradition that leaned more towards the commonweal and socialism than did the free enterprise system of Blue Toryism. It was this ‘Tory touch’ that was more ‘Red’ than ‘Blue’ in orientation that distinguished the Canadian from the American notions of conservatism.

Grant denied that he was a Red Tory in Horowitz’s understanding of the term, but there was no doubt that Grant, as a Canadian conservative, did not stand within the Blue Tory line and lineage. Grant stood on the shoulders of many that had gone before him, and many that followed him in their understanding of Canadian conservatism. The publication of Charles Taylor’s missive, Radical Tories: The Conservative Tradition in Canada (1982), went further than Horowitz in highlighting the family tree: Taylor suggested that Leacock, Sandwell, Deacon, Creighton, Morton, Purdy and Forsey stood within such a tradition. Grant was, of course, part of the clan. Taylor could have included Acorn rather than Purdy. Dalton Camp and David Orchard both worked within the Progressive Conservative party to further the Red Tory way.

Horowitz never mentioned Leacock’s ,‘The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice’ and Bennett’s The Premier Speaks to the People in his classic article, but both Leacock and Bennett stand back of Grant. Prime Minister Diefenbaker (1958-1963), the tragic hero in Lament, embodied a Red, Rogue or High Tory vision as did Howard Green, Diefenbaker’s Minister of External Affairs.

The pro-American stance taken by Prime Minister Mulroney signaled a different attitude towards the USA than many Tories had taken in Canadian history. The change in the Canadian understanding of conservatism from Mulroney to Preston Manning to Stephen Harper was a shift from Red to Blue Toryism, from a distinctive nationalist Tory vision of Canada to more of an annexationist/integrationist position. Those who read, for example, Grant’s Lament for a Nation and Ernest Manning’s Political Realignment: A Challenge to Thoughtful Canadians (1967) cannot but be taken by the stark differences between Grant’s older notion of Canadian conservatism and Manning’s more republican read of the conservative way.    

There is no doubt there was in Canada a notion of conservatism that could not be equated with republicanism. This tradition was, in a literary sense, poignantly and succinctly summed up in Robertson Davies’, The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks.  The language of Red Toryism has come to mean many things, but such a political heritage is part of the distinctive and unique Canadian way, and the Tory touch does mean that historic conservatism in Canada does have leftist leanings.


Charles Taylor: Radical Tories: The Conservative Tradition in Canada (1982)
Ron Dart: The Red Tory Tradition: Ancient Roots, New Routes (1999)
Ron Dart: The Canadian High Tory Tradition: Raids on the Unspeakable (2004)

Ron Dart        

'The Red Tory Tradition' appendix article, that it can be found in The Canadian Encyclopedia for those who want to check sources.

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