A standing room only crowd assembled last night at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto to hear Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson speak on the current state of Canadian political affairs. Ibbitson’s talk, it would seem, was convened to inform the assembled crowd of Toronto elite just how the consensus they historically had helped form has been supplanted by a Western set of values that has largely overtaken the entire country.
And why it was likely to remain that way for the forseeable future.
The Laurentian Consensus was (is?) a tight-knit group of academics, politicians, lawyers, and bureaucrats who found themselves living in the St. Lawrence watershed cities of Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City, and Kingston in the early days. These men saw themselves as charged with the task of building a British country on the outskirts of a continent dominated by the United States, distinct in traditions, values, and political outlook.
They were incredibly successful at their job, Ibbitson said, keeping the country focused in Central Canadian issues above all else. Early on, this is where the vast majority of Canadians lived, and it quickly became the physical and psychological centre of power in Canada. And despite the rapid increase in the Western population in the early 20th Century, the aspirations of the West were largely seen as subordinate to the wishes of the Eastern leaders who ruled from the East, for the East.
Fast forward to the early years of the 21st Century. The Liberals, still dominated by the Laurentian Elite and their notion of what constitutes the nation, were still in charge, but losing focus, and succumbing to crippling internal strife over who should run the party.
Stephen Harper and his newly minted Conservative Party had taken time to realize that some fundamental shifts were underway in the country, ones that if properly managed, could lead not only to a Conservative rebirth, but the death of the Liberal Party of Canada and its domination by Eastern Canadian interests.
One of the most fundamental shifts that the Conservatives took advantage of was the change in demographic make-up of newly arriving immigrants. Historically, European and Caribbean immigrants supported the party that governed when they arrived who reflected the views they wanted their new government to have. Many were escaping authoritarian hardship, and wanted their new government to reflect the new freedoms they wished for themselves and their children in Canada. This was embodied in the Liberal Party for most of the 20th Century – seven out of ten decades, in fact.
But now, immigrants are arriving from parts of the world not to escape hardship, but simply to find better economic and social opportunities. Socially and economically conservative Asian and African immigrants are coming to Canada and choosing to settle outside of Ontario, a province that used to accept 60% of Canada’s immigrants who now accepts just 40%. And these immigrants are more aligned with the Conservative Party and their shared sense of socio-economic conservatism, a shift that led many Ontario immigrants to determine on May 2 that the Liberal Party’s message was not for them.
And they voted Conservative. Ibbitson spouted off a dozen GTA ridings that the Conservatives won not through vote splitting, but by a sheer majority of votes. These new Canadians turned West, taking the direction of Ontario’s gaze westward with them. Making Ontario, so Ibbitson argued, a Pacific province for the first time in its history.
“This change reflects a powerful new demographic and political landscape,” Ibbitson told the crowd. “Western values are now national values. And the turn is permanent.”
He ended the evening by asking the assembled crowd to ask themselves what it is they so dislike about Prime Minister Stephen Harper, if in fact they do. And if they disagree with his policy on the long-gun registry, for example, that is fine – they are entitled to it.
But if their belief is that he and his message are somehow fundamentally evil, or radically altering the very fabric of the nation that the Laurentian Elite created (but did nothing to promote), do they feel this way because the change they perceive is bad for the country, or because they feel their grasp on the country and its direction slipping away, possibly forever?
Ibbiton’s talk was presented by the Literary Review of Canada and TVO, and it was a phenomenal listen – I can hardly do it justice here. It will be broadcast as part of TVO’s Big Idea’s Series on December 10 and 11, or you can watch it online at the link below.