A century ago, by stealth and circumstance, socialism crept into Canadian society. It has since become entrenched, part of our ethos, for we’re proud of our mixed economy, our medicare, our bailouts, our social safety net, and our Crown corporations.
Yet they come at a cost. Big government, the nanny state, the welfare state—call it what you will—isn’t free, and federal and provincial tax rates attest to this, forcing many of us to hand over half the income we make so that others, less productive and able perhaps, can enjoy the services and benefits of modern Canada. Our national debt has ballooned to over a trillion dollars, forcing much of Ottawa’s budget toward paying interest costs to foreign lenders rather than improving our roads and military security.
As drug use soars and drug deaths mount, as suicides increase, and as faith and the tenets of Christian, Jewish, and other religions recede in a whirl of humanist and progressive values and priorities, sadness and ennui, as well as crippling provincial and federal debt, grip Canada. Long before this pandemic, as far back as the 1930s, socialist programs took root and did harm.
We know that Canadians of the late 1800s, mostly rural and mostly on the farm, asked little of government and got little in return. Most people had never heard of socialism; if they had, it was some strange way of thinking that came from Great Britain, some Fabian ideal. In Canada there was no income tax, and almost no bailouts, no medicare or safety nets, yet many who lived then reported a common theme: “Life was tougher in some ways, but it was also better.” Read Nellie McClung’s “Clearing in the West” for a sense of this ethic. As a girl she lived in 1880s Manitoba on a farm beside the Souris River.
Farmers then epitomized self-reliance and free-market values. They toiled and helped their neighbours, attended church, and remained hopeful that crops lost this year to hail or drought would be compensated next year by full granaries, “God willing.”
Yet, paradoxically, farmers greased the wheels of early socialism in Canada. When farming fell on hard times, as it often did, agrarian discontent spurred calls for co-operatives and government aid in transportation and marketing. By 1914 the mounting grievances of farmers found expression in the emergence of new political organizations such as the United Farmers of Ontario, which demanded public ownership—socialist measures—of such utilities as transportation and power.
As Edgar McInnis writes in “Canada: A Political and Social History,” similar movements were growing in the West. “By 1919 these western groups had launched the One Big Union movement, whose avowed aim was the achievement of socialism by means of a general strike,” he writes. Communists—those who espouse violent revolution and state-owned means of production—had infiltrated such movements, stealthily fomenting revolt, which climaxed in 1919 with the Winnipeg General Strike.
Unemployment in the Depression gave rise to the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in 1933, forerunner to the New Democratic Party. J.S. Woodsworth, a Methodist minister who had been active in the 1919 strike, led the new socialist party, which condemned capitalism in its Regina Manifesto. This name had echoes of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, which declared that workers had “nothing to lose but their chains.”
Since then, intelligent leaders like Tommy Douglas and Ed Broadbent gave credence to democratic socialism. Workers, in fact, never did have chains. It was the rise of industry, democracy, and free enterprise that broke the chains of feudalism, liberating millions. Today the chains come from unions, which require workers to hand over part of their pay and force non-members to join if they wish to work in certain fields.
Unions did, initially, improve pay and working conditions. The problem is they’ve gone too far, wielding too much power for the good of society. Teachers’ unions, for example, are greedy for higher salaries and intrude into curriculums, hurting our kids and our budgets. Provincial governments run scared of the unions, which feed the parties with donations and represent large voting blocs. Public union pay scales far exceed those in the private sector, creating conflicts and resentments.
Through the years of Mackenzie King, Lester Pearson, and Pierre Trudeau came a veritable deluge of state-run programs, many with merit but all with bureaucracies and waste: unemployment insurance in 1940, family allowance in 1944, disability allowance in 1954, welfare assistance in 1958, medicare in the mid-1960s (which many doctors opposed), the National Energy Program of the 1980s.
The NEP set out to make Canada more of a player in the production of oil and natural gas by imposing taxes, restrictions, price controls, and other intrusions in the free market economy. It ended up being widely despised as an illegal encroachment on provincial jurisdiction, just as the current carbon tax is deemed unconstitutional by many, and bad policy to boot. The NEP ended up doing more harm than good and was dismantled by Brian Mulroney.
Free enterprise and democratic government are far and away the best system of wealth creation and rule dispensation ever fashioned. Why? Because we were born to be free, to strive, to build and create.
Capitalism encourages this ethic; communism denies it. Democracy enables freedoms; communism condemns and outlaws them. All is done “for the state.” When the communist experiment in the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 under the weight of its own inefficiency and corruption, people danced in the streets of Moscow, because finally they were free.
Its legacy is a terrible toll of purges, forced starvation in the Ukraine, failed central planning, limited and shoddy consumer goods, secret police and disappearances, Gulags that imprisoned millions, rampant alcoholism and distrust—in a word, misery. Communist China has a similar story to share.
In Canada, one of the richest and most stable countries in the world, we have wisely preserved our Enlightenment values of individual freedom, responsibility, self-reliance, and free enterprise, though today they are under attack. Idealists among us ignore the truths of human nature and mistakenly think people and society are perfectible; they are not. We are fallible beings, and some of us are downright evil.
Realists deal with facts, not wishful thinking. They know it is best to live in systems of economy and governance which stress individual action, encourage the flowering of creative enterprise, and give voice to the free will each of us carries from birth.
Even today, as questionable pandemic measures shut down economies, cause bankruptcies, and deny basic rights, people are speaking up and marching in the streets. Many doctors and economists in Canada and elsewhere oppose the shutdowns, which are forced upon us not by elected representatives but appointed bureaucrats, echoing socialist practice.
John Locke would be pleased by such resistance. He and other Enlightenment thinkers gave democracies their philosophical foundation. As we see, our rights can be denied. Our duty is to ensure this is only temporary.
Brad Bird is an award-winning reporter and editorial writer based in British Columbia.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.