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Canadian Politics


Red Tories: Best hope for a green restoration?

by Kevin Little

Imagine I am describing for you a candidate in my riding. He is the “greenest” of advocates for the environment, says that he went into politics to ensure that the needs of the least are protected, supports institutions like the CBC and prefers that a surplus of government revenue be diverted to entitlement programs before tax cuts. Which party do you think this mythical candidate would be running for? The NDP, of course! Maybe, just maybe, he would be a Liberal. But wait, no, this candidate is none other than ordained Baptist minister and former Nova Scotia environment minister Mark Parent, a proud Progressive Conservative. Shocking.

In the 21st century it is simply unheard of for a conservative politician to be an outspoken advocate for the poor, the environment or state-run institutions. And that really bugs Parent. In fact some might say Parent is on a personal campaign to save the “Progressive” side of the conservative movement in Canada. Although Mark Parent prefers the term “Classical Toryism,” most call him a Red Tory.

Recently Parent addressed the Manning Centre and laid out the three basic tenets that make a “progressive” conservative vision unique:

  • the influence of British conservatism (obligation of rich to poor, the recognition of human sin, the emphasis on the community over and above the individual, peace/order/good government, tradition, conservation of the environment, caution about change, hard work);
  • a vigorous and strong role for government in the economy;
  • a rootedness in local culture that can give voice to the organic identity of a people.

It is not surprising that Atlantic Canada remains the last habitat for Red Tories in this country. Since Confederation Atlantic Canadians have understood that the price of their participation in this experiment was the loss of their manufacturing sector. They have a sense of being “owed,” and over the decades Ottawa has made large-scale government investments in the regional economy. Stephen Harper may see this mentality as the “culture of defeat,” but to Atlantic Canadians it is simply recognition that some capital is needed to create the jobs and economic activity necessary for a healthy organic community. Without indigenous captains of manufacturing industry, government ministers of the crown become the “little engine that could.”

What Parent does not address in his lectures and articles is the tension between dependency and collective economic goals. One likely reason that Tories across the country have moved right is the concern – in their ranks and beyond – that dependency may generate a spirit that can deflate economic creativity and productivity. While Red Tories value hard work as much as any other group of

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About the Author

Kevin Little
Kevin Little is a United Church minister with 20 years experience in programs and nonprofits that assist the marginalized.


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