by Dominic Cardy
Kevin Little defends Red Tories but offers little hope. On the plus side, New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservatives won a landslide this September on a platform of lavish and often superficially egalitarian promises – for example, the PCs were the only major party that promised to reverse tax cuts for the wealthy. Next door a very Red Tory, Jamie Baillie, became leader of the Nova Scotia PCs. But rearranging furniture in the bunker will not slow the extinction of an outdated ideology.
The Red Tory conceit is that social democratic policies and economic protectionism can be deployed to support more traditional social relationships. Old elites maintain their place while giving everyone else enough money and services to keep them quiet. Lip service is paid to hard work and fiscal restraint. The core contradiction in the Red Tory idea, that old societies can harness modern economies, is exposed in the record of profligacy and debt that marks Red Tories in government, at both the federal and the provincial level.
Little posits that Atlantic Canada, the last bastion of a Red Tory idea now expunged from the federal and most provincial Conservative parties, struck some sort of economic bargain with Upper Canada at Confederation, giving the region the right to take transfer payments in exchange for the destruction of our manufacturing sector and subsequent declines in productivity. The reality is more prosaic, as old cultural and commercial elites traded the risks and promise of a modern society for a quiet and well subsidized decline.
As a result, economic development in Atlantic Canada took on characteristics of underdevelopment usually seen in poor countries, with transfer payments taking the place of international assistance. Local elites have benefited, in cash and influence, from kowtowing to policies enjoying popularity in Ottawa or in “have” provinces, and have been rewarded by voters benefiting from jobs or job-creation programs.
Red Toryism, like all ideologies that look nostalgically to an imagined past, inflicts economic and social costs on the majority. New Brunswick has lavished hundreds of millions of dollars on preserving increasingly unprofitable resource-based industries, and disguised its inattention to health and education programs through comfortable accommodation with public-sector unions. The costs of these actions have been borne by the 56 per cent of the province’s residents who have low literacy skills and find themselves trapped in a cycle of underemployment. The opportunities of the modern world are largely closed to them.