Party politics within Canada has, for the most part, been consistent, and this is because Canadians, for the most part, are centrist in their political values: we do not want extremist parties with extreme policies, whether this be to the left or the right of the political spectrum.
This does not mean that our political values are static, for in the last 50 years or so, they have vacillated along the Liberal ideological continuum between the classical and reform ideals of this philosophy.
At the philosophical heart of liberalism, and this does not mean the Liberal Party, is the ideal of the laissez-faire system of economics. In its earliest form, this meant having a small government that took a “hands off” approach to our economy, allowing market forces to determine its outcome. It also believed in the ideal of equality of the individual, allowing for the freedom of choice for our personal avocations, protecting civil freedoms under the rule of law. It was believed that such an approach would lead to a strong, happy society.
In the midst of the 19th century, the ideal of socialism raised concerns to the efficacy and fairness of this Liberal ideology. It espoused the ideals of a conflicted society that exploited the poor, who did not have true freedoms of choice and opportunities.
At the end of this century and in the early decades of the 20th century, liberalism adapted to the changing political values within western society, including Canada, to foster conditions that offered equality of opportunities. Though still valuing the role of individualism, it accepted there was a collective responsibility for society to help improve the education and health of citizens, which in turn improved the welfare of our economy. Note that this was distinguished from socialism, which looked to an ideal of the equality of outcomes.
Though this background information seems quite abstract, we can see the swings within Canadian politics from the 1960s, which saw more reform liberal ideals take hold within Canada. By the 1970s, these values would take hold within Alberta’s politics. During these decades, we would see strong investment into the social economy, and all the political parties campaigned on this fundamental philosophy.
The advent of a number of recessions in the 1980s, however, saw a shift in the reasoning of political parties, and emulating Reaganomics, Canada returned toward a more classical approach of liberalism, both federally and provincially, in 1993. This set the tone for party politics and their economic policies for the next two decades.
It is important to understand this ideological undertone within Canadian politics, as it raises the question of whether there has been a shift back toward reform liberalism after the 2015 elections, or was this only a glitch?
Do Canadians, do Albertans want to be left alone to their individual choices, or do they value the equality of opportunity that our social economy provides? This will be the big question for the next elections.
John Kennair is an international consultant and doctor of laws who lives in St. Albert.