Chris MacKenzie. Pro-Family Politics and Fringe Parties in Canada. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2005. 304 pp. $35.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7748-1097-5; $93.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7748-1096-8.
Reviewed by Rollen Lee (Department of History, University of Western Ontario)
Published on H-Canada (August, 2006)
A "Resurgence" Party/Movement on the Left Coast
One of the most surprising statistics that came out of Fire and Ice, Michael Adams' 2003 comparison of American and Canadian social values, was the affinity rates to the statement "the father of the family must be master in his own house," which indicated that every region of Canada was less deferential to patriarchal authority than any given region of the United States. British Columbia reported the second-lowest rates of affinity, with just 17 percent who agreed with the statement. At the same time that this survey was being done in Canada, however, the Family Coalition Party of British Columbia--a pro-family party with strong Christian elements which had been formed as British Columbia's Social Credit Party evolved in the early 1990s--chose to merge with other minor right-of-center parties to form the Unity Party. They hoped that their collective effort would lead to some electoral success in the fast-approaching election of 2001 by drawing upon this traditionally minded portion of the population, since 17 percent support for a third party would legitimate its status.
Chris MacKenzie's Pro-Family Politics and Fringe Parties in Canada is primarily focused upon the development of the Family Coalition Party and its role in the eventual creation of a new conservative, religiously minded party in British Columbia. The genesis of the Family Coalition Party followed the attempt by the new Social Credit leadership in the early 1990s to renew the party in the wake of the controversial premiership of the socially conservative Bill Vander Zalm in the late 1980s--particularly his attempt to remove provincial funding for abortions. The Social Credit Party not only declared itself to be a pro-choice party, but also removed mention of its Christian character from the party's constitution. Outraged by the treatment of the former premier and then by this rejection of tradition, several Social Credit members who had joined to support Vander Zalm decided to form their own party. The result was a party that was also a movement, dedicated to a socially conservative perspective on issues like abortion, euthanasia, homosexual rights, feminism, family support, and education.
Pro-Family Politics and Fringe Parties in Canada is divided into five main chapters in addition to its introduction and conclusion. Each chapter explores a different part of the Family Coalition Party: history; ideological roots; form as a movement and placement in relation to other movements; place within the structure of Canadian politics; and the tensions inherent in its dual party-movement nature. Care is taken to place the Family Coalition Party (FCP) within a continuum of movements and party-movements in each of these sections.
The history of the FCP is, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of challenges and some questionable successes. In spite of some measure of support for the party's agenda, the FCP had trouble building up its membership and maintaining its finances. Its most rapid gains came in tandem with an early speaking tour by Vander Zalm done on behalf of the party, but most of these gains faded away once he affiliated with the British Columbia Reform Party instead. The party's leadership--who have been extensively interviewed by MacKenzie--repeatedly cited problems with finances and with a dearth of new leaders for the party as contributing factors in their decision to opt for a merger at the end of the decade. Later, MacKenzie also notes that absorption into a larger conservative party that was willing to adhere to pro-family ideals was a goal from the beginning for the party (p. 222). Although details about the financial outlook for the British Columbia Unity Party (another socially conservative provincial political party) are not discussed, it is notable that these tired leaders of the FCP promptly assumed positions of leadership in the new party and ensured that it reflected their ideals--so much so that one of the FCP leaders impolitically claimed that Unity was the new name for the FCP rather than a new party (p. 66).
The vast majority of the discussion of the ideological roots of the FCP is devoted to post-World War I political discourse. However, there are a few oddities in the discussion. Although it may be nit-picking, it seems strange to include Edmund Burke as part of the conservative heritage and then fast-forward to the twentieth century (p. 73). Some mention and discussion is made of a variety of upstart parties throughout the twentieth century (the Progressives, Social Credit, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation [CCF], Reform/Canadian Alliance), but some useful, even expected, texts that address these parties are left out. For instance, David Laycock's investigations of Reform and the Canadian Alliance are cited, but his Populism and Democratic Thought in the Canadian Prairies, 1910-1945 (1990) --which explores Social Credit and the CCF, among others--might have provided further depth to the range of historic national influences at play in British Columbia. Indeed, little is made of Social Credit at all; hardly any indication is given of its rise in British Columbia. or of its character before the 1980s, and little is said of it in Alberta. William Aberhardt is discussed, of course, but Ernest Manning is only mentioned as the father of longtime Reform Party leader Preston Manning and as the director of a radio Bible program, rather than credited as the long-serving Social Credit premier of Alberta (p. 95).
The discussion of the "party as movement" and the "movement as party" for the FCP is summed up by MacKenzie's observation that it was saddled with the worst of both worlds: it was too political to be considered an authentic movement, thereby dissuading supporters, and it was not legitimately political enough to garner voters who feared that they would simply be wasting their votes if they supported it (p. 199). As a movement, it does not fit neatly with other so-called new social movement parties that tend to be left wing. Rather, MacKenzie labels the FCP as a "resurgence movement," agitating against further social change while promoting the restoration of "lost but previously dominant and popularized cultural beliefs" (p. 132). Members trusted that there was a possibility to effect this sort of change--one interviewee cites the fiscal example of Ontario under Mike Harris in the book (p.139)--but without electoral victories of any sort the opportunity to realize this sort of restoration would only remain a hope.
Tellingly, the greatest electoral victory claimed for the FCP was the defeat of new Social Credit leader Grace McCarthy in a by-election in 1994; the FCP candidate did not defeat McCarthy, but did garner enough votes that, had even a third gone to the Social Credit party, McCarthy would not have lost by about seventy votes (pp. 55, 175). However, MacKenzie also notes that "the vast majority of FCP members ... had never belonged to any other political party before the FCP because of their disenchantment with the disingenuous, opportunistic nature of parties and politicians," so one cannot be sure that any significant number of these votes would have ended up for McCarthy had the FCP not been there (p. 173). Otherwise, the party rarely managed to garner more than 1 percent of all votes in any election, and the Unity Party managed only 3 percent in the 2001 election.
Can the experience of the FCP be legitimately claimed as a victory for pro-family politics? Appropriately, MacKenzie does not appear to indicate his opinion. Unfortunately, a lot of the context that would be necessary for an appraisal of its stature as either movement or party is not well developed here. FCP rhetoric and positions are often presented on their own. For example, an extract from a 1996 FCP newsletter that addressed sex education modules for Grade 10 is briefly introduced with some mention of the provincially mandated purpose of the class in which it was presented, but no response by a teacher or health professional is presented as contrast, let alone a fuller quotation of the original text (pp. 31-32). Little is made of other fringe parties in Canada or even British Columbia in this text, save for comparisons with the CCF or the Green Party due to their "movement" nature. Hardly any contrast is made with the positions of the large parties in British Columbia, either, with the exception of the evolution of Social Credit policy at the start of the 1990s. Furthermore, the use of acronyms is somewhat counterintuitive in places, since some of them were for general movement types (e.g., pro-family movement equals "PFM," and social movement organization equals "SMO") that could have been named in full. Hopefully, later editions will correctly note that televangelist Pat Robertson, not "televangelist Pat Buchanan," headed the Christian Coalition in 1996 (p. 6).
Pro-Family Politics and Fringe Parties in Canada is a detailed and informative discussion of the issues and tensions that surround fringe parties in general, though it primarily is addressed to the situation of the FCP in British Columbia rather than the particulars of Canada's regional polities. It provides a detailed examination of this party, although it does not necessarily indicate why this faith-based, goals-oriented party should have found success in a province so notably secular. Many voters or activists may have found elements of the party's goals appealing, but far too few of them could see the purpose of identifying with this party/movement rather than others. Scholars of Canadian politics and religious movements, on the other hand, should find a fair degree of material to work with here.
. Michael Adams, Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada, and the Myth of Converging Values (Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2003), pp. 86-88. Adams considers this data, collected in 2000, to be "one of the most remarkable pieces of data we have gathered in the past decade" (p. 88).
. Ibid., p. 87. Quebec featured the lowest rate (15 percent), while the Prairies were highest in Canada (21 percent). New England had the lowest American rate (29 percent), while the Deep South had the highest rate overall (71 percent).
. In the 2001 election, the incumbent NDP was devastated by the provincial Liberal Party, which took 77 of 79 seats and nearly 60 percent of the vote. Concerns about vote-splitting on the right may have reduced the Unity vote. This book went to press before the 2005 election; the Elections B.C. website indicates that Unity, combined with another eighteen parties, only took 0.59 percent, whereas the Marijuana Party garnered 0.65 percent of the vote.
. See Robert K. Burkinshaw, Pilgrims in Lotus Land: Conservative Protestantism in British Columbia, 1917-1981 (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1995). According to Burkinshaw, 21.3 percent of the population was in the "no religion" group in the 1981 census--the highest rate in the country, and "nearly triple the national average of 7.2 per cent." A Gallup poll taken the year before indicated that only 21 percent of British Columbians attended church or synagogue in the last week (pp. 201-202). However, it should be noted that this poll was taken on June 28; in my experience, church attendance is rarely consistent in the summer months for many people.
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