Ever since Stephen Harper merged his Canadian Alliance with Peter MacKay’s Progressive Conservatives in 2003, there’s been some confusion about the true identity of the reunited right. Are the new Conservatives, at heart, the continuation of Alliance-style western populism, or the rebirth of eastern Tory pragmatism? Sen. Hugh Segal bids to sort it all out with his brisk account of the Canadian conservative tradition, stretching unbroken, as he sees it, from New France to today’s Harper government. Segal invents a catchphrase for the Tory way—”nation and enterprise”—that’s expansive enough to include all comers. “It is a clear Canadian rebalancing,” he writes, “of the traditional relationship between free enterprise and private capital on one side versus public interest and social responsibility on the other.”
Segal sets out less to define an ideology than to link up Tory history, always contrasted against Liberalism. He emphasizes the 19th century’s “Durham-Elgin divide.” Liberals descend, he argues, from Lord Durham, the governor general who advocated centralized government and assimilation of French Canadians; Conservatives uphold the more enlightened view of Lord Elgin, the later GG who argued for accommodating the French. Segal draws a straight line from Elgin through Brian Mulroney’s Meech Lake accord to Harper’s recognition of the Québécois as a nation.
He’s strongest, though, on undervalued Conservative contributions, like R.B. Bennett’s Depression-era reforms and the policies of provincial Tory regimes during long stretches of Liberal rule in Ottawa. When it comes to those Liberals, Segal, a stalwart Tory, is weaker. Having dismissed them as congenitally insensitive toward French Canadians, for instance, he glosses over the triumphs in Quebec of Laurier and Trudeau. But this book isn’t about that rival tradition. On his own party and its deep roots, Segal offers a warm and timely family history.