Red Tory | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Red Tory

The language of Red Toryism became popular in the mid-1960s when Gad Horowitz suggested that George Grant was Red Tory.

Red Tory

The language of Red Toryism became popular in the mid-1960s when Gad Horowitz suggested that George Grant was Red Tory. The publication and immediate success of Grant's work, Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (1965), made it abundantly clear that there were historic forms of conservatism in Canada that could not be equated with US republicanism. Horowitz, in the article "Tories, Socialists and the Demise of Canada" (1965), argued that there was a "Tory touch" in the Canadian political tradition that leaned more towards the commonweal and socialism than did the free enterprise system of Blue Toryism. It was this "Tory touch" that was more "Red" than "Blue" in orientation that distinguished the Canadian from the US notions of Conservatism.

Grant denied that he was a Red Tory in Horowitz's understanding of the term, but there was no doubt that Grant, as a Canadian conservative, did not stand within the Blue Tory line and lineage. Grant stood on the shoulders of many that had gone before him, and many followed him in their understanding of Canadian conservatism. Charles Taylor's missive, Radical Tories: The Conservative Tradition in Canada (1982), went further than Horowitz in highlighting the family tree: Taylor suggested that Leacock, Sandwell, Deacon, Creighton, Morton, Purdy and Forsey stood within such a tradition. Grant was, of course, part of the clan. Taylor could have included Acorn rather than Purdy. Dalton Camp and David Orchard both worked within the Progressive Conservative party to further the Red Tory way.

The pro-American stance taken by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signalled a different attitude towards the US than many Tories had taken in Canadian history. The change in the Canadian understanding of conservatism from Mulroney to Preston Manning to Stephen Harper was a shift from Red to Blue Toryism, from a distinctive nationalist Tory vision of Canada to more of an annexationist/integrationist position. Grant's Lament for a Nation and Ernest Manning's Political Realignment: A Challenge to Thoughtful Canadians (1967) exhibit stark differences between Grant's older notion of Canadian conservatism and Manning's more republican read of the conservative way.

There is no doubt there was in Canada a notion of conservatism that could not be equated with republicanism. This tradition was, in a literary sense, poignantly and succinctly summed up in Robertson Davies' The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks. The language of Red Toryism has come to mean many things, but such a political heritage is part of the distinctive and unique Canadian way, and the "Tory touch" means that historic conservatism in Canada does have leftist leanings.

Further Reading