Red Tory

From Academic Kids

Red Tory is a nickname given to a political tradition in Canada's conservative political parties. Red Tories were traditionally to the left of the rest of the party. Originally it referred to the branch of the Tory party that was committed to the welfare state. Modern Red Tories, however, define themselves as "fiscally conservative and socially progressive". The term Blue Tory has been coined to describe more right wing Canadian conservatives.



The notion of Red Toryism was developed by George Grant in the 1950s and 1960s who argued that Canadian conservatism was strongly influenced by ideals such as collectivism and community responsibility. These Tories rejected liberal values such as individualism. Red Tories were thus socially conservative supporting traditional institutions like religion and the monarchy but fiscally liberal with a strong belief in the welfare state. Grant traced Red Toryism to the beginning of Canadian history. The collective nation building policies of Sir John A. Macdonald are seen as the foundation of the Red Tory tradition.

The origin of the adjective "red" is not known. The reference may be to progressive aspects of Red Tory principles, since parties of the left have traditionally used the colour red. It may have been a reference to the British roots of the Tory old guard. Others think it comes from the Liberal Party of Canada. The Liberals often used red as their colour, while the Conservatives used blue.

Grant and Gad Horowitz contrasted Canada with the United States which was lacking this collectivist tradition. Horowitz argued that Canada's strong socialist movement grew from Red Toryism, and that this explains why socialism has never had much success in the United States. In some ways, Red Tories were thus closer to the NDP than to the Liberals.


The Red Tories historically served as the most powerful faction within the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, though its electoral success has been mixed. Most of the party's leaders have been labeled Red Tories, including Sir John A. Macdonald, John Diefenbaker, Robert Stanfield, and Joe Clark.

The heartland of Red Toryism was the Maritimes and Ontario and Red Tories dominated the provincial politics of these regions. The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party has held power in that province for most of the time since Confederation. The Ontario PCs were often labelled Red Tory, for example under the leadership of William Davis from 1971 to 1985. Under Davis, the Tories often ran to the left of the Ontario Liberal Party. Some political commentators have suggested that the new leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, John Tory, is in the mould of the Bill Davis Red Tory tradition.

Throughout the Maritimes, Red Tories are the dominant force in the Conservative Party. This tends to explain why Canadian provinces are often ruled at the provincial level by a party that may be Conservative yet at the same time elect Liberal Members of Parliament to the Canadian House of Commons. Outsiders may not understand the large amount of ideological common ground shared by the two nominally different parties.


The dominance of Red Toryism can be seen as a part of the international Post-War Consensus that saw the welfare state embraced by the major parties of most of the western world. However, in the late 70's and 80's the Progressive Conservative Party suffered a string of electoral defeats, under Red Tory leaders Robert Stanfield and Joe Clark. Pressure began to grow within the party for a new approach. Joe Clark's leadership was succesfully challenged by more conservative Blue Tory PC Party members who endorsed Brian Mulroney. Mulroney represented the so-called neoconservative right, committed to strong fiscal conservatism in the style of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Toryism in general, and Red Toryism in paticular began to decline in relevance as a political force in Canada.

Red Toryism never held much sway in Western Canada where small-government and socially conservatism has been dominant. The growing population and power of the west also played an important role in this transformation. Eventually the explicitly anti-Red Tory Reform Party arose in the west and soon was larger than the Progressive Conservatives.

Throughout the federal PC Party's decline, Red Tories were generally seen as the most vocal opponents of the Unite the Right initiative, which proposed merging or co-operating with the competing Reform Party of Canada (later the Canadian Alliance). Red Tories considered the Canadian Alliance to be too radically conservative.

At the provincial level, Albertan Red Tory supporters of Peter Lougheed were marginalized following Ralph Klein's assumption of power. As right-wing support for the Progressive Conservatives bled away to the Reform Party and then the Canadian Alliance, Red Tories increasingly gained control of the federal party. The controversial election of leader Peter MacKay, however, paved the way for merger with the Canadian Alliance.

When the PCs did ultimately merge in late 2003 with the Canadian Alliance to form the Conservative Party of Canada, many Red Tories expressed the view that they were "now without a political home." Notable Red Tories such as Scott Brison, John Herron and Keith Martin (who, although ideologically a Red Tory, was actually a Canadian Alliance MP) defected to the Liberal Party of Canada. Some Red Tories joined the new Conservative Party. Some prominent Red Tories, including Joe Clark and André Bachand, refused to join the new party, or any other, and sat for the remainder of their terms as independents. A small number formed the fledgling Progressive Canadian Party led by Ernie Schreiber, while others may have joined other centre or centre-left parties.

Definition drift?

With the conservative movement's drift to the political right, the term Red Tory is often used today not to refer to those in the traditional Red Tory tradition of George Grant, Dalton Camp or Robert Stanfield but simply to Blue Tory moderates in the conservative movement, particularly those who reject or do not sufficiently embrace social conservatism such as James Moore, Gerald Keddy and Jim Prentice. For the most part the unmitigated faith in big government has disappeared from Canadian politics with even the NDP approaching the subject with some trepidation.

Thus, in the 2004 Conservative Party leadership election, Tony Clement was sometimes referred to as a Red Tory even though Clement was on the right wing of the Mike Harris cabinet. Clement is a neoconservative, who advocates privatization, tax cuts, the curtailment of social and economic development spending and free trade with the United States. He opposes government intervention in the economy. Clement's stances are policies that most traditional Red Tories would reject.

David Orchard and his supporters have put themselves as the modern inheritors of the Red Tory tradition, although many Red Tories would not embrace this strident opponent of free trade with the United States as a Red Tory.

Red Tories post-merger

One of the most important issues facing the newly created Conservative Party is what will happen with the Red Tories. Many high-profile Red Tories had opposed the merger and do not support the new party. The union has resulted in a number of Red Tories leaving the new party, either to retire or to defect to the Liberals. The latter group includes Members of Parliament (MPs) Scott Brison, André Bachand, Rick Borotsik, Keith Martin, and John Herron. Joe Clark served the balance of his parliamentary term as a Progressive Conservative, outside of the new Conservative party caucus.

Other high-profile Red Tories such as Sinclair Stevens and Flora MacDonald applied to re-register the old Progressive Conservative Party name; however this was refused by Elections Canada. On March 26, 2004, the Progressive Canadian Party was registered with Elections Canada. It aims to be perceived as a revival of the "PC Party". It is not clear how successful it will be in this regard, since no prominent former PC Tories such as Clark, Stevens, or MacDonald, or any sitting MP or senator, is associated with the new party.

Finally, some Red Tories have decided to join the new Conservative Party. A group of them formed the Red Tory Council, a group constructed to give voice to the Red Tories, monitor the party and its positions, and to prevent too great a swing to the right.

Belinda Stronach, an instigator of the new party yet relative newcomer to politics who placed second in the first Conservative leadership election, spoke up for government intervention to ensure growth in the economy, and generally stood against social conservatism, particularly in her personal support for same-sex marriage rights. Stronach's positions on these issues are ones that Red Tories typically support, and she was considered by many to be the most prominent Red Tory member of the Conservative caucus in the 38th Parliament. However, she crossed the floor and joined the Liberals in the House of Commons on May 17, 2005.

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