Elite Fallout in Canada

By October 2, 1998 No Comments

In many ways, no further argument should be required to prove the existence of a Canadian political elite. However, describing it in detail is hazardous, as the risk of getting (and deserving) egg on one’s face is quite high. Perhaps the greatest crime in this century has been making sweeping generalizations about people, and pegging large numbers of them into a particular hole. Generalization can lead to demonization, and may even result in persecution. While Canada’s 20th Century experience has been far more benign that that of most nations, one shou Id paste labels very carefully – if at all. However, if one is reluctant to make a generalized description of an elite class, those who belong to this group seem to have no reservations against generalizing about those who do not.
The other eggy risk arises from arguments about collective behaviour and notions of conspiracy theory. If one were to argue that Canada’s elites were moving in a particular direction because of some secret master design, one should rightly be lumped in with those who count gunmen on knolls and aliens in Area 51. Conspiracies rarely exist, and those that might occur must be simple and limited in design. What is far more likely is the natural outcome of collective bias, interests and the career progression of some talented people – then stir in short-sightedness, egotism and opportunism.
Does a Canadian political elite exist? Yes. Its existence should be self-evident, but those who do not care to accept our word for it are invited to read a little more widely. The development of political elites is no new story in the North American democracies. Its split from the general population is a more recent development – characteristic of the splintering effects of postmodernism.
A precise description of the Canadian political elite is a hazy undertaking. For a start, it is emphatically not some sort of quasi- aristocracy or self-selected oligarchy. Rather it appears to consist of a meritocratic core and a large outer layer of those who share the core’s values.
The Meritocracy that forms the core generally holds to the following characteristics:

  • Mostly drawn from urban Ontario and Quebec;
  • Mostly drawn from the ranks of educated professionals (lawyers particularly);
  • Generally follow a career path tracing through academia, the federal civil service, and senior positions within major corporations or top flight legal firms;
  • At the core, it is almost invariably white and male – despite cosmetic appointments;
  • Those interested in holding elected office usually serve long political apprenticeships within party structures;
  • A deep skepticism about the common sense of the hoi polloi;
  • A fondness for non-democratic decision- making;
  • An absolute refusal to accept the legitimacy of dissenting viewpoints;
  • A shared belief in the efficacy of centralized power in problem solving.

These characteristics only loosely define the heart of Canada’s governing elite. Beyond the core, Canada’s elite is wide open to anyone
who cares to earn their way into it. Admission to the wider body is also simple: If one shares the last four characteristics, one belongs. As a result, our “elite” is actually quite large.
Much of contemporary Canada is a creation of our elite. However, the public has seldom been consulted on real matters of interest, being told that it could instead vote for one of the three federal political parties that variously ,shared in the elite structure. After this, no further contribution was solicited nor welcome.
Elite perspectives dominated our mass media – who often saw themselves as a part of the elite and its main defence. This dominance only now may be cracking. However, for the past quarter century, media attitudes towards Canadian opposition to the elite have been neutral at best, and scathing otherwise.
Currently, opposition to Canada’s elites is growing – but slowly and with difficulty. Above all else, our elites are political animals and skilled in modern communications management. The diffuse and disunited voices of this opposition are mostly drawn from the despised blue collar and entrepreneurial middle classes. Most elements are almost incapable of co-operating with each other and are painfully slow at re-acquiring political clout. The domination of the elites shall likely continue for some time – and (unless they reform themselves) will cost Canada dear.
Suggested Reading List ~: Joe Armstrong; Farewell the Peaceful Kingdom ~: Norman Cantor; The American Century ~:’ James Fleming; Circles of Power ~: Richard J. Herrnst~in & Charles Murray; The Bell Curve (Although the book’s conclusions about race incited explosive controversy, its much more telling observations about the development of an elite class in America have been almost entirely ignored.) ~: Mark Kingwell; Dreams of Millennium ~: Christopher Lasch; The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy ~: Peter C. Newman; The Canadian Revolution; ~i Conor Cruise O’Brien; On the Eve of the Millennium ~i John Ralston Saul; Reflections of a Siamese Twin, Voltaire’s Bastards, & The Doubter’s Companion