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Red Tory is a term given to a political philosophy, tradition, and disposition in Canadamarker and is juxtaposed with "blue Tory". In Canada, the phenomenon of "red toryism" has fundamentally, if not exclusively, been found in provincial and federal Conservative political parties. It is a definable historical legacy that marks differences in the creation, development, and evolution of the political cultures of Canada and the United States. Canadian conservatism and American conservatism are different from each other in important ways.

The term 'red tory' has also been used by individuals such as the British theologian and historian Phillip Blond to promote a variety of capitalism which respects traditional values, local communities and allows the 'little man' to participate in the economy, as opposed to neoliberalism, socialism and communism.


Historically, Canadian conservatism has been derived from the British Tory tradition, with a distinctive concern for a balance between individual rights and collectivism, as mediated through a traditional pre-industrial standard of morality — which has never been as evident in American conservatism . Today, however, Red Tories are often simply characterized as the more left-wing faction of the contemporary Conservative party, or a Conservative committed to the welfare state and/or liberal social policy.

Red Toryism derives largely from a Britishmarker Tory and imperialist tradition that maintained the unequal division of wealth and political privilege among social classes can be justified, if members of the privileged class contribute to the common good. Red Tories supported traditional institutions like religion and the monarchy, and maintenance of the social order. Later, this would manifest itself as support for the welfare state. This belief in a common good, as expanded on in Colin Campbell and William Christian's Political Parties and Ideologies in Canada, is at the root of Red Toryism.


In distinction to the American experience where class divisions were seen as undemocratic (although still existing), Canadian Tories adopted a more patriarchal view of government. Monarchy, public order and good government — understood as dedication to the common good — preceded, moderated, and balanced an unequivocal belief in individual rights and liberty.

This type of Canadian conservatism is derived largely from the Tory tradition evoked by English conservative thinkers and statesmen such as Richard Hooker, the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, and Benjamin Disraeli, later the First Earl of Beaconsfield. The primary influences on Canadian Toryism in the Victorian age were Disraeli's One Nation Conservatism and the radical Toryism advocated by Lord Randolph Churchill. Inherent in these Tory traditions was the ideal of noblesse oblige and a conservative communitarianism.

In Victorian times, these points were the pre-eminent strains of conservative thought in the British Empire, and were advanced by many in the Tory faction of Sir John A. Macdonald's conservative coalition in the Canadas. None of this lineage denies that Tory traditions of communitarianism and collectivism had existed in the British North American colonies since the Loyalist exodus from the American colonies between 1776 and 1796. It is this aspect that is one of the primary points of difference between the conservative political cultures of Canada and the United States.

The explicit notion of a "Red" Toryism was developed by Gad Horowitz in the 1960s, who argued that there was a significant Tory ideology in Canada. This vision contrasted Canada with the United Statesmarker, which was seen as lacking this collectivist tradition, as it was expunged from the American political culture after the American Revolution and the exodus of the United Empire Loyalists. Horowitz argued that Canada's stronger socialist movement grew from Toryism, and that this explains why socialism has never had much electoral success in the United States. This also meant that Canadian conceptions of liberty were more collective and communitarian, and could be seen as more directly derivative of the English tradition, than that of American practices and theories.

Horowitz identified George Grant and Eugene Forsey as exemplars of this strain of thought, which saw a central role for Christianity in public affairs and was profoundly critical of capitalism and the dominant business élites. Forsey became a Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) member, while Grant remained a Conservative — although he became disdainful of an overall shift in policy toward liberal economics and continentalism, something Forsey saw happening decades earlier. When the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker fell in 1963, largely due to the BOMARC controversy, Grant wrote Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism, a book about the nature of traditional Canadian nationhood and independence that would become a lodestar of Red Toryism. Grant defined an essential difference between the founding of the Canadian and American nations as "Canada was predicated on the rights of nations as well as on the rights of individuals." This definition recognized Canada's dual founding nature as an English-speaking and Francophone nation.

The adjective "red" refers to the left-leaning nature of Red Toryism, since socialist parties have traditionally used the colour red. In Canada today, however, red is commonly associated with the centrist Liberal Party. The term reflects the broad ideological range traditionally found within conservatism in Canada.


Many of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada's leaders have been labeled Red Tories, including Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir Robert Borden, John Diefenbaker, Robert Stanfield, and in some ways Joe Clark. Many others have been influential as cabinet ministers and thinkers, such as E. Davie Fulton, Dalton Camp, and John Farthing.

The main bastions of Red Toryism were Ontario, the Maritime provinces, and urban Manitoba, areas where the Red Tories dominated provincial politics. The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, which has held power in that province for most of the time since Confederation, was often labelled as Red Tory, especially under the leadership of Bill Davis from 1971 to 1985. During this era, the Ontario Liberal Party often opposed from the right.

Throughout the Atlantic provincesmarker, traditional Red Tories are the dominant force in the provincial Progressive Conservative parties because of their support of the welfare state.


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. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the federal 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 successfully challenged, and in the 1983 PC leadership convention, members endorsed Brian Mulroney who rejected free trade with the United States as proposed by another right-wing candidate, John Crosbie. Despite this early perception, the eagerness in which Mulroney's ministry embraced the MacDonald Commission's advocacy of bilateral free trade would come to indicate a sharp drift toward neo-liberal economic policies, comparable to such contemporaries as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

Red Toryism never held much sway in Western Canada where smaller government and support for continentalist policies were greater. Eventually the explicitly anti-Red Tory Reform Party developed in the west.

Following Mulroney, the Canadian conservative movement suffered a profound schism in the 1993 election, splitting into the distinct Progressive Conservative and Reform parties. The Red Tory tradition remained loyal to the Progressive Conservatives, while many "blue" Tories aligned with social conservatives in the Reform Party. Various Unite the Right efforts achieved only modest success in the 1990s and early 2000s — most notably, while the creation of the Canadian Alliance in 2000 attracted a small number of Progressive Conservatives, it failed to attract those in the Red Tory tradition or to replace the Progressive Conservatives.

Merger of federal parties

After the victory of Peter MacKay at the 2003 PC convention, and in violation of a contract signed with the Red Tory David Orchard, MacKay merged the Tories with Stephen Harper's Alliance to create the modern Conservative Party in 2003.

When first created, one of the most important issues facing the Conservative Party was what Red Tories would do. The union resulted in a number of Red Tories leaving the new party, either to retire or to defect to the Liberal Party. Members of Parliament (MPs) André Bachand, John Herron, Joe Clark and Scott Brison declined to join the new party — Brison immediately crossed the floor to the Liberals, Bachand and Clark sat out the remainder of the 37th Canadian Parliament as Progressive Conservatives and then retired from office in the 2004 election, and Herron sat as a Progressive Conservative for the remainder of the term but then ran for re-election in 2004 as a Liberal.

Clark, a former Prime Minister, gave a tepid endorsement to the Liberals in the 2004 election, calling Paul Martin "the devil we know". Rick Borotsik joined the new party, but openly criticized it from within, did not run for re-election in 2004, and also publicly endorsed the Liberals over the Conservatives during the campaign.

Additionally, three of the twenty-six Progressive Conservative Senators, Lowell Murray, Norman Atkins and William Doody, decided to continue serving as Progressive Conservatives, rejecting membership in the new party. Most, like prominent Senator Marjory LeBreton, came to endorse the new party and have been vocal and visible supporters of the party both between and during elections.

Elaine McCoy and Nancy Ruth were later appointed to the Senate by Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, and chose to designate themselves as Progressive Conservatives. Doody has since died, and Ruth joined the Conservative Party caucus in 2006. Atkins is closely allied with the still existent Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, and Murray, from Atlantic Canada, opposed the merger of the federal PC party.

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 aimed to be perceived as a revival of the Progressive Conservatives, but has only achieved very minor results.

In the end, some Red Tories have decided to join the new Conservative Party, while others have joined the Liberal Party or the Green Party.

Definition drift

With the conservative movement's drift to the economic and political right, the term Red Tory is often used today in the media not to refer to those in the tradition of George Grant, Dalton Camp or Robert Stanfield, but simply to moderates in the conservative movement, particularly those who reject or do not sufficiently embrace social conservatism.

For example, in the 2004 Conservative Party leadership election, Tony Clement was sometimes referred to as a Red Tory even though he advocated privatization, tax cuts, curtailment of social and economic development spending and free trade with the United States. Traditional Red Tories would reject most of these stances.

More recently, Phillip Blond, a British theologian, has gained quite a bit of notoriety for his so-called Red Tory thesis which criticizes what he refers to as the welfare state and the market state. He has been mentioned as a major influence on the thinking of David Cameron and other Tories in the wake of the 2008 credit crisis. He advocates a civic state as the ideal, where the common good of society is valued and solutions emerge from local communities.


  1. Christian, William Edward and C. Campbell , Political Parties and Ideologies in Canada (Note: several editions of this textbook have appeared since 1974, reflecting the changes in Canada's politics.
  2. Horowitz, Gad. "Conservatism, Liberalism and Socialism in Canada: An Interpretation." Canadian Journal of Political Science (1966)
  3. Grant, George. Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism. 40th Anniversary Edition. Carleton Library Series. p.22
  4. Christian, William Edward and C. Campbell Parties, Leaders and Ideologies in Canada
  5. "Joe Clark says he'd choose Martin over Harper", CTV News, April 26, 2004.

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