Convivium was a project of Cardus 2011‑2022, and is preserved here for archival purposes.
Serving God and NeighbourServing God and Neighbour

Serving God and Neighbour

Speaking to a Cardus-sponsored event in Calgary on Thursday evening, United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney highlighted the 1774 Quebec Act, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, refugee resettlement, the Canada Summer Jobs program, and the mileage on his Dodge Ram pickup as sources for his renewed vision for Canadian conservatism within liberal democracy.

Jason Kenney
17 minute read

I must say I'm a huge fan of Cardus and the good work that it does. Some of you will likely know that Cardus was originally known as the Work Research Foundation and its impetus, its mode of force comes out of Dutch immigrants to Canada who brought with them a particular passion for a strong civil society for what they call sphere sovereignty and an incredible work ethic to boot. So I always like to say at Cardus events, they are ethnically very diverse. There are the Dutch, and those who wish they were Dutch, or the Dutch and those who aren't so much, as they often say. 

Thank you for allowing the token Irishman up here to take the podium. I’m honored to share the podium with Jen Gerson and with Pat Nixon, a truly great Albertan who's been honored with both The Order of Canada and The Order of Alberta of Excellence for his service to the least fortunate in our society.

I must say that after nearly two years of putting 150,000 kilometers on my Dodge Ram Pickup, doing over 1,000 events in every corner of the province from La Crete with the good Mennonites up there, to the Dutch Reformers in Taber, from Milk River all the way over to Rocky Mountain House with Pat's son, Jason Nixon, and everywhere in between, in every range of Alberta society, and talking about current issues, after having done all of that, I really do welcome the chance to speak about some of the first principles of our common life together. 

Let me begin by the title I've been given, which is Peace, Order and Good Government, of course, the defining theme of the British North America Act, Canada's original Constitution Act. You may be interested to know that peace, order and good government or POGG was used in the British Colonies beyond Canada, in New Zealand, Australia, in South Africa and in Ireland. It was used as a term to confer general legislative authority. But in Canada in particular, it has become something more than that. It has come to typify or summarize our approach to state craft. We read in that clause a tradition of moderation, a preference for ordered development rather than revolutionary change, and an acknowledge that government is for the common good. We consider it a distinct advantage of our Canadian patrimony. 

The peace, order and good government phrase belongs in the part of our Constitution dealing with the division of powers, Section 91 in particular, which deals with the powers of the federal government and Section 92 that enumerates the complementary provincial powers. As you well know, disputes between the federal and provincial governments have been a mainstay of Canadian political culture and more recently, between provinces and provinces, but I won't get into that.

Tonight, I wish to suggest that Sections 91 and 92 are not just a matter of technical assignation of jurisdiction, but rather I think we can read here a vision of how to work together, of how to accommodate differences and still yet within diversity, to have a common overarching vision, to capture that vision of the United Empire loyalists who founded English Canada at the end of the 18th century of unity in diversity. There is a vision here that order does not mean uniformity, but rather making room for differences that can and must be respected. I speak in my partisan language often of renewing the Alberta advantage, which means that we have the capacity to try something different in Alberta that we believe is advantageous for our people. Others may choose other approaches and alternative policies. That's the beauty of a federation. That is what the division of powers allows us to do, to create a series of policy laboratories to pursue our own preferences and priorities. 

The Canadian constitutional vision is, therefore, I submit one of pluralism, meaning that there is not just one state actor, but several state actors, each with its own spheres of sovereign action. Good government is not monolithic government. Good government favors pluralism. Canada's federalism is an expression of the principle of pluralism in our constitutional order. 

Now it's important to recall that this tradition of Canadian pluralism, for which we are known around the world ... By the way, we just received a visit here in Calgary from his highness, Prince Karim, the Aga Khan who has established in Canada not coincidentally The Global Center for Pluralism. I was honored to work with His Highness for several years as the government liaison in that joint project between the Government of Canada and the Imamat of the Ismaili Shiite Community because he sees in Canada a model of pluralism which can be shared around the world to help to pursue the path of reconciliation in places of conflict. 

We should be proud of this, but we should also understand how deeply this tradition of pluralism is rooted in our history. I'm concerned sometimes that we imagine this facile and superficial discourse about diversity is something completely contemporary, that we are somehow rejecting or cutting ourselves off from our past. When in fact, modern discourse about diversity is rooted in an 18th century conception of pluralism and in particular, in the Quebec Act of 1774.

Now following what our French Canadian friends called Le Conquête, the conquest of New France, the British Crown imposed through the Royal Proclamation an assimilationist policy, an effort to rub out the differences in the former French colony, to marginalize the exercise of the Catholic faith, to prevent Catholics from obtaining public office, to suppress the French Civil Code and all of those institutions of civil society which the Church had created: the first school in North America, a result of the good works of Catholic nuns in Quebec City, Le Ursulines; the first hospital in North America, again, in the Quebec colon; he first social welfare programs starting the great tradition that Pat Nixon personifies started by people of faith in that church. 

The new British regime following the Conquest saw in those institutions a threat to their dominance of North America and so sadly, tried to rub those things out, tried to create instead of a pluralistic approach to society, a monistic approach with allegiance not only to the sovereign, the king, but also to his Protestant faith, which meant excluding 90 per cent of the population of what we now call Quebec. 

But thanks to the enlightened advice of Guy Carleton, the British Parliament in 1774 adopted the Quebec Act, which was a complete reversal, and was, in many ways, one of the most enlightened and small-I liberal expressions of British liberalism and pluralism in the history of the empire. Basically, the Quebec Act said that Catholics could take public office. They could be local notaries. They could be magistrates. They could serve the State. They could serve their fellow citizens and the common good without having to disavow their faith and their deepest convictions.

It said that Quebec could retain the Civil Code and maintain a pluralism actually in the legal system with a binary system of the British Common Law, the French Civil Code. It said that all of those institutions of civil society, the nascent university where French was spoken, the schools, the Catholic hospitals could all function in cooperation with the State and they did not have to choose between their conscience, their faith and their ability to serve the public good. This all happened in 1774 when in Britain itself and in its closest colonies such as where my Irish ancestors lived, the penal laws still prevailed so Catholics could not take public office and where formally their faith was suppressed.

Interestingly, that very same Act, because of its embrace of pluralism, was rejected by the 13 American colonies and was one of the efficient causes of the American revolution. It led directly to the First Continental Congress, and is listed to this day in the American Declaration of Independence as "dangerous to an extreme degree to the civil rights and liberties of all America," because it allowed popery into North America. 

I have to pause to ask whether we are hearing echoes of that kind of intolerance in our political culture today. The same people who could not serve the common good prior to 1774 in Quebec because they would not take an oath renouncing the faith, would they qualify today for the Canada Summer Jobs Program? Would Rachael Harder, MP for Lethbridge, who was barred from chairing a parliamentary committee because of her convictions rooted in her faith, is her experience returning to the sentiments that governed the northern half of North America prior to the Quebec Act in 1774? 

I'll let you answer that question for yourself. I think, though, that these are indications that we can never take for granted the generosity of spirit of our historically grounded pluralism.

I have to pause to say I'm aware that when I speak at a Cardus event, it's obligatory to refer to the Dutch reformed tradition of Abraham Kuyper, who spoke of the great notion of the spheres of sovereign action. The Dutch Reformed tradition identified with Kuyper, who was both a theologian and a prime minister, speaks of sphere sovereignty to describe as that same principle of pluralism not as a vision of government alone, but of the entire social order. 

It's not enough to have the principle of pluralism in levels of government. Rather we must recognize that there are spheres of social action entirely outside of the State and that have their own essential contribution that they make to the common good. 

For Kuyper, the government could satisfy the common good alone only if all that we had in common was that we were subject to the same government, but we have as people many higher and prior bonds to the community, to communities beginning with the first community, as Aristotle called it, the family, and including our communities of faith, of commerce, of culture, of common purpose.

Another term perhaps more commonly used that describes this notion is civil society. Civil society addresses the bonds that people form around common missions and common goals. These societies are what compromise society writ large. Indeed, society writ large is not something that we encounter as often as the numerous societies in which we live, our families, schools, companies, faith communities, sports teams, music groups, fraternal associations, social clubs, charitable ventures. What Edmund Burke famously called the "little platoons" when he said in his Reflections on the Revolution in France: "To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affection. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love of our country, and towards a love of mankind." 

With that in mind, as the leader of a new conservative party, I'm very aware of what I think is a false caricature of how modern conservatives think about society, namely that creativity, initiative and responsibility lie only and exclusively in the market and that government is a threat to all of that. This I believe is a kind of a thin libertarian misconception of government that it is something of, at best, a necessary evil. This is often caricaturized by reference to a distorted quote attribute to Margaret Thatcher that society does not exist.

That's not my vision, nor is it the vision of the renewed conservatism that I and many of my colleagues are proposing for Alberta. Our vision is not one of a great mass of individuals living between the market on the one hand and the State on the other. That vision only takes into account three aspects of society, the individual, the market and the State. Therefore, if the market fails, the State must act and if the State fails, the individual is left to fend for himself. It completely leaves out all that civil society does. 

For someone in government, or someone who aspires to govern, it's easy to begin with what government can do, but I think that's the wrong question. The better question is this: What is the best way for civil society to flourish to enable human flourishing especially so that those who are most vulnerable are cared for? Then we can ask what the government might do to help make that happen. To put it another way, government should be at the service of a flourishing civil society. That doesn't mean no role for government. It means rethinking (its) role.

I might point out that our host tonight, Cardus devotes considerable energy to thinking creatively about how government policy might lift up rather than displace civil society. To take one example, their research on childcare options focuses on what parents really desire in contrast to what politicians and bureaucrats are determined to provide. I'd point out another example of a recent Cardus research. They looked at the payday loan industry. I point that out because I think conservatives need to be reminded that markets, too, can fail to serve people well and can lead to exploitation and policy instruments need to respond to such exploitation, especially of the vulnerable. 

The research that Cardus undertakes points us in a particular way towards the contribution that communities of faith can make to our common life. I would recommend that you look at the work that they've done on the Social Cities Project, which argues persuasively that urban planning needs to take account of the institutions of civil society, particularly houses of faith. The Cardus Halo Project has tried to quantify the contribution of faith groups. They didn't ask me for those advertisements by the way.

Yet we know that the deepest contribution of faith groups cannot be measured. It is possible to measure the value of the meals served to the poor, but that meal could be delivered in other ways. Is not the real value the social connection, the personal touch, the bond of solidarity that comes with that meal? It is not a criticism of government to say that it cannot do that, that it cannot serve a meal. It is simply an acknowledgement that we need more than government to truly flourish as human beings together. 

Let me share with you a very personal example (when) I studied in San Francisco. It happened to be in the late 1980s during the AIDS crisis in that city. Through a friend of mine, I heard about a remarkable place that had been established by a woman we now call in the Catholic tradition St. Teresa of Calcutta, Mother Teresa. She established the first AIDS hospice in North America, the Gift of Love Hospice in south San Francisco. Through my friend, I began to volunteer there periodically and then semi-regularly on weekends when we'd go down and do menial chores, doing the laundry and cleaning the floors, doing janitorial work, cleaning the dishes, just trying to help out these humble little nuns who Mother Teresa had flown in from India and Africa. 

This was the first AIDS hospice in North America, established at the height of the crisis when men in particular were dying by the thousands every year (from a) disease that people still did not understand. At that time, HIV had not been identified. Some people still thought it was contagious and yet, these nuns who grew up in some of the poorest communities on earth flew to one of the richest communities on earth to do something that no government began. Why did they do it? Well, it was summarized in the name of their home, the Gift of Love. 

I was transformed watching these humble, simple, often uneducated women from the Third World giving their all to men who had often been abandoned by their families and their friends, who were alienated personally and spiritually, filled with anxiety and depression and a terrible disease. I saw many of these men come to be reconciled with themselves, with their families, and spiritually reconciled as well, not through any kind of proselytization, but simply with the witness of completely transformative unconditional love. There is no government program, and nothing in the market, that can be a substitute for that love and what I witnessed and what changed me. 

To quote St. Teresa, what compelled her to establish that place, not in moral judgment for what lives those guys might have led, but with unconditional love for them, what moved those young nuns from India and Africa to join her in that work was simply this. ­­­She said, "I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve him because I love Jesus,” the simplicity of a mission of love. I suspect that AIDS hospice would not receive Canada Summer Jobs Program funding today.

By the way, a little interesting Alberta note, did you know that Mother Teresa visited St. Paul Alberta in 1984, just three years before I ended up down there in San Francisco? The local community raised some money to help her work abroad and so, she returned their favor with a visit, and they said that there were particular needs in the community with our First Nations people who were living in poverty and alienation. She ordered three of the nuns who were traveling with her to stay behind in St. Paul and they still have a home there that cares for our aboriginal people. 

Let me give you some other personal experiences of how people moved by faith have done so much to allow for human flourishing in our pluralistic society. In 1978, the world saw the crisis of the Indo-Chinese boat people fleeing Communist Vietnam by the hundreds of thousands. Tens of thousands died in the high seas, from piracy and unsafe marine passage, and Canadians were moved. The government didn't have, however, the time, the capacity to resettle through government programs large numbers of people. They just didn't. 

It was faith groups, it was faith communities, it was local churches of every tradition that stepped up to the plate and said something must be done to help these people who are dying as refugees. Through their initiative, a great former immigration minister, Ron Atkey responded by creating what we now call the Privately-Sponsored Refugee Program. 

If those local churches raised enough money to cover the costs, and if they undertook to provide settlement support, integration support to those families, the government would approve their resettlement to Canada. In the course of nine months, we welcomed 60,000 Indo-Chinese Vietnamese boat people as new Canadians, and they've gone on to flourish in every area of Canadian society.

I was proud as immigration minister to expand the Private-Sponsored Refugee Program and here's a perfect example of what I'm talking about: the power of civil society in producing good social outcomes versus often those of the bureaucratic state because we have what's called a government-assisted refugee program. Government goes and interviews people. Then UN tells us kind of where to select from, and they refer cases to us and they go through bureaucratic system. 

They come to Canada. They're put in public housing units, often away from employment, often in what become de facto ghettos, often people with no English or French language proficiency and they're left without employment, they're left ... This has created huge social challenges in parts of urban Canada and communities that are falling behind.

But the privately-sponsored refugee program, opened up the doors to 25,000 Middle Eastern ethnic and religious minorities, many of them Christians facing genocide in their ancestral and indigenous lands and they were brought to Canada and settled here by faith communities who enveloped them with love and with true charity. Those people, the outcomes, I can tell you the data is very clear. The refugees resettled through the private sponsorship program and civil society have remarkably higher levels of income and employment and education outcomes than those who come through the bureaucratic government program. 

As an example of one such program, today is the International Day against Homophobia so I would mention in particular one program I established initially government action. I got groups in the gay community to partner with us to resettle gay Iranians who were facing potential execution in their country of origin. I actually went to Eastern Turkey to meet with these guys who were living underground facing secondary persecution, and helped to set up a discreet program to resettle hundreds of them to safety and freedom here in Canada.

Another good example of the power of civil society is Pat Nixon and The Mustard Seed. He started in a basement and flourished into one of the largest social agencies in the province and, again, I believe his work that it has probably gone on to save hundreds of lives. It was compelled by the same spiritual vision that motivated Mother Teresa.

Just to come back to the broader theme, I'm not here this evening to announce new policies in child care or payday loans or any other subject. I've just come from a party convention that we're working on how to flesh these ideas out into a platform, and I really will look at taking the ideas that Cardus has brought forward. But it is a good time to think about first principles.

Let me add one other reflection on tonight's theme of peace, order and good government. Some wrongly believe that idea is a recipe for authoritarian meddling or all supervising government, especially from a federal government. But as one of our great constitutional scholars, Donald Creighton demonstrated in his 1939 submission to the Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations, he found that the phrase peace, order and good government encompassed not merely the limited modern idea of government as the State, but of good governance, which includes the healthy division of responsibilities between the State and civil society, the latter of which has an important, even essential role to play in a well- functioning, well-ordered society. 

Creighton concluded that "Good government referred to good public administration, on the one hand, but also had echoes  what we now talk of as good governance, which incorporates the notion of appropriate self-governance by civil society actors, since one element of good government was thought to be its limitation to its appropriate sphere of responsibility." As Edmund Burke observed, "Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more of it there will be without." 

Good self-government, through a robust and active civil society, is the form of good government most compatible with individual liberty and human flourishing. The stronger these institutions are, the freer the people. They create habits of self-discipline and organic order. When they disappear, either through neglect or deliberate undermining, their role is replaced by the less feeling and often more callous hand of the State, which is by turns neglectful and overgenerous, insensitive and unresponsive as a distant authority must be. 

The removal of local responsibility and the dismantling or withering of civil society mean the end of the practice of self-government by free men and women. We lose the habit and the ability to organize our society ourselves. The form of democracy is retained in the casting of one vote amongst millions, but the habits of a democratic people, the true spirit of democracy, of rule by the people, for the people and of the people as Lincoln wrote, is lost. To restore the constitutional promise of good government, we must restore local government and individual self-government. 

As Michael Novak wrote in his brilliant book The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, which had a huge influence on me, "Human flourishing requires at least liberty from torture and tyranny in the political order, liberty from the prison of poverty and hunger in the economic order and in the civic, cultural and moral order, liberties of conscience, thought, word, inquiry, science, the arts and association. A free society consists of three independent systems, the political, the economic and the moral, each aimed at securing one of these kinds of natural liberties."

To close with the last reflection, peace, order and good government is often characterized as being a kind of mundane constitutional vision as compared to the U.S. Declaration’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But that's not the end of the story because in 1982 when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Parliament adopted the new Constitution Act, they wrote into it a new preamble that Canada is founded upon principles which recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law. I think this is a transcendent vision, not a mundane one. It is a vision that motivates millions of Canadians to do good everyday urged by the promptings of their heart to serve God by serving their neighbors. Let us honour those Canadians, not marginalize them. 

Convivium means living together. We welcome your voice to the conversation. Do you know someone who would enjoy this article? Send it to them now. Do you have a response to something we've published? Let us know!  

Photo by Elyse Bouvier

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