At a breakfast meeting in Toronto with the late George Jonas—an author of keen insight and perspicacity—I asked him what it was like to live under totalitarian rule in Hungary before escaping to Canada in 1956? I will never forget what he said:
“I thought I was fleeing a disease. But … it followed me!”
This was cause for instant sorrow, and I wept inwardly for my country.
Canada’s freedom of speech, action, and thought, limited only by traditional bounds of law and custom, was at its high point during the pre-confederation period, when settlers might never see an agent of government their entire lives. It was lauded most poignantly in 1896 by Canada’s seventh prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, in words that rang throughout the unfree world like a proud and resounding gong: “Canada is free, and freedom is its nationality!”
And that is why I wept. For we simply cannot say those words today.
Canada is no longer the free country it was.
Our proud inheritance of ordered liberty began to weaken around the mid-20th century, when along with most other Western democracies we set out to become what observers variously describe as a welfare state, or a social-welfare state. A form of soft socialism.
But events of recent decades, and especially of the past few years, lead me to state cautiously that free and liberal democracy is dead in Canada, for we have definitively crossed the line between soft socialism, and soft totalitarianism. This is a condition of state characterized by the growth of government at all three levels, huge structural debt that will never be paid off, taxation of everything that moves, and minute, pervasive, and intrusive regulation. Last week an Ontario wildlife officer came to my home and threatened to fine me if I fail daily to clean up the seeds that fall from my birdfeeder.
But perhaps the most reliable clue that the country has mutated to soft totalitarianism is the growth of pervasive negative punishments. Negative because although there are some recent instances of arrest for defying the law, by and large they specialize in the forbidding of nonconforming thought, speech, and action, in threats to suspend professional licences, in fining, shunning, and firing, in the destruction of reputations, and more, but fall just short of arbitrary physical manhandling, arresting, threatening law-abiding citizens, and carting them off to jail. But we are one step closer.