Rick Hiebert is one of a rare species: A Canadian journalist with conservative political views. The 30-something writer graduated from the University of British Columbia and resides in Vancouver. His articles appeared regularly in the now-defunct magazine The Report. Below, Mr. Hiebert was kind enough to answer a few questions:
You are a conservative Canadian journalist. Who/what helped shape your opinions and your interests in your formative years?
I realized that I was a conservative in my mid-teens after reading some of William F. Buckley’s earliest books. I also read some issues of National Review. I thought that conservatism seemed to fit better with my moral views and it made a lot more logical sense to me than liberalism did.
I was fortunate enough to have a handful of local conservative newspaper columnists to read. They helped me to put my conservatism in a Canadian context. The late Les Bewley of The Vancouver Sun comes to mind.
Who do you look up to and respect most at present?
I still admire Ted Byfield, the founder of The Report. I used to want to model my career on Buckley. Now, I think I would like to develop the sort of career as a conservative journalist that Ted has had. I’m a newsman at heart, I love getting scoops and breaking stories. We have many columnists, but I think that there is a crying need in Canada for those who can do journalism from a conservative point of view.
Would you please briefly describe your tenure at The Report?
I started writing for The Report during my days at the University of B.C. when I was a writer for UBC’s student newspaper, The Ubyssey. At the time, the magazine (which was then Alberta Report) had a sister magazine based in Vancouver, British Columbia Report. I worked as a reporter and researcher for B.C. Report until that magazine folded in 1999. Since then, I had been working and writing for The Report until that magazine was shut down in late June.
I was assigned all sorts of stories over the years, but I think I did best with religious issues and human interest stories.
In light of The Report‘s commercial failure, do you believe there is a market in Canada for conservative media?
I think so, and here’s why.
In the last Canadian federal election in 2000, there were almost 5 million right-of-center voters, 3,269,108 (25.5%) for the Canadian Alliance and 1,565,035 (12.2%) for the Progressive Conservatives. I think that with such numbers, a few small magazines should be able to make a go of it.
While The Report has failed, the magazine, in its various incarnations, was published for over 30 years. I’m not an expert on the magazine’s finances, but I am led to understand that as recently as a year ago, we had a small operating deficit. I think that if you had the right business model, a Canadian magazine of the right could be successful. On my weblog, I have posted some suggestions towards a plan where various Canadian conservative magazines, or various editions of a magazine, could pool resources and talent.
I wouldn’t say that the end of the magazine necessarily discredits what it stood for. I think that you would be hard-pressed to find any ideological publication, north or south of the border, that makes a lot of money.
Why is the worldview of the average Canadian so much different than that of the average American?
I would say that the worldview of the average Canadian is only somewhat different than that of the average American. I will say that it appears to be much different because of the way that Canada’s liberals in politics, education, and media have defined the debate about what is “Canadian.”
Before the Second World War, Canada historically defined itself as a “British” nation. Our politics were defined by the limited government ideal of the Westminster system. Our political, social, and moral values were very much based on the best that Britain had to offer. After the war, Canada began to change, but we never really developed a new national identity aside from being “not American.”
Educators have re-defined Canadian history. I collect old Canadian history textbooks, and many of them celebrate individual heroes and leaders. These old books give a sense that an individual can make a difference in their world. Many years later, when I was in elementary and high school, the teaching of Canadian history [had changed]. Instead of learning about our explorers of the West, we learned about an anonymous horde of fur traders. Instead of the individual settler, we learned about anonymous people, groups, and the government who led them to come to the west. This sort of teaching leads Canadians to think of themselves as parts of a group, and not as individuals.
As Americans are often individualistic, a preference of being “not American” is very persuasive to some. It often creeps in. On Canada Day earlier this month, I watched part of a citizenship ceremony on TV. The speaker there was talking about what allegedly makes us Canadians. “We don’t believe in a melting pot,” she said. “We are a stew with many different ingredients…”
This was a dissapointing dig at the United States. It’s sad because other countries know enough about their traditional values to define themselves by what they are, not by what they are not. It would be like having a U.S. citizenship ceremony where the presiding official said something like “I would like to begin by saying you are not Greeks. You are not Australians. You are not Chileans. You are not…”
This sort of thing makes it difficult for conservatives in Canada. Arguing conservative ideals such as being in favour of individualism, or the traditions that built Canada, is seen as being “foreign” somehow.
I do think there is hope for conservatives in Canada. Many people are starting to question the “new Canada” and how it works in practice. It will be hard for Canadian liberals to continue with their happy ladies tea party when their failure, a dead elephant, lies sprawled in the national living room.
Your thoughts on Prime Minister Jean Chretien, both as a man and as a politician?
I think that it would be helpful for Americans to understand Prime Minister Chretien as a modern equivalent of the ward boss that Americans used to have in their cities. The Liberals have prospered by being able to deliver patronage and policy changes to the ethnic and political blocs that give them their core vote. When the Liberals are able to portray the right in the Canadian media as incompetent or crazy, then they can persuade other Canadians to vote for them as a safe centrist government. But, they always tend to the left. One of our former Prime Ministers once defined our socialist party as “the Liberal Party in a hurry.”
The Prime Minister is a cunning and able politician and has a very strong survivor instinct. He has a very tight hold on Members of Parliament and is seen as somewhat autocratic. Think of LBJ.
Mr. Chretien is leaving politics so I think that we should be paying attention to Paul Martin, his probable successor. Mr. Martin is seen as being on the conservative side of the party due to his budget-balancing feats as our Finance Minister. However, those budgets were balanced due to large tax increases. Also, one biography of Martin notes that he wanted to emulate his father, Paul Martin Sr., a federal Liberal cabinet minister who was always “building the country” through interventionist government policy in the 1940s and 50s.
Your thoughts on Stephen Harper and the Canadian Alliance?
I like Stephen Harper. He is trying to build an image of quiet competence. Nothing flashy, just solid policy crunching, which seems right for the Alliance just now.
If the battle for the right comes down to a war of attrition between the Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives, I predict that the former will win, after the Liberals have been in power for the next ten years.
How do you feel about the Canadian military’s lack of participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom?
I agree with the U.S. decision to invade Iraq. However, I think Canada was right to stay out, due to the dire condition of our military.
I read a newspaper story a few months ago which, if I remember it correctly, said that Canada now can only put 10-20,000 combat troops in the field at one time, if war broke out. I think that it would be wise for Canada to concentrate on defending our country until our military is built up again.
Let’s just say that I hope that the American Girl Scouts never emulate the ancient Goths and sack Ottawa. We *do* buy cookies, girls. Please don’t hurt us!
All kidding aside, I would say that foreign military adventures, including “peacekeeping”, should be set aside for about 3-5 years. I’m pro-NATO and pro-Israel, but I would want Canada to be able to put hundreds of thousands in the field, on the sea, and in the sky before it fights, as we were able to do in the Second World War. Acting tough and not being able to back up your words is poor foreign policy.
Feel like giving any shout-outs, or pointing out something left unsaid up ’til now?
I’d like to add that this piece is a lot of “punditry” for me, as my weblog is about half “fun posts” and half “serious posts.” I think that liberal blog readers might find things to like too, as I like to look at the absurdities of life. I never post on what I eat for lunch, though.
Sorry to disappoint those looking for Canadian bloggers but my former colleague Jeremy Lott is an American who lives and works in the United States. Unlike other Canadians, I have no problem with this. His fine weblog is here.
My own weblog has been described as “The best weblog I’ve ever read!” However, I think that my mom might have a slight bias, so please feel free to disagree.
The War on Terror: Winnable?
It’s the right thing for the U.S. to do. Whether it’s too late for it to work…well, I hope its not too late.
US-Canadian relations: Slightly bruised, or permanently damaged?
Slightly bruised. Canada will come to its senses.
Who got the better deal with NAFTA: The U.S. or Canada?
Should Quebec secede?
Lots of the problems that worry Quebec can be fixed by decentralizing lots of federal powers to the provinces. That’s something that some Canadian conservatives are pushing for. It’d be better to keep Quebec in a decentralized Canada…if only to avoid changing our cereal boxes again.
2004 U.S. Presidential election predictions?
Bush should win…but I wouldn’t bet the mortgage money on it.
Who will become the next Prime Minister?
Paul Martin of the Liberals, at the federal Liberal leadership convention this fall. The 2004/2005 Canadian election? It looks now like a lock for the Liberals, but my fingers are crossed.