The Myth Of The Fiscally Conservative Social Liberal 

February 1st, 2015 | C. Wang 

The problem with the fiscally conservative social liberal cliche is that it doesn’t really mean anything, because pretty much everybody would define themselves in these terms. A libertarian and a socialist could both plop that line down and actually mean it. They’d then stare blankly in horror as the conversation continued and they realized how wrong they both were.

The majority of Canadians are, however, the exact opposite of fiscally conservative social liberals. When you ignore what Canadians say and instead look at what they do, it becomes clear. We are a nation of fiscal liberals and social conservatives.

#1. Canadians are fiscally liberal.

Canadians have record high levels of debt. Canadians are spending every penny they make and then borrowing so they can buy even more. Then they try to find more credit so they can buy even more.  Canadians have had a real estate binge that has been unprecedented in Canadian history. People borrow against their houses to buy more stuff. 

Here’s an excerpt from Garth Turner’s blog, The Greater Fool:

"'I’m an accountant,' Elaine says. She reads this blog. And she worries a lot, mostly about her clients.

'So many clients drowning in debt. Even people who had previously paid off their homes have used their home equity lines of credit to do crazy things like invest in failing businesses, invest in schemes to earn high interest rates with no guarantees and just generally take money out to buy frivolous things like vacations and do home renovations.'

No surprise there, Elaine. Lines of credit, especially those backed by a house, have been the fastest-growing pile of debt for several years now. How much? Currently the banks hold almost $250 billion in HELOC (home equity line of credit) loans. That’s equal to a big 12% of the Canadian economy – compared to just a third as much in the US.

So, just like the Yanks did when their housing market bloated and everyone bragged how much their inflated properties were worth, Canadians are sucking off their equity gains and doing stupid things with it. Like renovating. Or buying a cottage. Or an investment condo. Yup, more real estate exposure. And more debt."

Is it any wonder that our governments run massive deficits? The people running the government are Canadians...just like us! Greedy and spendthrift...that’s the way to do it!

The only time our governments are fiscally conservative is when banks force them to be. In the 1990’s, pretty much every province was fiscally conservative. It didn’t matter if it was Ralph Klein’s right-wing PC leading Alberta or Roy Romanow’s left-wing NDP in Saskatchewan...everybody was in the cutting business. Why?

There was literally no more money to be borrowed.

“We were at the point where our province couldn’t borrow money in Canada and we could barely borrow money in New York and yet there were critics saying there is no problem…”  Janice McKinnon, former finance minister of Saskatchewan.

It took a massive fiscal crisis to force people to remember why being fiscally conservative is important. It happened in the mid-1990’s after three decades of binge spending by governments at all levels and of all stripes. Today, the provinces are all running deficits again and people that live in the provinces are maxing out their credit cards like never before in history. The only way to correct this behaviour seems to be learning lessons the hard way due to the painful math that debt inflicts. 

We are not inherently fiscal conservatives.

#2. Canadians are socially conservative.

Canadians have a “live and let live” attitude towards others...which is great. But it doesn’t mean that we’re all social liberals. When you look at how people live their lives and how they really view things, then a handful of official government policies masquerading as a general left-of-centre cultural consensus, shows you just how much of a facade this liberal reputation is.

Here are the big 3 issues we talk about when we talk about social conservatism.

#1. Death penalty - The majority of Canadians want the death penalty back. Granted, when really pressed to think it through people may reconsider. Off the top of their heads, however, Canadians have no problem agreeing with executing scumbags if given the chance. (63% for the record)

#2. Abortion - The vast majority of Canadians want restrictions on abortion. From the study:

"More than one quarter of Canadians, 27%, said that human life should be protected from conception onwards, 21% said there should be protection after three months of pregnancy and 11% after six months. Only 22% agreed with the status quo which is no legal protection until a child is born." – Brian Lilley, Sun News

#3. Marriage - The divorce rate is lower today than it was in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. The rate of marriage is also lower, so many people point to that as an indication that we’re moving towards European-style, no-strings relationships. It’s more likely to do with an aging society in which people are just marrying later, rather than not at all, thus pushing down the average rate. Same-sex marriage was the big debate in 2005. As of 2012, roughly 66% of people approval of the legalization of same-sex marriage. This is an increase from only 24% approval in 1992 and 43% in 2000. So yes...relentless campaigning has changed minds in this area, but same-sex marriage has proven itself to be extremely marginal.

These are the big three signifiers in regards to what we typically target as “socially conservative”. However, one needs not look too far in order to see more evidence of social conservatism in everyday life. Canadians have an astute sense of fairness that derives from the warm embers of our traditional Christian heritage, and it shows in everything from lawful obedience to interpersonal relationships. The Canadian brand of “being nice” is, to a large degree, about keeping the peace in a communal sense. This negotiation is primary to social conservatism and it epitomizes Canadian culture.

We aren’t a country built on brothels and dope dens and riots and lying and BDSM and revolution ...nor do we want to be. Anything goes takes a back seat to peace, order and good governance. When people mouth the, “I’m a fiscal conservative, but a social liberal” line, what they mean in regards to the “social liberal” part is that they’re cool with gay people being gay people.

That’s about it, really.

In every other respect they are unconsciously boring and regular vanilla pudding social conservatives, who mindlessly assume the person they’re talking to is a boring, regular, vanilla pudding social conservative. If you have any doubt, the next time someone tells you they’re a fiscal conservative, but a social liberal, tell them you’re relieved to hear that because you love doing crystal meth, but that some people can get all judgy about it. Or tell them you just left your wife and kids for a younger, hotter woman. Watch to see how “socially liberal” their reaction is.


Being fiscally conservative and socially liberal isn’t a Canadian default. It’s a facade. It’s a knee-jerk response by someone who doesn’t consider themselves political. The more honest default for Canadians would be fiscally liberal and socially conservative