Flaubert’s Conservative Dictionary

Watching Doug Ford become the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives and Jason Kenney taking shots at Justin Trudeau and gender neutrality in his congratulatory speech, Ms Soapbox’s mind drifted to Flaubert’s Dictionary of Accepted Ideas. (Well, not initially, but after the incredulity wore off).

The Dictionary is Flaubert’s satirical response to “mass produced word and thought”.  It rejects the triumph of prejudice and misinformation over facts.  Flaubert’s translator, Jacques Barzun, describes it as a reaction to “conventional stupidity”.


Gustave Flaubert, preferable to Doug Ford and Jason Kenney 

What would Flaubert’s Dictionary look like if Flaubert had turned his critical eye to Canadian conservatism instead of the smug French longing for “order through convention” in the mid 1800s?

Let’s give it a try.

Flaubert’s Dictionary of Accepted Conservative Ideas*     

Alberta Advantage: See Economy.

Budget:  Must be balanced, always, so tomorrow’s generations won’t be stuck with debt.  Today’s generation will be shortchanged on all fronts but it’s a small price to pay for the continuation of civilization as we know it.

Cheating the tax man:  Can be legalized by replacing progressive taxation with a flat tax.  Aren’t you clever. 

Christmas:  The only proper religious celebration (along with Easter), especially sacred when supported by Santa, Rudolph, and the Easter Bunny.

Choice (in healthcare, in education, etc):  Refers to the belief that government must privatize public services.  Occurs after a service is created with public money.   Also known as the public risk/private profit model.

Climate Change: Pretend to be a believer (or not) depending on your audience.  Emphasize the Economy trumps everything including the planet.

Common folk:  Always honest—unless they’re rioting.

Common sense or instinct:  A substitute for intelligence.

Competition:  The heart and soul of the Free Market (never tamper with it).

Compromise: Ridiculous lefty concept.  Better to lay down ultimatums than work out solutions with other governments and industry.

Conservatives:  ”Common sense” politicians who tell the electorate they can reduce taxes and maintain services.  Also known as magicians.  Supported by corporations (good), unlike Socialists who are supported by unions (bad).

Conservative policy:  There is no policy.  Battle cry is:  “Only I can save [insert name of province] from [insert name of progressive female politician].  See Standing Up For:

Economy:  More sacred than anything, including religion.  Only a few people understand it, so politicians are free to promise a booming economy and no one will ask how.  See Alberta Advantage.

Education: Thunder against change; especially if it’s in higher education.  Speak of it only in the context of socialists and a certain professor from Lethbridge.  Let it be known that you are well educated having almost graduated from university.

Elites:  Denigrate them but try to belong, or at least cozy up, because that’s where the real power and money reside.

Evidence:  Is “plain” or “overwhelming” and yet absent in much Conservative policy.  Replace with “common sense” even if there’s no common sense to be found.

Feminist:  Term of contempt applied to women with a mind of their own, especially if they run for public office.  Pro tip: can be applied to men like Justin Trudeau for extra snicker value.

Foundation (The):  The traditional family, property, religion, and respect for authority that form the foundation of society.  Defend the foundation at all costs and against any slights, real or imagined.

Free market: Source of all joy and happiness, the freer the better.

Free speech:  The fundamental right to say hateful things while at the same time denying that you’re a racist, misogynist, homophobe or Islamophobe.

Grassroots:  Venerate.  No one knows what it means but everyone thinks they belong.

Grassroots promise:  Words printed on a piece of paper, often an oversized bit of cardboard, intended to give supporters the impression they’ve signed “a contract” which is “binding” on the party.

Ideologues: Despise them, unless they’re in your own party, then laud them as purveyors of “common sense”.

Idiots and socialists:  Those who disagree with you.

LBGTQSee: The Foundation and Social Issues.

Portfolio:  Carry one under your arm.  It makes you look like a member of Cabinet.  Modern day equivalent:  Blue pick up truck.  Makes you look like the premier of a western province.

Premier:  The pinnacle of human glory…until you decide to run for Prime Minister.

Private sector:  Always efficient, fair and generous, especially in comparison to the Public Sector (see below).

Public sector:  Boo! Hiss!  Starve it until it’s small enough to be drowned in the bathtub.

Rule of Law (The):  No one knows what it is, but politicians talk about it all the time.

Section 92A:  You have no idea what you’re talking about and neither does your listener but mention it often when discussing how you’re going to force the Trans Mountain pipeline through BC.      

Standing up for [insert name of province]:  Only Conservatives can stand up for a province.  If you catch Liberal or NDP governments standing up, claim you thought of it first and they stole your idea.

Social issues:  Official stance is “meh, this is for snowflakes”.  Make social issues the object of ridicule (if possible do so at a speech welcoming a new conservative leader).  Unofficial stance: eliminate or reduce funding to services like safe injection sites and abortion clinics because people who need such services have only themselves to blame.

Socialists:  No one knows what this means.  Thunder against.

Task Force and Experts:  Of absolutely no use whatsoever, replace with “common sense”.

Taxes: Always too high.  Always misspent by spendthrift liberal/socialist governments.  Would be significantly reduced if public services were privatized.

Thinking:  Painful.  Can result in exposure of defective platitudes.  Best avoided.

Tommy Douglas:  Snicker upon hearing his name.  “The gentleman who thought socialized medicine was a good thing, hah!”

Wealth:  A substitute for everything including reputation.


With that dear reader, I turn the fountain pen over to you.  I look forward to your submissions to Flaubert’s Conservative Dictionary.  If you’d like to make submissions to Flaubert’s Socialist Dictionary I invite you to do so on your own blog.

*Many definitions are adapted from Flaubert Dictionary.  Here’s the link.   https://www.scribd.com/doc/187244/Flaubert-Gustave-Dictionary-of-Accepted-Ideas-1954   

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39 Responses to Flaubert’s Conservative Dictionary

  1. Keith McClary says:

    Task Force and Experts: Of absolutely no use whatsoever, replace with “common sense”.
    (Unless your crony has a consulting company.)

    Have we been told what the professor from Lethbridge said or did. Glancing at his books, it seems he doesn’t believe in Bible stories, so he considers Zionism to be an example of colonialism.

    • Keith, as I understand it Kenney called the professor a Communist after a town hall meeting. While Kenney didn’t name Dr Gamble, Dr Gamble came forward and said he was “the Communist professor at the University of Lethbridge” who attended a town hall meeting and asked (1) why Kenney believed schools should out LBGTQ students, (2) where Kenney would run for a seat (in other words which PC or WR MLA would step down) and (3) what evidence Kenney was relying on to support his contention that conservative voices in Alberta’s post secondary education system had been silenced. After Kenney’s Communist comment was published in the press Dr Gamble attended another town hall meeting intending to ask Kenney for an apology. One of Kenney’s handlers told Dr Gamble to drop it and Kenney avoided Dr Gamble and then ducked out after the meeting was over without meeting with Dr Gamble. Doesn’t say much about Kenney’s courage in sticky situations, does it.
      PS: I like your addition to the definition of Task Force and Experts.

  2. Bill Cook says:

    Well stated! Thank you.

  3. Ryan Dunch says:

    “Old Stock”: see Grassroots.
    Big Government: Government we don’t agree with. See Taxes. See Public Sector. (Note: to the uninformed who are neither old stock nor grassroots, Big Government simply means “government.”)
    Job-Killing: Flexible prefix for nouns describing Big Government policies. Can also be applied to persons and political parties.
    Thanks Susan! — a great read, as always.

  4. Janna says:

    “disastrous”: any policy of a government that is not conservative
    “environmentalist”: always affix the adjective “radical”, the word is not complete without the adjective
    “need for unity and civility”: anybody but conservatives have to speak kindly

    Thanks Susan!

    • Janna, you do Flaubert proud. He was good at non political definitions as well. One of my favourites is:
      Young lady: Utter these words with diffidence. All young ladies are pale, frail, and always pure. Prohibit, for their good, every kind of reading, all visits to museums, theaters and especially to the monkey house at the zoo.

  5. Keith McClary says:

    “Progressive Conservative” ????

  6. J.E. Molnar says:

    Tidewater: Not to be confused with washing machine output. To be avoided at all costs, but safe to condemn others for inaction and prolonged vacillation. Rallies appropriate where necessary.

    Bozo-eruptions: Targeted actions to dispense stupidity, as required, to maintain party profile. (Conservative Edict: All Publicity is Good Publicity) Safe to perform both inside and outside the Legislature. Particularly appropriate and extremely useful at “Leadership Conventions.”

    • Oooh, nicely done J.E.
      I’m rewarding everyone with “real” Flauberts. Here’s a good one:
      Duties: Require them of others. Avoid them yourself. Others have duties towards us, not we towards them.

  7. Mare says:

    Well done, as always! Free Market … the freer, the better, with the exception of boosts to favoured corporations.

    • Well said Mare, it’s odd that the conservatives don’t see the inherent contradiction there. Flaubert had one for bankers which would be appropriate for corporations as well: “All millionaires. Levantines. Wolves”.

  8. Bob Raynard says:

    Well done, Susan. I enjoyed all of your entries, but I especially loved the ‘thinking’ entry. There is a reason comments from Jason Kenney’s disciples often contain spelling/punctuation errors.

    • Bob, I was going to do a blog on Kenney’s blurb to his supporters in which he asked them to tell him the questions they wanted him to ask in the Legislature but I couldn’t face reading what they had to say, partly because his supporters have such a poor grasp of the facts (thinking), but also because they don’t know the first thing about spelling and punctuation.

  9. Judy J. Johnson says:

    Stellar Susan! Hope your blog reaches well beyond the blogosphere. Also loved your taking Braid to task for sloppy journalism. Keep it going!

    • Thanks Judy. The lunacy Flaubert illustrates in his definitions will no doubt escalate now that Kenney is in the Legislature and Doug Ford (can you believe it) is Ontario’s PC leader.

  10. Jane Walker says:

    Great, Susan! Thank you.

    Will be interesting to see how our lives roll out with all the tilting to the right. Doug Ford will be an interesting target to follow .. keep my mind off Jason Kenney for a while!! 😋

    • Jane, I had hoped whatever afflicted the people who voted for Trump would stay in the US but it seems to have crept across the border and we’re dealing with it here as well. The Ont PC leadership race looked like a replay of the Trump/Clinton race. Christine EIliott got more votes than Doug Ford, but Ford took more “points”. Sounds goofy to me.

  11. Kelly D says:


  12. David says:

    It might make for an interesting game to see how many of these words show up in Kenney’s speeches, I bet a lot. A very comprehensive list, although there are some things I thought of that could be on this list that you will probably never hear in Kenney’s speeches – “business experience” – alas he has none. Another is “career politician” – he is one, but would never admit it. Also he will not talk about his Degree in Economics from a prestigious university, he doesn’t have that, he only has a Degree from a US religious school.

    He is in many ways an odd choice for representing Conservatives. He is a very good politician and speaker who seems to know all the right things to say to appeal to them, but his personal experience not so much.

    • Great points David. I find Kenney’s lack of business experience particularly disturbing given his conviction that the private sector can provide services so much better than the public sector. Most people who’ve worked in the private sector will tell you that’s not necessarily true. Your point about his lack of understanding of economics is well taken. Perhaps all you need to be an effective Conservative politician is the ability to tell your supporters what they want to hear, namely your life is a mess, it’s all the NDP’s fault and I’ll fix it. It worked for Trump.

  13. GoinFawr says:

    ” Budget: Must be balanced, always, so tomorrow’s generations won’t be stuck with debt. ”

    Not sure that a truly ‘balanced budget’ is in the conservative lexicon… maybe in the rhetoric, but rarely is it in their policy; they spendthrift just about as liberally as the liberals.

    Recall that the only elected gov’t in North America to run seventeen (count ’em 17) surplus budgets was T.Douglas’ CCF during its tenure in Sask. And that was accomplished while introducing North America’s first ‘universal’ healthcare system, the national version of which most Canadians count themselves lucky to have today.

    It seems to me that ‘conservatives’ just bleat that ‘fiscal responsibility’ is their ostensible goal, when really it is just a small part of their (and the national ‘liberals’) neoliberal MO, designed to privatize public services for pennies on the dollar while debt-enslaving future generations. Here’s how it works:
    Step 1) abandon McGeer monetary policy, proven successful over 7 decades of use, in favour of funding public works by borrowing from inscrutable, wholly unaccountable and unscrupulous international banking interests (1974 Basel Committee reco’s)
    Step 2) disingenuously bleat about the public debt you deliberately help to create and expand as an excuse to:
    Step 3) reduce taxes (for the already wealthy) so that same public debt is exacerbated
    Step 4) cut funding to services in order to create shortfalls in delivery
    Step 5) spread misinformation that shortfalls are an inherent feature of publicly operated enterprises, and not a result of your wilful underfunding and/or treasonous monetary policy
    Step 6) maintain that only solution is to privatize everything actually lucrative, because: the free market does it better (just so long as you never look under the hood)
    Step 7) ‘give away’ citizens hard earned labour in the form of the national currency to the same international banking interests enslaving your population so that they may turn around and use the same to make loans to further enslave the same.

    et voila! You have an oligarchy of plutocrats Mencken would be proud to suck up to.

    Seriously, check it out folks; I couldn’t even make this stuff up if I tried.

    • Thanks for this GoinFawr. You’re right that the conservatives never talk about the disconnect between their promise of a balanced budget and their abysmal track record. This is where power of branding (and the lack of critical analysis) is so insidious.. The Harper government, of which Kenney was a part, ran SIX straight deficit budgets starting in 2008/09. Nevertheless, people believe Kenney when he says, elect me and I’ll bring the budget back into balance (and according to some of his supporters, deliver prosperity like we’ve never seen before). He couldn’t do it for Canada, why should anyone believe he can do it for Alberta?
      I wonder how the conservatives would respond to your point about Tommy Douglas’ surplus budgets (X 17). Smart compassionate leadership? Nah, it’s got to be fake news or a fluke.

      • Harce says:

        How about Tommy Douglas’s support of eugenics? Extreme leftists like on this blog conveniently overlook that…

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Good comments GoinFawr. It is indeed difficult to make up the stuff you mentioned but so the world turns and maybe a bit of cannabis in July will have some mellowing effect.

      It is not very difficult to guess that Jason Kenney education is of a religious University. The level of dogma is mind boggling – in many of those places accepting the invisible hand of markets is second nature. That is why they had 9 budget deficits in a row. Except that it was because of the Liberals before them that left the 10 billion surplus and a contingent account of about 6 billion which was rapidly sent to the friends that control the God created markets. .

      • Carlos, I just read an interesting article about conservatism and fundamentalist religious beliefs (link below). It said religious beliefs unlike empirical beliefs are not updated as new evidence or new theories emerge. They’re fixed and rigid, this promotes predictability and adherence to rules. Fundamentalists become aggressive when their beliefs are challenged because challenges are perceived as “existential threats to their entire worldview.” I’ve always wondered why fundamentalists (and conservatives) get so angry when presented with a different perspective. This would explain it.
        Which then leads to a different question, how are we supposed to talk to each other when the conservatives think progressive ideas are an “existential threats” to life as they know it and the progressives think conservatives are a bunch of selfish crackpots.

  14. Carlos Beca says:

    Susan your last question is a very important one because there is no answer other than WAR.
    That is the cause of most wars now in the world. If you look at the places where there is conflict right now it is because they cannot talk. There is no way that one of the sides or both is going to accept anything rather than what they believe in. The Israeli / Palestinian conflict is a clear example and if you examine the details – it is clear that it will never be resolved. At least not now or in the near future.

  15. GoinFawr says:

    “How about Tommy Douglas’s support of eugenics? Extreme leftists like on this blog conveniently overlook that…”

    Hey Harce, pop quiz for you and your irrelevant side-swiping:

    Which provincial gov’t NEVER implemented a eugenics program during T.Douglas’ tenure? (Hint: think CCF)

    T Douglas wrote a eugenics paper, but after a visit to Germany in the 30’s where he witnessed the reality of such programs Mr.Douglas 180’d on the idea right smartly, and never put it into practice during his entire political career… funny how you and your ilk always neglect to mention that, eh?
    Actions speak a whole lot louder than words, friend.

    Bonus question: Which was the LAST province to get rid of its actual eugenics program? (Hint: think ‘oil’)
    Yeah, you see that right there? You’ve got something on your disingenuous face, Harce.

    • GoinFawr says:

      Susan, pardon me if that last sentence was too, uh, ‘Harsche’ for your soapbox.

      Really, I should be thankful for comments like Harce’s, because they serve to illustrate so clearly what hollow, irrelevant strawmen and misrepresentations of the facts that type must resort to in order to denigrate what they apparently don’t understand the first thing about.

      “…because we didn’t do the horrible things they promised we would. They had built up a straw man and now they were knocking it down” – T Douglas

      In fact, I have money on my flank that says Harce is secretly ALL FOR any eugenics program that sterilizes those he considers “extreme leftists”….

      whaddya say Harce? Would I double my stake?

      • Well, GoinFawr, you are getting pretty close to the line, we try to keep the comments focused on the issues, not the people who make them.
        I liked your substantive comments though, they demonstrate that Tommy Douglas got the facts and adjusted his position accordingly. I don’t know why people find this so hard to do. Even Stephen Hawking changed his mind. He thought he could develop a unified theory of everything, but later decided such a theory might not exist.

  16. Brian says:

    You forgot one addition.

    “Jason Kenney”. 1. Premier, 2019-

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