The Four Political Parties of CanadaIn a country as vast and as culturally diverse as Canada, many differentpolitical opinions can be found stretched across the country. From the affluentneighbourhoods of West Vancouver to the small fishing towns located on the eastcoast of Newfoundland, political opinions and affiliations range from the leftwing to the right wing.
To represent these varying political views, Canada hasfour official national political parties to choose from: the Liberals (who arecurrently in power), the Progressive Conservatives, the New Democrats, and theReform Party. What is particularly interesting is that none of the latter threeparties compose Her Majesty’s Official Opposition in the House of Commons. TheBloc Quebecois, a Quebec separatist party who only ran candidates in theprovince of Quebec in the last federal election in 1993, won 54 seats in thatprovince, and claimed the title of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition over theReform Party, who garnered only 52 seats. Because the Bloc ran candidates onlyin Quebec, it would be difficult to think of them being a national politicalparty, even though they hold a significant number of seats in the nationallegislature. This paper will examine the significant early history of Canada’sfour main national political parties, and then will analyse their current state,referring to recent major political victories/disasters, and the comparison ofmajor economic policy standpoints, which will ultimately lead to a prediction ofwhich party will win the next federal election in Canada.Starting on the far left, there is the New Democratic Party of Canada.Today’s modern New Democratic Party was originally called the Co-operativeCommonwealth Federation (CCF), and was founded in 1932.
Originally led by a manby the name of James Shaver Woodsworth, the CCF was formed by several radicalfarming groups who found out that they had more similarities with each otherthan just their destitution. The 1920’s had been a dark period for radicals andunions within Canada; poverty and significantly lower wages for workers wereprevalent, and apathy regarding these issues was rampant. When the depressionwove its destructive web across Canada in the 1930s, proponents of capitalismwere staggered, but their left-wing opponents were too busy coming to the aid ofthe victims of the depression, and could not deal with the capitalistseffectively. When the CCF was officially formed in Calgary, they adopted theprinciple policy of being “a co-operative commonwealth, in which the basicprinciple regulating production, distribution and exchange will be the supplyingof human needs instead of the making of profits.” (Morton, p.12, 1986)Meanwhile, in Eastern Canada, a group of scholars formed the League for SocialReconstruction (LSR), and gave the Canadian left a version of socialism that wasrelated in some respects to the current social and economic situation in Canada.
In 1933, the CCF had its first major convention in Regina, Saskatchewan, and theoriginal policy platform first proposed by the CCF was replaced by a manifestoprepared by an LSR committee and originally drafted by a Toronto scholar, FrankUnderhill. The Regina Manifesto, as it is known as today, put emphasis on”economic planning, nationalisation of financial institutions, public utilitiesand natural resources, security of tenure for farmers, a national labour code,socialised health services and greatly increased economic powers for the centralgovernment.” (Morton, p.12, 1986) As a supplement to the feverish mood createdby the convention, the Regina convention concluded by saying “no CCF Governmentwill rest content until it has eradicated capitalism and put into operation thefull programme of socialised planning which will lead to the establishment inCanada of the Co-operative Commonwealth.” (Morton, p.12, 1986). The CCF triedto garner more popular support later down the road, and after calling itself theNew Party in 1960, it changed its name officially to the New Democratic Party(NDP) in 1962. Over the years, the NDP has become a large force in Canadianpolitics, becoming an alternative to the Conservatives and Liberals.
(Morton,pgs.12-27, 1986)Even to the casual Canadian political observer, the NDP is generallyregarded as the party at the bottom of the political barrel at the federal level.In the last Canadian federal election in 1993 under the leadership of AudreyMcLoughlin, the NDP went from holding 43 seats in the House of Commons to only 9.McLoughlin resigned, paving the way for the election of the former leader ofthe Nova Scotia NDP to the federal post, Alexa McDonough in 1994.
On theprovincial level, however, the NDP has experienced some success of late.Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have had (or currentlyhave) an NDP provincial mandate. (Guy, p.384, 1995)On the policy front, the NDP seem to be most concerned with a plan for”fair taxes now.” (fairtaxnow.html, 1997) According to the NDP, “it’s timebanks and big corporations paid their fair share — so we can better affordhealth care, education and other services for middle class and workingfamilies.” (fairtaxnow.
html, 1997) Some of the key points of the NDP’s “fairtaxes now” campaign include “a minimum corporate tax, a minimum wealth tax, anend to tax breaks for profitable corporations that lay people off, an end tocorporate deductions for meals and entertainment, and increased federal auditingand enforcement of existing corporate taxes,” (fairtaxnow.html, 1997) to name afew. Of course, these recommendations for taxation reform reflect the typicalleft-wing, socialistic standpoints that the NDP has stood for ever since itsinception.Moving further towards the centre of the political scale, the currentfederal governing party in Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, is found.Liberals in an independent form started to be elected to the variouslegislatures around the country in the middle of the 1800s, with a formal partybeing created in the late 1800s. The purpose of forming a formal party was aresponse to the increasing popularity of the Conservatives in Canada; “.
..therural Clear Grits of Upper Canada, the anti-clerical rouges, and the reformelement in the Maritimes came together gradually as the Liberal Party.
“(McMenemy, pg.10, 1976) In its early years, the Liberal Party reflected thevarious demographics of religion and geography among the voting public in Canada.With widespread support in Canada’s rural areas several years afterConfederation, “the Liberal Party opposed protectionism and supported commercialreciprocity with the United States. It also opposed MacDonald’s program ofrailway construction. Led by Sir Wilfred Laurier, the Liberals supportedunrestricted reciprocity and suffered for it in the election of 1891.”(McMenemy, pg.12, 1976) The Liberals’ policy on trade annoyed industrialists,who were intimidated by the prospect of unlimited trade. British Loyalistsregarded the trade reciprocity as being anti-British.
In the latter part of the1890s, however, Laurier adjusted the party’s policy on trade reciprocity. “Inthe budget of 1897, the Liberals neatly undercut the Conservatives byintroducing the principle of a minimum and a maximum tariff. A chief result ofthis Liberal protectionism was to give British goods a preference in Canada.
“(McMenemy, pg.12, 1976) Another significant move made by the Liberals was in1903, when Prime Minister Laurier announced the construction of a secondtranscontinental railroad. Laurier’s minister of railways dissented on the ideaand in turn was sacked by the Prime Minister. “By the election of 1904, theLiberals had acquired MacDonald’s railway and tariff policy and could thereforewear the previously Conservative mantle of party of nationaldevelopment.
‘”(McMenemy, pg.12, 1976) The Liberal Party of Canada currently forms the federal government ofCanada. Their current leader, Jean Chretien, was elected to succeed John Turnerin 1990. Around the time Chretien was elected leader, questions within andoutside the party were raised regarding the political “baggage” that Chretiencarried from previous Liberal governments. Despite the controversy, Chretienwon his party’s leadership quite comfortably, and returned his party toprominence once again in 1993 by forming a federal government with a largemajority in the House of Commons. Looking back, this current Liberal mandatehas weathered relatively little criticism until recently. One of Chretien’scampaign promises in 1993 was to scrap the Goods and Services Tax (GST) if theLiberals were to form a government. To complement that promise by Chretien,Sheila Copps, another prominent Liberal from Hamilton, Ontario, vowed to resignif the GST was not scrapped under a Liberal mandate.
Three years into theLiberal mandate, controversy began to rise over Chretien’s and Copps’ promisesregarding the GST. Copps eventually resigned after much criticism, and won backher seat in her Hamilton riding in a by-election several weeks later. Chretienwas subjected to large amounts of public criticism, especially during one of CBCTV’s electronic “town hall” meetings. Chretien argued the fact that theLiberals never said that they were going to scrap the GST, and that peopleshould read their policy guide, the “Red Book,” to find out where exactly theLiberals stood on the issue of the GST.
Chretien argued during this debate thatthe Liberals wanted to replace the GST instead of scrapping it. Earlier clipstaken from the parliamentary channel and radio interviews seemed to contradicthis claim that the Liberals wanted to replace the GST. “We hate it and we willkill it!” (the GST) were the exact words that came out of Jean Chretien’s mouthduring a debate in the House of Commons over the GST, before the Liberals tookpower in 1993. Since the federal election has not been called yet, it has yetto be seen whether or not the Canadian public has lost any faith in the currentPrime Minister.The Liberals have made the economic revival of Canada one of their toppolicy platforms, so much so that in the online edition of the Red Book,economic policy is chapter one. The Liberals explain their approach toeconomic policy by saying that they will focus on the five major problems facingthe current Canadian economy: “lack of growth, high unemployment, high long-termreal interest rates, too high levels of foreign indebtedness, and excessivegovernment debt and deficits.
” (chapter1.html, 1997) In the online edition ofthe Red Book, the Liberals also state that the “better co-ordination of federaland provincial tax and economic policies must be achieved in the interests ofall Canadians..
..we will work with the provinces to redesign the current socialassistance programs, to help people on social assistance who are able to work tomove from dependence to full participation in the economic and social life ofthis country….
and that Canadians are entitled to trade rules that are fairthat secure access to new markets, and that do not undermine Canadiancommitments to labour and environmental standards.” (chapter1.html, 1997)There is also a brief section about the Liberals’ plan to create many more jobsfor Canadians, which was one of their large campaign platforms during the 1993election.
(chapter1.html, 1997)Right of centre on the political scale, the Progressive ConservativeParty of Canada can be found. The Progressive Conservatives (PCs) were, intheir fledgling years, known as the Conservative Party (and before that, theLiberal-Conservatives), and was founded before the Liberal Party of Canada,making it the oldest political party in Canada.
“While it is difficult to pin-point a precise date of origin of the Conservative Party there is neverthelessgood reason for regarding 1854 as the inaugural year for the political groupwhich has continued to this day as the conservative element in Canadianpolitics.” (Macquarrie, pg.3, 1965) In 1854, John A.
MacDonald, who was tobecome Canada’s first Prime Minister ever, led the Conservative Party to officeand “began the process which established a nation in the northern part of thiscontinent and set the pattern for that nation’s political institutions.”(Macquarrie, pg.4, 1965) Since Confederation, many events in Canadian politicshave held vast significance in Canada’s history. For example: Confederation(1867), Hudson Bay territories joining the dominion (1870), Arctic Islands addedto the dominion (1880), the defeat of reciprocity (1911), the enfranchisement ofwomen (1918), the providing of universal suffrage under the Dominion ElectionsAct (1920), the Statute of Westminster (1931), and finally, the addition ofNewfoundland to the Dominion (1949). It is interesting to note that all ofthese significant political occurrences were made under Conservative Partymandates. (Macquarrie, pg.2, 1965) “It has been said that if Canada had anIndependence Day it would be December 11, 1931, the date of the proclamation ofthe Statute of Westminster under the regime of Prime Minister R.B.
Bennett.”(Macquarrie, pg.3, 1965) The Statute of Westminster “repealed the Colonial LawsValidity Act and gave Canada absolute legislative autonomy except as requestedby Canada in the case of amendments to the British North America Act.”(Macquarrie, pg.107, 1965) This was a recognition of an establishment which waslong overdue. Before the Statute of Westminster was implemented in 1931, it wasunder the rule of another conservative Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, inwhich Canada took its largest steps towards having “full independence andcomplete national sovereignty. Vigorously and successfully he (Borden) assertedthe equality of nations comprising the Commonwealth.” (Macquarrie, pg.
3, 1965)In December of 1942, the Conservative Party met at a leadership convention inWinnipeg, and after some prodding by one of the candidates, John Bracken, thename of the Conservative Party was changed to that of the ProgressiveConservatives, in order to reflect the party’s progressive goals and intentions.(Macquarrie, pg.122, 1965) Under the name of Progressive Conservative party,John Diefenbaker led the party to the largest landslide victory in the historyof Canadian politics in 1958, just one year after the Diefenbaker government hadwon a minority government. (Guy, pg.393, 1995)In recent years, the Progressive Conservatives have been dealt severeblows at the polls. In 1993, the Progressive Conservatives went from having themajority government in the House of Commons to a mere two seats: current PCleader Jean Charest in Sherbrooke, and Elsie Wayne in Saint John. The PCs canattach their massive defeat in the 1993 election to nine years of rule by BrianMulroney.
Mulroney won two large majority governments in 1984 and 1988, but inthe 1988 term, his fortunes turned south. His government was responsible forthe implementation of the hated Goods and Services tax, the Free Trade Agreementwith the United States, and the Meech Lake Accord. Several months before the1993 federal election was called, Mulroney stepped down as party leader, whichpaved the way for the election of Kim Campbell, then Justice Minister, to thepost of Prime Minister. Campbell was the first female Prime Minister of Canada,even though she was not elected by the general voting public.
Her early days ofcampaigning were regarded as successful for herself and the party, but in thelatter part of the election campaign, debates over whether or not Campbell was acompetent leader were raised. Her trip-up in the late stages of the electioncampaign set the stage for the Custer-like wiping out of her party; she was evensoundly defeated in her own riding of Vancouver Central. Even though thefederal party was decimated, provincial PC parties seemed to hold their ownduring the federal dark times.
Currently, there are Progressive Conservativeprovincial governments in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Prince Edward Island.PEI Conservatives won the most recent election, going from only one seat in thePEI legislature to a majority. The Conservatives in Ontario were also recentwinners. Under the leadership of Mike Harris, the Ontario Conservatives oustedthe Ontario NDP in the 1994 provincial election in a landslide victory, perhapsbringing on a second wave of the Big Blue Machine in years to come. Eventhough the Conservatives were given a serious setback in the 1993 federalelection, their commitment to policy-making has not been affected. They havedrafted a Tory Top Ten list of policies that they will campaign with during thenext federal election.
Their number one policy standpoint on the Top Ten is taxcuts for jobs: “Canadians today are overtaxed. The high tax burden is killingjobs and reducing Canada’s competitiveness. We need to create lasting jobs andrekindle the entrepreneurial spirit. Tax cuts will inject life back into theCanadian economy by promoting investment, consumer consumption and jobcreation.” (library4.html, 1997) On the income tax front, the PCs are alsocommitted to giving Canadians a 10-20 per cent personal income tax cut, whichwould be phased in over their first term in office. They have also given thesituation regarding the federal debt and deficit a fair amount of thought. Theyintend to balance the federal budget within their first mandate in office, andthat by the time the deficit is eliminated through spending cuts, “specifictargets for reduction of the federal debt must be set with measurablemilestones.
” (Designing a Blueprint for Canadians, pp.6-7, 1996) Finally,their overall economic policy states that “Canada should constitute an economicunion within which goods, services, persons and capital may move freely. Anymeasures which unduly discriminate between individuals, goods, services andcapital on the basis of their origin or their destination should beunconstitutional. The strengthening of the Canadian economic union is crucial tofostering economic growth, the flourishing of a common citizenhood, and helpingCanadians reach their full potential.” (Designing a Blueprint for Canadians,pgs.
40-41, 1996) On the whole, it would appear to the unbiased reader that theProgressive Conservative Party of Canada knows exactly what it stands for.Even further to the right side of the political scale, the relativelynew Reform Party of Canada can be found. On the last weekend of October in 1987,306 delegates from Western Canada converged on Alberta, in order to found theparty. These people were fed up with the traditional Liberal/Conservative rulein Ottawa, and wanted a party that could effectively represent the concerns ofWestern Canadians. (Harrison, pgs.110, 112,114, 1995) “The delegates facedthree tasks as they met that weekend: to decide upon a name for the party, todevise a constitution, and to pick a leader. The delegates chose the party’sname – the Reform Party of Canada – the first day.” (Harrison, pg.
114, 1995)On the second day of the convention, the party started the process of selectinga leader. There were three potential candidates: Preston Manning (the currentleader), Ted Byfield, and Stan Roberts. Byfield was not entirely comfortablewith the idea of being the Reform Party’s leader, however, and wanted tocontinue to run his own personal business. A theory that came out of theconvention was that this leadership race was a battle between “Roberts’ oldpolitical style and money against Manning’s grass-roots populism.” (Harrison,pg.
117, 1995) There was also some controversy over the amount of money Robertsspent on his hospitality suite at the convention, which was an estimated $25000.Manning was regarded as being quite frugal, spending around $2000. Even thoughthe difference in the amount of money spent between the two main candidates wasrather large, Manning was regarded as being the stronger of the two candidates,having the unquestionable allegiance of many of the delegates. (Harrison,pg.117, 1995) Roberts knew of the immense support Manning had, and it wasrumoured that he was going to bring in a significant amount of “instantdelegates” (Harrison, pg.117, 1995) to push him over the top. The Manningcamp got word of this idea, and subsequently closed delegate registration on theFriday night of the convention (it was supposed to run until Saturday morning).
This action sent a Roberts supporter by the name of Francis Winspear into a rage,severely criticising the decision to suspend registration and accusing theManning camp that some membership money had been unaccounted for. “Withanimosities rising, Jo Anne Hillier called a meeting between the two sides onSaturday night to attempt to resolve the disputes. The attempt atreconciliation failed.” (Harrison, pg.
117, 1995) The next morning, during anemotional speech, Roberts decided to drop out of the race, all the whilequestioning whether or not the party stood true to its founding principles ofintegrity and honesty. He referred to Manning’s supporters as “fanaticalAlbertans” and “small-minded evangelical cranks.” (Harrison, pg.118, 1995)This left Preston Manning as the first (and current) leader of one of Canada’snewest political parties, the Reform Party of Canada.In its short history to date, the Reform Party of Canada has had somesuccess federally, and has weathered its share of criticism. In the lastfederal election, they won a total of 52 seats, almost beating out the BlocQuebecois for the title of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, who won 54 seats.
The Reform took one seat in Ontario, one seat in Manitoba, four seats inSaskatchewan, 22 seats in Alberta, and 24 seats in British Columbia. (Guy,pg.434, 1995) There was some debate at the beginning of the Liberals’ mandatefrom the Reform Party whether or not a separatist party (Bloc Quebecois) shouldbe allowed to be the opposition in Parliament, but the Bloc remained as officialopposition. Lately, however, a Bloc MP resigned his seat, leaving the Bloc witha one seat lead over the Reform Party in the race for official opposition. Thenext federal election should be very interesting, as these two parties mightbattle it out for the right to be opposition again. One moniker that the ReformParty wears that could damage their hopes of ever being the opposition or thegovernment is the fact that many Canadians have the stereotype that Reform MPsand supporters are red-necked hillbillies from out west. A little while back, aReform MP by the name of Robert Wringma made comments of a racial nature towardsblack and aboriginal people.
Wringma suggested that if he were a shopkeeper,and if his patrons were offended by blacks or aboriginals working up in thefront of his shop, he would make sure that the black or aboriginal person(s)working for him would be in the back of the shop while his racist customers wereon the premises. This prompted outrage from minority groups and the generalCanadian population, and Preston Manning was eventually pressured into kickingWringma out of caucus. That particular incident summed up the Reform stereotypeof extreme right-wing views, and it should also be interesting whether or notthis subject surfaces again during the next federal election campaign.On the Reform Party’s web page, the policy section is entitled “a 6point plan to build a brighter future together.” (summary.html, 1997) Theirnumber one priority is to “create growth, opportunity, and lasting jobs throughsmaller government, an end to overspending, and lower taxes, to make governmentsmaller by eliminating waste, duplication, and red tape to save $15 billion ayear, and to balance the budget by March 31, 1999.” (summary.html, 1997) TheReform Party also intends to give the public tax relief, by having “lower taxesfor all Canadians: $2,000 by the year 2000 for the average family, an increasein the Basic Personal Amount and Spousal Amount, cut capital gains taxes in half,cut employers’ U.
I. premiums by 28%, and eliminate federal surtaxes and last butnot least, flatten and simplify the income tax system.” (Summary.html, 1997)Their plans for the Unemployment Insurance system are not all that extravagant,but on the home page, they are quoted as saying that they are going to: “returnUnemployment Insurance to its original purpose: protection against temporary jobloss.” (summary.
html, 1997) These economic reform policies seem to be relatedsomewhat to the Progressive Conservatives’ economic reform policies, but they donot go into nearly as much detail as the Conservatives do.Politics in Canada is an extremely volatile business. One day a partycan be on top of the world, and the next day they can be the scourge of theplanet.
Politics in Canada has a long and interesting history, so much so thatthis paper has barely even scratched the surface. While the New Democrats andReform are gathering support in different areas of the country, it must beremembered that the only two parties to ever hold federal office in this countryhave been the Conservative and Liberal parties. From examining the variousparty’s web pages, it seems that the Liberals and Conservatives have the mostdetailed policy platforms, the Reform Party is simply lacking the detail of theConservatives and Liberals, and the New Democrats have little information toresearch at all. History tends to repeat itself, especially in elections inthis country, and it would not be surprising if the Liberals won another federalmandate this year. The Conservatives look like they are making the long trekback to prominence, but the Reform Party and New Democrats seem to be treadingwater.
The real test that will determine which paths these parties will takeduring the trek into the 21st century, however, will be made in the soon-to-be-called Canadian federal election. Democracy will speak out once again.BIBLIOGRAPHY(1996) A Fresh Start for Canadians Online. Available:http://www.reform.ca/FreshStart/summary.html 1997, Feb.
25.Guy, John J. People, Politics and Government. Scarborough: Prentice Hall, 1995.Harrison, Trevor.
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Political Parties in Canada. Montreal: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1976.Morton, Desmond. The New Democrats, 1961-1986. Toronto: Copp Clark Pitman Ltd.
,1986.(1996) New Democrats of Canada Online. Available:http://www.fed.
ndp.ca/fndp/fairtaxnow.html 1997, Feb.25.Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.
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