The Four Political Parties of Canada
In a country as vast and as culturally diverse as Canada, many different
political opinions can be found stretched across the country. From the affluent
neighbourhoods of West Vancouver to the small fishing towns located on the east
coast of Newfoundland, political opinions and affiliations range from the left
wing to the right wing. To represent these varying political views, Canada has
four official national political parties to choose from: the Liberals (who are
currently in power), the Progressive Conservatives, the New Democrats, and the
Reform Party. What is particularly interesting is that none of the latter three
parties compose Her Majesty’s Official Opposition in the House of Commons. The
Bloc Quebecois, a Quebec separatist party who only ran candidates in the
province of Quebec in the last federal election in 1993, won 54 seats in that
province, and claimed the title of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition over the
Reform Party, who garnered only 52 seats. Because the Bloc ran candidates only
in Quebec, it would be difficult to think of them being a national political
party, even though they hold a significant number of seats in the national
legislature. This paper will examine the significant early history of Canada’s
four main national political parties, and then will analyse their current state,
referring to recent major political victories/disasters, and the comparison of
major economic policy standpoints, which will ultimately lead to a prediction of
which party will win the next federal election in Canada.

Starting on the far left, there is the New Democratic Party of Canada.

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Today’s modern New Democratic Party was originally called the Co-operative
Commonwealth Federation (CCF), and was founded in 1932. Originally led by a man
by the name of James Shaver Woodsworth, the CCF was formed by several radical
farming groups who found out that they had more similarities with each other
than just their destitution. The 1920’s had been a dark period for radicals and
unions within Canada; poverty and significantly lower wages for workers were
prevalent, and apathy regarding these issues was rampant. When the depression
wove its destructive web across Canada in the 1930s, proponents of capitalism
were staggered, but their left-wing opponents were too busy coming to the aid of
the victims of the depression, and could not deal with the capitalists
effectively. When the CCF was officially formed in Calgary, they adopted the
principle policy of being “a co-operative commonwealth, in which the basic
principle regulating production, distribution and exchange will be the supplying
of human needs instead of the making of profits.” (Morton, p.12, 1986)
Meanwhile, in Eastern Canada, a group of scholars formed the League for Social
Reconstruction (LSR), and gave the Canadian left a version of socialism that was
related 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 the
original policy platform first proposed by the CCF was replaced by a manifesto
prepared by an LSR committee and originally drafted by a Toronto scholar, Frank
Underhill. The Regina Manifesto, as it is known as today, put emphasis on
“economic planning, nationalisation of financial institutions, public utilities
and natural resources, security of tenure for farmers, a national labour code,
socialised health services and greatly increased economic powers for the central
government.” (Morton, p.12, 1986) As a supplement to the feverish mood created
by the convention, the Regina convention concluded by saying “no CCF Government
will rest content until it has eradicated capitalism and put into operation the
full programme of socialised planning which will lead to the establishment in
Canada of the Co-operative Commonwealth.” (Morton, p.12, 1986). The CCF tried
to garner more popular support later down the road, and after calling itself the
New 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 Canadian
politics, becoming an alternative to the Conservatives and Liberals. (Morton,
pgs.12-27, 1986)
Even to the casual Canadian political observer, the NDP is generally
regarded 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 Audrey
McLoughlin, 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 of
the Nova Scotia NDP to the federal post, Alexa McDonough in 1994. On the
provincial level, however, the NDP has experienced some success of late.

Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have had (or currently
have) 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 time
banks and big corporations paid their fair share — so we can better afford
health care, education and other services for middle class and working
families.” (fairtaxnow.html, 1997) Some of the key points of the NDP’s “fair
taxes now” campaign include “a minimum corporate tax, a minimum wealth tax, an
end to tax breaks for profitable corporations that lay people off, an end to
corporate deductions for meals and entertainment, and increased federal auditing
and enforcement of existing corporate taxes,” (fairtaxnow.html, 1997) to name a
few. Of course, these recommendations for taxation reform reflect the typical
left-wing, socialistic standpoints that the NDP has stood for ever since its
inception.

Moving further towards the centre of the political scale, the current
federal governing party in Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, is found.

Liberals in an independent form started to be elected to the various
legislatures around the country in the middle of the 1800s, with a formal party
being created in the late 1800s. The purpose of forming a formal party was a
response to the increasing popularity of the Conservatives in Canada; “…the
rural Clear Grits of Upper Canada, the anti-clerical rouges, and the reform
element in the Maritimes came together gradually as the Liberal Party.”
(McMenemy, pg.10, 1976) In its early years, the Liberal Party reflected the
various demographics of religion and geography among the voting public in Canada.

With widespread support in Canada’s rural areas several years after
Confederation, “the Liberal Party opposed protectionism and supported commercial
reciprocity with the United States. It also opposed MacDonald’s program of
railway construction. Led by Sir Wilfred Laurier, the Liberals supported
unrestricted 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 Loyalists
regarded the trade reciprocity as being anti-British. In the latter part of the
1890s, however, Laurier adjusted the party’s policy on trade reciprocity. “In
the budget of 1897, the Liberals neatly undercut the Conservatives by
introducing the principle of a minimum and a maximum tariff. A chief result of
this Liberal protectionism was to give British goods a preference in Canada.”
(McMenemy, pg.12, 1976) Another significant move made by the Liberals was in
1903, when Prime Minister Laurier announced the construction of a second
transcontinental railroad. Laurier’s minister of railways dissented on the idea
and in turn was sacked by the Prime Minister. “By the election of 1904, the
Liberals had acquired MacDonald’s railway and tariff policy and could therefore
wear the previously Conservative mantle of party of national
development.'”(McMenemy, pg.12, 1976)
The Liberal Party of Canada currently forms the federal government of
Canada. Their current leader, Jean Chretien, was elected to succeed John Turner
in 1990. Around the time Chretien was elected leader, questions within and
outside the party were raised regarding the political “baggage” that Chretien
carried from previous Liberal governments. Despite the controversy, Chretien
won his party’s leadership quite comfortably, and returned his party to
prominence once again in 1993 by forming a federal government with a large
majority in the House of Commons. Looking back, this current Liberal mandate
has weathered relatively little criticism until recently. One of Chretien’s
campaign promises in 1993 was to scrap the Goods and Services Tax (GST) if the
Liberals were to form a government. To complement that promise by Chretien,
Sheila Copps, another prominent Liberal from Hamilton, Ontario, vowed to resign
if the GST was not scrapped under a Liberal mandate. Three years into the
Liberal mandate, controversy began to rise over Chretien’s and Copps’ promises
regarding the GST. Copps eventually resigned after much criticism, and won back
her seat in her Hamilton riding in a by-election several weeks later. Chretien
was subjected to large amounts of public criticism, especially during one of CBC
TV’s electronic “town hall” meetings. Chretien argued the fact that the
Liberals never said that they were going to scrap the GST, and that people
should read their policy guide, the “Red Book,” to find out where exactly the
Liberals stood on the issue of the GST. Chretien argued during this debate that
the Liberals wanted to replace the GST instead of scrapping it. Earlier clips
taken from the parliamentary channel and radio interviews seemed to contradict
his claim that the Liberals wanted to replace the GST. “We hate it and we will
kill it!” (the GST) were the exact words that came out of Jean Chretien’s mouth
during a debate in the House of Commons over the GST, before the Liberals took
power in 1993. Since the federal election has not been called yet, it has yet
to be seen whether or not the Canadian public has lost any faith in the current
Prime Minister.

The Liberals have made the economic revival of Canada one of their top
policy platforms, so much so that in the online edition of the Red Book,
economic policy is chapter one. The Liberals explain their approach to
economic policy by saying that they will focus on the five major problems facing
the current Canadian economy: “lack of growth, high unemployment, high long-term
real interest rates, too high levels of foreign indebtedness, and excessive
government debt and deficits.” (chapter1.html, 1997) In the online edition of
the Red Book, the Liberals also state that the “better co-ordination of federal
and provincial tax and economic policies must be achieved in the interests of
all Canadians….we will work with the provinces to redesign the current social
assistance programs, to help people on social assistance who are able to work to
move from dependence to full participation in the economic and social life of
this country….and that Canadians are entitled to trade rules that are fair
that secure access to new markets, and that do not undermine Canadian
commitments to labour and environmental standards.” (chapter1.html, 1997)
There is also a brief section about the Liberals’ plan to create many more jobs
for Canadians, which was one of their large campaign platforms during the 1993
election. (chapter1.html, 1997)
Right of centre on the political scale, the Progressive Conservative
Party of Canada can be found. The Progressive Conservatives (PCs) were, in
their fledgling years, known as the Conservative Party (and before that, the
Liberal-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 nevertheless
good reason for regarding 1854 as the inaugural year for the political group
which has continued to this day as the conservative element in Canadian
politics.” (Macquarrie, pg.3, 1965) In 1854, John A. MacDonald, who was to
become Canada’s first Prime Minister ever, led the Conservative Party to office
and “began the process which established a nation in the northern part of this
continent and set the pattern for that nation’s political institutions.”
(Macquarrie, pg.4, 1965) Since Confederation, many events in Canadian politics
have held vast significance in Canada’s history. For example: Confederation
(1867), Hudson Bay territories joining the dominion (1870), Arctic Islands added
to the dominion (1880), the defeat of reciprocity (1911), the enfranchisement of
women (1918), the providing of universal suffrage under the Dominion Elections
Act (1920), the Statute of Westminster (1931), and finally, the addition of
Newfoundland to the Dominion (1949). It is interesting to note that all of
these significant political occurrences were made under Conservative Party
mandates. (Macquarrie, pg.2, 1965) “It has been said that if Canada had an
Independence Day it would be December 11, 1931, the date of the proclamation of
the Statute of Westminster under the regime of Prime Minister R.B. Bennett.”
(Macquarrie, pg.3, 1965) The Statute of Westminster “repealed the Colonial Laws
Validity Act and gave Canada absolute legislative autonomy except as requested
by Canada in the case of amendments to the British North America Act.”
(Macquarrie, pg.107, 1965) This was a recognition of an establishment which was
long overdue. Before the Statute of Westminster was implemented in 1931, it was
under the rule of another conservative Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, in
which Canada took its largest steps towards having “full independence and
complete national sovereignty. Vigorously and successfully he (Borden) asserted
the equality of nations comprising the Commonwealth.” (Macquarrie, pg.3, 1965)
In December of 1942, the Conservative Party met at a leadership convention in
Winnipeg, and after some prodding by one of the candidates, John Bracken, the
name of the Conservative Party was changed to that of the Progressive
Conservatives, 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 history
of Canadian politics in 1958, just one year after the Diefenbaker government had
won a minority government. (Guy, pg.393, 1995)
In recent years, the Progressive Conservatives have been dealt severe
blows at the polls. In 1993, the Progressive Conservatives went from having the
majority government in the House of Commons to a mere two seats: current PC
leader Jean Charest in Sherbrooke, and Elsie Wayne in Saint John. The PCs can
attach their massive defeat in the 1993 election to nine years of rule by Brian
Mulroney. Mulroney won two large majority governments in 1984 and 1988, but in
the 1988 term, his fortunes turned south. His government was responsible for
the implementation of the hated Goods and Services tax, the Free Trade Agreement
with the United States, and the Meech Lake Accord. Several months before the
1993 federal election was called, Mulroney stepped down as party leader, which
paved the way for the election of Kim Campbell, then Justice Minister, to the
post 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 of
campaigning were regarded as successful for herself and the party, but in the
latter part of the election campaign, debates over whether or not Campbell was a
competent leader were raised. Her trip-up in the late stages of the election
campaign set the stage for the Custer-like wiping out of her party; she was even
soundly defeated in her own riding of Vancouver Central. Even though the
federal party was decimated, provincial PC parties seemed to hold their own
during the federal dark times. Currently, there are Progressive Conservative
provincial governments in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Prince Edward Island.

PEI Conservatives won the most recent election, going from only one seat in the
PEI legislature to a majority. The Conservatives in Ontario were also recent
winners. Under the leadership of Mike Harris, the Ontario Conservatives ousted
the Ontario NDP in the 1994 provincial election in a landslide victory, perhaps
bringing on a second wave of the Big Blue Machine in years to come. Even
though the Conservatives were given a serious setback in the 1993 federal
election, their commitment to policy-making has not been affected. They have
drafted a Tory Top Ten list of policies that they will campaign with during the
next federal election. Their number one policy standpoint on the Top Ten is tax
cuts for jobs: “Canadians today are overtaxed. The high tax burden is killing
jobs and reducing Canada’s competitiveness. We need to create lasting jobs and
rekindle the entrepreneurial spirit. Tax cuts will inject life back into the
Canadian economy by promoting investment, consumer consumption and job
creation.” (library4.html, 1997) On the income tax front, the PCs are also
committed to giving Canadians a 10-20 per cent personal income tax cut, which
would be phased in over their first term in office. They have also given the
situation regarding the federal debt and deficit a fair amount of thought. They
intend to balance the federal budget within their first mandate in office, and
that by the time the deficit is eliminated through spending cuts, “specific
targets for reduction of the federal debt must be set with measurable
milestones.” (Designing a Blueprint for Canadians, pp.6-7, 1996) Finally,
their overall economic policy states that “Canada should constitute an economic
union within which goods, services, persons and capital may move freely. Any
measures which unduly discriminate between individuals, goods, services and
capital on the basis of their origin or their destination should be
unconstitutional. The strengthening of the Canadian economic union is crucial to
fostering economic growth, the flourishing of a common citizenhood, and helping
Canadians reach their full potential.” (Designing a Blueprint for Canadians,
pgs.40-41, 1996) On the whole, it would appear to the unbiased reader that the
Progressive Conservative Party of Canada knows exactly what it stands for.

Even further to the right side of the political scale, the relatively
new 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 the
party. These people were fed up with the traditional Liberal/Conservative rule
in Ottawa, and wanted a party that could effectively represent the concerns of
Western Canadians. (Harrison, pgs.110, 112,114, 1995) “The delegates faced
three tasks as they met that weekend: to decide upon a name for the party, to
devise a constitution, and to pick a leader. The delegates chose the party’s
name – 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 selecting
a leader. There were three potential candidates: Preston Manning (the current
leader), Ted Byfield, and Stan Roberts. Byfield was not entirely comfortable
with the idea of being the Reform Party’s leader, however, and wanted to
continue to run his own personal business. A theory that came out of the
convention was that this leadership race was a battle between “Roberts’ old
political style and money against Manning’s grass-roots populism.” (Harrison,
pg.117, 1995) There was also some controversy over the amount of money Roberts
spent on his hospitality suite at the convention, which was an estimated $25000.

Manning was regarded as being quite frugal, spending around $2000. Even though
the difference in the amount of money spent between the two main candidates was
rather 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 was
rumoured that he was going to bring in a significant amount of “instant
delegates” (Harrison, pg.117, 1995) to push him over the top. The Manning
camp got word of this idea, and subsequently closed delegate registration on the
Friday 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 the
Manning camp that some membership money had been unaccounted for. “With
animosities rising, Jo Anne Hillier called a meeting between the two sides on
Saturday night to attempt to resolve the disputes. The attempt at
reconciliation failed.” (Harrison, pg.117, 1995) The next morning, during an
emotional speech, Roberts decided to drop out of the race, all the while
questioning whether or not the party stood true to its founding principles of
integrity and honesty. He referred to Manning’s supporters as “fanatical
Albertans” and “small-minded evangelical cranks.” (Harrison, pg.118, 1995)
This left Preston Manning as the first (and current) leader of one of Canada’s
newest political parties, the Reform Party of Canada.

In its short history to date, the Reform Party of Canada has had some
success federally, and has weathered its share of criticism. In the last
federal election, they won a total of 52 seats, almost beating out the Bloc
Quebecois 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 in
Saskatchewan, 22 seats in Alberta, and 24 seats in British Columbia. (Guy,
pg.434, 1995) There was some debate at the beginning of the Liberals’ mandate
from the Reform Party whether or not a separatist party (Bloc Quebecois) should
be allowed to be the opposition in Parliament, but the Bloc remained as official
opposition. Lately, however, a Bloc MP resigned his seat, leaving the Bloc with
a one seat lead over the Reform Party in the race for official opposition. The
next federal election should be very interesting, as these two parties might
battle it out for the right to be opposition again. One moniker that the Reform
Party wears that could damage their hopes of ever being the opposition or the
government is the fact that many Canadians have the stereotype that Reform MPs
and supporters are red-necked hillbillies from out west. A little while back, a
Reform MP by the name of Robert Wringma made comments of a racial nature towards
black and aboriginal people. Wringma suggested that if he were a shopkeeper,
and if his patrons were offended by blacks or aboriginals working up in the
front 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 were
on the premises. This prompted outrage from minority groups and the general
Canadian population, and Preston Manning was eventually pressured into kicking
Wringma out of caucus. That particular incident summed up the Reform stereotype
of extreme right-wing views, and it should also be interesting whether or not
this subject surfaces again during the next federal election campaign.

On the Reform Party’s web page, the policy section is entitled “a 6
point plan to build a brighter future together.” (summary.html, 1997) Their
number one priority is to “create growth, opportunity, and lasting jobs through
smaller government, an end to overspending, and lower taxes, to make government
smaller by eliminating waste, duplication, and red tape to save $15 billion a
year, and to balance the budget by March 31, 1999.” (summary.html, 1997) The
Reform Party also intends to give the public tax relief, by having “lower taxes
for all Canadians: $2,000 by the year 2000 for the average family, an increase
in 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 but
not 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: “return
Unemployment Insurance to its original purpose: protection against temporary job
loss.” (summary.html, 1997) These economic reform policies seem to be related
somewhat to the Progressive Conservatives’ economic reform policies, but they do
not go into nearly as much detail as the Conservatives do.

Politics in Canada is an extremely volatile business. One day a party
can be on top of the world, and the next day they can be the scourge of the
planet. Politics in Canada has a long and interesting history, so much so that
this paper has barely even scratched the surface. While the New Democrats and
Reform are gathering support in different areas of the country, it must be
remembered that the only two parties to ever hold federal office in this country
have been the Conservative and Liberal parties. From examining the various
party’s web pages, it seems that the Liberals and Conservatives have the most
detailed policy platforms, the Reform Party is simply lacking the detail of the
Conservatives and Liberals, and the New Democrats have little information to
research at all. History tends to repeat itself, especially in elections in
this country, and it would not be surprising if the Liberals won another federal
mandate this year. The Conservatives look like they are making the long trek
back to prominence, but the Reform Party and New Democrats seem to be treading
water. The real test that will determine which paths these parties will take
during 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. Of Passionate Intensity. Toronto: University of Toronto
Press, 1995.


(1996) Liberal Party of Canada Online. Available:
http://www.liberal.ca/english2/policy/red_book/chapter1.html 1997, Feb.25.


Macquarrie, Heath. The Conservative Party. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart
Limited, 1965.


McMenemy, John, Winn, Conrad. 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. Designing a Blueprint for Canadians.

Ottawa, 1997.


(1996) Progressive Conservative Youth Online. Available:
http://www.openface.ca/PCU/library4.html 1997, Feb.25.

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