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