Political Parties

 

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1) A two-party system with third regional parties

 

Like other Western democracies with first-past-the-post electoral systems, Canada developed a party system centered around two major political forces. However, while the centrist Liberals and the right-of-center Conservatives have historically dominated Canadian federal politics, regional voting differences have allowed other parties to attain both significant popular support and parliamentary representation: although FPTP makes it difficult for minor parties with evenly spread support to win seats in Parliament, the system rewards smaller parties with strongly concentrated support in specific geographic areas.

 

More on the first past the post system: http://aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/es/esd/esd01/esd01a/esd01a01

 

 

Since 1935, the Socialist-oriented Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and its 1961 successor, the New Democratic Party (NDP), have been continuously represented in Parliament. Usually, the party has won most of its seats in Western Canada; however, in 1997 the NDP secured a significant number of seats in Atlantic Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition, the rightist Social Credit Party was represented in Parliament from 1935 to 1958, and again from 1962 to 1980. It was founded in the 1930s in Alberta and held the central Canadian financial institutions, most notably the banks, responsible for the economic hardship that the province of Alberta was enduring in the 1930s. The party won most of its seats in Alberta between 1935 and 1957, and in Quebec from 1962 to 1979.

Neither the NDP nor Social Credit was in a position to displace either of the two major parties. Nonetheless, the presence of four parties in Parliament - Liberals, Progressive Conservatives, NDP and Social Credit - led for a while to periods of minority governments and frequent early elections. Between 1962 and 1980, eight federal elections were held in Canada, five of which (1962, 1963, 1965, 1972 and 1979) resulted in minority governments, as no party won an absolute majority of seats in the House of Commons.

 

 

2) The 1990s and the emergence of new regional parties

 

 

 

In 1993, the collapse of the Progressive Conservative vote across Canada  led to the emergence of two parties with strong regional bases: the Bloc Quebécois (BQ) and the right-wing Reform Party (subsequently the Canadian Alliance). The BQ, which advocates separation of predominantly French-speaking Quebec from the rest of (largely English-speaking) Canada, has won a majority of the House of Commons seats in the province since 1993; the party does not field candidates outside Quebec. Reform (and later the Alliance) won an increasing majority of seats in Western Canada in 1993, 1997 and 2000, but few or no seats in Ontario, and none in Quebec or the Atlantic provinces. From 1993 to 1997 the BQ held the second largest number of seats in the House of Commons, becoming the Official Opposition to the Liberal government. However, in 1997 Reform displaced the BQ as the Official Opposition.

 

From 1993 to 2003, there were five parties represented in Parliament - the BQ, the Liberals, the NDP, the Progressive Conservatives and Reform/Alliance - with the Liberals commanding an absolute majority of House of Commons seats in the 1993, 1997 and 2000 federal elections.

 

 

 

3) 2003 and the birth of a new Conservative Party

In  2003 the Progressive Conservatives and Reform/Alliance merged into the new Conservative Party of Canada. After the 2004 federal elections, the Liberal Party stayed in office but only with a minority government. The new Conservative Party won the 2006 and 2008 federal elections but did not win an absolute majority of House of Commons seats (i.e. 155 seats). Their leader Stephen Harper was able only to form minority governments.

 

One reason, maybe, was the fear that a victory of the Conservative Party, born from a merging of the Progressive Conservatives and the Alliance, would mean a realignment of Canada on the American social model. The Alliance, which started life as the Reform Party, shared many values with the American Republican Party and was close to the religious right. During the 2006 campaign, the Liberals and the Bloc Québecois played on the possibility that a Conservative government would try to ban same-sex marriage and even abortion. Liberal Leader Paul Martin accused Conservative Leader Stephen Harper of planning to stack the Supreme Court with politicized judges who would allow for a social-conservative agenda drawn from the "extreme right" in the United States. He insisted that Mr. Harper wanted to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ban same-sex marriage and possibly abortion.

 

In reality, while it retains some features form the old Reform Party, the new Conservative Party of Canada has produced a new form of Conservatism. It is built around the following characteristics:

  • A neo-liberal economic program inspired by economist Friedrich Hayek, which supports reduction of taxes and public spending, a balanced budget, free trade and free market. It is important to note that this neo-liberal economic program is not new; it was started by the old Progressive-Conservatives as early as the 1980s, and the Liberals mostly implemented a neo-liberal policy throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

  • The primacy of the individual in society with the values of personal responsibility, personal initiative and self-reliance. This view of society is also inspired from Friedrich Hayek

  • Belief in a transcendent moral order and a desire to the right thing (neo-conservatism). Based on a rediscovery of classic Burkean conservatism, this view defends the values of order, morality, family and tradition. It condemns Liberals for what is described as their moral neutrality and relativism