World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Canadian conservatism


Canadian conservatism

Conservatism in Canada is generally considered to be primarily represented by the modern-day Conservative Party of Canada in federal party politics, and by various centre-right and right-wing parties at the provincial level. The first party calling itself "Conservative" in what would become Canada was elected in the Province of Canada election of 1854.

Canadian conservatism had always been rooted in a preference for the traditional and established ways of doing things, even as it had shifted in economic, foreign and social policy. It is for that reason that unlike the conservatives in the United States, Canadian conservatives generally prefer the Westminster system of government. (Note: The United States of America is a federal republic, while Canada is a federal parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, a distinction resulting from the American Revolution and its outcome.)

Originally, Canadian conservatism tended to be traditionalist. Conservative governments in Canada, such as those of Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir Robert Borden, Lord Richard Bennett, and John Diefenbaker were known for supporting an active role for government in the economy of the creation of government-operated businesses (early Crown Corporations such as the Canadian National Railway) to develop and protect Canadian industries, protectionist programs such as the National Policy. Canadian conservatism thus mirrored British Conservatism in its values and economic and political outlooks. Canadian conservatives have generally favoured the continuation of old political institutions and strong ties to the monarchy.


The conservative movement in Canada evolved from relatively informal pre-Confederation political movements or parties, gradually coalescing into the Conservative Party of Canada. This party was the dominant political force in Canadian politics from 1867 to 1935. Thereafter, the party (renamed the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 1945) spent more time in opposition than in government.

During the twentieth century rival "small-c conservative" movements appeared, most notably the federal Social Credit and Reform parties. Conservatism was divided (especially by region) until the merger of the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance (the direct successor to the Reform Party) in 2003.


Main articles: Upper Canada Tories and Parti bleu

In the early days of electoral politics in Canada, the term conservatives or Tories applied to those people who supported the authority of colonial governors and their advisers over the elected assemblies. These conservatives took their cues from British Tories, especially Burke. They supported royal privilege, and were avowedly anti-democratic. Tory supporters were often descended from loyalists who had fled the United States during the American Revolution and War of Independence. They were wary of emulating the US's "mob rule" and preferred a strong role for traditional elites such as landowners and the church in politics.[1]

Many were Anglicans who supported keeping the Anglican Church of Canada as Canada's established church. In each colony, Tories contested elections as the personal party of the governor. Business elites who surrounded the governor also hoped to gain patronage. In Upper Canada this was the Family Compact, in Lower Canada the Chateau Clique. Opposition to the rule of these oligarchies resulted in the Rebellions of 1837. After the rebellions, Lord Durham (a Whig or liberal) issued his Report on the Affairs of British North America, a report to the British government that recommended that most powers in colonial governments be given from the governor to the elected assemblies. This new arrangement, called responsible government, mirrored earlier changes that had occurred in Britain.

Responsible government

After the failure of radical liberalism during the Rebellions of 1837, a new set of moderate liberals, led by Robert Baldwin in Canada West, Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine in Canada East and Joseph Howe in Nova Scotia rose to prominence. They campaigned for and won responsible government by creating broad coalitions that took in liberals, moderates, and conservatives.[2]

The only way for conservatives as a party to regroup was to accept the consequences of responsible government: they abandoned the idea of being the governor's party and embraced mass politics. At the same time the coalition that had won responsible government began to break up in the 1850s. This presented an opening for more moderate conservatives such as John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier to claim the political centre.[3] Their coalition dominated politics in the United Province of Canada, and when joined by liberal George Brown, provided the broad support necessary to negotiate Confederation with the Maritime Provinces.


Macdonald-Cartier era

The MacDonald-Cartier coalition's prestige was only strengthened by the creation of the new Canadian Confederation in 1867. Their coalition dominated the early politics of the new state. Their "National Policy" of high tariffs against the United States, and intense railway building, became the basis of a political dynasty that dominated Canadian politics from Confederation until Macdonald's death in office in 1891. The greatest strain in this coalition came during the Riel Rebellions of 1869 and 1885, which inflamed French-English and Protestant-Catholic tensions in the country. After Macdonald's death, the coalition faltered and the Liberal Party rose to dominate Quebec, and in the process became the natural governing party.


The death of Macdonald left a large power vacuum in the Conservative Party, leading to the short tenure of John Abbott, who was the Protestant compromise choice. Abbott's government collapsed when his cabinet walked out on him, forcing him to resign and allowing for the selection of the first Catholic prime minister of Canada, John Sparrow Thompson. At just 45, he was expected to become the successor to Macdonald's legacy, but after only a year in office he died from a stroke. Two more short-serving Conservatives, Mackenzie Bowell and Charles Tupper, served out the end of the Conservative government, until the election in 1896 when the coalition of French and English Canadians fell apart and Laurier became the second Liberal prime minister of Canada. The Liberals would dominate for the next fourteen years until the emergence of Robert Borden.

World War and Depression

Robert Borden's Conservative government led Canada into the First World War, with the Laurier-led Liberal in opposition. The government wanted to introduce conscription, and sought a coalition to pursue this policy. Most English-speaking Liberals joined the Tories to form a coalition called "Unionist" with the mostly-French speaking Liberal rump in oppositon. After the war this coalition, now led by Arthur Meighen could not govern with a stable majority. In the 1921 election the Conservatives were relegated to third place, at the expense of the new Progressive movement based mostly in the Prairie West (see Western alienation).

Once the Progressive movement had largely been subsumed into the Liberal Party of Canada, the Conservatives were once again in opposision, until the election of 1930, under the leadship of R. B. Bennett. But in the 1935 election the Conservatives were handed a major defeat by the Liberals, with a new right-wing party, Social Credit, placing a close third, again on the strength of Western alienation.


Throughout most of the last century, the Progressive Conservative Party (often abbreviated PC) dominated conservative politics at the federal level and in most provinces. Canada had many conservative Prime Ministers in the past, but the first to be elected under the Progressive Conservative banner was John Diefenbaker who served from 1957-1963.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the rise of Conservative politicians in Canada such as Ralph Klein, Don Getty, Brian Mulroney, Preston Manning, Mike Harris and others, the objectives and values of Conservatives in Canada began to mimic those of fiscal conservatives in both the US and UK. With the rise in inflation and a large budgetary deficit in Canada from the Trudeau government, emphasis was put on "shrinking the size of government" (in part, through privatization), pursuing continentalist trade arrangements (free trade, creating tax incentives and cutting "government waste").

Joe Clark became Prime Minister with a minority government in 1979, but lost to a non-confidence vote after only nine months, and the Liberals again took power. After Pierre Trudeau's retirement in 1984, his successor, John Turner, called a federal election, which was won in a landslide by the PCs under Brian Mulroney. Mulroney succeeded by uniting conservatives from Western Canada with those from Quebec. During his tenure, the government unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate the status of Quebec through the failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords.

During the government of Brian Mulroney (1984–1993), government spending on social programs was cut, taxes for individuals and businesses were reduced (but a new national tax appeared for nearly all goods and services), government intervention in the economy was significantly reduced, a free trade agreement was drafted with the United States, and Crown Corporations such as Teleglobe, Petro-Canada and Air Canada (some created by previous Conservative governments) were sold to both domestic and foreign private buyers (privatized). However, due to the failure of the Mulroney government to balance the budget and service debt, the federal debt continued to rise. It was not until the end of Mulroney's administration and the beginning of Jean Chrétien's Liberal government that the government's program of spending finally halted the growth in the federal debt.

The government's willingness to affirm Quebec's demands for recognition as a distinct society was seen as a betrayal by many westerners as well as angering Canadian Nationalists mostly from Ontario. The Reform Party of Canada was founded on a strongly right-wing populist conservative platform as an alternative voice for these western conservatives.

The Progressive Conservative Party lost a large base of its support toward the end of the Mulroney era. Brian Mulroney's failed attempts to reform the Canadian Constitution with the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, and the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax only increased public anger. In the 1993 federal election, the PC Party was reduced to only two seats out of 295 in the Canadian House of Commons. The Liberal Party of Canada was elected with a strong majority and the Reform Party of Canada gradually replaced the Tories as the major right-wing party in Canada.

Following Mulroney's resignation in 1993 and Kim Campbell's brief tenure, the Conservatives were reduced to only two seats in Parliament. Much former PC support went to the Reform Party under Preston Manning, which became the official opposition from 1997-2000.

Throughout the 1990s, many neoconservatives, social conservatives and Blue Tories in the PC Party began to drift slowly to the Reform Party and then in droves to the Reform Party's direct successor, the Canadian Alliance. This left the PC Party under the control of the moderate Red Tory faction. Despite taking what they believed to be more popular socially progressive approaches on certain issues, the PCs significantly fell in the popular vote from the 1997 to 2000 federal elections and were not able to greatly increase their representation in the House of Commons. The Reform Party and then Canadian Alliance dominated the opposition benches.

Support for both the Reform Party and the Progressive Conservatives was negligible in Quebec until the 2006 federal election, where the renewed Conservative party won 10 seats in Quebec. In the west, the Reform Party took most of the PC Party's former seats, but held much more socially or economically conservative views than the old party on most subjects (regarding, for example, homosexuality, religion in public life, gun control, and government intervention in the economy).

The PCs retained moderate support in the Atlantic Provinces, eventually managing to regain a few seats. They also retained scattered support across the country. The result was that neither new party managed to approach the success of the Progressive Conservatives prior to 1993. In many ridings the conservative vote was split, letting other parties win: the Liberal Party under Jean Chrétien won three successive majority governments starting in 1993. During this period, either the Bloc Québécois or the Reform Party were the Official Opposition.

After the 1997 federal election some members of the Reform Party tried to end the vote splitting by merging the two parties. A new party was formed, called the Canadian Alliance, and Stockwell Day was elected its leader. However, many PCs resisted the move, suspecting that Reform Party ideology would dominate the new party, and the new party garnered only a little more support than its predecessor. Meanwhile the PC Party re-elected Joe Clark as their leader and attempted to regain lost ground.

Day's tenure was marked by a number of public gaffes and apparent publicity stunts, and he was widely portrayed as incompetent and ignorant. Several MPs left his party in 2002.

In 2003, when former Prime Minister Joe Clark retired after being brought back to improve the PC party's standings, Peter MacKay was chosen in a leadership contest to replace him. MacKay immediately created controversy within the party by entering into negotiations with Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper to merge the two parties. MacKay had been elected on a third ballot of the party's leadership convention as a result of an agreement that he signed with another leadership contestant, David Orchard, in which he promised never to merge the PC Party with the Alliance.

Later on that year, the Progressive Conservative Party, which dated back to 1854 (though existing under many different names), merged with the Canadian Alliance. 96% of the Alliance's membership and 92% of the PC Party's riding representatives approved the merger. The modern-day Conservative Party of Canada was then created, and, in 2004, Stephen Harper was elected leader. Under Stephen Harper, the platform of the Conservative Party emphasized the Blue Tory policies of fiscal restraint, increases in military spending, tax cuts and Senate Reform.

Social conservatism

While social conservatism exists throughout Canada it is not as pronounced as it is in some other countries, such as the United States. It represents conservative positions on issues of culture, family, sexuality and morality. Despite the current Conservative government having influential members who would be defined as social conservatives in its caucus, social conservatism has little influence on Canadian society.[4][5][6][7][8]

Conservatism in Western Canada

The four western Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have long been a hotbed for protest politics and political parties of the far left and far right. All four provinces have strong rural and Christian constituencies, leading to an active presence of the Christian Right. Historically, the heavy presence of agriculture led to the emergence in the past of large left-leaning, agrarian farmer's based protest movements such as the Progressive Party of Canada and the United Farmers of Canada which supported free trade with the United States and increased social benefits. These movements were later absorbed by the Liberal Party of Canada and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF).

During the Great Depression two radical protest movements appeared, the CCF in Saskatchewan advocated progressive social policies and reformist democratic socialism; while in Alberta, the Social Credit Party of Alberta formed a provincial government that favoured evangelical Christian conservatism, provincial control over natural resources, limited government intervention in the economy and a radical philosophy known as Social Credit based on providing dividends to the population to support small businesses and free enterprise.

Provincial Social Credit parties went on to dominate the government of Alberta from 1934–1971 and British Columbia from 1951–1972 and 1975-1991. However, unlike the CCF, which morphed into the social-democratic New Democratic Party, the Social Credit Party eventually died out. Their popularity grew in Quebec, leading to Western supporters of Social Credit feeling isolated by the federal party's Quebec nationalism. The provincial Social Credit governments of British Columbia and Alberta eventually abandoned Social Credit economic policies and followed staunchly conservative policies, while maintaining ties with the federal Progressive Conservative Party of Canada as opposed to the federal Social Credit Party of Canada.

In British Columbia, the BC Social Credit Party was replaced as the party of the centre-right by the British Columbia Liberal Party, and in Alberta the Alberta Social Credit Party were completely annihilated by the more moderate Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, leaving both parties as marginal political forces. In the 1980 federal election, the Social Credit Party of Canada lost all of its remaining seats and was forced to disband in 1989. Most of its Western members moved onto the ideologically similar Reform Party of Canada, founded by Preston Manning, the son of Alberta's former Social Credit premier, Ernest Manning.

The Reform Party grew out of the province of Alberta and was fed by dissatisfaction with the federal Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney. Right-wing Westerners felt that Mulroney's neoliberal economic policies did not go nearly far enough, that his government was overly favourable toward the more populous provinces of Quebec and Ontario, that his policies on social issues such as abortion and the death penalty were too liberal, and that, like the Liberal Party of Canada, the Progressive Conservatives had allegedly come to not take Western demands for provincial economic autonomy seriously enough.

Though for most of the 1990s, the Tories enjoyed roughly the same electoral support as the Reform Party due to Canada's first-past-the-post system of elected representatives to the Canadian House of Commons, Reform dominated the position of Official Opposition. In 1999, the Reform Party was dissolved and joined by some right-wing members of the PC Party to create the Canadian Alliance, formally known as the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance; however, this new enlarged party was unable to attract any real support east of Manitoba and was dissolved in 2003, merging with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada to create the modern-day Conservative Party of Canada. This party, led by former Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper, won a minority government in the 2006 federal election, with 36% of the vote and 124 seats in the House of Commons out of 308.

In Alberta, the Progressive Conservatives have dominated the government since 1971, following slightly right-wing policies under premiers Peter Lougheed, Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford. In BC, the British Columbia Liberal Party (BC Liberals) have taken a rightward economic turn under Premier Gordon Campbell in competing with the centre-left British Columbia New Democratic Party to government the province, filling the gap left by the electoral collapse of the BC Social Credit Party in 1991. In Saskatchewan, the centre-right Saskatchewan Party formed its first government in 2007 after many years of Saskatchewan NDP rule. In Manitoba, the New Democratic Party of Manitoba currently forms provincial government; however, federally, the Conservatives are dominant in all four Western provinces.

Ideology and political philosophy

Canadian conservative parties

Represented in Parliament

A rump Progressive Conservative caucus also sits in the Canadian Senate.

Not represented in Parliament




Conservative prime ministers

See also

conservatism portal

Other ideologies:



This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.