Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Liberals: From Natural Governing Party to an Uncertain Future, 1984 to 2012

Since 1984, when Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives won a large majority of federal ridings in Quebec, the federal Liberal Party has failed to win a majority of seats in Quebec in any subsequent election, although they came close in 2000. Contrast the last three decades with the era from 1896 to 1984.

In 1896, Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier led his party to victory in a large majority of Quebec seats on his way to power. Since 1896, the Conservatives have won a majority of federal seats in Quebec only three times, in 1958, 1984 and 1988. Beginning in 1993 and in every federal election since then, the Bloc Quebecois has won a majority of federal seats in Quebec.

What made the Liberal Party “the natural governing party” of Canada for over eighty years following 1896 was that it could almost always count on winning a majority of seats in Quebec, usually a very substantial majority. (The term “natural governing party” simply means the party that can usually be expected to win elections.) With Quebec almost always safely in its column the day an election was called, the Liberals had only to do reasonably well in the rest of Canada to win power.

Look at it another way. In only seven elections from 1896 through 1988---those of 1911, 1917, 1925, 1930, 1957, 1962 and 1979 (four of the last five of these producing short-lived Conservative minority governments)---did the party winning a majority of seats in Quebec fail to win the election. Throughout this period, the Liberal Party never won power without winning a majority of seats in Quebec.

During the elections from 1993 through 2000, the Liberal Party successfully masked the loss of its ability to win a majority of seats in Quebec for two reasons, both of them not destined to endure for the long-term. The first of these was the Liberal Party’s success in winning an overwhelming majority of seats in vote rich Ontario. The second reason, strongly related to the first, was the division of the political right into two major parties from 1993 to 2003 when the Conservative Party of Canada was founded.

Why did the Liberals lose their grip on Quebec? In 1984 and 1988, after decades of dominating Quebec, the Liberals came up against the phenomenon of Brian Mulroney, a politician from the north shore of the St. Lawrence who was linguistically as much a Francophone as an Anglophone. There had never previously been a Conservative leader like Mulroney. And his timing was ideal. By 1984, the Quebecois were fed up with the great political wars of the preceding two decades between the two giants of the age, Pierre Trudeau and Rene Levesque. Moreover, by 1984, Canadians, including the Quebecois, were tired of the Trudeau government, after several years of sharp recession and the unseemly spectacle of Liberals rewarding their own with plush appointments in the months leading up to the election.

Beyond Mulroney, there was another and more important reason why the Liberals lost Quebec---Quebec nationalism.

Pierre Trudeau’s liberalism had an enormous impact on Canada, but in Quebec it was a highly divisive force. In the 1968 election campaign, Pierre Trudeau sailed to victory, not only because of the attractiveness of his vision of a Just Society, but in English Canada he was that very special politician, a French Canadian who insisted on making no concessions to Quebec nationalism. He opposed any form of special status for Quebec and insisted that bilingualism and fairness toward the country’s two major linguistic communities was the responsibility of Ottawa and all of the provinces. The fate of Francophone Canada, he argued, was not the exclusive problem of Quebec. In English Canada, this was heady stuff. Here was a charismatic Francophone saying that the Quebec nationalists had got it all wrong.

Trudeau’s eventual success in patriating the Constitution and in entrenching the Charter of Rights in 1982 was an unqualified success everywhere but in Quebec. In English Canada, the Charter soon became a pillar of the national identity, making English Canadians much more a “rights based” people than they had been. In Quebec, while the ideas of a written constitution and a Charter of Rights were not anathema, the fact that these were imposed from Ottawa, against the explicit opposition of Rene Levesque’s Quebec government, enormously reduced their legitimacy.

Quebec governments suffered no serious legitimacy problem when they used the Notwithstanding provision in the Constitution to override the Charter to achieve their cultural, linguistic or educational objectives. As this “social values” conflict evolved between English Canadians and Quebec nationalists after 1982, quite distinct positions developed on questions such as multiculturalism. Although multiculturalism has recently come under fire in many circles in English Canada, it was seen for several decades as a pillar of Canadian society.

Quebec developed its own concept, called Interculturalism, with Quebecois intellectuals and political leaders making the case that while other cultures have a role to play in Quebec, that role had to be measured against a standard of “reasonable accommodation” that spelled out how far Quebec should go in accommodating other cultures.

Two recent examples will suffice. The Quebec National Assembly has passed legislation prohibiting women who wear the niqab or burqa from obtaining services from public and para-governmental institutions, including doctors’ offices and health clinics, as well as government-funded schools, colleges and universities. In addition, the Quebec National Assembly refused admission to a group of Sikh men wearing the Kirpan (ceremonial dagger) to a human rights hearing, on the grounds that this violated security. When asked if such a step was a violation of multiculturalism, a spokesperson for the Parti Quebecois replied that multiculturalism is a Canadian value not a Quebec value.

Shifting the periodic debates between English Canada and Quebec from the ground of pragmatic accommodation between the two linguistic communities to a clash of values can have long-term negative consequences for Canadian federalism.

What is clear is that Trudeau’s conception of Canada and of Quebec’s place in it, as simply one province among ten, has been rejected by a majority of Quebecois. No provincial political party in Quebec, and this includes the Quebec Liberals, has been prepared to live within the confines of the Trudeau vision. During the debate about the Meech Lake Accord in 1990, Pierre Trudeau who was retired from politics delivered a speech in Montreal, declaiming his opposition to the idea of recognizing Quebec as a “distinct society” in the Constitution. He would certainly have opposed the Harper government’s resolution, supported by the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc that Quebec constitutes a nation within Canada---the Bloc naturally did not agree with the final part of the proposition.

Trudeau’s long struggle against Quebec nationalism, while arguably successful, had the consequence of weakening the Liberal Party in Quebec.

When to this were added the political response in Quebec to the Clarity Act of 2000 and to the Sponsorship Scandal, which blew up in 2004, the cumulative resentment against the federal Liberals in Quebec was immense. The Chretien government, with Stephane Dion taking the lead on it, promulgated the Clarity Act to insist that for a Quebec government to use a victory in a sovereignty referendum to take Quebec out of Confederation, the referendum would have to be clear as to its intent and the majority favouring it had to be decisive.

In addition to the deterioration of the Liberal Party’s standing in Quebec, there has been the long-term erosion of the party’s viability in Western Canada.

Once the Liberals succeeded in winning most of the farmer Progressives into their ranks, during the 1920s and 1930s (with the exception of a brief period in the mid 1920s and 1930-35 when the Conservatives were in power) the federal Liberals depended on the twin pillars of Quebec and the West (especially Saskatchewan) to win power. (In their huge majority victory in 1935, the Liberals won 56 of 82 seats in Ontario, adding to their dominance in Quebec, the West, and the Maritimes in that election.)

By the time of the 1945 election, the Liberals were already slipping in the West, with both the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and the Social Credit performing strongly in the region; even the Ontario centred Progressive Conservatives showed strength there. In their massive electoral victory of 1949---the Liberals won 191 of 262 seats---the Liberals dominated all of the major regions of the country. (The only province they lost was Alberta where they took 5 seats compared to the 10 won by the Social Credit.) Again, in the 1953 election, the Liberals won a large majority, reduced from four years earlier.

In 1957, a very significant shift occurred that pointed the way to a future in which the Liberal Party’s fortunes would decline in the West. After twenty-two years of Liberal majority government, John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives won a minority electoral victory, taking 112 of the 265 seats. While the Liberals held onto a large majority of seats in Quebec, they were demolished in the West where most of the seats were shared among the CCF, the PCs and the Social Credit. In their massive victory the following year---Diefenbaker won 208 of 265 seats---the PCs dominated in every region. The Liberals, winning only 48 seats, did not take a single seat in the four western provinces.

In 1962, with Diefenbaker reduced to a minority government, with 116 of the 265 seats, the Liberals took 99 seats. Significantly, while the Liberals came back strongly in Central Canada---they won only 35 seats in Quebec because of the rise of the Creditistes (Social Credit) under Real Caouette who took 26 seats---they managed to win only 6 seats in the West where Diefenbaker held on strongly. The following year, 1963, in another election, Lester Pearson’s Liberals won a minority victory, taking 128 of 265 seats, with Diefenbaker’s PCs winning 95 seats. In this hour of defeat Diefenbaker held onto a large majority of seats in all three prairie provinces, with the newly formed NDP winning 9 seats in B.C. to the Liberals 7, and the PCs 4 in that province. Again two years later, in 1965, the Liberals had to settle for another minority with 131 of 265 seats, while Diefenbaker won 97 seats, clinging stubbornly to his prairie base, while the Liberals managed to take only 8 seats in the West.

A pattern was taking shape. The Liberal Party was becoming the party of Central Canada, and it was on the skids in the West. That was certainly to be the case with the party’s new leader Pierre Trudeau, who was elevated to the party leadership and won a majority electoral victory in 1968. In his first election victory, Trudeau’s Liberals took 154 of 265 seats with Robert Stanfield’s PCs settling for 72 seats. In 1968, Trudeau won 16 seats in B.C.----he was very popular on the West Coast in urban areas, but the PCs beat him handily in the prairies winning 20 seats to his 11. In 1972, the Trudeau Liberals were thrown back on their Quebec base to sustain them as a minority government. They won 109 seats overall out of 264, just two seats more than the Conservatives. Without his 56 seats in Quebec and 36 in Ontario (four fewer than the Tories), Trudeau would have lost power. The Liberals won only 7 seats in the West. In 1974, Trudeau got his majority back, winning 141 seats with the PCs reduced to 95. Between them, Quebec and Ontario provided 115 of the Liberal seats, with the party carrying 8 seats in B.C. and 5 in the prairies. The Liberals had to rely on Central Canada as its political engine.

In 1979, the PCs under Joe Clark won 136 seats out of 282 to win a minority victory, with the Liberals reduced to 114. In the West, the new citadel of the Conservative Party, the Liberals picked up only 3 seats. Trudeau was back the following year, 1980, with his final hurrah, a majority government. His party won 147 seats out of 282 to 103 for Joe Clark’s Conservatives. But the new majority pointed to Trudeau’s dependence on Central Canada where he won 126 seats, and carried only 2 in the four western provinces. In the West, Trudeau meant one the only---being left out of what looked like an increasingly distant Ottawa.

In 1984, Brian Mulroney’s PCs carried every region in the country, winning 211 seats out of 282, while John Turner’s Liberals scraped together only 40. Quebec was now gone from the Liberal column----in that province, the Liberals won only 17 seats to 58 for the Tories. And the Liberals have not won a majority of seats in Quebec in any federal election since then. The Quebec pillar was gone and so too was the Western pillar, which had been eroding for decades. The Liberals carried only 2 seats in the West in 1984.

In 1993, when Jean Chretien stormed to a majority victory against a divided right, he ended up with 177 seats out of 295, with the PCs reduced to 2 seats, the Bloc Quebecois winning 54 and the Reform Party 52. The Liberals did better in the West than in recent elections, carrying 27 seats, 12 of them in Manitoba. But they were far behind the Reform Party with its 51 western seats. And in Quebec, the party won only 19 seats. The story of Chretien’s victory as it would be the story of his three majorities was Ontario, where the party carried a stunning 98 seats out of 99. In 1997, the Liberals managed 101 of the 103 seats in Ontario out of their total caucus of 155. In Quebec, they took 26 seats, and in the West a total of 15. The fragility of the Liberals was there for all to see. In 2000, it was the same basic story with the Liberals winning 172 of the 301 seats, to the 66 seats taken by the Canadian Alliance. In the West, the Liberals won 14 seats and in Quebec 36, only 2 seats behind the Bloc, but again the story was Ontario with its 100 Liberal seats.

From there the story of Liberal decline can be quickly told. In 2004, the Liberals under Paul Martin held onto power with 135 seats, a minority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons. The new Conservative Party, led by Stephen Harper, won 99 seats. Martin managed to win 14 seats in the West and 21 in Quebec. His Ontario citadel was under attack. He held onto 75 seats, to the Conservatives 24. In 2006, the party of the united right, the Conservatives, won a minority victory with 124 seats to the Liberals’ 103. This time the Liberals were down to 54 seats in Ontario, 13 in Quebec, and 14 in the West. In 2008, the Conservatives gained seats, but still fell short of a majority, winning 143 seats to 77 for the Liberals. This time, the Conservatives won a majority of seats in Ontario, 51, to the Liberals with 38. In the West, the Conservative Party’s bastion, the Liberals won 7 seats and took 14 in Quebec.

We have looked at why the Liberal Party fell on hard times in Quebec. What caused its long demise in the West? It should be noted that each of the four western provinces has its own political culture, and what moves politics in Alberta as compared to B.C., for instance, can be quite different. Nonetheless, it is helpful to examine the fortunes of the Liberals in the West as a whole.

In part, the Liberal problem in the West was its long association with Quebec and bilingualism. In part, the idea grew in the West that the Liberals cared only about Toronto and Montreal and didn’t concern themselves with “outer Canada.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Trudeau government’s petroleum policies deeply alienated the provincial governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan as well as the powerful petroleum industry. Beginning in the autumn of 1973 and continuing in subsequent years, the Trudeau government fixed the price of domestic petroleum well below the rising world price. Meanwhile the Trudeau government authorized the sale of Canadian petroleum to the United States at the world price and collected the difference between the domestic and export price as an export tax.

In 1980, the Trudeau government introduced the National Energy Policy (NEP), which established the goal of achieving fifty per cent Canadian ownership of the petroleum industry by 1990. This goal was to be achieved by expanding Petro Canada, the publicly owned petroleum that had been established in 1975, and that had grown by buying out the assets of a number of foreign owned petroleum firms. In addition, the goal was to be realized by promoting the expansion of privately owned petroleum firms. These firms were to benefit from a change to tax system that imposed higher taxes on foreign owned than on Canadian owned petroleum companies. This tax differential was to provide capital for Petroleum Incentive Program (PIP) grants to be made to domestically owned petroleum companies to aid them in expanding their operations.

This set of policies, together with the negative effects of a global slowdown of the petroleum industry, opened the Liberals to sustained attacks from the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments and the petroleum industry (not to mention the U.S. government) as hostile of the petroleum sector and responsible for its problems.

Once the unusual Liberal dominance in the elections of 1993, 1997 and 2000---largely attributable to the division on the right, the party faced a much more problematic future. As the details of the Sponsorship Scandal struck home with the public in the winter of 2004 (for details, see Week 8, Lecture 15) the changed realities that confronted the Liberal Party were plainly visible.

Of course, other factors---changing economic conditions and the quality of leadership---have played their part in influencing the fortunes of the Liberal Party.

If anything, the Liberals got lucky bounces on the economy. The election of 1993---Chretien’s first victory---came at just the right time for the Liberals, allowing them to capitalize on the vast unpopularity of Brian Mulroney (even though the Tories were running under newly anointed leader, Kim Campbell), and the unhappiness generated by the sharp economic downtown of the early 1990s.

Briefly, we turn to the issue of leadership.

Rusty and awkward in public, when he was first elected leader of the Liberal Party and served briefly as prime minister, until defeated by Brian Mulroney’s PCs in 1984, John Turner grew in stature and grace as the years passed. By the time he faced Mulroney for the second time in an election in 1988, Turner had become a formidable campaigner. In the second English language television leaders’ debate of the campaign, his sharp attack on Mulroney on the issue of free trade briefly propelled the Liberals into first place ahead of the Tories.

Jean Chretien, Turner’s successor, was often written off as a light-weight before he won the election of 1993. Having held many cabinet positions under Pierre Trudeau, he was not a stand out in any of them. But he did win three successive majority governments. Luck had a lot to do with this, the luck of being up against a weak and divided opposition. Despite his lack of gravitas at times, Chretien was an effective communicator, especially in English Canada. He had learned the hard lessons of a political pugilist through his decades of experience.

Paul Martin was sworn in as prime minister in December 2003, three years into Chretien’s final mandate. Martin was personable and a good listener---a rarity in politics---who didn’t assume that that he was smarter than everyone around him. He combined a genuine, progressive concern for the well-being of Canadians with a tough, unbending commitment to the neo-liberal ethos. Unlike Chretien, Martin was not lucky. He inherited the Sponsorship Scandal from his predecessor. When it blew up on his watch, he was never able to recover from it.

Stephane Dion, the surprise winner of the 2006 Liberal leadership race, was unpopular in his home province of Quebec, in large measure because he was seen as the author of the Clarity Act, and was completely unsympathetic to Quebec nationalism. As Liberal leader, he never succeeded in winning a large following in English Canada. He was the only Liberal leader who only led his party in one federal election and only the second Liberal leader never to become prime minister.

Michael Ignatieff failed to ignite major affection from the Canadian people. A highly accomplished intellectual, Ignatieff spent decades outside the country in Britain and the United States, a biographical fact that has come home to haunt him in his quest for political success. While in the U.S., he supported the American led invasion of Iraq in 2003. He has since written that he was wrong about that. Ignatieff pulled the plug on the idea of a Liberal-NDP coalition government when he took over from Dion as interim Liberal leader in December 2008. During the two years leading up to the election of 2011, Ignatieff had a difficult time developing a consistent line of attack on the Harper government. He settled on the broad issue of the Harper government’s consistent disdain for parliament and the threat this posed to Canadian democracy in the months prior to the election.

For the Liberal Party, the election campaign of 2011 and its aftermath were no less than catastrophic, leaving as they did the standing of the Liberals as a major party in serious doubt. Michael Ignatieff, despite his strengths as an intellectual and communicator was effectively targeted and marginalized by negative attack ads before and during the campaign.

On May 2, 2011, the Liberals won only 34 seats, the worst result in the party’s history. Even more dire for the Liberals, the party placed third behind the NDP, leaving them neither the government nor the opposition for the first time ever.

The large question for the Liberals and their interim leader Bob Rae, was whether a centre party such as theirs could regain their former standing as one of the country’s two major parties. Major centre parties are very much the exception in first world democracies. In Europe and the United States, the norm is for the political system to be dominated by major parties on the left and the right. In Europe, with the exception of the UK, varying systems of proportional representation are in place. On the continent, the norm is to have one major party on the left and one on the right, along with small centrist parties and smaller parties on the further left and right.

In the UK, which has a first-past-the-post electoral system like Canada’s, the centrist Liberal Democrats, now partners in a coalition government with the Conservatives, occupy the centre ground between the major parties, the Conservatives and Labour.

The question for the Liberals is: do, they now face a future as a centrist, third party, poised between the Conservatives and the NDP, sometimes able to coalesce with one or the other? Or, can the Liberals rebound and push the NDP back into third party status in a subsequent election? And does the continuing combat between the Liberals and the NDP for a similar electorate bode well for the continuing domination of Canadian politics by the Conservatives?

The NDP: The Road Travelled from 2006 to 2012

On election night in January 2006, Jack Layton declared that Canadians had “voted out of hope for change” and expressed the conviction that the NDP caucus, 29 MPs as compared with 19 in 2004, would help place working people and seniors “at the front of the line” where they belong. Layton was proved stunningly, embarrassingly wrong, however.

The Harper minority government turned out to be more insistently, stubbornly right-wing than anyone predicted. On childcare, Harper did exactly what he said he would do—he scrapped the national program. On the Kelowna Accord, the Conservatives have scuppered a historic deal that had been years in the making, and that would have provided billions of dollars in development capital for Aboriginal peoples. On relations with the U.S. and on foreign policy issues, Harper has overtly aligned himself with the countries making up the Anglo-sphere, principally the United States and the United Kingdom. Harper’s priorities are unswervingly clear: cut taxes; increase military spending; impose no environmental regulations that will inconvenience the petroleum industry; decentralize Canada and win the votes of soft Quebec nationalists in the process.

The NDP’s predecessor the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) held its founding convention in Regina in 1933 and adopted the Regina Manifesto as the new party’s program. The Regina manifesto advocated widespread public ownership of key sectors of the Canadian economy. Its clarion call was that “no CCF Government will rest content until it has eradicated capitalism and put into operation the full program of socialized planning which will lead to the establishment in Canada of the Cooperative Commonwealth.” A cursory glance at the document reveals that the founders of Canada’s social democratic party were prepared to critique capitalism and they advanced a program aimed at making fundamental changes. If none of this seems at all like the mild-mannered NDP of today, there is a reason for that. When the CCF-NDP was founded, there was a creative tension between movement and party. CCFers cared about the long-term struggle to win people to socialism as well as about the short-term effort to elect members to the House of Commons and provincial legislatures. That tension has ceased as a consequence of the total, or near total, victory of the party side of the equation. Socialism, anti-capitalism, and the commitment to a fundamentally altered society have been dropped from the NDP program, and are nowhere to be seen during election campaigns. Socialism is a kind of friendly ghost that haunts a party whose program and whose outlook are no longer socialist.

On one level what makes this odd is that over the past thirty years, society at home and abroad, has grown ever more unequal, and basic inequality was the spur that created a social democratic party in the first place. Globally, the wealth gap between workers in poor countries—many of them women and children, who produce the imports for the first world—and the tiny elite that sits atop the global system, is as wide as was the gap in the pre-capitalist feudal order in Europe. Forget the soft sounding term “neo-colonialism,” often used to depict relations between the developed world and the poor world. The level of exploitation that exists today matches that of colonial times.

Closer to home, a 2007 report for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives concluded that the income disparity between the rich and the rest of the population was rapidly widening. By 2004, the richest 10 percent of families were earning 82 times as much as the poorest 10 percent. By comparison, in 1976, the difference was 31 times. In the United States in 2007, the relative income gap between rich and poor was wider than at any time since 1929, the eve of the Great Depression. Seventy years ago, the remuneration of a top American corporate manager was 68 times that of a typical employee. Now the top manager makes 170 times as much. The American figures may be somewhat more unequal than ours, but we’re moving in exactly the same direction. The social democratic critique of the Liberals and Conservatives has been that they are both business parties, the Bobbsey Twins of Bay Street. The critique is not inaccurate, but is altogether too broad a generalization to be of much use except as a rhetorical vehicle.

The NDP suffered from Liberal envy. NDP leaders have long wanted to replace the Liberals as a major party to make of the Canadian political system what social democrats have always seen as “natural”—a system in which a major party of the left takes on a major party of the right. The model social democrats had in mind was that of Britain, where the long-established Liberal Party had shrunk into minor party status, to be replaced by the Labour Party as the alternative to the Conservatives. Nothing has annoyed Canadian social democrats more over the past 75 years than the failure of the Liberals to give up the ghost, which was the original aspiration of people like Tommy Douglas. In its battle to replace the Liberals as one of the country’s two major parties, the NDP has watered down its socialism almost to the vanishing point.

There were two ways in which the social democrats failed to understand the Liberals. First of all, the Liberals had their own progressive roots in the failed rebellions of 1837-38 in Lower Canada and Upper Canada. In those struggles, the reformers and would-be revolutionaries could point to the American and French Revolutions and to the radical British Chartists as being among those from whom they drew political and intellectual inspiration. They came by the colour red honestly, to the unhappiness of the social democrats who got stuck with orange, having flirted with green before abandoning the colour (much to their chagrin today). For their part, the Liberals have made strenuous efforts to put their radical history behind them, especially in Quebec, where the rouge heritage put them up against the enormously powerful Roman Catholic church. The other thing the social democrats did not understand about the Liberals was that in the late 19th century, the party managed to reinvent itself as a European-style Catholic Centre party. During the 20th century, the great achievement of the Liberal Party was to make itself the more or less permanent home of Catholic voters, not only of francophones, but of Irish Catholics and later of the post-World War II Catholic immigrants from Europe, notably the Italians. For most of the 20th century, the religion of voters was a much surer indicator of the party they would support than social class, rivalling language and region. In a country that has become nearly 50 percent Roman Catholic (though not necessarily practising Catholics), this correlation gave the Liberals enormous staying power.

Meanwhile, the CCF-NDP suffered from the fact that among the midwives at the party’s birth were Protestant clergymen. Despite the best efforts of social democrats, they could never succeed in removing the scent of Protestantism that Quebec voters found so off-putting. In the end, Pierre Trudeau, who was attracted to social democracy and was an admirer of the CCF-NDP, decided that if he wanted to have a serious political career it would have to be as a Liberal, a party he scorned until the early 1960s, rather than in the marginal NDP. If social democrats have never wanted to take a clear look at the Liberals, because they want to replace them, they also have avoided being realistic about the Conservatives, because they’d rather not acknowledge how right-wing their own party has become. Under the leadership of Brian Mulroney in the 1980s, the Conservatives dropped the nationalism and Red Toryism that had been important elements in the party’s past, and opted instead for neo-conservatism. This meant that the adherents of the Canadian right took on the role of uncritical enthusiasts for the American socio-economic system and for the tightest possible alliance with the U.S. in global affairs. The Conservatives represented the segment of the Canadian population that had little or no fundamental attachment to the idea of Canada as a country separate from the United States, a stance that leads inexorably toward the elimination of basic differences between Canada and the U.S., certainly including the euthanizing of the social democratic tendency in Canada.

The NDP has evolved into a party much like the others. There is little political ferment. Riding association meetings, party conferences and provincial and federal conventions are not occasions for basic debate and education about the state of society and what needs to be done, but rather focus on fundraising, holding raffles and showcasing the leader for the media. The only time when there is genuine democracy in the NDP is during leadership campaigns. At least during these intervals, real debate becomes possible. Once the leader is chosen, however, party policy, decided on at conventions, is ignored. That has been the case for decades. Between leadership campaigns, the leader, surrounded by his or her inner staff and pollsters, determines the political course of the party. The campaigns of the party establishment to replace the Regina Manifesto with the Winnipeg Declaration in 1956 (which effectively replaced socialism with the humanization of capitalism as the party’s objective), to suppress the Waffle in the early 1970s (to eliminate a grassroots movement that sought to move the party to the left) and to contain the New Politics Initiative a number of years ago were episodes in a decades-old effort to make vote winning the paramount, almost exclusive, legitimate activity of the party. The historically successful drive to drain party membership of any real political content and to vest almost all power in the hands of the leader and his or her operatives has had the effect of making the tactics of each election campaign the only thing that really matters. And since the success of leaders is judged almost wholly by how many seats they win, ambitious NDP leaders have reached the not surprising conclusion that the party will tolerate virtually anything as long as it promotes the winning of more votes and more seats.

In the 1930s, social democrats believed that they needed to nurture a political culture and an intellectual climate in which socialist ideas would be embraced. CCF meetings were serious occasions for learning, discussion and debate. Under the aegis of the League for Social Reconstruction, socialist thinkers wrote books on the future course of Canadian social and economic policy. In 1935, the LSR published Social Planning for Canada, a penetrating analysis of what ailed Canadian society during the Depression. Some of those active in the LSR were F.R. Scott, Frank Underhill, King Gordon, Graham Spry and Leonard Marsh. It’s been a long time since anyone looked to the NDP for ideas. The trouble with encouraging thought and creating a culture where ideas can flourish is that ideas come with controversy and searing debates about what the party stands for and what its tactics should be.

While social democrats believed they could dispense with ideas, the right figured out that they could not. The neo-conservatives buttressed the Conservative Party with the help of media conglomerates and the right-wing intelligentsia. For example, Conrad Black, once described by Margaret Thatcher as the most right-wing person she’d ever met—she meant it as a compliment—established the National Post over a decade ago as a journal of combat whose task was to rally the right, feature its most effective voices as columnists and help bring to power a party that would move Canada sharply to the right.

The Aspers stepped in as Black withdrew and now run a media empire that is Canada’s “Fox lite,” committed to shifting the dialogue in the country dramatically to the right. David Frum, Robert Fulford and—until recently—Andrew Coyne at the Post and Tom Flanagan who used to be at Stephen Harper’s elbow actually care about ideas. They don’t merely want to hold office, they want to change the country (something social democrats used to care about). They are not content to become members of a centre-of-the road Canadian government. J.S. Woodsworth, Tommy Douglas and David Lewis were also not interested in merely simply sitting at a cabinet table. They were determined to create a Canada in which the power of the capitalists to exploit workers was sharply reduced and the lives of wage and salary earners were dramatically improved. If they had simply wanted to hold office, they could have signed on with Mackenzie King, St. Laurent or Pearson and they would have been welcomed with open arms.

And there is an important difference between those on the right and those on the left who seek fundamental change. The right can achieve crucial changes that are exceptionally difficult to reverse because they speak for the leading elements of the business class. When the members of the Mulroney government, with the overwhelming support of business, signed a trade deal with the United States, they locked measures into it that meant that no future Canadian government could reintroduce the elements of the National Energy Program without seeking the repeal of the FTA and NAFTA. When the left is in office and seeks to legislate basic change, it does so in opposition to the power of the business class. The classic example was the implementation of medicare by the Saskatchewan CCF government in the summer of 1962. Tommy Douglas, who had led the CCF to its fifth consecutive electoral victory in 1960, had pledged that he would regard re-election as a mandate from the people to introduce a universal, comprehensive medical care program to cover every person in the province. After passing the required legislation, the government announced that medicare would come into force on July 1, 1962. (By then, Douglas, who was elected leader of the newly founded federal NDP the previous summer, had been replaced as premier by Woodrow Lloyd.)

On July 1, a large majority of the province’s doctors went on strike to combat medicare. The strike, watched closely across North America, had the full support of the Canadian and American Medical Associations, the continental insurance industry and most of the wider business community plus the backing of the editorial pages of almost all of the continent’s daily newspapers. Three weeks later the strike ended and the doctors returned to work, and within a few years, the federal Liberals had offered funding to any provincial government that agreed to sign onto the principles of medicare. All of them did. Medicare changed Canada. Even though right-wing governments have tried to undermine the public health care system by opening the door to private hospitals and clinics, they have not been able to challenge medicare head on.

With this campaign, Canadian social democrats achieved what American liberals during the Clinton administration and the Obama administration never could. They had presided over a profound change in the political culture, and they did it because the Saskatchewan CCF was a genuine people’s party. Few members were business executives, and not many were direct owners of small businesses, with the exception of family farmers (and these were a small minority of the Saskatchewan party membership by 1960). While the business community could put external pressure on the CCF government in the province, as it could on any government, the party itself was quite impervious to its coersion and that made the CCF very different from the Democrats in the United States and the Canadian Liberals.

Not accidentally, the medicare breakthrough came in at the high point of the progressive era of the postwar decades. In Canada, the United States and in Western Europe, this was a time when trade union membership was on the rise, social programs were being established and access to higher education was widening. Europe was the most advanced in this process, followed by Canada, but these were also the great years of the American Civil Rights movement, as well as the Great Society programs. In today’s neo-conservative environment, it is dauntingly difficult to achieve social policy breakthroughs—for instance the establishment of a universal, comprehensive early childhood education system beginning at age two, along the lines of the system that has existed for many decades in France. There is a strong movement in Canada that has struggled for many years for such a program and the NDP supports this aim, but the NDP and the forces that seek such a basic reform have never really worked together in a major campaign to see their goal to fruition. The NDP is a becalmed political party that has lost the combative edge of the social democrats of earlier decades. For tactical reasons, the NDP prefers to see the Conservatives and Liberals as parties that share common values. The NDP leadership fears that if it critiques the Harper Conservatives as significantly to the right of the Liberals this will drive social democratic voters into the arms of the Liberals. Indeed, one is more likely to get a sweeping assessment of the implications of neo-conservatism from the Liberals than from the NDP.

The consequence of the NDP’s tactical stance is that the party ends up as just another liberal party, operating from a somewhat more left-wing vantage point. The lack of a compelling vision has left the NDP looking much like the other parties, which is why so many people who are searching for something genuinely different are opting for the Green Party.

There have been moments in the history of the NDP when the party has stood on principle, leaving shabby tactics to the side. One came during the October Crisis of 1970. After cells from the Front de Liberation du Quebec kidnapped James Cross, the British Trade Commissioner in Montreal, and a few days later kidnapped Quebec labour minister Pierre Laporte, the Trudeau government proclaimed the War Measures Act and dispatched soldiers to the streets of Montreal. The next day, the body of the murdered Laporte was discovered in the trunk of a car. The draconian powers of the act allowed the government to arrest people and hold them for weeks without charging them. The night the Act was proclaimed, the Montreal began rounding people up. Never charged, several hundred people were arrested and held. The Act also allowed the government to censor the media. In the course of a few days, the government acquired dictatorial powers and public opinion polls showed that about ninety per cent of Canadians approved.

When David Lewis and Tommy Douglas decided in the autumn of 1970 to oppose Pierre Trudeau’s blatant disregard for civil liberties when he proclaimed the War Measures Act, in Quebec these NDP leaders were not thinking about votes. Polls showed that 90 percent of Canadians were on Trudeau’s side. In the short run, what Lewis and Douglas did bled support away from their party. In the long run, however, the NDP not only took a stand for civil liberties when it was crucial that someone do so, but the party gained respect and reinforced the view of the NDP as an institution to which Canadians looked for leadership. During the 2006 election campaign, many trade unionists and social activists were furious with Jack Layton and the NDP for failing to critique the consequences of a Conservative victory in the election. They were angry that the NDP chose the late fall of 2005 to join the Conservatives and the Bloc in bringing down the Martin government and precipitating an election.

They believed that this decision put in peril a number of reforms to which the Martin Liberals had agreed, including a national childcare program. The 2006 federal election “badly tested the relationship” between social movements and the NDP, wrote Canadian Auto Workers economist Jim Stanford in the Globe and Mail a few days after Harper’s election victory. “NDP strategists precipitated the election, sensing a moment of opportunity to win more seats. But their decision was made over the explicit objection of many progressive movements. They had used the Liberals’ fragile minority position to extract impressive, important gains (child care, new legal protections for workers, the aboriginal deal, and others); they wanted to solidify those victories, and win new ones.” Leaders from these progressive constituencies “all wanted the election later, not sooner.” The most visible sign of division was Canadian Auto Workers’ president Buzz Hargrove’s campaign to stop the Conservatives by supporting New Democrats in ridings where they were likely to win and Liberals elsewhere. Three weeks after the election, the Ontario NDP executive suspended Hargrove from the party; its president, Sandra Clifford, explaining that the sum of the union leader’s actions led to the suspension. “It was appearing with the prime minister….hugging him. Saying that he wanted a Liberal minority government,” Clifford said. In effect, the party had decided that it was an expellable offence for members to advocate strategic voting. While many insiders wanted Hargrove to “Buzz off,” others were just as concerned about the decision to bring down the government; still others, viewing the entire NDP campaign as strategic, thought Hargrove’s dismissal deeply ironic.

Still smarting over Martin’s successful 2004 last-ditch appeal to NDP supporters to vote Liberal to stop Harper, Layton’s campaign team was determined not to let history repeat itself. Polls indicated that NDP supporters were the most worried about a Conservative government and, the thinking went, many again would vote strategically (for the Liberals) in the event of a successful campaign to demonize Harper. So, as revealed by NDP press releases, campaign literature, and Layton’s speeches, to prevent erosion of NDP support, the party concentrated its fire on the Liberals, barely mentioning the Conservatives in their attacks. The most memorable NDP television advertisement depicted Canadians giving the corrupt Liberals the boot. This kind of messaging set the tone, and Maude Barlow, Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, for one, said she felt pressure “not to critique Harper,” and that the top priority was “to win more seats for the NDP.” During the election, the Council was involved in the Think Twice coalition, made up of groups that came together to warn Canadians about Stephen Harper’s record.” Barlow said: “if the NDP was not going to talk about Harper’s record, we felt we had to.” In the eyes of many social activists, in the 2004 election, and much more overtly in 2006, exhibiting a penchant for short-term fixes over long-term party-building, Jack Layton became a servant to the proposition that what was good for working people and for the left was more seats for the NDP, no more, no less.

In the 2006 election, Layton helped frame the central issue as Liberal scandals. The Canadian Election Study (CES), published just after the election, suggests this issue was responsible for the Conservative victory. It showed that outside Quebec, the proportion of people rating Liberal scandals as salient jumped from 19.7 percent at the conclusion of the 2004 campaign to 30.4 percent at the end of the 2006 election. The proportion of people rating Harper positively actually declined slightly from 48.8 percent to 46.7 percent, over the same interval. The share of people who believed that Harper “is just too extreme” barely budged, down from 49.1 percent to 48.3 percent of those interviewed. But this did not matter. While the NDP’s prospects improved, its strategy clearly helped install the Conservative minority government.

Analysts agree that the major turning point in the campaign came in late December with the RCMP’s letter to NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis informing her that a criminal probe was being launched about possible leaks in Ralph Goodale’s finance department on Income Trusts. Wasylycia-Leis had written to the RCMP to request an investigation and when the Mounties, in a questionable move during an election campaign, wrote her back, she released the letter to the media. The Liberals never recovered. In the last week of the campaign, Layton advocated strategic voting, urging traditional Liberals to “lend” the NDP their vote, while the Liberals went into the “repair shop” for refitting. To cap it off, in what was billed as his last statement as an MP, Ed Broadbent thundered that power “should be taken away” from the Liberals, that the party “no longer has the moral authority to deserve people’s votes.”

In the advanced world, Canada is that rare case where a centrist party was dominant for many decades, borrowing ideas from the left and the right, whichever was opportune. Rarely innovative, always adaptive, the federal Liberals have been the bane of their opponents, detested by NDP and Conservative insiders for their lack of principle. Under Layton, NDP strategists have resumed the search for the Holy Grail: the realignment of Canadian politics around the centre-left pillar of the NDP through the marginalization of the Liberals. For the dream to become reality, the NDP will have to move even further to the centre, and to abandon its half-remembered social democratic aspirations.

Here’s a way to measure just how far the NDP has journeyed from the left to the centre in the aftermath of the implementation of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1989. When it held the balance of power from 1972 to 1974, led by David Lewis the party pushed for the creation of a national oil company. Having won back its majority, Trudeau’s Liberal government completed the launch of Petro Canada as a publicly owned petroleum company in 1975. Though no longer under effective NDP pressure, the Liberals aggressively built Petrocan, which acquired the assets of foreign owned oil companies in Canada in the process. Within a few years, Petrocan grew into a vertically integrated company that operated in all aspects of the oil business, from exploration and production to retailing. Petrocan’s purpose was clear: to establish a public window on an industry controlled by global oil giants that regularly altered estimates of Canadian oil and natural gas reserves to suit their purposes.

Along with Petrocan, Ottawa froze the price of domestic oil well below the world level while exporting to the US at the world price. The policy sheltered Canadian consumers from the full impact of the quadrupling of world oil prices between December 1973 and the summer of 1974. Ottawa collected the difference between the domestic price and export price as an export tax. This under a Liberal government. If this all sounds terribly radical – and to oil companies, horrifying – it’s simply a sign of just how far Canadian economic policy has shifted since the free trade election of 1988. Today, Layton’s NDP wouldn’t dare advocate such policies, and not just because a two-price system would violate NAFTA rules. It would represent too much interference with the operations of the market.

During the 2008 federal election campaign, the NDP adopted a stance that was similar to the one it took in the campaign of 2006. Nothing in the campaign pointed toward the dramatic events that followed it when the NDP and the Liberals proposed to defeat the Conservatives in the House of Commons and to install a Liberal-NDP coalition, with the support of the Bloc. That initiative collapsed when Michael Ignatieff, installed as interim Liberal leader in December 2008 decided to support the Conservative government’s budget in January 2009. In March 2011, the NDP joined the Liberals and the Bloc to vote No Confidence in the Harper government. For the NDP, the federal election of May 2, 2011 was the break-out party insiders had been hoping for since the party was founded fifty years earlier in the summer of 1961. For NDP supporters, the 2011 election will always be remembered with a mixture of joy and sadness: joy because the party won 103 seats, 59 of them in Quebec (later reduced to 58 when one of the members left the NDP to join the Liberal caucus in the House of Commons) and formed the Official Opposition for the first time ever, and sadness because the architect of the break through, leader Jack Layton, died less than four months after voting day. Both the breakthrough in Quebec and the vault to Official Opposition status were transformative.

In Quebec, the NDP’s triumph marked the first time since 1988 that a federalist party had won a majority of seats in the province. Throughout the nearly eight decades since the CCF had been created, social democrats had longed for the day when their party would replace the Liberals as one of the country’s two major political formations. With the death of Jack Layton, the NDP was unexpectedly cast into a leadership campaign that consumed much of the first year of the party’s position as the Official Opposition.

While other candidates ran effective campaigns, two of them dominated the race, which culminated in the selection of the new leader on March 24, 2012. Without a seat in the House of Commons, Brian Topp, who had occupied top bureaucratic positions in the NDP in Saskatchewan and at the federal level and had served as federal party president, threw his hat in the ring. Appearing at his side at the press conference in Ottawa where Topp launched his campaign in September 2011 was Ed Broadbent who had led the party from 1975 to 1989. With the backing of Broadbent and other major party figures such as Roy Romanow, the former premier of Saskatchewan, Topp was the closest thing in the race to an establishment candidate. He presented himself as a social democrat who would preserve and act on the traditional and historic values of the NDP.

This stance grew in importance as a counterpoint to the campaign of Thomas Mulcair, the MP for Outremont (in Montreal), the eventual winner. Mulcair, who had previously served as Minister of Sustainable Development, and Environment and Parks from 2003 to 2006 in the Quebec cabinet of Liberal Jean Charest, left the Quebec Liberals and contested a federal by-election in the riding of Outremont in 2007 as the NDP candidate. In the leadership campaign, Mulcair ran as the most prominent member of the NDP’s newly minted caucus from Quebec. Mulcair presented himself as a potential leader who would bring the centre of the Canadian political spectrum to the NDP. In other words, he planned to woo Canadians to the left, not push the NDP to the right.

In the latter weeks of the campaign, prior to the NDP convention in Toronto, with Mulcair seen as the front runner, Ed Broadbent publicly called into question the Quebec MP’s commitment to NDP values. In an effort to reinvigorate the campaign of Brian Topp, in a newspaper and a television interview, Broadbent praised Topp’s dependability as a social democrat while stating that he was not really sure where Mulcair stood. Broadbent’s foray dominated the final days of the leadership race. In the mainstream media and on activist blogs, those who agreed with Broadbent reinforced the case that Mulcair would lead to the NDP away from its traditional stance to the centre. They charged that he was personally abrasive and unable to work effectively with other people. Prominent social activist Judy Rebick, although not a member of the NDP, took up the cudgels against Mulcair, charging that he was authoritarian in his leadership style, that he was patriarchal and that he was particularly unable to maintain effective working relationships with women.

Others (myself included) rejected the attacks against Mulcair, and supported his candidacy. On March 24, 2012, in an election in which all NDP members could participate, mostly through online voting prior to the convention, Thomas Mulcair was elected federal NDP on the third ballot, winning 57 per cent of the vote. Runner up Brian Topp won 43 per cent of the vote. For the first time in the history of the party, the NDP had a leader who had emerged from the furnace of Quebec politics. It remained to be seen where he would lead the party.

The Remaking of Canadian Conservatism: 1988 to 2012

Brian Mulroney’s success in leading the Progressive Conservative Party to a second majority victory in the general election of 1988 was the last hurrah of the old Conservative Party, the party whose lineage extended back to the great days of the Liberal Conservatives of the 19th century, under the leadership of Sir John A. Macdonald. It is ironic that the party’s final electoral victory was in aid of the implementation of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement that had been negotiated between the Mulroney government and the Reagan Administration.

The last great fight of Macdonald’s life had been to sustain the National Policy and to block the Liberal Party’s drive for a renewal of reciprocity or commercial union with the United States. The 1988 federal election campaign pitted multinational and Canadian business on one side against trade unions, social movements and much of Canadian civil society on the other.

The Liberals and the NDP declared that, if elected, they would tear up the FTA; the Conservatives committed themselves to implementing the free trade deal if they were returned to office. In the election, between them, the Liberals and the NDP won 53 per cent of the votes cast by Canadians, while the Conservatives won 43 per cent of the popular vote. Under the nation’s “first-past-the-post” electoral system, however, the Conservatives won a majority of seats in the House of Commons and the Canada-U.S. FTA came into effect on January 1, 1989.

By the time the Mulroney Conservatives had won their second majority, the political and social forces that would tear the party apart and open the way for the reconstruction of the Canadian right, were already making themselves felt. Mulroney’s party consisted of an uneasy coalition among three groupings, conservatives----themselves divided between free-market, pro-American right-wingers, and a shrinking number of traditional Tories---Alberta right-wingers, coalescing around Preston Manning, who had more in common with the Social Credit tradition that Macdonald conservatism, and soft Quebec nationalists, whose pre-eminent figure was Mulroney’s Minister of the Environment, Lucien Bouchard. In the 1988 election, Preston Manning, the son of Alberta’s longest serving premier, the Social Credit’s Ernest Manning, entered candidates for his newly founded Reform Party, but failed to win a single seat.

The previous year, Manning had led fiscally and socially conservative westerners who resented special deals for Quebec, and opposed bilingualism and large-scale immigration, to form the Reform Party at a founding meeting in Winnipeg. Stephen Harper became an early policy advisor. Although the party was shut out in the 1988 general election, Deborah Grey was successful in winning the Reform Party’s first seat in a 1989 by-election for an Alberta seat.

As the Reform Party got underway, so too did the other major challenge to Mulroney’s party, this one from Quebec. One of Brian Mulroney’s major initiatives was to try to complete the unfinished constitutional changes that had been launched by Pierre Trudeau. Mulroney sought constitutional reform, satisfactory to all provincial premiers that would recognize Quebec as a “distinct society.” Known as the Meech Lake Accord, the amendment would also limit the power of the federal government to initiate shared-cost programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction without allowing provinces to opt out while receiving full financial compensation. Mulroney was able to attract Lucien Bouchard, a long-time friend and Quebec nationalist, to join his government in support of his decentralist agenda. Bouchard had joined the Parti Quebecois in 1971 and had supported the “Yes” side in the Quebec constitutional referendum in 1980. Bouchard served in Mulroney’s government as Minister of the Environment as the Meech Lake struggle reached its climax. Time ran out on the Accord when Manitoba and Newfoundland failed to ratify it before the deadline of June 30, 1990. As Meech Lake was going down in flames, Bouchard left the Progressive Conservative Party and the Mulroney government to found a new sovereignist party in federal politics, the Bloc Quebecois.

When the highly unpopular Brian Mulroney stepped down as PC leader and PM in 1993, he was replaced by Kim Campbell, a politician from B.C. who was chosen leader by a PC Party convention. She was Canada’s first female prime minister. Campbell called an election for October1993. The result was a transformation of Canadian politics. Jean Chretien led the Liberals to a substantial majority victory, winning 177 of the 301 seats in the House of Commons. In second place came the Bloc Quebecois with 54 seats and in the third place the Reform Party with 54. Running fourth was the NDP under the leadership of Audrey McLaughlin with 9 seats and fifth with only 2 seats were Kim Campbell’s PCs.

The great political party of Confederation had disintegrated. Underway was the struggle to rebuild the political right in Canada. Macdonald's party had been the great nation-building political instrument that fashioned Confederation and elaborated the National Policy, the economic doctrine that created a transcontinental Canadian economy. The Canadian Tory tradition, inseparably linked to the culture, ideas and policies of John A. Macdonald, shaped Canada in its formative decades. Macdonald's deepest commitment was to the creation of a Canadian nation that would be able to sustain itself separate from the United States. While pragmatic and capitalist, Macdonald's political philosophy contained an element of paternalism and the belief in the large state that was strange on a continent where individualism and the market were the true deities. The state Macdonald constructed was imbued with these Tory notions. To build a railway across the country and to have institutions in place to receive hundreds of thousands of new settlers would require strong government intervention. The Tory idea proved highly useful to Canadians for generations in their efforts to compete with the powerful nation to the south. In the first decade of the twentieth century, under the leadership of Adam Beck, a manufacturer from London, Ontario, the province of Ontario drew on the Tory creed when it created a publicly owned hydro-electric system. The inspiration behind Ontario Hydro, at the time the largest public utility on the continent, was that a public corporation could provide electricity at cost to consumers and businesses alike. Later, Tories established the Canadian National Railway, the Bank of Canada and the CBC.

To free market purists, the idea of the state acting to improve Canadian productivity and the promotion of Canadian culture is incomprehensible. They cannot help but see this as a statist heresy, or even as a diabolical leftist scheme. In truth, the idea had everything to do with the Tory view of the proper relationship between the state and society. The Reform Party, after 1993 the dominant force on the right, shifted the politics of conservatism out of what little remained of the Macdonald heritage to a more sharply right-wing American style ideology, much influenced by the Social Credit tradition in Alberta. Before returning to the remaking of Canadian conservatism in the 1990s and beyond, we will turn briefly to a discussion of the evolution of Alberta politics and the role played in the province by the Social Credit. In southern Alberta, the social landscape is as unique as the physical. In the last years of the nineteenth century, southern Alberta was the "last best west," the frontier that was still open to settlers after the American frontier was officially designated as closed. A much higher proportion of those who settled in this region of Alberta came from the United States than had been the case in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. After Confederation, Manitoba's first settlers had come from Ontario. To these were added Ukrainians, Icelanders, Finns, and Jews from eastern Europe. In Saskatchewan, the influence of Ontario was not as great as in Manitoba although it was not inconsiderable. Settlers came from the British Isles, as well as from western and eastern Europe. Many of the Americans who settled in southern Alberta brought with them an evangelical Protestant outlook. That outlook served as the cultural foundation for the development of important political movements that had an impact on Alberta and national politics. Both on the left and the right, Alberta had its own brand of populist politics, heavily spiced with the views of American immigrants. One of the first to put his stamp on Alberta farmer politics was Henry Wise Wood who hailed originally from Missouri. He arrived in Alberta in 1905, the year Alberta became a province.

More than any other person, Wise Wood helped shape the philosophy of the Alberta farmers' movement. His critique of Canadian politics was that the party system naturally favoured the wealthy and the powerful at the expense of other segments of society and the domination of the country by central Canada. Dismissing the Liberals and Conservatives as unprincipled parties seeking power for the sake of power, he called for the creation of a party to represent farmers alone. While his ideas had little impact on the country as a whole, they were ideally suited to appeal to the particular conditions of Alberta at a time when the largest single occupational group was farmers who owned their own farms. He was the guiding force behind the United Farmers of Alberta, a movement that became a highly successful political force when it won power in the province and governed Alberta from 1921 to 1935.

The movement that succeeded the UFA in power and then held it for three and a half decades also had important roots in southern Alberta. The charismatic leader of the Alberta Social Credit was William Aberhart, a native of Ontario. Aberhart moved to Calgary where he taught mathematics in a major high school and then became its principal. What he shared with many southern Albertans was Protestant fundamentalism. With his "Back to the Bible" broadcasts, Aberhart became Canada's most successful radio evangelist in the mid 1920s. In 1932, when Alberta suffered as a consequence of the collapse of grain prices during the Great Depression, Aberhart became a convert to the ideas of a Scottish engineer by the name of Major C.H. Douglas. Armed with the idea that Alberta needed an injection of "social credit", in the form of a dividend to be paid by the government to Albertans, Aberhart built a movement that propelled him into the premier's office in the 1935 election. The former UFA government lost every seat it held in the legislature. Alberta's populism had shifted from the left to the right where it has remained every since. With Alberta's major oil discoveries, beginning in the late 1940s, the province shifted from being Saskatchewan's economic twin, to becoming a mighty petroleum power. A new populism, tailored to Alberta's metropolitan stature as Canada's petroleum power, emerged in the 1970s with the election of Conservative Peter Lougheed as premier in 1971. From Lougheed, with his wars with Pierre Trudeau over oil revenues, to Ralph Klein's struggles against Jean Chretien over health care and the Kyoto Accord, Calgary and rural southern Alberta have been the locus of power in the province. And out of the culture of southern Alberta emerged the newest power in Canadian federal politics, the Reform Party, en route to the Canadian Alliance and the present-day Conservative Party of Canada. Here the link goes straight back to the populism of William Aberhart and the Social Credit. Ernest Manning, a young man from a rural family in Saskatchewan, walked into Aberhart's Prophetic Bible Institute in 1927 and enrolled in the Institute's one-year course in bible studies, becoming its first graduate. It was the most fortuitous choice of a course ever undertaken by a student in Canada. When Aberhart died in 1943, Manning succeeded him as premier and held that post until 1968. His son Preston, a skilled and original political thinker, was the mastermind behind a new political vision of Canada and the place of the West in Confederation. His brainchild, the Reform Party, pushed aside the Progressive Conservatives, to become the leading vehicle of the Canadian right. It is no accident, given its origins and its history in the "last best west" that the Reform Party was the political party with the most natural affinity for American values and was the most pro-American party in Canada. Preston Manning’s Reform Party merged a number of political streams.

It featured the Alberta regionalism of the old Social Credit with its suspicion of Central Canada, its rejection of Quebec nationalism and bilingualism, and its promotion of provincial rights. In addition, the party adopted a strongly neo-conservative view of the economy, and had no sympathy for the historic Tory backing for state intervention and crown corporations. The third stream in the mix was social conservatism, closely aligned to the views of evangelical Christians, who were opposed to abortion, were negative to rights for gays and lesbians, and later to same sex marriage. As well, social conservatives opposed multiculturalism and favoured a reduction in the level of immigration to Canada. The Reform Party’s problem was that it won only one seat in Ontario, its only seat east of the Manitoba-Ontario border in 1993, a seat it subsequently lost in the 1997 election. In the meantime, the PC Party was struggling to recover from its 1993 electoral disaster. Jean Charest who held one of the party’s two seats in the House of Commons was chosen interim leader in the autumn of 1993 and then the party’s leader in April 1995. In the 1997 federal election, Charest led the PCs back to 20 seats in the House of Commons. The following year, he stepped down as party leader to accept a draft to become the leader of the Quebec Liberal Party (a party which had no organizational link to the federal Liberals.)

At a convention in 1998, the PCs turned to former leader Joe Clark, the voice of the Canadian right’s dwindling force of Red Tories, to once again take up the reins of leadership. Clark’s party won only 12 seats in the 2000 election, the minimum number needed to form an official party in the House of Commons. Clark held onto his own seat of Calgary Centre, but in 2002 he announced that he would step down as party leader. By this time, the larger side of the divided right had gone through a further process of evolution. Anxious that Preston Manning’s Reform Party, which won 60 seats and the official opposition in 1997, was too narrowly based and would never achieve a breakthrough east of Manitoba, right wing thinkers and activists sought a way forward, creating the United Alternative as their vehicle. This initiative resulted ultimately in the formation of a new party, the Canadian Alliance into which the Reform Party folded itself. At a founding convention in 2000, the CA chose former Alberta Provincial Treasurer Stockwell Day, in preference to Preston Manning, to lead it. Stockwell Day, an evangelical Christian garnered scant support east of Manitoba in the 2000 election---the party did win two seats in Ontario---and managed to win 66 seats in the House of Commons, a gain of six over the Reform effort three years earlier. Discontent with Day’s leadership boiled up in the ranks of CA. Splits in the party’s parliamentary caucus led Day to step down as leader. At a leadership convention in 2002, the party chose Stephen Harper, ahead of Stockwell Day, as its new leader. Born in Toronto in 1959, Harper moved to Alberta as a young man and became one of the founding members of the Reform Party. In 1993, he won the seat of Calgary West as a Reform candidate. Harper, who found himself increasingly at odds with Preston Manning, resigned his seat in January 1997, leaving parliament to join and soon to head the National Citizens Coalition, from 1998 to 2002. A Canadian conservative lobby group, founded in 1967 by Colin M. Brown, to promote right wing political ideas and policies, the NCC was originally established to oppose the creation of a national health care system.

Among the positions of the NCC are: • Privatization of government own entities • Tax cuts • Government spending cuts • Opposition to laws limiting spending by non-party organizations during election campaigns Over the course of its existence, the NCC has campaigned against: • The Canada Health Act • The Canadian Wheat Board • The admission to Canada of Vietnamese refugees in 1979-80 • Closed shop unions • The mandatory long form census Prior to re-entering federal politics and assuming the leadership of the Canadian Alliance in 2002, Harper adopted a highly decentralist view of Canada that was harshly critical of Canadian social policy. In 1997, Harper delivered a speech to a U.S. conservative think tank in which he said that “Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it.” He further stated that “the NDP is kind of proof that the Devil lives and interferes in the affairs of men.” When the comments were quoted during the 2006 election campaign, Harper explained that they were intended as humour. Following the federal election of 2000, along with other conservatives, Harper co-authored a document called the “Alberta Agenda”. It called for Alberta to: • Reform publicly funded health care • Replace the Canada Pension Plan with a provincial plan • Replace the RCMP with a provincial police force It concluded by calling on the provincial government to “build firewalls around Alberta” to stop the federal government from redistributing the province’s wealth to less affluent regions.

That year Harper also wrote that Canada “appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country…led by a second-world strongman [Jean Chretien] appropriately suited for the task.” He advocated a “stronger and much more autonomous Alberta.” In his maiden speech in the House of Commons as Leader of the Opposition on May 28, 2002, Harper made the case for an Alliance motion that charged the Liberal government with failure in its management of relations with the U.S. Harper’s thesis was that the Chretien government had been insufficiently staunch in its support for the positions adopted by the U.S. administration.

Harper accused Chretien of “open meddling in U.S. domestic politics prior to the 2000 presidential election when the Prime Minister stated his preference with regard to the outcome of that election.” He quoted the comments of the former political counselor at the U.S. embassy, David Jones, who said in January 2001 that Chretien exhibits “a tin ear for foreign affairs, especially those involving the United States.” Harper’s conclusion: “It is no secret that this poisoned the relationship between the government and the new American administration.” Quoting an unnamed source in the National Post to the effect that the Prime Minister is not a player with the Bush administration, Harper cited this anonymous authority as saying that “the Americans could not care less about the views of the current Prime Minister. This is particularly evident in President Bush’s passivity in dealing with the softwood lumber dispute.” Harper directed no criticism at Washington for its failure to seek a solution on the softwood lumber issue. All the blame was laid at the door of the Prime Minister. Apparently it did not occur to Harper that taking the side of the government in its tough negotiations with Washington on the issue could make it clear to the Bush administration that Canadians were united on the question. Instead, Harper made it appear that Canadians were hopelessly divided and that the Official Opposition was delighted with the anti-Canadian position of the U.S. on softwood lumber. Harper then broadened his attack on the Chretien government, beyond trade issues, to attack it for its entire foreign policy stance vis a vis the United States.

“Downright hostility to the United States, anti-Americanism, has come to characterize other dimensions of Canadian policy,” he declared. “In 1996-97 Canada aggressively pushed forward with the treaty to ban landmines without giving due consideration to U.S. concerns about the potential implications for its security forces in South Korea. What did we end up with? We ended up with a ban on landmines that few major landmine producers or users have signed,” Harper charged. Having dismissed an anti-landmines treaty signed by most of the nations of the world in Ottawa, Harper went on to tow the Bush administration’s line on the development of an anti-ballistic missile defence system. “Most recently we have been inclined to offer knee-jerk resistance to the United States on national missile defence despite the fact that Canada is confronted by the same threats from rogue nations equipped with ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction as is the United States.”

Harper’s litany of complaints against the Chretien government ended with this nod to those who allege that Canada’s refugee system makes it vulnerable to terrorists: “The government has not adequately addressed the matter of security in the context of continental security. Because of the unreformed nature of our refugee determination system, we continue to be subject to unique internal security and continental security dangers.” Having dismissed Jean Chretien as a leader who was always anti-free trade, Harper commended Brian Mulroney for having “understood a fundamental truth. He understood that mature and intelligent Canadian leaders must share the following perspective: the United States is our closest neighbour, our best ally, our biggest customer and our most consistent friend.” Harper concluded with his own peroration, his set of principles for dealing with the United States. “Not only does the United States have this special relationship to us, if the United States prospers, we prosper. If the United States hurts or is angry, we will be hurt. If it is ever broadly attacked, we will surely be destroyed.” In 2003, Harper condemned the Chretien government’s decision not to participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. During 2003, the long sought unity of the political right was finally achieved. To choose a successor to Joe Clark, the PCs held a leadership convention in May 2003.

To secure the leadership, Peter MacKay signed a written agreement with Red Tory candidate David Orchard, pledging that as leader he would not seek a merger of the PCs with the CA and that in the next election the Tories would field a full slate of 301 candidates. Orchard then swung his delegates to MacKay thus assuring his victory. With the convention barely behind him, MacKay began negotiating a merger between his party and the CA. Later, with the negotiations well underway, a plebiscite held among PC members resulted in a 90 per cent vote in favour of the proposed merger. A plebiscite among CA members yielded a 96 per cent vote in support. In December 2003, the two parties held a joint convention and founded the new Conservative Party of Canada. The following month, Stephen Harper resigned the leadership of the CA and in March 2004, he won the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. By the time Harper became leader of the united right, Paul Martin had replaced Jean Chretien as Liberal leader and prime minister of Canada. In the winter of 2004, Canada’s Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, issued a report that exposed to public view a series of revelations that consumed the Liberal government in what came to be called the Sponsorship scandal.

Fraser’s report revealed that: Senior government officials who were in charge of the federal government’s advertising and sponsorship contracts in Quebec, as well as five Crown Corporations, the RCMP, Via Rail, Canada Post, the Business Development Bank of Canada and the Old Port of Montreal, had wasted money, violated rules, and mishandled millions of taxpayer dollars since 1995. More than $100 million was paid to communications companies in the form of fees and commissions. While some elements of the scandal had been bubbling to the surface for a couple of years, it was Fraser’s report that made it a major political issue. The sponsorship program had been designed to highlight the role of the federal government in Quebec through support for community events and programs in the aftermath of the Quebec referendum of 1995, in which the “Yes” pro-sovereignty side fell less than one per cent short of winning. As the details of the scandal were unearthed over the course of the next couple of years, it became crystal clear that the communications companies receiving the contracts had close ties to the federal Liberal Party and that in return for the contracts, they paid kickbacks to the party in the form of cash offered up in restaurants in Montreal in brown paper bags. To cope with the immense political fallout from the scandal, Prime Minister Paul Martin appointed retired justice John Gomery to head up a federal Royal Commission inquiry into the sponsorship scandal. Long favoured to win another majority electoral victory for the Liberal Party, Paul Martin’s political prospects were blighted by the scandal. It took two elections for Stephen Harper’s new party to push the wounded Liberals from office.

In the first election, which took place on June 28, 2004, the Liberals won 135 of the 308 seats, putting them in minority territory. The Conservatives won 99 seats, the Bloc 54 seats, the NDP 19 seats and one independent was elected. While the Conservatives made major advances over the results for the CA four years earlier, winning 24 seats in Ontario, pollsters concluded that many voters who had been leaning Conservative on the eve of the election, changed their minds and switched to the Liberals. From the start of his new ministry, Paul Martin was under constant pressure from the continuing fallout from the Sponsorship scandal and faced the prospect of the opposition parties uniting to vote him out of office.

The way the numbers totaled up, a combined vote of the Conservatives and the members of the Bloc would put these two parties just two votes short of being able to topple the Martin government. This meant that to stay in office, Martin would have find common ground with the NDP and even with Chuck Cadman, the BC independent who had previously been a Conservative MP.

During one of the dramatic parliamentary crises, in May 2005, Belinda Stronach, a Conservative MP from Ontario who had run for the party leadership, crossed the floor to join the Liberals. She was rewarded with the portfolio of Minister of Human Resources. The Martin government survived that showdown, only to be brought down in a vote in the House of Commons on November 28, 2005, when the Conservatives teamed up with the Bloc and the NDP to vote No Confidence. In the aftermath of the first report of Justice Gomery on the Sponsorship scandal on November 1, the three opposition parties argued that the Liberals no longer had the moral authority to govern. New elections were called for January 23, 2006. The campaign featured repeated attacks on the Liberals from all three opposition parties. The Liberal position was further damaged by reports of an RCMP investigation into allegations of insider trading within the Finance Department, a unique occurrence during a Canadian election campaign. (The RCMP investigation later exonerated the Liberal Party and the Liberal Finance Minister of the day, Ralph Goodale, but by then the political damage had been done.) On election day, the Conservatives, with 36 per cent of the vote, won 124 seats and went on to form the most narrowly based minority government since Confederation in its share of seats and votes. The Liberals won 103 seats, with 30 per cent of the vote, and Paul Martin announced that he would step down as party leader. The Bloc won 51 seats with just over 12 per cent of the vote, and the NDP won 29 seats with 17.5 per cent of the vote. In office, the Harper government emphasized corporate tax cuts and cuts to the GST as measures to stimulate the economy. Government ministers spoke of Canada as an “energy superpower” and placed a strong emphasis on the role of the development of the Alberta oil sands as a key to Canadian economic development. (For detailed discussions of Canadian economic policy, see lectures: 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9.) The Harper government abandoned Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto environmental accord, and instead pursued a policy of hewing closely to the U.S. in taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On matters of foreign and military policy, the Harper government strongly supported Canada’s engagement in the war in Afghanistan, ultimately agreeing to end the country’s combat role there on July 1, 2011, but deciding, with the support of the Liberals, to continue a major non-combat, training role there after that date. The Harper government tied itself closely to the United States and the United Kingdom in matters of foreign policy. It shifted Canada’s Middle East policy to one of stronger support for Israel.

During its first ministry, the Harper government introduced an amendment to the Canada Elections Act (Bill C-16) to establish fixed election dates so that federal elections would be held on the third Monday of October, four years after the previous election. The amendment passed the House of Commons and Senate and received Royal Assent on May 3, 2007. That would have put the next election on October 19, 2009. (The bill did not restrict the authority of parliament to vote No Confidence in a government and to trigger an election on another date. But it was intended to restrict the right of the sitting prime minister to choose the election date.) Despite the fixed election law, Stephen Harper asked the Governor General to dissolve parliament on September 7, 2008 and to hold new elections on October 14, 2008. Harper calculated that Stephane Dion, the new Liberal leader, did not command strong support from Canadians and that the opportunity had arrived for the Conservatives to win a majority of seats in the House of Commons. The Conservatives did make gains in the October 2008 election, but fell short of a majority. Harper’s Conservatives won143 of the 308 seats, taking just over 37.5 per cent of the vote. The Liberals won 77 seats, with 26.25 per cent of the vote, the Bloc won 49 seats and just under 10 per cent of the vote, and the NDP took 37 seats and just over 18 per cent of the vote. The newly re-elected Conservative government soon faced a major political-constitutional crisis. On November 26, 2008 Finance Minister Jim Flaherty released an economic statement, which among other things announced a significant reduction of public funding for political parties. This measure, along with what the opposition parties called the failure of the government to launch an economic stimulus package to deal with the onset of the global economic crisis, pushed the discontent of the opposition parties to a head. The Liberals and the NDP with the support of the Bloc agreed that following a successful vote of No Confidence in the Harper government, they would go to Governor General Michaelle Jean to indicate to her that they were in a position to form a coalition government that would enjoy the confidence of the House of Commons. According to the plan, three quarters of the ministers in the new government would be Liberals and the other quarter, not to include the ministers of finance or national defence, would be NDPers. The Bloc would agree not to vote No Confidence in the new government for at least eighteen months. Stephane Dion would initially serve as prime minister, to be replaced by the new Liberal leader when he or she was selected at a party convention. In aid of this, the 162 opposition members---Michael Ignatieff the last and most reluctant among them---signed a letter to the Governor General, pledging their support for the coalition to follow the defeat of the government. In this political emergency, to prevent the House of Commons from voting No Confidence in his government, Harper went to the Governor General and demanded that she immediately prorogue the House of Commons. Prorogation is normally used as way to punctuate work in parliament during the life of a government. It halts the work of one session of parliament to open the way for another session, begun with a new Speech from the Throne. In the next few paragraphs, I will summarize my views on the prorogation crisis of December 2008: During the crisis, the members of the Harper government and their supporters promulgated the idea that since the Conservatives had “won” the election in October 2008, they had a right to govern. In fact, in the election, the Conservatives won a minority of seats in the House of Commons, 143 out of 308. Our system of government, known as “responsible government”, holds that for a ministry to hold office it must enjoy the confidence of the House of Commons, i.e. the support of the majority of the members of the House. In Canada, we do not directly elect our prime minister. The prime minister is an elected member of the House of Commons (in theory, he or she could be a Senator, but this has happened only twice, the last time under Mackenzie Bowell from 1894 to 1896.) The Governor General asks the leader of the political party that commands the support of the majority in the House to form a government. In the case of a minority government, the critical issue is which party or combination of parties can command the support of the majority in the House.

When the leaders of the Liberals, NDP and the Bloc, whose parties held the majority of seats in the House announced their intention to defeat the Harper government and replace it with a Liberal-NDP coalition government with the support of the Bloc, they were playing out their roles within the system of responsible government. And since this move came early in the new parliament and held out the promise of stable government for at least eighteen months, it would have been almost certain that the Governor General would have called on the coalition to form a government if the Conservatives had been defeated. (The Governor General does have some discretion here, under the rubric of royal prerogative, but considering how recent the election had been, it is highly unlikely that she would have acceded to a request by Stephen Harper to dissolve parliament to call another election.) The Conservatives appeared on news shows, talk shows and organized rallies putting out the word that what was happening in Ottawa was an attempted “coup”. At the centre of this claim was the proposition that Canadians had just re-elected Stephen Harper as prime minister and that he had a mandate to govern.

It is true that the Americans directly elect their president and therein lies much of the public confusion. The American Constitution (in my view grounded on a poor understanding of Montesquieu and the British Constitution following the Glorious Revolution of 1688) rests on the notion of “separation of powers”. The Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch (Congress) and the Judicial Branch each occupy their own hermetically sealed space and are protected from undue interference with each other much the way Vestal Virgins were protected in Ancient Rome. To their credit, the Americans have managed to make this ungainly system work with only one Civil War marring its record to date. The Canadian prime minister is not a quasi-king in the manner of the American president. He or she rises or falls depending on the votes of the majority in the House of Commons. Stephen Harper was successful in convincing the Governor General to prorogue parliament on December 3, 2008. The period of prorogation continued until late January 2009, when the House resumed, its first order of business the consideration of the budget presented by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on January 27.

By that time, Dion had been replaced as Liberal leader in a vote of the party’s parliamentarians, and replaced by Michael Ignatieff as the party’s interim leader. (He was endorsed as leader by a subsequent Liberal Party convention.) Never keen on the idea of the coalition, Ignatieff led his party to support the Conservative budget, in return for an amendment requiring the government to present occasional reports on the progress and costs of the budget. The Conservatives were happy to agree to the amendment. Flaherty’s budget declared that the federal government deficit would total $64 billion over the next two years. Much of that projected deficit was accounted for by the impact of the tax cuts the Harper government made before the economic crisis took hold with a vengeance. Some of the rest was as a consequence of proposed new tax cuts. The budget included across-the-board income tax cuts, which not only benefited lower income earners but all income earners. Although the finance minister presented the tax cuts as measures to stimulate the economy, they were unlikely to have much effect in lifting the economy. A sizeable portion of the cuts would go to paying down existing debts or replenishing lost savings. A further and very large chunk would be spent on imported goods. Canadians import over $400 billion worth of goods a year, close to thirty per cent of our GDP. By way of contrast, Americans import goods equivalent to about fifteen per cent of their GDP. A huge portion of the tax cuts announced by Flaherty were bound to leak out of Canada in the purchase of additional imports. They might stimulate the Chinese, Japanese and American economies, but they would do precious little to stimulate the Canadian economy. Depending on how you interpret the budget, the government committed itself to direct new spending of about $10 billion to $12 billion, on infrastructure and housing, over a two-year period. By the time, the G8 and the G20 held their meetings in Canada in June 2010, the Harper government had come to the view that the time had come to shift away from stimulus to cuts to government spending to reduce the government deficit and return to a balanced budget within a few years. By the winter of 2011, the opposition Liberals had concluded that it was time to vote No Confidence in the government, which would mean provoking an election if they were joined by the NDP and the Bloc. In addition to the Liberal position that Canada should forego a planned further cut to corporate taxes, on the grounds that this would swell the deficit, Ignatieff wanted to take on the Harper government on a range of ethical issues. Taken as a whole, the Ignatieff accusation was that Stephen Harper presided over a government that was highly centralized, secretive, had little respect for parliament and was undermining Canadian democracy. Following the passage of a motion of non-confidence in the Harper government in March 2011, Parliament was dissolved and a federal election was called for May 2, 2011.

In the historic election, the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) won a majority of seats, 166 out of 308, for the first time in the party’s history. With 39.6 per cent of the popular vote, Stephen Harper led his party to its third win, but this time with a majority, the prime minister and his party would be in a position to reshape Canadian society and the Canadian economy. The campaign, begun by the Reform Party, and carried forward by the Canadian Alliance and brought to fruition by the Conservative Party of Canada, had successfully reconstructed the political right in Canada. Dominant in the new party were the right wing elements that were centred in Alberta. There was no denying the success of the CPC. With its western base secure, the party had stormed the ramparts in Ontario, winning 73 seats in the province that had kept Reform and the Canadian Alliance in opposition. There was also no mistaking the party’s weaknesses. With only 39.6 per cent of the popular vote, in an election in which 61.4 per cent of eligible voters participated, the Harper majority depended on popular support that was at the lower edge of the proportion of votes needed to win a majority of seats in the House of Commons. The other major weakness was that with a mere 5 seats won in Quebec, with only 16.5 per cent of the vote in the province, the CPC had less support in Francophone Canada than had been the case for any majority government since the 1917 victory of the pro-conscription Unionists (mainly Conservatives) in the wartime election of 1917.

Just as the Liberals in the heyday of Jean Chretien had been vulnerable to the potential changes that could reshape and reunite the right, the CPC was vulnerable to political earthquakes that could reconfigure the terrain on which its opponents stood. Indeed, on May 2, 2011, as the CPC won its majority, the results for the opposition parties were dramatically altered with potentially historic consequences for the future. For the first time since Confederation, the Liberals placed neither first nor second in a federal election, and were reduced to third place with 34 seats, down from 77 seats in 2008, winning only 18.9 per cent of the popular vote. Most dramatic among the changes was the success of the NDP under the leadership of Jack Layton in winning 103 seats, 59 of them in Quebec, with 30.6 per cent of the vote. The flip side of the NDP triumph in Quebec was the demise of the Bloc Quebecois which plunged in seats from 47 to 4, losing its standing as an official party in the House of Commons. Of less significance, but nonetheless a change to be noted, was the election of Green Party leader Elizabeth May in a British Columbia riding, the first time the Greens succeeded in winning a seat. Although it faced a new kind of opposition, Harper’s CPC was in a position to implement its right-wing agenda. The outlines of that agenda were clearly etched in the government’s budget, presented to the House of Commons by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on March 29, 2012. The budget signaled that the Harper government intended to re-organize Canada as a society in which the federal government would play a reduced role and in which the private sector would be even more important in setting priorities for the economy. In the critical field of health care, the Conservatives opened the way for the provinces increasingly to step outside the Canada Health Act in widening the scope for private health care delivery. The budget announced that the federal government would cut program spending by $5.2 billion a year, would eliminate 19,200 public sector jobs, and would extend the retirement age of those dependent on the Old Age Security benefit from 65 to 67. The change in the OAS is planned to start in 2023, which means that it is projected to affect Canadians who were 54 and older as of the time of the budget. In the omnibus budget bill that the CPC introduced, rules to streamline the approval of energy sector projects and to sharply reduce environmental oversight for the building of pipelines, were front and centre. Paring down the size of the deficit and reducing the size of government put the Harper government in line with other right-wing governments, particularly that of the UK, that adhere to the belief that cutting the government deficit and the size of government will help keep interest rates low and open the way for economic recovery and private sector job creation. Critics of the approach, notably neo-Keynesians, believe that austerity will retard economic growth and place a road block in the path of recovery, as happened during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Never have the Harper Conservatives had a greater opportunity to leave their mark on Canada and to alter the Canadian social contract than during this four year period of majority government.