- Alternative meaning: Conservative Party of Canada (pre-1942)
The Conservative Party of Canada is a right wing political party in Canada, formed by the merger of the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in December 2003.
The party currently forms the official Opposition in the House of Commons.
The merger to form the Conservative Party was announced on October 16, 2003, by the two party leaders (Stephen Harper of the Alliance and Peter MacKay of the Progressive Conservatives), and was ratified by the membership of the Alliance on December 5 by a margin of 96% to 4%, and by delegates of the PC Party on December 6 by a margin of 90% to 10%. On December 8, 2003, the Conservative Party of Canada was officially registered with Elections Canada. On March 20, 2004, Stephen Harper was elected the new party leader in a leadership election.
The merger was the culmination of the Canadian "Unite the Right" movement, driven by the desire to present an effective right-wing opposition to the Liberal Party of Canada for the 2004 Canadian election, to create a new party that would draw support from all parts of Canada and would not split the right-wing vote. The splitting of the right-wing vote is widely believed to have contributed to easy Liberal victories in the 1997 federal election and the 2000 election.
The party still is referred to as "Tory" by the media and retains the tie to the historical Conservative Party of Canada founded in 1854 by Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir George-Étienne Cartier by virtue of the fact that the merged entity assumed all assets and liabilities of the Progressive Conservative Party.
The Conservative Party is sometimes considered to be Canada's version of the United States Republican Party and the United Kingdom's Conservative Party due to their conservative positions and similarities on many issues, although differences do exist on certain policies, such as on health care. There is no official alignment between the parties other than the fact that they are members of the same international group of conservative parties, the International Democrat Union. Some advisors work for both the CPC and for U.S. Republicans.
Stephen Harper was chosen as leader of the new party on March 20, 2004, defeating former Ontario provincial Tory Cabinet minister Tony Clement and former Magna International CEO Belinda Stronach on the first ballot.
Some Conservative activists had hoped to recruit former Ontario Premier Mike Harris for the leadership but he declined, as did New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord and Alberta Premier Ralph Klein. Outgoing Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay also announced he would not seek the leadership of the new party.
As of March 2004, it is unclear whether the provincial Progressive Conservative parties will formally link themselves with the new Conservative Party of Canada, or whether they will remain independent.
Unofficially, however, the Conservatives have the support of many provincial Tory members. Several Tory premiers, such as Ralph Klein of Alberta, Pat Binns of Prince Edward Island, Danny Williams of Newfoundland and Labrador and Bernard Lord of New Brunswick, have also expressed their support for the new party.
While officially separate, federal Conservative Party documents, such as membership applications, can be picked up from most provincial Progressive Conservative Party offices.
The Conservative Party, while officially having no provincial wings, works informally with several provincial conservative parties:
The Yukon Party (formerly the Yukon Progressive Conservative Party) changed its name and cut off all ties to the federal Progressive Conservatives during the Mulroney years.
The Saskatchewan Party was an unofficial merger of the members of the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan and members of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party, now contains supporters of the federal Conservatives and federal Liberals in its ranks. The Liberals still run candidates. After the collapse of the Progressive Conservatives following the scandal-plagued government of Grant Devine in the 1980s, the Progressive Conservatives have officially withdrawn from politics, although they retain a nominal organization and run paper candidates to maintain the party's treasury. The Saskatchewan Party is officially neutral when it comes to federal politics.
There is a strong possibility that some of these parties will affiliate or at least endorse the new federal Conservative Party. Relations have been strained, however, between the Conservative Party and Ralph Klein, the Progressive Conservative Premier of Alberta over the latter's public musings on healthcare during the federal election and his call for a referendum on same-sex marriage.
The British Columbia Liberal Party was once a provincial wing of the federal Liberal Party of Canada, but under Gordon Campbell has moved to the right and now contains supporters of the federal Conservatives and federal Liberals in its ranks. The BC Liberal Party is officially neutral when it comes to federal politics.
The Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ) and Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) have no relation to any federal party, although the Liberals are led by former federal Tory leader Jean Charest. Since becoming Liberal leader, Charest has brought many former supporters of the Mulroney Tories into leadership positions in the PLQ. He has remained silent on the question of federal politics since becoming Premier of Quebec and will almost certainly remain neutral in order not to alienate federal Liberal supporters within the PLQ.
The ADQ, in turn, is the most conservative of the three provincial parties in Quebec, and although ADQ policies on health care are close to those of the Conservatives, ADQ leader Mario Dumont has rejected any formal alignment with any federal party.
The British Columbia Conservative Party still exists and runs candidates, but they are not a major contender for office. In the past, the Progressive Conservatives have also maintained close relations with the British Columbia Social Credit Party. An attempt to "unite the right" at the provincial level in BC produced the British Columbia Unity Party, which ultimately failed.
The merger process was controversial. David Orchard had a written agreement from Peter MacKay at the 2003 Progressive Conservative Leadership convention excluding any such merger and led an unsuccessful legal challenge to it.
Four sitting Progressive Conservative Members of Parliament -- André Bachand, John Herron, former Tory leadership candidate Scott Brison, and former Prime Minister Joe Clark -- decided not to join the new Conservative Party caucus. Brison crossed the floor to the Liberals. Soon afterward, he was made a parliamentary secretary in Paul Martin's government, and became a full cabinet minister after the 2004 federal election. Herron also ran as a Liberal candidate in the election, but did not join the Liberal caucus prior to the election, and lost his seat to the new Conservative Party's candidate. Bachand and Clark both left Parliament at the end of the session.
One former Alliance MP, Keith Martin, also left the party on January 14. He ran as a Liberal in the election, and retained his seat for the Liberals. Martin is now Parliamentary Secretary to Bill Graham, Canada's Minister of Defence.
Additionally, three Senators, William Doody, Norman Atkins and Lowell Murray, declined to join the new party and continue to sit in the upper house as Progressive Conservatives.
In the early months of the C.P.C.'s existence two Conservative MPs also became publicly disgruntled with the leadership, policy and procedures of the new party. Former Progressive Conservative MP, Rick Borotsik, became openly critical of the new Party's leadership during its initial months of existence and officially retired from politics at the end of the parliamentary session of Spring 2004.
Former Canadian Alliance MP Chuck Cadman rejected the new party's riding nomination procedures in March after losing his local riding's C.P.C. nomination to an outside challenger. His membership in the Conservative party was revoked in late May. Chuck Cadman ran as a non-affiliated candidate in the federal election of June 2004. He was re-elected as the only independent in the current minority parliament, until Carolyn Parrish was ejected from the caucus of the Liberal Party in November 2004.
- Conservative Party of Canada website (http://www.conservative.ca/)