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Political Graveyard

Since Confederation, Canada has seen a parade of political parties vie to form the national government; and all have since fallen by the way save for one – the Liberals. Some fell out of favour with voters, some merged with other parties and some were passed by the times.

Here is a look at some of the more significant parties to leave their mark on Canada's political landscape.

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation

T.C. (Tommy) Douglas
T.C. (Tommy) Douglas, shown in this 1961 photo after being chosen leader of the newly formed New Democratic Party. He is held by trade unionist Claude Jodoin (left) and national CCF president David Lewis. British Labour leader Hugh Gaitskill is at right. (CP PHOTO/fls)  

The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation was a socialist party founded in Regina in 1933 as a vehicle to try to fulfil Canada's social needs following the Great Depression. Indeed, the party was an early champion of medicare and old age pensions.

A forerunner to the New Democratic Party, the CCF's founders were church groups, labour unionists and farmers who sought a solution to the poverty and hunger.

True to its Western roots, the CCF was most popular in the Prairie provinces. Saskatchewan elected the party's founder, Tommy Douglas, as premier in 1944. The party saw some success in federal politics. Between 1935 and 1962, the party won a small number of seats mostly in British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

But its greatest electoral success came in 1945 when it took 28 seats – translating into slightly more than 11 per cent of the House of Commons.

By the 1960s CCF members decided it was time for change and founded a new party — the NDP.

Social Credit

The Social Credit party started in Alberta in the 1930s in part to help the working class deal with the effects of the Great Depression.

Its first leader was William Aberhart, a radio evangelist and high school principal in Calgary. The Socreds – as they were known – grew out of the United Farmers of Alberta party.

In 1935 the fledgling Socreds ran in the federal election on a platform of monetary reform. They promised Albertans a $25-per-month social credit dividend from the province; the money was intended to make up for what Socreds called an imbalance between the wages of people who produced goods, and the cost of purchasing those goods. The idea proved wildly popular and the party won 15 of Alberta's 17 seats.

Over the years, the party's popularity spread to British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Quebec.

Toward the 1960s, the party's base of support began moving solidly into Quebec. With Robert Thompson at the helm, Social Credit won 30 seats in the 1962 election – 26 of those from Quebec where Réal Caouette began to emerge as a strong contender for leadership of the party.

Frustrated by a lack of Quebec representation in the leadership, Caouette and the Quebec members broke off to form their own party, known as the Ralliement des Créditistes. In 1967, Thompson defected from the Socreds and ran as a PC in the election the following year. The Socreds never fully recovered from these years of turmoil, even though the party reintegrated with the Créditistes in 1971 under Caouette.

In the 1979 election the Socreds won only six seats – half of the 12 needed for official party status, and the exact number needed by then-Prime Minister Joe Clark and his minority PC government if they were to govern effectively.

But the PCs wanted no part of a coalition with them and refused to grant the Socreds official party status. The Socreds responded by abstaining from a non-confidence vote that brought down the Tories less than a year in office. It proved be the Socreds' grand finale on the federal stage – not one Socred was elected in the ensuing election, or since.

Ralliement des Créditistes

 R�al Caouette
  R�al Caouette at a news conference 1968. (CP PHOTO/ Peter Bregg)

The Quebec-based spinoff of the Social Credit party, the Ralliement des Créditistes was composed mainly of Quebec nationalists and social conservatives.

In the 1962 election, 30 Socreds were elected to the House – 26 of whom were from Quebec. Among them was Réal Caouette, who led a breakaway group of Quebec Socreds and formed the Ralliement in 1963. Party members were elected to the House in two elections – 1965 and 1968 – all in Quebec.

By 1971, the Ralliement re-joined the Socred party under Caouette's leadership.

Reform Party

Preston Manning
Preston Manning, leader of the Reform Party of Canada, in 1988. (CP PHOTO/Larry Johnsrude)  

Like the CCF and Social Credit parties, the Reform Party was rooted in Canada's West.

The party was formed in 1987 by Western business leaders disenchanted with the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney. The party's first leader was Preston Manning, son of Alberta's longtime Socred premier, Ernest Manning. The first Reform party member elected to the House was Deborah Grey in 1989.

The Reform party favoured free trade, sought an elected Senate to help further regional interests, and supported big cuts in the size and responsibility of government.

By 1993, the party was catching on. In the general election that year it won 52 seats – just two shy of the official Opposition Bloc Québécois and 50 more than the Progressive Conservative party. All but six of those seats were won in either British Columbia or Alberta. Party momentum continued through 1997 when Reform won 60 seats and became the official Opposition, but was still no more of a national party than the last Opposition, the Bloc Québécois, had been.

           Uniting the Right

Canadian Alliance

 Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper
  Preston Manning (left) raises the arm of Stockwell Day after Day defeated him to win the race for leadership of the Canadian Alliance party in Toronto on Saturday July 8, 2000.
(CP PHOTO/Frank Gunn)

As the years went by, Manning decided the Reform party was too much of a regional party to enjoy real success on the national stage. He reasoned that if Canada's political right united in one party, it could have broader national appeal and unseat the reigning Liberals at the polls.

So in March 2000, the Canadian Alliance – Canada's new official Opposition – was born out of an attempt to merge the Reform and the Progressive Conservative parties. Though some individual PCs did join the Alliance, there was no real merger.

However the strategy met with some success, as the new party gained six more seats in the House of Commons in the 2000 election and maintained the official Opposition status that Reform had held.

But the Alliance still had not caught on in voter-rich Ontario and Quebec. It was time for the next step.

In 2003 Alliance Leader Stephen Harper held talks with Progressive Conservative Leader Peter MacKay to come to a merger agreement.

Late that year, after months of rocky meetings the two finally announced the dissolution of their respective parties and the formation of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Progressive Conservative Party of Canada

Progressive Conservative Party of Canada logo

In late 2003 the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada reached a merger agreement with the Canadian Alliance. The deal ended the Tories' 60-year run in federal politics – 15 of those as Canada's government and much of the rest as the official Opposition.

The party suffered late in its life as space became crowded in Canada's political right; the Reform Party and later the Canadian Alliance far eclipsed the PCs in voter support toward the end of the 1990s.

           Uniting the Right

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