Conservative Leader Stephen Harper with his wife Laureen Teskey after winning the federal election, Jan. 23, 2006, in Calgary. (CP Photo/Tom Hanson)
INDEPTH: CONSERVATIVE PARTY|
The Conservative Party of Canada
CBC News Online | Updated Jan. 30, 2006
Barely two years after members of the old Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties voted overwhelmingly to merge and form the Conservative Party of Canada, the new party defied the sceptics and won a federal election.
On Jan. 23, 2006, Canadians decided they were willing to give the party a chance to prove that the union of two parties that were once bitter foes had blossomed into a united, moderate and truly national movement.
The Conservatives – under Stephen Harper – would form a minority government, ending more than 12 years of Liberal rule.
It was a long, and at times, bumpy road to victory for the Conservatives. As recently as March 2005, infighting threatened the unity of the party.
There had been several attempts to "unite the right" more than a decade after mainly Western-based conservatives grew disillusioned with the Progressive Conservative Party under former prime minister Brian Mulroney. The Western conservatives wanted in – they argued that the major parties were too focused on central Canada's needs, especially those of Quebec.
The movement – led by Preston Manning – became the Reform Party. It didn't win a single seat in the 1988 election, the first the party contested. But, a year later, Deborah Grey would become the first member of the party in the House of Commons after winning a byelection in Alberta. In the 1993 election, Reform would take 52 seats, while the Progressive Conservatives would be reduced to just two seats.
Reform would run candidates in every riding in the country – and do very well in the West, but it never managed the central Canadian breakthrough it sought. Instead, Reform and the Progressive Conservatives would split the right-of-centre vote, allowing the Liberals under Jean Chretien to score three successive – and decisive – majority governments.
By 1999, Manning was ready to put his leadership on the line in a bid to unite parties on the right. He warned the Liberals could be in power forever unless the Reform and the Progressive Conservative parties got together in a United Alternative.
The founding convention was held in January 2000. But, the PC party under former leader Joe Clark concluded that Manning's dream of a united right appeared to be far closer to Reform's values than it was to the party of Sir John A. Macdonald.
At that convention, delegates tried to pick a name that had a little more voter appeal than the United Alternative. Thus, the Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance was born. But when the word party was added, the movement acquired an unfortunate acronym:CCRAP.
A day later, the party changed its name again to Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance.
Clark did not object to the party's use of the word "conservative" in its title. He said voters would not be fooled by the Reform Party using a different name.
Eventually, the words "conservative"and "reform" were dropped and the party became the Canadian Alliance.
A leadership convention was held in July 2000. Alberta treasurer Stockwell Day emerged as the party's first leader. The choice proved disastrous. Within a year, many within the party were actively trying to get Day to resign. Day performed erratically and the Canadian Alliance failed to make substantial gains in the Nov. 27, 2000 election. The Alliance took 66 seats and the PCs won 12. The Liberals, on the other hand, continued to benefit from a split in the vote on the right and increased their majority.
Day hung on. Seven MPs left – or were pushed out of – the Alliance caucus. They called themselves the Democratic Representative Caucus. They formed a loose coalition with Clark's Conservatives. Most returned to the Alliance after Stephen Harper became leader in April 2002.
A year later, the PCs had a new leader, too. Peter MacKay outlasted David Orchard to win the party's top job. He secured Orchard's support by promising that he would not pursue merger talks with the Canadian Alliance.
When he announced his candidacy earlier in 2003, MacKay told reporters "I want to make something very clear. I am not a merger candidate."
But less than five months after becoming PC leader, MacKay announced he had struck a merger deal with the Canadian Alliance.
As part of the deal, each riding would send an equal number of delegates to conventions. That was meant to ease the concerns of PC members that they would be swamped on leadership and policy issues by the Alliance wing of the new party, which had far more members – especially in Western Canada.
Orchard was incensed and tried to block the merger in the courts – but his lawsuit was dimissed.
Members of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives overwhelmingly approved the merger in early December 2003 – and the Conservative Party of Canada was born.
On March 20, 2004, Stephen Harper became the party's first leader when he beat Belinda Stronach and Tony Clement on the first ballot.
Within two months, the Conservatives were fighting their first election campaign. They didn't beat the Liberals, but they brought to an end a string of three successive majority governments.
At a policy convention in March 2005, serious divisions emerged between the two wings of the party. Peter MacKay, now deputy leader, said a resolution aimed at overturning the party policy on equal ridings could split the party along PC/Alliance lines.
By the time the convention was over, the rift had been healed and the party adopted policies that moved it more towards the centre of the political spectrum.
By the end of 2005, Stephen Harper's Conservatives would embark on their second election campaign – one that would end 12 years of Liberal rule.