Political, constitutional, juridical, and socio-cultural aspects of the origins and development of the Canadian State (Part Five)
By Mark Wegierski
In 1998, in an attempt to bring Reform and the federal Progressive Conservatives together, and broaden the appeal of the Reform Party in Ontario, Preston Manning, the leader the Reform Party, began the United Alternative initiative. This culminated in the creation of the Canadian Alliance (formally known as the Canadian Reform-Conservative Alliance). Although many individual Progressive Conservatives joined the Canadian Alliance, the federal Progressive Conservative Party refused to get on board.
The three main candidates for the leadership of the new Canadian Alliance party in 2000 were Stockwell Day (a former Treasurer of Alberta), Tom Long (a young, influential adviser to the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario), and Preston Manning himself. By mobilizing social conservatives on his behalf, Stockwell Day was able to win the leadership of the Canadian Alliance. However, in the onrushing federal election campaign, the Liberals capitalized on many Canadians' suspicions of social conservatism, endeavouring to paint Stockwell Day as a Christian fundamentalist extremist. Some time after the election campaign was over, a senior Liberal pollster, Michael Marzolini, revealed that Stockwell Day had reached as high as 34 per cent in some of the opinion polls the Liberal Party was conducting privately – inducing a sense of panic in the Liberal leadership. Indeed, during the campaign, one could observe a point where there erupted a flurry of intense negative campaigning by the Liberals, for example, accusing the Canadian Alliance of being a haven for "Holocaust-deniers, racists, and bigots." There was also great ridicule for Day's supposed belief in the divine creation of the Earth six thousand years ago.
The Canadian federal election held on November 27, 2000, largely confirmed the Liberal Party's longstanding dominance of Canadian politics. With a total of 301 seats in the federal Parliament, the Liberals (led by Jean Chretien) won a large majority of 172 seats (with 41% of the nationwide popular vote) with 100 seats from Ontario (out of a total of 103 seats available), 36 seats from Quebec, 19 seats from the Maritimes, and 17 from Western Canada. The Canadian Alliance (led by Stockwell Day) won 64 of the 91 seats available in Western Canada, and also 2 seats in Ontario (with 25% of the popular vote). The Bloc Quebecois (led by Gilles Duceppe) won 38 of 75 seats available in Quebec (with 11% of the popular vote). The New Democratic Party (led by Alexa McDonough) won 13 seats, 4 of them from the Maritimes, 8 from Western Canada, and 1 in Ontario (with 9% of the popular vote). The federal Progressive Conservatives (led by Joe Clark) won 12 seats, 9 of them from the Maritimes (with 12% of the popular vote).
Stockwell Day was ousted from the leadership of the Canadian Alliance as a result of a caucus revolt that at one point attracted as many as thirteen Canadian Alliance MPs. In the ensuing contest for the leadership of the party, Stephen Harper defeated Day decisively. Joe Clark finally left the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party, resulting in a leadership contest in May 2003, won by Peter MacKay. On October 16, 2003, a merger between the Canadian Alliance (led by Stephen Harper), and the federal Progressive Conservatives (led by Peter MacKay) was announced, proposing to form the Conservative Party of Canada, pending the vote of their respective memberships by December 12, 2003. The merger of the two parties offered the possibility of a significant challenge to the perennially ruling Liberal Party.
In mid-November 2003, the enormously popular Paul Martin, Jr. (the former federal Liberal Finance Minister, credited with much of the deficit-fighting success of the Liberals) was acclaimed to the leadership of the federal Liberal Party and the Prime Ministership – while Jean Chretien resigned ahead of his predicted retirement date of February 2004. It was expected in November 2003, that in the upcoming federal election, Paul Martin -- being a Quebec "native-son" – as well as often considered a so-called right-wing Liberal – was well poised to make gains at the expense of both the Bloc Quebecois and the Alliance strongholds in the West – while probably continuing to hold nearly all of Ontario. It was considered at that time in the media that Martin could win one of the largest majorities in Canadian history. At the same time, Jack Layton, the leader of the federal NDP elected in January 2003, had the possibility of posing a formidable challenge from the Left. Although the NDP at that time held only fourteen seats in the federal Parliament, it had exercised a huge intellectual influence on Canada, especially on the Liberal Party. Even a comparatively small increase in NDP seats and popular vote totals could have important repercussions.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.