Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies

By Paul Webb; David Farrell et al. | Go to book overview
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12 Canada's Nineteenth-Century Cadre Parties at the Millennium

R. Kenneth Carty

The natural form of the political party risks being corrupted into an unwholesome caricature, a machine for winning elections.

The pure and simple continuation of their own existence becomes their principal preoccupation and measure of their ideals . . .

Constituted on the British model, Canadian parties have not escaped the American contagion . . .

André Siegfried (1906)

An electoral earthquake smashed Canada's national party system in 1993. The governing Progressive Conservatives were reduced from one hundred and sixty-nine to just two seats while, at the other end of the traditional spectrum, the country's left-wing (social democratic) New Democrats also suffered a major electoral collapse, leaving the party with its smallest ever caucus: neither had enough seats to be even recognized as a party under House of Commons rules. The authors of this party system explosion were two new parties, the Bloc Québécois and Reform, both of which offered fundamental challenges to the existing parties, the existing patterns of doing politics, and indeed to the country. The Bloc, which won the fourth largest vote share but, thanks to the vagaries of the first-past-the-post electoral system, ended up with the second largest parliamentary caucus and so formed the 'Official' opposition, was a child of French-Canadian nationalism and advocated the break-up of Canada through the separation of Quebec, the second largest province. Reform combined a right-wing economic agenda, a western regional appeal, and a commitment to a populist politics that eschewed the established norms of parliamentary discipline in favour of a constituency-focused delegate style of representation. Ironically, the one party that emerged least shaken by the eruption of these new parties was the Liberal Party, long the country's dominant political force. In opposition as the forces of destruction were gathering steam, the Liberals suddenly found themselves with a new majority government, though one based on a precariously small 41 per cent of the vote and, for the first time, dependent on central, English-speaking Canada.

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