Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Special Interests And/or New Right Economics? the Ideological Bases of Reform Party Support in Alberta in the 1993 Federal Election

Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Special Interests And/or New Right Economics? the Ideological Bases of Reform Party Support in Alberta in the 1993 Federal Election

Article excerpt

The 1993 federal election may come to represent a watershed in Canadian political history. Although the election saw the return to power of the Liberals - Canada's party of governance for much of this century - it also witnessed the unprecedented collapse of two major parties, the Conservatives and the New Democrats. Occupying their political space are two relatively new, largely regionally based parties: the Bloc Quebecois and the Reform Party. Since the Bloc Quebecois is basically a federal manifestation of political senti-ments long apparent at the provincial level, it is the emergence of the Reform Party that is most surprising. For who would have predicted, in the mid-to-late 1970s, that a right-wing party dedicated to reducing government services, an end to universal social programs, and a minimalist state would attract enough popular support to be a serious contender for national political office?

Explanations for Reform's rise typically have been middle-range in their approach, focussing on factors internal to Canadian party development, such as regional alienation, nativism, or petite bourgeois class support (McCormick, 1991; Henry, 1994; Harrison and Krahn, 1995). Denis (1994) has contended that the rise of beth Reform and the Bloc stems from the collapse of Canada's traditional party system, specifically the failure of the New Democratic Party to establish itself as a credible federal alternative. Similarly, Cairns (1994) concluded that the 1993 federal election results reflected the internal adaptation of a party system straining under transformations in its domestic and international environments.

Recognizing the value of these explanations, we believe that an analysis of broader economic and ideological trends can provide a more comprehensive understanding of the phenomenal success of the Reform Party in the 1993 federal election. Sharpe and Braid (1992), Patten (1994) and Harrison (1995), for example, have contended that the emergence and growth of the Reform Party is underpinned by the generalized crisis of the post-World War II welfare state that transcends particular nations. From this perspective, Reform is seen to be one of a number of conservative movements that have emerged in advanced industrial democracies since the 1980s (Betz, 1991; 1994; Ignazi, 1992; Cooper, et al., 1988). While these movements have sprung from a number of different specific sources and have taken a variety of forms according to national circumstances, they can all be viewed as responses to the perceived failure of the welfare state to deal with mounting fiscal and social problems.

While the existence of a generalized crisis of the welfare state is clear, this only establishes the possibility of an altered party system and a new public-policy agenda. What is needed is an analysis that identifies the ideological currents that are increasingly salient in this new context and that serve as a bridge to a new political vehicle. In the case of recent political movements elsewhere, their ideological core has been said to be a synthesis of neo-conservatism and right-wing populism - what might be aptly described as a re-moralizing of capitalism (Marchak, 1993; Keegan, 1993). Thus, in this paper, we question whether the ideological orientations of Reform voters in Alberta, the birthplace of the Reform Party, reflect neo-conservative and/or populist beliefs and sentiments. In so doing, we do not mean to imply that sources of support for the Reform Party are restricted to these two ideological domains. Clearly, support for Reform or for any political party is nurtured by a range of diverse ideological beliefs and material considerations. Rather, our primary intent is to identify which of the two ideological themes of the Reform message are most potent in attracting voters. We expect that this study will provide the basis for the future development of more elaborate models of Reform support.

Defining Neo-Conservatism and Right-Wing Populism

Theoretically, neo-conservatism is an amalgam of classical economic and political liberalism and traditional social and moral conservatism. …

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