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Conservative Party, Canada


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Sir Robert Laird Borden (1854—1937) lawyer and prime minister of Canada

Arthur Meighen (1874—1960) prime minister of Canada

Anglicanism

Richard Bedford Bennett (1870—1947) prime minister of Canada

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Early history (up to 1920)

The Conservative Party emerged from the Liberal‐Conservative government in Upper Canada of Sir John A. Macdonald (b. 1815, d. 1891) in 1854. After the creation of the Canadian Confederation in 1867 it was the principal party of government until 1896 (though it was briefly out of government, 1874–8). Its support was based on a coalition between the establishment of Anglicans in Ontario and the Roman Catholics in Quebec. The party originally advocated protective tariffs for Canadian goods, a close link with the British Empire, and a strong federal government. Given the latter emphasis, the Conservatives neglected provincial government, which enabled their rivals, the Liberal Party, to build up grass‐roots support there. The Conservative Party was in disarray after Macdonald's death, but was rebuilt by Borden, who defeated Laurier by emphasizing Canadian patriotism linked to Britain. His majority was extremely fragile, and from 1917 he could govern only with the support of Liberal defectors who joined him in a Unionist government to realize the controversial conscription for overseas service. Though the issue divided both Liberals and Conservatives, it was the latter who were responsible for this and other wartime measures, earning the party the lasting hostility of the French Canadian electorate.

The twentieth century

In the 1920s Meighen tried to rebuild broad conservative support, a task complicated by the formation of the Progressive Party in 1920, which attracted significant support in the west, Ontario, and New Brunswick. With the Conservative Party unable to win much support in Quebec either, it only came third in the 1921 elections. Under Bennett's leadership it won the 1930 elections, albeit under the extreme conditions of the Great Depression, which Mackenzie King had failed to tackle. Unable to find a coherent response to the economic crisis either, it lost the elections in 1935. It changed its name to the Progressive Conservative Party in 1942, following the defection of several Progressive members. This failed to translate into more support, since it became once again the principal proponent of conscription during World War II.

The party, which was increasingly dominated by Ontario interests, failed to win an election until Diefenbaker's victory in 1957. His programme was based more on rhetoric and charisma than on substance, so that Conservative support quickly declined again, his government collapsing in 1963. Outpaced by Trudeau, the Conservatives spent the following two decades in the political wilderness, despite a brief minority government under Clark. The Conservatives only managed to return as a serious party of government under the leadership of Mulroney, who revived Conservative support in his native Quebec and elsewhere through his personal charisma and his control of party organization. He remained party leader and Prime Minister until 1993, and was briefly succeeded by Kim Campbell. After a disastrous election campaign the party was routed in the 1993 elections, when only two candidates won seats in the House of Commons.

Contemporary politics (since 2000)

Under the leadership of the veteran Clark, the party obtained but twelve seats in 2000. As a result, party members saw little alternative to merging with the Canadian Alliance in 2003 to form the Conservative Party. With strongholds in the eastern and the western part of Canada, the party increased its parliamentary representation in the 2004 elections, and in 2006 it formed a minority government under the leadership of Stephen Harper. Harper pursued moderate policies, benefiting from a divided Liberal Party. The party remained a minority government after elections in 2008. Following renewed defeat, the opposition parties rallied under stronger leadership, providing a greater challenge to the Conservatives.http://www.conservative.caThe official website of the Conservative Party of Canada.

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Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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