Twenty years ago, the federal Progressive Conservative (PC) Party merged with the Canadian Alliance. How did the merger impact Canadian conservatism?

First, it delivered the “conservative” brand into the hands of the Alliance’s leaders, who have used it to push their right-wing, populist agenda under the guise of mainstream conservatism.

Second, it destroyed the old federal PC party (1942-2003), which stood for moderate conservatism in Canadian politics.

And third, it allowed right-wing Alliance leaders to take control of the federal government between 2006 and 2015.

The Canadian Alliance (2000-03) was the successor to the Reform Party (1987-2000), a Western-based right-wing populist protest party founded by Preston Manning. The Reform Party included some socially reactionary elements. It was opposed to the federal PC party, in part because of its relative progressivism on social and economic issues.

The PC party’s ideological “big tent” always included elements of communitarianism and One Nation conservatism. In an effort to appeal to broader sectors of Canadian society (especially in Ontario and Quebec), the Reform Party reinvented itself as the Canadian Alliance in 2000. Three years later, in order to “unite the right” and defeat the federal Liberals, the leaders of the Canadian Alliance (Stephen Harper) and the federal PC party (Peter MacKay) merged their respective parties.

They founded the new Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) on Dec. 7, 2003.

The CPC is essentially a modified version of the Reform Party. Many of its influencers and leaders (for example, Manning, Harper, Pierre Poilievre, Andrew Scheer and Jenni Byrne) and much of its angry, resentful culture are derived from the Reform Party.

It is not healthy for Canada to have such a party as its governing alternative. If we define political moderation as the willingness to compromise, act pragmatically and take into account the aspirations of broad sectors of a society, then any functioning democracy needs both moderate conservatism and moderate liberalism to thrive. By alternating in government, moderate conservatives and moderate liberals generate a “creative friction” that helps society develop within stable parameters, eschewing extremism (for example, like the centre-right CDU and the centre-left SPD in West Germany).

The Conservative Party of Canada still struggles to gain traction in urban areas and Quebec, partly because many voters fear its hard-right, populist approach to topics such as climate change and hot-button social issues, writes Michael Huenefeld

Progressive conservatism is a distinctly Canadian political philosophy, more similar to traditional U.K. or European conservatism than to modern American right-wing conservatism. Progressive conservatism’s ideological roots are separate from the right-wing populism that gave birth to the Reform Party.

Progressive conservatism stood for gradual progress and rejected both radical-right and radical-left policy solutions. The PC governments led by Joe Clark (1979-80), Brian Mulroney (1984-93), and Kim Campbell (1993), while attempting to streamline the federal government and revitalize the economy, protected the large-scale social safety net programs established during the postwar era.

The CPC founded by Harper and MacKay still struggles to gain traction in urban areas and Quebec, partly because many voters fear its hard-right, populist approach to policy topics such as climate change and various hot-button social issues. As we move into 2024, we can expect Poilievre to continue using populist slogans that present simplistic solutions to complex questions, like rising housing costs. While Poilievre’s populist tone may seem innovative, at some level, it harkens back to the Reform Party’s populism. His belligerent approach toward political opponents, key public institutions and the media also represents a continuation of the political culture inherited from the Reform Party and Harper.

In 2003, many Progressive Conservatives (myself included) supported the merger because we thought it would be a pragmatic way of helping conservatives form government soon. By tying our fate to the Reformers, we ditched our progressive conservative principles and ensured that, for a whole generation, power would be wielded either by Reformers posing as conservatives (2006-15) or by Liberals (2015-present).

Michael Huenefeld receiving an award for outstanding service to the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada from former prime minister Joe Clark in 2002. Photo provided

For right-wing reactionaries who wanted to take control of the entire centre-right in Canadian politics, the merger has been very beneficial. For traditional and moderate conservatives, the merger has been a tragedy.

Michael Huenefeld was an activist in the federal Progressive Conservative Party from 1998 to 2003. He has also been involved in Vancouver municipal politics and provincial politics in B.C. In 2022, he volunteered for former premier of Quebec Jean Charest’s Conservative Party leadership campaign. In 2002, he received an award from former prime minister Joe Clark for outstanding service to the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and its B.C. council.

A French-language version of this article has been published by Winnipeg-based newspaper La Liberté.

Keep reading

A proportional electoral system tends to moderate the impact of extremist politicians. See link:

Join the struggle for proportional representation at the above Fair Vote Canada link, or at the grassroots supported Charter Challenge for Fair Voting at this link:

BC voted against it, and although leaders in opposition propose it, once elected proportional rep just fades away. But I agree wirh your premise

BC voted for it the first time, but the bar was set at 60% by BC Liberal premier Gordon Campbell. The vote result was 58%. Moreover, the Citizen's Assembly model to research and consult on PR was probably the most democratic exercise in democracy ever conceived and practised in Canada. They settled on recommending the exemplary Single Transferable Vote system for the subsequent referendum.

In essence, a "majority" of less than 40% of the vote can still win a majority (50+%) of the legislature seats under the current lopsided system and go on to wreak a lot of damage. But a new and much more democratic system of voting needs a supermajority to pass? That is not at all fair.

As for the second time around, the BC NDP under John Horgan was blatarly biased toward one model (not STV) without citizen control present at all (though consultation was practiced). The resulting referendum got a result in the ~35% range, probably more of a backlash against the weak process and government control.

Today, PR is dead on BC, and that's not on the citizens.

That BC-STV system kind of sucked compared to any fairly good MMP system. I still voted for it because anything kind of proportional is still better than first-past-the-post and I figured setting the precedent that the system could be changed was a good thing; if it didn't work that well, we could change it again. As far as I can tell, the Citizen's Assembly, while certainly a good idea in general, was in this case led pretty strongly by a few experts who had a thing for STV models.

The math on how votes led to an outcome in BC-STV was crazy complex; it WAS fairly proportional (except in some ridings that weren't the full 7 seats) but when you got down to the nitty-gritty it would be very difficult for a voter to understand how their vote contributed to who got elected, so in an odd sense it lacked transparency. I think it was a product of the time--there was a big backlash against the idea of political parties and in favour of independents just then, and BC-STV worked well with independents.

MMP is better. More proportional, more understandable, less complex, leaves something noticeably closer to local representation (7 member ridings are HUGE). Some forms of MMP have that "lists controlled by the party" thing that lots of people object to, but most do not; I myself favour the "best losers" approach where top-up MPs are people who ran for the relevant party in that area and came closest to winning.

Okay. Anything but FPTP.

Unless politics have become binary, which they have.
Every time people offer their opinion on which of the simply too many versions of PR they think would be best, there's an automatic split, so clearly this proposition is not the thing under these fractious circumstances. That's probably why Trudeau changed his mind about it. Too divisive.
I reiterate my point about the siren song of extremism; like religion it should be kept out of our public life, and for the same reason, because even more "low-information" people come out of the woodwork and/or from under rocks when there's a new game in town.
The "People's Party of Canada" increased its vote share last time....

Israel is a cautionary tale for PR though because of the very nature of "extremism." It makes surprising headway thanks to our abiding human nature that is attracted to novelty and/or drama.
But not just coincidentally, extremist politicians are found primarily on the right side of the political spectrum due to either the philosophy, the general vibe, or values found there, and that includes Canada. Why IS that I wonder? All conservatives should be wondering that.
Could it be because "true believers" have become more overtly political of late, and have chosen conservatism as the most compatible vehicle to obtain more power, not just within society, but as that wanes, OVER society? When you're not just right but righteous, you can see collectively growing tired of just being the virtuous wind beneath the wings of it all, and wanting to ACT on your precious "belief system." (The left can also be accused of being overly precious btw, but primarily to expand the definition of what it means to be human so a completely opposite impetus.)
However, democracy is the more important human "system" here because it exists in the real world along with climate change, which the old Progressive Conservatives would have accepted. The only hope for conservatives is to return to being that, but extremism DOES have a way of taking over once allowed in; it has more avidity and energy. Witness the Republicans.
Unfortunately, with religious doctrines coming from ancient human history, sans science, wild incompatibility and opposition have increased as exponentially as social media, naturally contributing to the deteriorating civility in politics, and putting democracy on notice like never before, thereby creating further despair for the moderate, beleaguered majority. But for the martyred devout and the purists, it's probably all been quite galvanizing.
But it's like Trudeau said about the convoy; they (the true "other:" those who devalue truth itself) don't just want to negotiate, they want to be OBEYED. Tellingly, only the right wing would even HAVE a convoy, or "a narrative," period, for that matter.
This article fails to even mention religion despite Manning's background and despite the idea that a deity in charge of the universe is the very definition of an "extreme" idea, and even though the Reform party's "hidden" agenda basically still IS that BECAUSE it's still sanctioned by religious doctrine. What else explains the inability to accept homosexuality as something other than a "sinful" lifestyle choice? Or the science of climate change? Or science itself?!
So when it comes to religion, it's like not being able to use the words "fossil fuels" at a COP for decades; that's how utterly perverse people are.
Bottom line: as a brand, conservatism is now officially sh*t.

The only thing Israel's voting system tells us is to avoid their chosen unusual brand of proportional representation. It allows small radical parties to have too much power. There are other PR systems that avoid this, while also offering much superior electoral reform by comparison.

The other consideration is that tragically complicated political and moral issues facing Israel are utterly unique. Countries like New Zealand or Switzerland would be more relevant to Canada.

Very good point.

Moderates made a deal with the devil for the purpose of winning while selling out their values and principles. They won, but like all such deals, they are relatively short-lived. It makes for a great fable.

Moderate, fiscal conservatives, to learn their lesson, should accept the CPC is a beast that they can no longer tame, and form a new Progressive Conservative Party.

A great idea that would benefit progressives of all stripes. Isolating the extremists is a good idea and would offer a vote split that especially Liberals, but also social democrats, Greens and Bloc MPs can bank on.

Really, the older Conservative Party would've taken a hard right anyway without a merger, as it sounds like was the case for Ontario's provincial party.

Good point. Mike Harris' "common sense revolution."
It's all ended up being dumb, dumber and dumbest.


I agree with the author that the CPC “is essentially a modified version of the Reform Party”. Reading a little between the lines, I also agree that those conservatives who identify as progressive have been generally silent since the PC/ Reform merger; that silence being a continuing (‘til now?) tacit indication that – since the merger of the merely (economic) right-wing and the (economic & social) far-right Reformers -- the preference of such progressive conservatives has been to support Mr. Manning’s nationally destructive ideology rather than splitting the right wing vote and allowing the LPC to govern. And yet, the LPC has regained power and continues to govern. (Undoubtedly, there were PC refugees who joined the LPC after the Great Drubbing of ’93. There is, it seems to me, an overlap in a Venn diagram of the old PC and LPC parties – Red Tories/ Blue Liberals).
Perhaps the prospect of a Poilievre gov’t had finally given reason for progressive conservatives to awaken from their slumber? It’s unclear why they didn’t through the Harper years.



A few points the author didn’t mention.

The PC/Alliance merger was accomplished by Mr. McKay reneging on a deal made, during the leadership contest of the nearly-extinct PC Rump, with David Orchard, who was himself leading an attempt to reinvigorate the PC party after it was driven to near extinction (2 seats) in 1993.

No mention of the evangelical Christian underpinnings of Reform.

No mention of Western Alienation, which allowed for such a protest party to gain a toehold, which sentiment continues to fester; one might say, as exhibited by the recent generation of provincial prairie politics, it has become somewhat gangrenous.

No mention of the cultural/ linguistic split in the PC party that marked the birth of the Bloc Québécois and relegation of the CPC to third place, taking roughly 60% the number of votes accorded to each of the LPC and Bloc in 2021.

No mention of the broad shift rightward in politics, generally, that occurred with the remarkably successful embedding of neoliberalism in the Thatcherist/ Reaganist ‘80s that is now normalized, to our broad detriment. Mulroney was happy to ride along, as was Chrétien, IMO, and everyone since.

Centre-right, indeed.

I’d like a second opinion on this topic from someone like Chantal Hebert.

In case it's not obvious, the paragraph above referencing the Bloc included numbers related to the federal election results in Québec only.

The Alberta conservatives have appropriated the term "West" in their narrative about alienation, primarily to pretend it is deep and widespread across four very diverse provinces.

They did the same rhetorical trick by switching out "oil" for "energy" in their narrative.

As a true Westerner with roots in two Prairie provinces and now the BC coast, I resent it, and feel they are overreaching far beyond their limited rural and suburban Prairie base to create the illusion of grandiose approval. Alberta alienation is a km wide and a mm deep and does not apply uniformly to the very diverse lands west of the Ontario-Manitoba border.

How many Albertans does anyone know who are willing to give up their Canadian citizenship for some nebulous, undefined "nation" best described as a right wing petrostate run by religious nutbars?

I hear you, Alex, although perhaps I'm not fully understanding your views.

Western Alienation is real inasmuch as it has traction sufficient to permit the spread of a certain viewpoint to the point of taking down and consuming one of the two historical national parties and, subsequently, the Prime Ministership. And, though I am another Canada-firster (as opposed to any regional identity), I nonetheless acknowledge that historical grumpiness west of the continental divide towards central Canada is not without a certain degree of legitimacy. That said, those who seek to pour gasoline on the embers do so out of commercial self-interest, i.e. money, in my view. The Daniele Smiths, Scott Moes, Jason Kenneys of the world may be nothing more than useful idiots to, say, oil and gas.

Speaking of Moe, until fairly recently Saskatchewan wasn't a locus of that alienation spirit, as far as I recall. Commercial interests spreading the fires, perhaps?

Am I understanding, somewhat, your POV?

Pretty close. But what I heard growing up in Calgary in the 60s and 70s was members of the Western Canada Concept Party and others pontificating on the radio about a lot of nonsense to get more from Ottawa, not to protect a unique culture or language from being subsumed by the rest of the nation. You are right, it's all about oil, and their ploy worked more times than not to goad hundreds of billions out of the entire nation to subsidize a very profitable industry.

Today it's orders of magnitude more noise punctuated by conspiracies and religion and total subservience to one paymaster who has a list, and not a lot of signal. Trudeau the elder PO'd Alberta on manipulating oil prices, and I believe that was a dramatic response to inflationary pressures that resulted in comments about eastern bastards freezing in the dark, etc., etc., and constitutional wrangling. Mr. T Sr. was up against Peter Lougheed had a very keen legal mind and negotiated very hard on behalf of Albertans. He was one of the architects of the Notwithstanding Clause that give provinces a rare future out on particular issues when deemed they were in dire need. But there were few checks and balances on it, so it went on to be abused recently by premiers who want to violate or twist the Charter protections in some way. Danielle Smith is just the latest iteration of post-Lougheed madness, especially about the Constitution, the name "Trudeau" no matter what generation, and nurturing and protecting the carbon beast.

The first Quebec referendum results were very, very close to actually separating. A huge sensitivity to their distinct language and cultural heritage had everything to do with it, so much that half the voting population were willing to put their Canadian citizenship on the line and vote Yes. It's possible that the economic consequences of separation influenced the other half to vote No.

Alberta has a broken economic management system that allowed private industry to own the government, to unwisely subsidize the annual budgets to keep taxes low, and to be willfully ignorant of global trends that negatively affect their beloved black gold, be it OPEC price spikes or renewables lowering international and domestic demand. Alberta has nowhere near the same cultural impetus as Quebec to consider leaving. Ideologues in the Prairie boons and deep suburbs are politically motivated by a hatred of moderate and progressive political views and a fear that the RoC will steal what's left of their pile of money, not by deep personal differences of language and heritage. The "need" to espouse alienation and separatist sentiments rises and falls with the CPC fortunes in Ottawa. It will be very interesting to see how Alberta feels about Ottawa in about ten years when the clean energy transition is shifting into second gear.

The talk of alienation / separation is largely localized to hardcore Prairie conservatives and doesn't translate to views held in all Prairie provinces in any way but a thin, very patchy veneer. It needs to be countered, not feared. Their BS needs to be called. Their rattling swords need to be unsheathed for all to see how small they really are. Unlike Quebec at one moment in time, I doubt more than a single digit percentage point at best of the Alberta population would be honestly willing to sacrifice their Canadian citizenship from any angle, whether cultural, economic or political. You can't even call their old country music unique anymore. There are now jazz and blues clubs on Calgary's Red Mile and great Jamaican food and curry shops in malls everywhere. Who'd have ever thought?

Those are good additional points, Ken.

«...The CPC founded by Harper and MacKay still struggles to gain traction in urban areas and Quebec….». There are historical reasons as to why conservatives are so weak in Québec that goes back all the way to the policies of Sir John A. In fact, the tories disappeared from Québec politics during the 20th century. The last conservative Premier of Québec goes all the way to James Flynn who went out of office in May 1897.
Three hostile policies from the conservatives made them persona non grata in French-speaking Québec throughout the 20th century; A) the hanging of Riel, B) the school questions, (Manitoba school question + Regulation 17 in Ontario) C) the conscription issue during WW1. During the great depression, conservatives leaders such as Maurice Duplessis and Arthur Sauvé became desperate of ever defeating the corrupt and inefficient Liberals of Taschereau. That is why they founded l’Union Nationale by merging with a splinter party called l’Action Libérale Nationale.
In the 20th century, despite being a conservative society (until the Quiet Révolution), the «bleus»(=tories) were perceived as HOSTILE and became a specie threathened by extinction . The provincial convervatives did disappear. At the federal level, their only electoral «successes» were due to the provincial « Big Blue Machine». In 1930, despite an alliance with the fascists of Adrien Arcand and dire economic conditions, Bennett did very poorly in francophone areas. In 1958, Duplessis wanted to get even with PM St-Laurent. Diefenbaker did not elect 50 MPs in Québec; Duplessis’ Big Blue Machine did the job. In 1984, after the doublecross of « la nuit des longs couteaux»(Nov. 5, 1981), Mulroney promised to bring «Québec back in the constitutional family with honour and enthusiasm». Again, the conservatives did not win on their own; their electoral success was due to an alliance with the PQ. With the rejection of the Meech Lake Accord, that alliance went overboard. In 1993, the Bloc Québécois elected 54 MPs; with the collapse of conservatives elsewhere in the ROC, BQ became the official opposition in Ottawa!!!!
Now, we have the 21st century. At the provincial level, the conservative party was resurrected; now, it is under the leadership of Éric Duhaime. During the election of 2022, Duhaime managed to attract the angry anti-vac crowd; he got 13% of the total vote, but did not manage to elect any member of l’Assemblée Nationale. At the federal level, the conservative party is still alive; there are a few good MP such as Gérard Deltell and Luc Berthold. After the election of Pierre Poilièvre as leader, Alain Rayes, who had supported the candidacy of Jean Charest, was subjected to a spiteful reaction from PP. He resigned and became an independant MP. The lost of a good party organiser such as Alain Rayes is a low blow to a struggling political organisation.

So, Poilièvre is playing with political dynamite when he wants to «axe the tax» by blaming both the Liberals AND the BQ for the FEDERAL carbon tax. The BQ has the organisation to point out that nobody can abolish an non-existant FEDERAL carbon tax because Québec has cap and trade. Only PP’s fairy godmother can abolish a tax that is merely a figment of his overactive imagination!

Nice, as a Westerner to read something informative, rational and accurate about our largest physical province, and 2nd largest in population. Yesterday, while reading Hydro Quebecs energy plan for the new world we are headed for I was blown away with its scale! I grimace at our Western Prairie Premiers Moe and Smith and their anti Canada, anti transition attitudes, anti anything that isn't fossil-fueled.


A little caution is warranted, I think, in shouting the praises of Hydro Quebec (HQ). It would be useful to recall that the previous, respected PDG of HQ departed the post when her vision for the corporation differed from what the Caquistes had in mind.

HQ is, to a degree set by the provincial gov't of the day, an instrument of Quebec nationalism (and proudly viewed within French Quebec, rightly so). It's also one of the largest hydro developers on the planet. It could certainly prove to be a good partner to the entire region of Eastern Canada/ NE USA. But, lest there be any question, it's not a charity, in any economic or political sense.

Any warm fuzzies arising from the recent charm offensive vis-a-vis Newfoundland and Labrador can be acknowledged, then clearly set to one side.

In my view.

I'm not certain that I read your post fully, G Montpetit, but I did now (a little late) and I appreciate your points.

(It's only in the past COVID years, during which I completed a certificate in French, that I gained a basic understanding of the state of social life in Quebec prior to the Quiet Revolution, and how important the Q.R. was to the evolution of Franco-Quebec (specifically) society.)

You know ... the problem the best Conservatives have is that the only aspiration of the worst ones is to never vote for anybody better than themselves. And, so you get: the Derek Sloan-type members; the Victor Toews-type ministers; and the harper, scheer, o'toole and poilievre-type party leaders. When is that kind of funk ever going to disperse.

Michael Huenefeld calls it correctly, a tragedy! I was lucky to have been raised in Winnipeg North Centre, where Mr. Parliament, Stanley Knowles was my MP. A colleague of Tommy Douglas, they worked for the common good, something now foreign to Poilievre, Smith and Moe. Then double lucky when finished University in 1971, I got a position in Lethbridge 1 month after Peter Lougheed and Progressive Conservatives were elected. A time of social and economic progress in the 70s and 80s and we worked our butts off for the common good. After living also in Manitoba and BC governed by NDP, it was a shock to move back to Alberta and the selfish take care of yourself government of the PCs, then watch the radical right under Kenney and the UCP take us where the majority really do not want to go. The extreme radical right is perhaps posed to be our federal government and although PP points out problems with his holier than thou attacks and attitude, Poilievre has not made one rational proposal to move forward. Likewise here in Alberta we have Premier Smith sucking up to the extremist radical alt right with proposals that only put the future of Alberta's society & economics in jeopardy, discard the social and common good in favour of higher profits for business, cater to parents who want private religious schools paid for by the general public, and reading TbA proposals, want everyone to find evangelical Christianity and woman to stay home and either make babies or keep house. We live in Social liberal Democracy , small l liberal. Harper changed the dynamics of Canada by firing scientists who might disagree. He introduced an enemy, being anyone who disagrees. Poilievre has exploited that, to bring American style us vs them politics. I go back to Knowles and Lougheed where statesmen knew how and when to compromise, not just win.

Your experience nicely illustrates how everything went downhill in Alberta after Lougheed left office. It also dovetails with Kevin Taft's 2015 book 'Oil's Deep State,' the contents of which are still applicable to today though some of the characters have changed.

So the Reform Party was taken over and renamed the Conservative Alliance Party and then took over the Progressive Conservatives. That was all good and friendly?
But the (now) Conservative Party is all upset at the NDP and Liberals agreement to be friends and get things done is all wrong, and Conservative say there is a (coalition) when there are no NDP in the Liberal Cabinet?
Silly people say silly things.