Unite the Right

From Academic Kids

Unite the Right, also referred to as the United Alternative, was a Canadian political movement from 1997 until 2003. Its goal was to merge the country's two right wing political parties: the Reform Party of Canada (later the Canadian Alliance (CA)) and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. The aim was to create a single conservative party that could defeat the governing Liberal Party. The goal of uniting the right was accomplished in December of 2003 with the formation of the Conservative Party of Canada.

There were many barriers to a merger. Polls had found that two-thirds of traditional PC voters would vote for the Liberals before endorsing a united Canadian Alliance/PC party. Some westerners also had deep concerns that the new party would be dominated by central Canada, much as they thought the Progressive Conservatives had been.

Contents

Disenchantment and division

The division in the right stemmed from the 1993 election when the upstart Reform Party (formed in 1987) won significant support in the west, and the once-powerful PCs were reduced to only two seats. The Reform Party had come into being in 1987, in large part in opposition to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's government in the late 1980s. A significant number of Western Canadians had strongly disliked what they perceived as his pro-Quebec approach. They also viewed the Meech Lake Accord and Charlottetown Accord as not in the West's best interests.

With two right-wing parties, it very quickly became apparent that unseating the governing Liberals would be next to impossible. In the 1997 election, both the PCs and the Reform Party polled roughly 19% each respectively. The Reform Party emerged with 60 seats and Official Opposition status while the demoralized PCs emerged from the brink of oblivion with 20 seats and regained party status. A minimum of twelve seats is required for official party status in the Canadian House of Commons, which allows the party to have seats on parliamentary committees, guaranteed speaking time in the Commons, and funding for research staff. More importantly, the Liberals emerged with only a five-seat majority in the election, and many pundits suggested that the combined Tory and Reform votes would have been enough to unseat the Liberals or at least reduce them to minority status. The Jean Chretien Liberals had governed Canada since 1993, and have never really been threatened by the divided right during the Chretien era. Especially important in the Liberal's electoral success was the province of Ontario. From 1993 to 2004, the Liberals utterly dominated that province. Both the Reform and the PC party received many votes, but because of the first past the post (FPTP) system this was not enough to win more than a handful of Ontario's approximately 103 seats. At the same time, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, who some suggested were kindred spirits in policy and direction to Reform, had formed a popular provincial government under Premier Mike Harris.

United Alternative

After the second Liberal win in 1997, it became increasingly obvious that having two right-of-centre parties was splitting the vote and ensuring further Liberal majorities. Reform Party leader Preston Manning was criticized by some members in the party and the media for not "broadening the base of the Reform Party". Manning had originally suggested that the Reform Party was meant to be a new party that could replace the Liberals and the PCs as a new national alternative, but this hope was clearly not materializing. Therefore the Reform Party launched a number of efforts to convince like-minded Tories to join with them in creating a new united right-of-centre movement for Canada. A secondary goal of the movement was to at least have the current parties agree not to run two right-of-centre candidates in the same ridings in the next federal election. A series of informal conferences and mini-conventions were staged under the auspices of Manning and the Reform Party on the benefits of a "United Alternative".

While the United Alternative movement was focussed on creating a broader coalition for conservative voters, it had to compete with social conservatives who wanted the Reform Party to shift closer to the far right as opposed to the moderate centre. These members (including Stephen Harper at the time) believed that the Reform Party could become a political opposite to the New Democratic Party. In times of minority, the NDP has influenced left-leaning tendencies in the Liberal Party's policies. Many Reformers argued that the Reform movement could influence the Progressive Conservative Party's policies in a similar manner by forcing the PCs to adopt more right-wing solutions in order to obtain Reform support in the event of a minority PC government.

In 1997, under the auspices of 1993 Reform Party candidate and ardent social conservative, Craig Chandler, a controversial "Unite the Right" conference was held in Hamilton, Ontario. The conference attracted a negative media attention for not just including MPs and delegates from the Reform and Progressive Conservative parties, but also leadership officials from the right-wing social conservative Christian Heritage Party of Canada, Social Credit Party of Canada and the Confederation of Regions Party, and delegates from the Family Coalition Party of Ontario and the Freedom Party of Ontario. After this conference, polls were conducted that suggested that many Progressive Conservatives would rather vote Liberal than vote for a new merged Reform/PC political entity.

The efforts to create a United Alternative did not sit well with the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives. The PC Party eventually passed an amendment to the party's constitution stating that the party had to run a candidate in every federal riding in the next election. Having been rebuffed by Tory leader Joe Clark, Manning urged the Reform Party membership to "Think Big" and eventually a real "United Right" effort was launched. In early 2000, the Reform Party held two national conventions in Ottawa that culminated in Reform's demise and the creation of the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance, more commonly known as the Canadian Alliance.

Not all Reformers were in favour of the creation of a new right-wing political party. Some Reformers were actually populists who did not necessarily aspire to right-wing solutions for government in Canada. Led by Reform MPs Darrel Stinson and Myron Thompson, a protest movement was launched known as "Grassroots United Against Reform's Demise" or GUARD. The movement sent letters and e-mails to party members and officials urging them to not vote in favour of a new party.

Ultimately, Manning's bid to create a new party was successful, although the personal consequences for his initiative would be high. The Canadian Alliance leadership race was expected to be a pro forma contest in which Manning's leadership would be easily reconfirmed. However, the race quickly became a contest. Many CA members felt that a new party needed a new leader. Eventually Manning's bid for the CA leadership was defeated by Alberta Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and Provincial Treasurer Stockwell Day. While the party was seen by many as a happy union of former Reformers and Blue Tory PCs who were disaffected with Joe Clark's Red Tory leadership, the Canadian Alliance was still seen by many as merely the Reform Party in new clothes. Furthermore, many Reformers became disaffected with the CA due to Manning's ouster as the movement's leader.

Fragmentation

After a below-expectations result in the 2000 election and the failure of the CA to reduce Joe Clark's PCs to independent status, a year of factional in-fighting began in 2001 over Stockwell Day's leadership. Several controversies surrounding Day's personality, statements and actions led to a number of disaffected Alliance MPs, including party stalwarts Deborah Grey and Chuck Strahl, formally leaving the Alliance caucus. Thirteen MPs left the Canadian Alliance during this period of instability. The 13 MPs sat as the Democratic Representative Caucus (DRC) and eventually decided to affiliate themselves with the Tories, sitting as one group in the House of Commons and holding joint meetings.

After the near collapse of the Canadian Alliance and the rise in defections to the Progressive Conservatives, it appeared that the right in Canada would remain fractious and fragmented into the foreseeable future. From August 2001 to May 2002, three separate elected right-wing political entities existed in the House of Commons (the PCs, the CA and the DRC). Many journalists and media analysts were convinced that the right would totally meltdown in a future election with so many conflicting factions. When asked by reporters in January, 2002 about the troubles on the right, Liberal Heritage Minister Sheila Copps aptly conveyed the glee of the governing Liberals at the fractiousness in the conservative movement when she quipped "burn, baby, burn!" Many political pundits were convinced that with no credible national alternative, the Liberals would easily cruise to a fourth straight majority victory in a future 2004 election.

New leadership

In April 2002, Stockwell Day was replaced as leader of the Canadian Alliance by Stephen Harper, one of the original "Class of '88" founders of the Reform Party. Unlike Day, Harper proved to be an able leader and managed to repair most of the damage that his predecessor's leadership had caused. With Harper at the healm, DRC MPs who had left the party's caucus returned to the Canadian Alliance. With Day no longer running the Canadian Alliance, a merger was also much more agreeable to many stalwart Tory members. PC Party Leader Joe Clark, who had spurned off many attempts to unite the right during his leadership announced his impending retirement as PC Party Leader in August 2002 after the PC-DRC Coalition Caucus dissolved. A leadership election was scheduled for May 2003.

On May 31, 2003, Peter MacKay won the Tory leadership race. Unlike Joe Clark, MacKay supported open discussions on the concepts of a united party, but promised that, on his watch, no full-fledged union would take place. Shortly after becoming leader, MacKay signalled his openness to broad "talks" with the Canadian Alliance with regard to creating more unity on the right. Over the summer and autumn of 2003, a series of protracted negotiations led by a group of Tory and Alliance emmisaries including Don Mazankowski and Bill Davis for the PCs, and Gerry St. Germain and Ray Speaker for the CA took place. It was later revealed that auto-parts magnate Belinda Stronach acted as chair and moderator for the discussions. The negotiations were largely motivated by the juggernaut takeover of the Liberal Party by the extremely popular and successful former Liberal finance minister Paul Martin, and the marked reduction in membership and political donations for both parties due to voter frustration with the status quo Liberal hedgemony. Polls showed both the beleaguered PC and Alliance parties losing a large number of seats in the next election to a Martin-led Liberal team across Canada if an amenable solution was not found.

The new Conservatives

The goal of a united right was realized in Autumn 2003. The summer negotiations eventually produced an "Agreement in Principle" between the PCs and the CA on the establishment of a new Conservative Party of Canada. On October 16, 2003, Alliance leader Stephen Harper and Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay announced the formation of the new united conservative party. Both leaders insisted that the union was not about egos and was really about making an enormous contribution to protecting tangible democratic freedoms and political choice in Canada. Harper was widely quoted by many media officials during the press conference when he stated "Our swords will henceforth be pointed at the Liberals, not at each other."

The main sticking point during the Autumn negotiations had been the method of choosing the merged party's leader. The Tories pushed for an equal number of votes for each riding, that would benefit their much more nationally representative, but lower membership (65,000); the Alliance hoped for a one member one vote system that would benefit their much larger, but centralized western membership (120,000). Harper conceded the issue. In early December 95.9 percent of the CA membership approved the union, and 90.4 percent of the PC Party delegates also endorsed the initiative in a national convention. The party was officially formed on December 8, 2003. Harper was elected leader of the new Conservative Party of Canada on March 20, 2004 and MacKay was appointed deputy leader.

Aftermath

Months later, Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin called for a general election. However in the interim between the formation of the new party and the selection of its new leader, investigations into the sponsorhip scandal had knocked some wind out of the Liberal Party's political sales, resulting in the election being backed up to late June as opposed to early April. This allowed the Conservatives to be more prepared for the race, unlike the 2000 election. For the first time since the 1988 election, the Liberal Party would have to deal with a united conservative opposition.

Contrary to many predictions, the Conservatives ran a well-run and unified campaign, unlike the Liberals who faltered badly until the last two weeks. Polls quickly indicated an increase in support for the new Conservative Party and by all pollster indications by mid-campaign, it seemed as if Harper was on the verge of becoming Prime Minister of a minority government. But even at their highest level of support the Tories were still some percentage points off the combined total of the two separate right-wing parties that had run in the last election. A number of prominent ex-Tories also chose to support the Liberals. These included MPs Scott Brison, Keith Martin and John Herron who crossed the floor to the Liberals. Lukewarm endorsements of Liberal Party candidates at the onset of the campaign were extended by former Tory MPs Joe Clark, André Bachand, Rick Borotsik, and former federal PC Party President Bruck Easton.

Harper's new Conservatives emerged from the election with a larger parliamentary Caucus of 99 MPs. Chuck Cadman, a CA MP who failed to win the Conservative Party noimination in his riding, was re-elected as an indpendent. The Liberals were reduced to a thin minority government, relegating the governing party to obtaining support from at least two of the three Opposition parties to pass legislation.

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