The history of third parties in Canada may be of interest to those
considering whether a relatively successful, third-party movement could
get under way in the United States — especially a third party
of the Right.
The Canadian federal system — consisting of provinces that tend
to be geographically larger and more regionally and culturally delineated
than most U.S. states — has clearly encouraged the growth of
The two main parties in Canada have been the Liberals and the Conservatives,
roughly corresponding to the Democrats and the Republicans in the United
States. However, the Liberals are considerably more left-wing than
many U.S. Democrats and far more electorally dominant in Canadian politics.
The Conservatives changed their party name to Progressive Conservative
(PC) in 1942. After decades of political evolution, there is now one
united center-right party at the federal level, the Conservative Party,
while the provincial wings continue to call themselves Progressive
The third parties have included (1) the Co-operative Commonwealth
Federation, renamed the New Democratic Party (NDP) in 1961; (2) the
Social Credit Party, which had largely disappeared from Canadian politics
by the 1980s; and (3) the Reform Party. The Reform Party was founded
in 1987 by Preston Manning, the son of the long-time Social Credit
premier of Alberta, Ernest C. Manning.
Members of Preston Manning’s Reform Party were accused of being “retread
Socreds.” A rival to the NDP today is the Green Party, which
garnered about 4 percent of the vote in the last two federal elections
but won no seats. Canada’s voting system tends to lessen the
chances of smaller parties whose votes are widely scattered.
Quebec has the separatist parties: the Parti Québécois
(PQ) in the province and Bloc Québécois (BQ) in the federal
Parliament. The somewhat more conservative party in the province of
Quebec is the Action Democratique du Québec (ADQ), which tends
to support the Conservatives at the federal level.
Although founded in Western Canada with the idea of electing Western-friendly
MPs to the federal Parliament, the Reform Party became a countrywide
party in 1991. Preston Manning insisted that the Reform Party exist
only at the federal level in order to focus strictly on influencing
or even winning the federal government, and not be diverted into provincial
battles. The Reform Party transformed itself into the Canadian Reform-Conservative
Alliance after 1998 and then merged with the federal Progressive Conservative
Party in December 2003, renamed together as the Conservative Party.
Opponents accuse the Conservative Party of being nothing but “the
Reform Party — Version Three.” Despite all the hostile
rhetoric directed against it, the Reform Party itself was very much
a center/center-right party. It was much different from the U.S. Reform
Party — especially during its brief Buchananite incarnation — and
far more successful, winning about 20 percent of the vote in the federal
elections of 1993 and 1997.
Looking at the situation in Canada in general, it is not surprising
that the New Democratic Party (a third party of the Left) has been
so successful. Nevertheless, Preston Manning’s Reform Party,
probably the most prominent third party of the Right in Canadian history,
was able to achieve amazing results, despite existing in the general
context of a massive social and cultural transformation toward political
correctness and multiculturalism. The continuing presence of the Reform
Party in the late 1980s and 1990s suggests that some kernel of putative
conservatism has survived in Canada, awaiting the Conservative Party’s
initiatives to give major social and cultural embodiment to it.
In the United States, the duopoly of the two main parties is strongly
entrenched. To the extent that the Republicans fail to oppose much
of the political correctness and multiculturalism emanating from the
Democratic Party and reinforced by powerful interest groups, real democracy
is actually weakened rather than enhanced. One of the most obvious
points at which the system can be challenged is in presidential insurgency
candidacies. When the Republican Party establishment sees that it has
lost a presidential election because of a strong, third-party insurgency
candidacy, it may consider returning to more-substantial elements of
conservatism and more-traditional understandings of the U.S. Constitution.
Actually, however, a candidate such as Ron Paul — in a fashion
somewhat similar to that of the traditionalist thinker George Parkin
Grant in Canada — exists beyond today’s conventional Left/Right
categories. Indeed, the anti-war focus of his candidacy, his high integrity,
and his resistance to the behemoth state in all its manifestations
may attract a wide spectrum of support.
While considerable differences remain between the political cultures
of the United States and Canada, the comparative success of the Reform
Party of Canada may suggest that any moves toward a third party of
the Right in the United States — however fragmentarily it may
be instantiated in a maverick presidential insurgency-candidacy — would
be salutary in the long term for traditionalist currents in America.
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