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Reform Party (Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance)

A right-wing populist federal political party, the Reform Party and its successor, the Canadian Alliance, enjoyed great political success in Saskatchewan and replaced the Progressive Conservative party as the province’s dominant federal party. The Reform Party was founded in 1986 by a group of Alberta conservatives led by future party leader Preston Manning. Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government had alienated the Reform Party’s original activists largely because of the government’s unwillingness to severely curtail the welfare state and the government’s fixation on constitutional issues. The new party tapped into the Western Alienation sentiment that was prevalent throughout the region, dating back to the settlement period. Reformers were critical of the constitutional negotiations (Meech Lake) that the government was pursuing and which they believed sacrificed the needs of the west to the interests of central Canada, particularly Quebec. They argued that the government’s priorities had to change and that the west must be given a larger role in Confederation. To this end, the party championed such issues as an elected, equal and effective Senate based on the United States model, as well as the increased use of referendums and plebiscites.

The Reform Party’s first test was in the 1988 federal election, where it fielded candidates only in the four western provinces but failed to elect a single member. After the election, the party continued to rise in popularity, even winning an Alberta by-election. The party was buoyed by the unpopularity of the Mulroney government, and in the 1993 election it captured the Progressive Conservative’s old western base, winning 53 seats—all but one of them coming from western Canada. In Saskatchewan, the Reform Party won the popular vote, but elected only four MPs. The party soon became a lightning rod for controversy, as it was charged with being inherently racist, bigoted and boorish. These accusations haunted the party throughout its history and were the major barrier to its success outside of the west. In the 1997 election, the party increased its representation in Saskatchewan to 8 seats as the national party won 60. In 2000, the party recast itself as the Canadian Alliance in a bid to woo Progressive Conservative voters. Under the leadership of Stockwell Day, it improved its results, including in Saskatchewan where ten seats were won, but still remained largely a western party. Leadership problems plagued the party, and Day was replaced by Stephen Harper. Under the latter’s leadership, negotiations were initiated with the Progressive Conservatives, leading to the merger of the two parties into the new Conservative Party in December 2003.

Brett Quiring

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Further Reading

Laycock, D. 2002. The New Right and Democracy in Canada: Understanding Reform and the Canadian Alliance. Toronto: Oxford University Press; Manning, P. 2002. Think Big: My Adventures in Life and Democracy. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.
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University of Regina Government of Canada Government of Saskatchewan Canadian Plains Research Center
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