Reform Party of Canada

Reform Party of Canada

party_name = Reform Party of Canada
"Parti réformiste du Canada"
party_wikicolourid = Reform
status = defunct
class = fed
leader = Preston Manning
"Only leader"
president = n/a
foundation = October 31 1987
dissolution = March 25 2000
ideology = Populism, Conservatism, Neoconservatism, Social conservatism
headquarters = n/a
int_alignment = n/a
seats_house = n/a
colours = Green, Blue
website = n/a
The Reform Party of Canada ( _fr. "Parti réformiste du Canada") was a Canadian federal political party that existed from 1987 to 2000. It was originally founded as a Western Canada-based protest party, but attempted to expand eastward in the 1990s. It viewed itself as a populist party, but was also conservative. It was folded into the ideologically and fiscally conservative Canadian Alliance in 2000 which then merged with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada (PC) to form the present-day Conservative Party of Canada in 2003. During its time on the Canadian political scene, Reform had only one leader, Preston Manning, the son of former Alberta Premier and Evangelical Christian preacher Ernest Manning.

The Reform Party was seen by some politicians and media outlets as being extremist and associated with the far-right after numerous Reform Members of Parliament and candidates repeatedly made remarks that were considered xenophobic, homophobic, and sexistFact|date=October 2008, although in 1997 the party selected a number of ethnic minority candidates, such as Rahim Jaffer who became the first ever Muslim Member of Parliament. This image of intolerance and extremism plagued the party's fortunes in the 1990s, and was a major factor in the party's subsequent rebirth as the Canadian Alliance.

Political roots and the party's creation

In 1986, a conference called "Canada's Economic and Political Future" was held in Vancouver, British Columbia. This conference led to the formation of the Reform Party in the following year. The party's founding occurred as the coalition of Western Prairie populists, Quebec nationalists, Ontario business leaders, and Atlantic Red Tories that made up Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative Party began to fracture.

The party was the brainchild of a group of discontented Western interest groups who were upset with the PC government and the lack of a voice for Western concerns at the national level. They believed the West needed its own party if it was to be heard. Their main complaints against the Mulroney government were its alleged favouritism towards Quebec, lack of fiscal responsibility, and a failure to support a program of institutional reform (for example, of the Senate). The roots of this discontent lay mainly in their belief that a package of proposed constitutional amendments, called the Meech Lake Accord, failed to meet the needs of Westerners and Canadian unity overall.

The Reform Party was founded as a western-based populist party to promote reform of democratic institutions. However, shortly after the 1987 founding convention, social and fiscal conservatives became dominant within the party, moving it to the right. Their political aims were a reduction in government spending on social programs, and reductions in taxation. Though largely a fringe party in 1987, by 1990 the party had made huge inroads in public support as support for Mulroney's PC party dropped due to the unpopular Goods and Services Tax (GST), high unemployment, and the failure of the Meech Lake Accord. In 1992, leader Preston Manning released a book called "The New Canada" explaining the origins of the new party and its policies, explaining his personal life and convictions, and defending some of the controversial elements of Reform's policies.

The party in the late 1980s

The party had its first assembly in 1987, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Preston Manning, son of former Alberta Social Credit Premier and Senator Ernest Manning, was acclaimed as the new party's leader when former Manitoba Liberal Party Member of the Legislative Assembly Stan Roberts, the only other candidate, withdrew from the race. The party fought in the 1988 federal election, but was never considered more than a fringe element, and none of its 72 candidates won election. However, the party ran second to the governing Tories in many Western ridings and earned 2.1% of the total national vote. The party clearly identified itself as a Western-based political party in 1988 with its slogan "The West Wants In". The party advocated controversial policies such as its opposition to official bilingualism and multiculturalism and its opposition for distinct society status for Quebec which all mainstream political parties at the time supported.

In 1989, following the sudden death of John Dahmer, PC MP for Beaver River in Alberta, the Reform Party gained its first MP when Deborah Grey won the resulting by-election. Grey had finished fourth in the 1988 election. As the party's first MP, she became Reform's deputy leader, a position she held for the remainder of the party's history.

Also in 1989, Stanley Waters won Alberta's first senatorial election under the banner of the Reform Party of Alberta. In 1990, he became Reform's first (and only) federal Senator, remaining in office until his untimely death one year later. Waters' appointment, following his election victory, has led some to describe him as Canada's first elected Senator.

Controversial links

In the early 1990s, the party was controversially endorsed by extremist groups such as the Neo-Nazi Heritage Front and the Alliance for the Preservation of English in Canada (APEC). Though the Reform Party rejected the endorsement of these extremist groups, the endorsements were a significant blow to the party's image in many regions of Canada, and one from which they struggled to recover for many years.

While the Reform Party had similar views to APEC's on official bilingualism and the role of Quebec in Confederation, the reasons for the racist Heritage Front's endorsement were less direct. In fact, the Heritage Front simply viewed Reform as a vehicle they could infiltrate in order to steer it toward their views, a phenomenon to which many new political parties are somewhat vulnerable, but especially was a problem for Reform because of its social conservative views on multiculturalism and bilingualism. A number of party candidates and Members of Parliament came under fire for having made racist statements; however, the Reform Party itself never proposed or endorsed a racist platform, and politicians in other parties have faced similar controversies as well.

Electoral success

In 1991 and 1992, support for Reform rose not only in Western Canada, but also in other parts of Canada as well, including Ontario. The party took note of this new support and changed its position from being a Western-based political party to being a national party (though it excluded candidates from Quebec).

In 1992, the Mulroney government made another attempt at amending Canada's constitution. The Charlottetown Accord was even more ambitious than the Meech Lake Accord, but it failed to win support in a nationwide referendum. The Reform Party was one of the few groups to oppose the accord.

Preston Manning on his 1992 book, "The New Canada", a book which laid out the political manifesto of the Reform Party, published when Reform's popularity was soaring.] The constitutional debacle, unpopular initiatives such as the introduction of a Goods and Services Tax (GST), together with a series of high-profile scandals, all contributed to the implosion of the Progressive Conservative "grand coalition" in the 1993 election. The Progressive Conservatives suffered the worst defeat ever for a governing party at the federal level, falling from 151 to only two seats, while the Liberals under Jean Chrétien won a majority government.

During the 1993 campaign, Reform came under attack after John Beck, the party's candidate in the Ontario riding of York Centre, uttered a series of racial slurs in an interview, attacking immigrants for taking jobs away from the white, "gentile people," and then insulting First Nations, saying, "Look at the Natives, they're very messed up. That's what's happening to us. We're all being hooked on booze and drugs and we're going to end up just like the Indians." [ [] ] He later verbally attacked Jews, saying that "it seems to be predominantly Jewish people who are running this country." Manning was angrily confronted by students at York University shortly after the comments came out and immediately distanced himself from Beck, claiming Beck's statements were not in line with party policy and not supported.

Reform was the major beneficiary of the Tory collapse, taking nearly 16% of the popular vote – a healthy increase from 1988. With few exceptions, the PCs' Western support transferred "en masse" to Reform. It won all but four seats in Alberta and dominated British Columbia as well. The party also won four seats in Saskatchewan and one seat in Manitoba. It probably would have won many more seats in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, but those provinces were swept under the Liberal tide. Besides taking over nearly all of the PC seats in the West, Reform also won several ridings held by the social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP). Despite sharp ideological differences, Reform's populism struck a responsive chord with many NDP voters who were dissatisfied with Audrey McLaughlin's leadership and Ontario supporters who were frustrated with the government of NDP Premier Bob Rae.

However, Reform did not do as well as hoped east of Manitoba. It was entirely shut out of Atlantic Canada – a region where a much more moderate strain of conservatism has traditionally prevailed. Many Red Tory voters in both Atlantic Canada and Ontario were fed up with the Tories, but found Reform's agenda too extreme and shifted to the Liberals, at least at the national level. Despite strong support in rural central Ontario, a very socially conservative area which had been the backbone of previous provincial Tory governments, vote splitting with the national Tories allowed the Liberals to win all but one seat in Ontario. Reform's Ed Harper managed to win in Simcoe Centre, but had 123 more votes gone to his Liberal opponent, the Liberals would have had the first-ever clean sweep of Canada's most populous province. As it turned out, this was Reform's only victory east of Manitoba, ever. The party also did not run any candidates in Quebec. Reform was still a Western protest party, and would never lose this character. However, due to a quirk in the first past the post system, its heavy concentration of support in the West netted it 52 seats. However, the Bloc Québécois's concentration of support in Quebec was slightly larger, leaving Reform three seats short of Official Opposition status despite finishing second in the popular vote. Even with these disappointments, the 1993 election was a tremendous success for Reform. In one stroke, it had replaced the Tories as the major right-wing party in Canada.

Fortunes in the 1990s

The arrival of the Reformers in Ottawa followed a long line of Western protest parties like the Progressive Party of Canada and Social Credit. Reform ran into the same problems those parties had had, as it wrestled with the tricky task of maintaining a populist ideology.

Reform's ambitions of breaking out of the west and into the east, particularly vote-rich Ontario, were helped by the rise of Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Mike Harris to power in 1995. Harris' Common Sense Revolution agenda shared much of Reform's fiscally neoconservative ideology, including deep spending cuts, privatization of social services, and tax cuts. The party continued to show its ties to Harris as a means to diminish support for the federal PC Party.

Reform claimed credit for pressuring the Liberal government to initiate spending cuts and focus on deficit reduction in 1995, though the party had wanted even deeper cuts. It also managed to put forward its own strategy for national unity after the slim federalist victory in the 1995 Quebec referendum on sovereignty, which advocated deep decentralization of powers from the federal government to the provinces and territories. Manning was attacked, however, for not appearing at federalist rallies in Quebec, as Prime Minister Chrétien and new Progressive Conservative leader Jean Charest had done.

Despite some steps forward, Reform came under considerable attack during its tenure in Parliament from 1994 to 1997. The party's staunch social conservative stances on bilingualism, immigration, gay rights, women's rights, minority rights, and aboriginal rights led to a large number of Reform MPs making statements that were considered to be homophobic, intolerant, sexist, and racist. In 1994, Werner Schmidt included a quote from Adolf Hitler in his January 1994 newsletter to constituents. The citation from Hitler was, "What luck for leaders that men do not think." Schmidt apologized for having Hitler cited in his newsletter, but said the quote was there "sort of to prod people." [ Reform Watch ANALYSIS: Intolerence in Reform ] ] The most notorious statements came from Bob Ringma, who said that owners should be free to move gays and "ethnics" "to the back of the shop." [ [ Reform Watch: Critical Eye on the Reform Party of Canada ] ] Other controversial comments came from Herb Grubel, who compared First Nations people to "spoiled children living in South Sea island resorts" when many considered Canadian Aboriginals to be living in squalid conditions and in high levels of poverty.

Some Reform MPs, including Jan Brown, Jim Silye, Ian McClelland and Stephen Harper (the current Conservative Prime Minister of Canada) made efforts to curb the extremist wing of the party. Brown and Harper voted against the party's opposition to extending rights to gays and lesbians. Brown and Silye condemned Reform MP Art Hanger for his proposed trip to Singapore to investigate the benefits of caning in the criminal justice system. Shortly afterward, another Reform MP, Dave Chatters, suggested that it would be reasonable to ban homosexual teachers to prevent negative influence on children. With no response or censure by Manning, Brown threatened that she, Silye, and other moderate Reformers would break away from the party if action was not taken to purge the party of extremists, but Manning then condemned Brown and Silye for their attacks on other MPs. Later, under pressure, Manning suspended Ringma and Chatters for their comments, but also suspended Brown for speaking out against the party. With the negative light the party was coming under, as well as frustration over Manning's leadership, Brown, Harper, and Silye left the party. Both Brown and Silye unsuccessfully sought re-election as Progressive Conservatives, while Harper departed to head the National Citizens Coalition, a right-wing lobby group.

From 1996 to the 1997 election, the party's executive tried to refurbish the party's image and shed its controversial past. A number of ethnic minorities were sought out as Reform candidates for the upcoming 1997 election. Also, Reform changed tactics by running a candidate in every riding in Canada, including those in Quebec, for the first time. The party increased its total seats to 60 and became the Official Opposition. Despite this breakthrough, however, Reform failed to win any seats east of Manitoba and the Progressive Conservatives returned to official party status and they dominated the conservative vote in eastern Canada. The party was considerably hampered in its efforts to reach Francophone voters because of Manning's inability to speak French. There was also a perception of the party as being anti-Quebec due to its position on official bilingualism and its opposition to the Meech Lake Accord.

During this time, Reform again came under fire for ostensibly being extremist. The party ran an election ad in which the faces of four key Quebec leaders (Prime Minister Chrétien, PC leader Charest, former Bloc Québécois chief Lucien Bouchard, and new Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe) were crossed out, saying that Canada had been governed too long by Quebec politicians. The response to this ad was negative, and the leaders of the other parties claimed that the ad was an attack on Quebec and that Manning was a bigot. [ [ CNN - Canada poised for vote that may deadlock parliament - June 1, 1997 ] ] Manning himself made blunders in the campaign; he was seen as a Christian absolutist, and disrespectful to religious pluralism as he professed that there can only be one true religion. He said, "I would like the different religions to sit down and attempt to find out what is the objective truth. We can't both be right. In the area of the spiritual, there are absolutes, too." ("Globe and Mail", May 22, 1997) [ [ ReformWatch News: Manning's Absolutism ] ]

Disillusionment with the traditional political parties in general had been the impetus behind Reform's initial growth, but that growth was now felt to have stalled. Its claims to be a populist and Western protest party came under attack in 1997, when Manning accepted an offer to live in the Stornoway, a mansion provided to leaders of the Official Opposition in Canada. Manning had previously said that the Stornoway was a waste of taxpayer money and that he would not reside there [citation needed] .

Reform had also failed in 1997 to establish itself as the clear right-wing alternative to the Liberal Party. The Progressive Conservative Party, which had been steadily rebuilt under Charest, enjoyed a modest revival in the 1997 election. It won 20 seats, up from the dismal two it had won during in the 1993 election. The split in the right-wing vote between Reform and the PCs allowed the Liberals to win a second majority government with only 40% of the vote, the combined vote of the Reform and the PCs in 1997 equalled the same amount. Political observers noted that it was a divided right which allowed the Liberals to gain a second majority government, and claimed that if the two parties did not put away their differences, the result would repeat itself.

Manning recognized the frustration by Canada's right-wing proponents and began discussions towards the launch of a new pan-Canadian party, using "United Alternative" ("UA") forums to bring grassroots Reformers together with Tories. The goal was to create a small-c conservative political alternative to the Liberals that could woo Ontarian and Atlantic Canadian voters. Manning was supported by the more right-of-centre "Focus Federally For Reform," while "Grassroots United Against Reform's Demise" ("GUARD") opposed the initiative. The United Alternative proposal created a strong debate in the Reform Party. Manning himself wrote a letter to the effect that he did not want to lead Reform anymore, but would only lead a new party. A leadership vote in 1998 managed to officially put aside the differences, with Manning winning a large majority in support of his leadership. Afterwards, Reform steadily progressed towards creating the United Alternative.


The outcome was the creation of a new party, the "Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance" (more commonly known as the Canadian Alliance). It fused about half of the Progressive Conservative policies, and half of Reform's policies. Reform disbanded on March 27, 2000 and was folded into the Alliance.

Even though Reform and the Alliance are considered separate parties, former Reform members dominated the new party. The Reform parliamentary caucus, with few exceptions, simply became the Alliance caucus. As a result, the Alliance was widely seen as a renamed and enlarged Reform Party. Critics of the party frequently referred to it as the "Reform Alliance" to underscore its previous incarnation as Reform, at a time when many Canadians east of Manitoba had grown uneasy about the multiple allegations of discrimination and extremism within the Reform Party as portrayed in the media.

Manning stood in the first leadership race for the new party, but lost to the younger and more charismatic Stockwell Day, the treasurer (finance minister) and deputy premier of Alberta.

The creation of the Canadian Alliance, and its eventual merger in 2003 with the Progressive Conservative Party to form the new Conservative Party of Canada, alienated some of the old Reform populists, who saw the merger as the final demise of the former Reform Party and the return of Tory indifference to western Canadian concerns. This led to the creation of a new "Reform Association of Canada". "Bring Back Real Reform" also was created by a fringe group of original Reformers from Ontario, with the aim of bringing back a federal Reform Party. Under the tag "Operation Back to the Future", it was launched in Spring 2005 as an umbrella for all original Reformers across the nation who felt that they were still without a political home. Neither of these groups has attracted any support.

Most of these people were also members of GUARD, were anti-UA, and were generally unsupportive of the Canadian Alliance, seeing it as a political vehicle for a Tory takeover even though the Alliance was dominated by former Reform Party members.

Provincial wings

The Reform Party of Canada had two official provincial wings, that were registered by the party to be kept in a mostly dormant state.

The Reform Party of Ontario ran only one candidate in each election to maintain registration, whilst the Reform Party of Alberta ran candidates in the first two senatorial elections. There were also two unaffiliated provincial parties, the Reform Party of British Columbia and the Reform Party of Manitoba. While they had no official connection to the federal party, they shared a similar political outlook. Both provincial parties are now largely inactive.

The Reform Party of Canada held close association with the provincial Progressive Conservative parties in Alberta under Ralph Klein and Ontario under Mike Harris which held similar economic policies. The Reform Party also supported the populist conservative Saskatchewan Party formed in 1997 as well as the economically neoliberal Liberal Party of British Columbia under Gordon Campbell which was the only capable opposition party to the right of the New Democratic Party of British Columbia.

Federal election results 1988-1997

Logos and emblems


ee also

*Reform Party candidates, 1997 Canadian federal election
*Reform Party candidates, 1993 Canadian federal election
*List of political parties in Canada
*Unite the Right

External links

* [ The Prairie Roots of Canada's Political "Third Parties"]

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