Canadian federal election, 1984

Canadian federal election, 1984

Infobox Election
election_name = Canadian federal election, 1984
country = Canada
type = parliamentary
ongoing = no
previous_election = Canadian federal election, 1980
previous_year = 1980
previous_mps = 32nd Canadian Parliament
next_election = Canadian federal election, 1988
next_year = 1988
next_mps = 34th Canadian Parliament
seats_for_election = 282 seats in the 33rd Canadian Parliament
election_date = September 4 1984

leader1 = Brian Mulroney
leader_since1 =
party1 = Progressive Conservative Party of Canada
leaders_seat1 = Manicouagan
last_election1 = 103
seats1 = 211
seat_change1 = +108
popular_vote1 = 6,278,818
percentage1 = 50.03%
swing1 = +17.59%

leader2 = John Turner
leader_since2 =
party2 = Liberal Party of Canada
leaders_seat2 = Vancouver Quadra
last_election2 = 147
seats2 = 40
seat_change2 = −107
popular_vote2 = 3,516,486
percentage2 = 28.02%
swing2 = −16.32%

leader3 = Ed Broadbent
leader_since3 =
party3 = New Democratic Party
leaders_seat3 = Oshawa
last_election3 = 32
seats3 = 30
seat_change3 = −2
popular_vote3 = 2,359,915
percentage3 = 18.81%
swing3 = −0.97%

map_size = 250px
map_caption =
title = PM
before_election = John Turner
before_party = Liberal Party of Canada
after_election = Brian Mulroney
after_party = Progressive Conservative Party of Canada

The Canadian federal election of 1984 was held on September 4 of that year to elect members of the Canadian House of Commons of the 33rd Parliament of Canada. The Progressive Conservative Party, led by Brian Mulroney won the largest majority government (by total number of seats) in Canadian history, while the Liberals suffered the worst defeat at the time for a governing party at the federal level. Only The Progressive Conservatives would face a larger defeat in 1993.

The election marked the end of the Liberals' long dominance of federal politics in Quebec, a province which had been the bedrock of Liberal support for almost a century.


The election was fought almost entirely on the record of the Liberals, who had been in power for all but one year since 1963.

Pierre Trudeau, who had been Prime Minister from 1968 to 1979 and since 1980, retired from politics in early 1984 after polls indicated that the Liberals would almost certainly be defeated at the next election had he remained in office. He was succeeded by John Turner, a former Cabinet minister under both Trudeau and Lester Pearson.

Turner had been out of politics since 1975. Upon assuming the leadership, he made immediate changes in an attempt to rebuild the Liberals' tattered reputation. For example, he announced that he would not run in a by-election to return to the House of Commons, but would instead run in the next general election as the Liberal candidate in Vancouver Quadra, British Columbia. This was a sharp departure from usual practice, in which the incumbent in a safe seat resigns to allow a newly elected party leader a chance to get into Parliament. The Liberal Party had lost favour with Western Canadians, and policies such as the National Energy Policy only aggravated this sentiment. Turner's plans to run in a Western riding were in part an attempt to rebuild support in that region. The Liberals did not hold any seats west of Manitoba.

More seriously, there was great disaffection in Quebec with the Liberal government, even though Trudeau was a Quebecker. The province was highly annoyed at being left out of the 1982 repatriation of the Canadian constitution. Although Quebec had not ratified the new Constitution Act, 1982; the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled that Quebec was bound by it. However, hope for success there was one of the main reasons businessman Brian Mulroney, a fluently bilingual Quebecker, had been chosen as party leader.

Although Turner was not required to call an election until 1985, internal polls showed that the Liberals had regained the lead in opinion polls. He requested that Queen Elizabeth II delay her tour of Canada, and asked Governor-General Jeanne Sauvé to dissolve Parliament on July 4. In accordance with Canadian constitutional practice, Sauvé granted the request and set an election for September 4.

The initial Liberal lead began to slip as Turner made several gaffes that caused voters to see him as "yesterday's man". In particular, he spoke of creating new "make work programs", a concept from the 1970s that had been replaced by the less patronizing "job creation programs". He also was caught on camera patting Liberal Party President Iona Campagnolo on her posterior. Turner defended this action as being a friendly gesture, not recognizing that it was seen by many women as being condescending.

Other voters turned against the Liberals due to their mounting legacy of patronage and corruption. An especially important issue was Trudeau's recommendation that Sauvé appoint over 200 Liberals to patronage posts just before he left office. The appointments enraged Canadians on all sides. Although Turner had the right to advise that the appointments be withdrawn (something that Sauvé would have had to do according to constitutional convention), he didn't do so. In fact, he himself appointed more than 70 Liberals to patronage posts despite a promise to bring a new way of politics to Ottawa. He cited a written agreement with Trudeau, claiming that if Trudeau had made the appointments, the Liberals would have almost certainly lost the election. However, the fact that Turner dropped the writ a year early hurt his argument.

Turner found out that Mulroney was allegedly setting up a patronage machine in anticipation of victory. At the English-language televised debate between Mulroney, Turner and New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent, Turner started to attack Mulroney on his patronage plans, comparing them to the patronage machine run by old Union Nationale in Quebec. However, Mulroney turned the tables by pointing to the raft of patronage appointments made on the advice of Trudeau and Turner. Claiming that he'd gone so far as to apologize for making light of "these horrible appointments," Mulroney demanded that Turner apologize to the country for not cancelling the appointments advised by Trudeau and for recommending his own appointments. Turner was visibly surprised, and could only reply that "I had no option" except to let the appointments stand. Mulroney famously responded:

"You had an option, sir. You could have said, 'I am not going to do it. This is wrong for Canada, and I am not going to ask Canadians to pay the price.' You had an option, sir--to say 'no'--and you chose to say 'yes' to the old attitudes and the old stories of the Liberal Party. That sir, if I may say respectfully, that is not good enough for Canadians."

Turner, clearly flustered by this withering riposte from Mulroney, could only repeat "I had no option." A visibly angry Mulroney called this "an avowal of failure" and told Turner, "You had an option, sir. You could have done better."

Mulroney's famous counterattack led most of the papers the next day; it was often paraphrased as "You had an option, sir; you could have said 'no'." Many observers saw this as the end of any realistic chance for the Liberals to stay in power, as Turner appeared weak, indecisive and no different from the widely detested Trudeau. It is considered one of the more famous "knockout blows" in the history of political debate.

The last days of the campaign saw one Liberal blunder piled on another. Turner continued to speak of "make work programs" and made other gaffes that caused voters to see him as a relic from the past. Turner rehired much of Trudeau's staff during the final weeks in an attempt to turn the tide, but this did nothing to reverse the Liberals' sliding poll numbers. Trudeau himself did not campaign for Turner, instead only showing up to support Liberal candidates.

Besides the Tories, the NDP also benefited from the slip in Liberal support. Under Broadbent, the party had seen greater support in opinion polling than ever before, and had actually replaced the Liberals as the second party in much of the West.

National results


Turner's inability to overcome the pent-up resentment against Trudeau, combined with his own mistakes, resulted in a debacle for the Liberals. They lost nearly half their popular vote from 1980, falling from 44 percent to 28 percent. Their seat count fell from 135 at dissolution to 40--a 95-seat loss, the worst performance in their long history. Eleven members of Turner's cabinet were defeated.

At the time, only one other governing party had lost more seats in an election; Arthur Meighen was defeated by Mackenzie King's Liberals in the 1921 election and lost 104 seats in the process. However, Meighen's National Liberal and Conservative Party was an attempt to continue the wartime Unionist coalition, which included several Liberals. Many of the Unionist Liberals had returned to the Liberal fold. Also, the NLCP was cut down to 49 seats, nine more than the 1984 Liberals.

Despite their hopes of winning more support in the West, they won only two seats west of Ontario. One of those belonged to Turner, who defeated the Tory incumbent in Vancouver Quadra.

Particularly shocking was the decimation of the Liberals in Quebec. They won only 17 seats, all but four in and around Montreal. The province had been the bedrock of Liberal support for almost a century--in fact, the 1958 Tory landslide was the only time since the 1896 election that the Liberals hadn't won the most seats in Quebec. In Ontario, the Liberals won only 14 seats, nearly all of them in Metro Toronto.

Progressive Conservatives

Early in the election, Mulroney focused on adding Quebec nationalists to the traditional Tory coalition of Western social conservatives and fiscal conservatives from Ontario and the Atlantic provinces.

This strategy, as well as denouncing corruption in the Liberal government, proved successful beyond Mulroney's wildest dreams. The Progressive Conservatives won 211 seats, three more than their previous record of 208 in 1958. They won a majority of seats in every province and territory, emerging as a truly national party for the first time since 1958. They also won just over half the popular vote, the last time to date that a Canadian party has won a majority of the popular vote.

The Tories had a major breakthrough in Quebec, a province where they had been virtually unelectable for almost a century. However, Mulroney's promise of a new deal for Quebec caused the province to swing dramatically to support him. After winning only one seat out of 75 in 1980, the Tories won 58 seats in 1984, more than they had ever won in Quebec before. In many cases, ridings where few of the residents had ever been represented by a Tory elected them by margins similar to those the Liberals had scored for years.

New Democrats

The NDP lost only one seat, which was far better than expected considering the size of the PC tidal wave. More importantly, their 30 seats were only ten behind the Liberals. Although the NDP had long since established itself as the third major party in Canada, this was closer than any party had gotten to the Grits or Tories since 1921, when the Progressive Party briefly surpassed the Tories. This led to speculation that Canada was headed for a UK-style Labour-Conservative division, with the NDP knocking the Liberals down to third-party status.

"All numerical results from Elections Canada's Official Report on the Thirty-Third Election."


* Number of parties: 11
** First appearance: Confederation of Regions Party of Canada, Green Party of Canada, Party for the Commonwealth of Canada
** Final appearance: "none"
** First-and-only appearance: "Parti nationaliste du Québec"

10 closest ridings

1. Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON: Len Hopkins (Lib) def. Don Whillans (PC) by 38 votes
2. Ottawa Centre, ON: Mike Cassidy (NDP) def. Dan Chilcott (PC) by 54 vptes
3. Nunatsiaq, NT: Thomas Suluk (PC) def. Robert Kuptana (Lib) by 247 votes
4. Prince Albert, SK: Stan Hovdebo (NDP) def. Gordon Dobrowolsky (PC) by 297 votes
5. Burin—St. George's, NF: Joe Price (PC) def. Roger Simmons (Lib) by 299 votes
6. The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK: John Gormley (PC) def. Doug Anguish (NDP) by 336 votes
7. Willowdale, ON: John Oostrom (PC) def. Jim Peterson (Lib) by 362 votes
8. Saskatoon East, SK: Don Ravis (PC) def. Colin Clay (NDP) by 417 votes
9. Humber—Port au Port—St. Barbe, NF: Brian Tobin (Lib) def. Mike Monaghan (PC) by 493 votes
10. Mackenzie, SK: Jack Scowen (PC) def. Mel McCorriston (NDP) by 555 votes

ee also

* Commonwealth Party candidates, 1984 Canadian federal election
* Social Credit Party candidates, 1984 Canadian federal election
* Leaders' debate on women's issues during the 1984 Canadian federal election campaign

External links

* [ Riding map]

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