Reform Party of Canada

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For the Reform Party that existed prior to Canadian Confederation see Reform Party (pre-Confederation)

Reform Party of Canada
Founded:October 31, 1987
Dissolved:March 25, 2000
Into the Canadian Alliance
Political ideology:conservative-populist

The Reform Party of Canada was a Canadian federal political party in the 1980s and 1990s. Reform viewed itself as a populist party, but it was also strongly conservative. In 2000, it was folded into the ideologicaly and fiscally conservative Canadian Alliance.

The Reform Party was founded as a populist party to promote reform of democratic institutions. Shortly after the 1987 founding convention, however, social and fiscal conservatives became dominant within the party, and pushed it to the political right, seeking reduced government spending on social programs and reductions in taxation.

In 1986, a conference was held in Vancouver, British Columbia, called "Canada's Economic and Political Future". This conference led to the formation of the Reform Party in 1987. 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 Tory 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. The main complaints against the Mulroney government were its alleged favouritism of Quebec, lack of fiscal responsibility, and failure to support concepts such as Senate reform. This discontent mainly stemmed from 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.

Missing image
Preston Manning, the first leader of the Reform Party

In 1987, the party had its first assembly 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 Stan Roberts, the only other candidate, withdrew from the race. The party fought in the 1988 election, but was never considered more than a fringe element, failing to elect a single member. The party ran second to the governing Tories in many Western ridings.

After the sudden death of the PC Member for Beaver River, Alberta, in 1989, the Reform Party won its first by-election when Deborah Grey won election to Parliament. As the party's first MP, and its highest profile woman, she remained the party's matriarch until she resigned prior to the 2004 election.

Also in 1989, Stanley Waters won Alberta's first senatorial election. He would eventually become Reform's first and only Senator, until his untimely death while in office.

In 1992, the Mulroney government made another attempt at amending the 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 only groups to fight against the accord.

In the early 1990s, the party was controversially endorsed by extremist groups such as the Heritage Front and the Alliance for the Preservation of English in Canada (APEC). This was a significant blow to the party's image in many regions of Canada, and one from which they struggled to recover from for many years. It should be noted that while the Reform Party had similar views to APEC's on official bilingualism and the role of Quebec in Confederation, the reasons for the Heritage Front's endorsement were less direct. While a few individual party candidates did come under fire for racist statements, candidates in many other Canadian political parties have been accused of racism as well, and the party itself never endorsed or even proposed a racist platform. In fact, the Heritage Front simply viewed Reform as a vehicle they could infiltrate in order to move it toward their views, a phenomenon to which many new political parties are somewhat vulnerable.

After the constitutional debacle and other unpopular initiatives such as the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and a series of high-profile scandals, the Progressive Conservative coalition imploded in the 1993 election. While the Atlantic remained Red Tory, the Quebec nationalists moved to the Bloc Québécois, Ontario supported the Liberals, and, looking for a new voice, the people of Alberta and portions of other western provinces moved to support the Reform Party.

In the election, the Reform Party swept most of Alberta and won strong support in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. While running candidates in almost all ridings outside Quebec, Reform won only one seat in Ontario, and none in Atlantic Canada. It was still a Western protest party, but it won 52 seats, the third most in Parliament.

The arrival of the Reformers in Ottawa followed a long progression of western protest parties like the Progressives, and Social Credit. Reform ran into the same problems these parties had as it juggled the tricky ideology of populism. In the 1997 election, Reform captured only eight more seats, bringing the party's total to 60. It became the Official Opposition with its solid Western base, but it failed to make any headway east of Manitoba, even after running in Quebec. Disillusionment with the traditional political parties in general helped Reform grow, but now it was felt that Reform's growth stalled.

The party's executive thus launched a major rebranding effort. The leader got contact lenses, a new hair style and, after working with a voice coach, began conversations about launching a new pan-Canadian party. The party would use 'United Alternative' forums to bring grassroot Reformers together with Tories to create a small-C conservative political alternative that would convince the Ontarians and Atlantic Canadians to vote for them. This initiative was opposed by "Grassroots United Against Reform's Demise" (GUARD). Manning was supported by the more right-of-centre "Focus Federally For Reform".

This new party, which took about half the Progressive Conservative policies and half of the Reform Party's, eventually became the "Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance", more commonly known as the Canadian Alliance.

In 2000, the Reform Party was disbanded, forcing most of its members moved to this new entity, with nowhere else to go. Soon after, Manning lost the leadership race to a younger, more charismatic Alberta Treasurer and Deputy Premier Stockwell Day in the party's first leadership election.

The creation of the Canadian Alliance, and its eventual merger in 2003 with the Progressive Conservative Party into the new Conservative Party of Canada, may have alienated some of the populists of the old Reform Party. A new "Reform Association of Canada" has been created by some of these people.

As well, a new initiative called "Bring Back Real Reform" was created by a very small group of original Reformers from Ontario, who are trying and bring back the Reform Party of Canada federally. Under the tag "Operation Back to the Future", it was been launched in the Spring of 2005 for all those original Reformers across the Dominion of Canada who are still without a political home.

Most of these people were also members of GUARD, anti-UA and generally unsupportive of the Canadian Alliance as it was seen as a political vehicle towards a Tory takeover.

See also

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