"Third parties" in Canada (Part Three)
By Mark Wegierski
The Green Party, which has contested more recent federal elections, finally elected its first MP in the 2011 election. The leader of the federal Green Party, Elizabeth May, won the British Columbia riding she was running in. The federal Green Party had successively won about 4 percent of the vote in successive elections. However, under the "first-past-the-post" system in Canada, it is rather difficult for smaller parties whose support is widely scattered, to win any parliamentary seats.
The Canadian federal system -- which consists of provinces that are fewer in number, typically territorially larger, and more regionally and culturally delineated between each other than most U.S. states -- is clearly one factor that has encouraged the arising of "third parties". There are also the northern territories in Canada -- which are symbolically quite important to Canadian identity -- but have very small populations relative to the rest of the country. There is a Yukon Party in the Yukon. That party was formerly called the Yukon Progressive Conservative Party.
Both the CCF and Reform Party arose in Western Canada. Preston Manning insisted that the Reform Party exist only at the federal level in order to focus strictly on winning the federal government, and not to be diverted into battles in the particular provinces.
In Alberta today, the ruling Progressive Conservatives are being somewhat challenged by the distinctly more conservative Wildrose Alliance -- a party which exists only in Alberta.
Speaking of Alberta, one should mention the small "Western separatist" parties of the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the anti-official-bilingualism Confederation of Regions party, which also had a sporadic existence in Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Ontario. Its height of achievement was being the Official Opposition in New Brunswick in 1991-1995 -- before it disintegrated as a result of factional conflicts that often seem to plague such small, protest parties. There was also a small, libertarian-oriented, Freedom Party of Ontario.
In 1992, Mel Hurtig, known mainly as the publisher of The Canadian Encyclopedia, tried to form a party called the National Party. Of course, the name was a reference to left-wing, progressive Canadian nationalism, rather than something more right-wing. The somewhat quixotic Paul Hellyer, who in his political life had been both a prominent Liberal and Progressive Conservative, had eventually established a small party of his own, called the Canadian Action Party.
In the Canadian Parliamentary system, there have by tradition been no set election dates -- an election can take place at any point within five years from the previous election, at the discretion of the Prime Minister or Premier. (The leader of the party which holds the majority of seats in the federal or provincial parliament.) In more recent years, there have been experiments with legislating a defined date for the upcoming election shortly after winning office. This is in response to criticisms that the ability of the Prime Minister or Premier to call an election at a most politically propitious time, confers too much of an electoral advantage to his or her party.
When there is a minority government (when the ruling party holds less than a majority of seats in the legislature) an election can take place any time a more important bill (termed "a matter of confidence") is voted down by the opposition parties combining against it. Sometimes, the opposition parties may try to form a coalition government without an election being called. In late 2008, there was an attempt to form an anti-Conservative coalition in the federal Parliament (consisting of the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Quebecois). However, Stephen Harper's skillful political maneuvering (and the fact that the coalition idea was extremely unpopular among most Canadians) meant that the putative coalition never took power.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.