Representation: A House Divided

Pillars of Democracy - A House Divided

Representation: A House Divided

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It reads like an episode from the House of Cards… political promises made and broken, political allies turned adversaries and then allies again. But the story of how the Conservative party came to win the federal election in 2006 isn’t fiction, it’s a real drama that played out on Canada’s political stage.

On October 16, 2003, Canada’s two conservative leaders, Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper, sat in front of a sea of cameras in Ottawa to make an announcement.

This is an historic, I think very exciting day. Late last night Mr. MacKay and I signed an agreement in principle to create a new political party, the new Conservative party of Canada.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper


In the media flurry that followed, the merger of the Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance was dubbed “the uniting of the right.” But the story really started with the splitting of the right more than two decades earlier.

In the 1980s a man from Alberta was becoming increasingly frustrated with the current conservative government under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Preston Manning, son of former Alberta premier Ernest Manning, decided western Canada was being ignored.

“The west was increasingly alienated from both the traditional parties. The Liberal Party because of the National Energy Program, but also disillusionment with the Mulroney administration, partly because not enough emphasis on western concerns and not enough fiscal responsibility,” recalls Manning.

Watch the full interview with Preston Manning.

On October 31, 1987 the Reform Party of Canada was created.

The new west is built on the principle of freedom of enterprise, fiscal responsibility, compassion for the young, the old, the sick and the poor, equality of citizens and provinces and democracy that reflects the common sense of the common people.

Preston Manning, leader of the former Reform Party of Canada and official opposition leader (1997-2000)


With very little time to become a recognized force in the federal politics scene before the 1988 election, the Reform party failed to win any seats in its first election.

By the 1993 federal election, Reform had gained a strong voice and a strong following. In just six years, the party went from winning no seats the first time it ran in a federal election to winning 52 seats and becoming the third official party. The Progressive Conservative party, now under Kim Campbell, had its worst ever showing since the creation of the party at Confederation, losing 154 seats and keeping only two. Lucien Bouchard and the Bloc Québécois became the official opposition winning 54 seats. The Liberals won a majority and Jean Chrétien became prime minister.

Four years later, on June 2, 1997, the Reform party became the official opposition winning 60 seats, while the old conservative party, the Progressive Conservatives, only managed 20 seats. The Liberals remained the majority government under Chrétien.

Preston Manning, leader of the former Reform Party of Canada and official opposition leader (1997-2000)

The vote splitting was still a problem”, says Manning. “Now you’ve had vote splitting in 1993 that handed things over to the Liberals, and vote splitting in 1997 that handed over to them.


By now it was becoming evident to Manning that if conservatives were ever going to win an election, vote splitting was going to have to stop and that meant going back to the Progressive Conservatives and convincing the party you abandoned that you now need them, and they need you. But of course, it wasn’t that simple. This is politics after all.

“We didn’t say, ‘let’s go join the PC’s,’ we said, ‘can we set up a committee to investigate that there’s some common ground between ourselves and some of these other conservative oriented people?’” Preston Manning


And so, he did. By 2000, the Reform party rebranded itself as the Canadian Alliance, a political party dedicated to uniting conservatives into one party and ending vote splitting.

Preston Manning

By this time Joe Clark was the leader of the Progressive Conservatives. Clark was not at all interested in combining forces with the new Alliance party.

“The only way we could convince the other conservatives that this was a genuine effort, was to put the leadership up and encouraged Progressive Conservatives from Alberta Stockwell Day to contest it and encouraged Tom Long, prominent conservative in Ontario to contest it”.


So, the newly minted Alliance party held a leadership convention. And the founder, Preston Manning, lost to Stockwell Day.

The operation was a success but the doctor died.

Preston Manning


Stockwell Day, former leader of Canadian Alliance (2000-2001)

In the fall of 2000, shortly after Day entered the House of Commons, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien called a snap election for November. The Liberals won a majority government again. The Alliance won 66 seats. The Progressive Conservatives lost eight seats, only holding on to 12 of the seats they had before the election.

When you are divided, as the old saying goes, ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand’.

Peter MacKay – Former Progressive Conservative Leader


Watch the full interview with Peter McKay.

The Alliance Party was now beginning to face new challenges. Several political experts and the media began to peg Day as extremely socially conservative, racist and homophobic, accusing him of having a hidden agenda. By late 2001, Day agreed to step aside and re-contest the Alliance leadership. On March 20, 2002, Stephen Harper defeated Day on the first ballot to become the new party leader.

As Harper began to form a new wave of Alliance supporters, Joe Clark announced he would be stepping down as leader of the Progressive Conservatives.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper wins Alliance leadership on March 20, 2002

“After the decision of Joe Clark to step down after what had to have been a disappointing result in the extreme in his return to politics and his attempt to regain the prime minister’s chair there were a few of us in caucus who made the decision to run”, said Peter MacKay.

Peter MacKay former Progressive Conservative leader (May 2003- December 2003)

Four candidates were in the final running for the Progressive Conservative leadership by the time the convention rolled around: Jim Prentice, Scott Brison, Peter MacKay, and a farmer from Saskatchewan, David Orchard.

[Looking back at that convention] It was clear that nobody was going to sweep the other side. You weren’t going to have a big first ballot victory. There was going to be some horse trading

Rick Salutin – Journalist


Watch the full interview with Rick Salutin.

It all came down to a weekend at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre at the end of May 2003. It was an old-school style leadership convention with placards and t-shirts and lots cheering and chanting for the candidates. A convention Rick Salutin called “schizophrenic”.

Rick Salutin

“There were these things, I mean, they are kind of bizarrely, kind of cheap theatrics, where the leader of one party goes over to somebody who’s about to drop off the ballot, to convince them, to bring their delegates. You cross the floor, you go up and talk to that guy, who’s about to drop off, then maybe he leads his party across to you, or maybe he gets half away across the floor and turns around and goes back or goes to somebody else.” Rick Salutin


Scott Brison lost the first ballot and quickly joined Jim Prentice’s camp. David Orchard made it to the second ballot but wasn’t expected to beat the front runners, Jim Prentice and Peter MacKay, in the next round. And, as predicted, Orchard was out on the third ballot. That left Prentice and MacKay as the final contestants for the Progressive Conservative leadership. It also meant David Orchard was kingmaker.

Scott Brison and Jim Prentice at PC Convention in Toronto (May 31, 2003)

The art of compromise is the art of possible in politics.

Peter MacKay


“Peter, I guess went up, or David went up and had a chat in these bleachers that they had, and they made, some kind of a deal” remembers Salutin.

Orchard announced that he was taking his people over to MacKay on the basis of a signed agreement, and the signed agreement that they made had at least two components.


David Orchard and Peter MacKay at PC Convention in Toronto(May 31, 2003)


One part of the agreement had to do with free trade. The other part was a promise that MacKay would not merge the Progressive Conservatives with the Canadian Alliance.

“I was later savaged as the only one that would have signed an agreement with David Orchard, and I just took it, rather than say, ‘well hold on a minute, these other guys were similarly prepared to sign anything and more,’” said MacKay.

“How do I know that? While I was speaking to David Orchard, his phone rang, and it was Scott Brison, calling on behalf of Jim Prentice, offering him a deal. That deal was identical to the discussion we were having”.

Peter MacKay

Peter MacKay won the final ballot and became leader of the Progressive Conservatives. And, right after winning, the agreement he’d made with Orchard to get there was dubbed “a deal with the devil”.

On October 16, 2003, just five months after signing the agreement with Orchard and winning the leadership, Peter MacKay appeared before television cameras with Stephen Harper and announced a merger with the Alliance.

“I naively felt that it would be unthinkable for Peter MacKay to sign this agreement and in less than a year just act as if it didn’t exist”.

Peter MacKay faced backlash from party members and the media.

The media presented it as the most sinister and underhanded move that had ever occurred in recent political history. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Peter MacKay


On December 6, the two parties officially became the Conservative Party of Canada.

The new party had to select a new leader. But Peter MacKay didn’t put his hat in the ring this time. “Politically, I was severely wounded coming out of that convention, in such a way that ultimately my ability to lead the party was diminished”, he said.

On March 20, 2004, Stephen Harper was elected the first leader of the Conservative Party of Canada with a first-ballot majority. In 2006, he and the new Conservative party won the most seats in the federal election, ousting the Liberals from government for the first time in 13 years.

Stephen Harper wins 2006 federal election

The Conservatives gained a majority government in the 2011 election and remained in power until 2015.


Representation in Canada: A Panel Discussion