The Conservative Merger: 2003

The Conservative Merger: 2003

By Andrew Thomson | UPDATED January 17, 2020 10:42amET


It was day many thought might never come: Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay, side-by-side in front of television cameras and journalists, announcing an agreement to merge the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties.

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. – Stephen Harper, Oct. 16, 2003

Harper and MacKay emerged hours after late-night meetings in Ottawa to finalize the plan. They discussed the same-sex marriage question, the marriage of populism and Toryism, how the new party would fare in Quebec, and readiness for an election expected in 2004.

Watch the news conference from Oct. 16, 2003:

The Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance (and its ancestor, the Reform Party of Canada) had spent a decade competing for conservative voters. Meanwhile, the Liberals under Jean Chrétien had won three consecutive majority governments.

Harper proclaimed that their swords would now point at the Liberals instead of each other. Added MacKay: “it’s not our goal to be a strong opposition. It is our goal to be a strong Conservative government.”

“No merger”

But first, MacKay would need to convince two-thirds of the Tory membership to support the merger amidst strong opposition by former leadership candidate David Orchard.

Orchard’s support of MacKay at the Progressive Conservative leadership convention, held less than five months earlier, was contingent on no merger or cooperation with the Canadian Alliance.

Their handwritten agreement began:

1) No merger, joint candidates w(ith) Alliance. Maintain 301 (ridings with Tory candidates).

The victorious MacKay told CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen that he was committed to running 301 candidates in the next election, and had never advocated merging the parties. But he was always willing to talk to Canadian Alliance leaders.

“Clearly what we need is a national conservative party capable of winning, capable of coherent, effective policies,” said MacKay.

Watch the interview:

Orchard would accuse MacKay of betraying their agreement and took legal action to block the merger. He failed, and both party memberships voted overwhelmingly in favour of the new party. The Conservative Party of Canada registered with Elections Canada on Dec. 7, 2003.

Harper would decisively win the first Conservative leadership race in March 2004. Less than two years later, he was prime minister.

Watch “A House Divided” — part of the award-winning 2017 CPAC documentary series Pillars of Democracy.

Also watch our full interview with Peter MacKay on the events of 2003:


TOP PHOTO: Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper on Oct. 16, 2003. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson