One of the most prominent debates in Alberta politics right now is the proposal to merge the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservatives to form a new party to take on the governing NDP in the next election.
The forming of new, popular political parties has a long and interesting history in Canada. They often form in response to sudden, drastic changes in the public mood, to respond to or take advantage of popular discontent.
The United Farmers movements were formed in response to economic and political frustrations felt by rural communities during and after the First World War. The Social Credit movement and the CCF (the forerunner to the NDP), both gained support after the Great Depression when people became disillusioned with the way capitalism was working. In both cases, people were upset with the current economic and political systems, and looked for new alternatives. These parties went on to govern several provinces and became elected to federal Parliament.
In Quebec, the Parti QuĂ©bĂ©cois was formed in response to the rising feelings of nationalism among francophone Quebecers, and was elected in 1976 when Quebecers became fed up with the provincial Liberals. In the 1980s, public anger over Pierre Trudeau’s broken constitutional promises and Brian Mulroney’s constitutional bungling led to the rise of the federal Bloc QuĂ©bĂ©cois and its election to Parliament. The Action democratique du Quebec acted as a forum for Quebecers who wanted more conservative policies than the Liberals or the PQ would provide.
In Saskatchewan, the Progressive Conservative and Liberal parties largely self-destructed in the 1990s. This led to the rise of the Saskatchewan Party as a forum for critics of the NDP government.
Across Western Canada, frustration with the Liberals’ and Progressive Conservatives’ focus on Quebec and feeling that these parties didn’t care about the West’s issues led to the formation of the Reform Alliance party. More recently, frustration at the back-to-back majorities of the Jean Chretien Liberals led to the merger of the Alliance and the federal PCs to form the modern Conservative party.
Here in Alberta, the modern Wildrose Party grew out of a merger between the Alberta Alliance and the Wildrose Party. Those parties came from their growing unhappiness with the Ralph Klein PCs, which only grew worse under Klein’s successors. Now, the Wildrose and PCs are discussing a merger to fight the NDP.
There are lots of fringe parties across Canada, but they have never been able to get the same level of influence as the parties mentioned above. All of these latter parties took root at particular times in the history of a province or the country, filling a void many people might see in politics that the existing parties can’t or won’t fill. Even when they don’t take power themselves, they can have a significant impact on the way the province or the country is governed.
Will a merger between the PCs and the Wildrose have the same success as its predecessors?
Only time will tell.
Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.