Introduction to the Conservative Party of Canada
Positioned on the right of Canada’s political spectrum, the Conservative Party of Canada is currently led by Andrew Scheer. While the party has seen several notable reforms over the last several years with each election, it was the merger between the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives that gave birth to the Conservative Party. Although stances on specific economic and social issues have evolved over the years, largely the result of changing voter attitudes, the unified Conservative Party generally favours lower tax rates, liberalism, the decentralization of power from the federal government to provincial governments, and stricter positions on issues to do with justice and order (Pare, 2008). With current leader Andrew Scheer’s history of working with social conservatism, various channels for further growth do exist as the party has been actively considering the gradual adoption of such policies (Ashraf, 2006).
Perhaps one the of the most defining moments in the history of the Conservative Party is the outcome of the federal election in October 2015. While support within the region of Quebec had historically remained weak, by this time, the Conservatives had managed to garner strong support from crucial groups of voters that were once loyal to the Liberals and other parties (Ashraf, 2006). These voters included the suburban communities of southern Ontario, a group that carried considerable influence, and the various immigrant communities that were rapidly thriving nationwide, particularly in British Columbia. Nevertheless, it was during this election that the nine-year Harper rule came to a halt, leaving the Conservatives with fairly resilient backing from the same groups today. While the support that the Conservative Party had from their core voters has not been as strong as before, the party has shown signs of regaining traction with each general election.
Under the current leadership of Andrew Scheer, a Saskatchewan MP who served as a speaker of the House of Commons between 2011 and 2015, the Conservatives are likely to forge into the 2019 federal election with their current team.
The Conservative Party as a Brokerage Party
While the Conservative Party initially adopted features of mass parties, they currently attempt to maximize their public appeal by sticking to widely-accepted policies (Carlton, Barker, 2014). While such policies arguably do not line up with each other with regards to political ideology, they do garner strong and consistent support from voters. In other words, the Conservatives have always and continue to bring diverse interests together, while creating compromises that allow policies to be adopted and unique political positions to be established. Throughout the history of political conservatism, this has been the general strategy embraced by Conservative parties everywhere, and has consequently resulted in such ideologies being the most successful on a long-term basis.
“Being centrist in policy orientation and adopting positions that bridge political divides”, the Conservative Party has demonstrated such behaviour in closing pre-existing gaps between the employee and employer, and also with regards to language barriers (Johnston, 2015). In other words, the party makes it clear to the voting public that they support smaller government, law and order, free trade, and amongst many other values, a stronger alliance with the United States on economic and social fronts. Sticking to the strategy of garnering support from the majority of voters, the Conservatives continue to avoid holding definite stances on moral issues such as capital punishment, abortion and religion. Consequently, the Conservative Party voter has gradually evolved to fall within an affluent target group with an average age of 50 years, but also with a smaller likelihood of having received post secondary education. Furthermore, the Conservative Party has amassed significant support from immigrants who have resided in the country for over ten years, even going so far as to convert previous Liberal Party supporters (Johnston, 2015). These are important target voters for the Conservative Party to secure as their populations are projected to continue to increase in the near future.
The Conservative Party’s Competitiveness in the Local Electoral System
In recent years, the Canadian political climate has seen new parties gradually gaining traction and challenging the traditional dominance of Liberal and progressive Conservative Parties. With the general shift towards a multi-party system, the Conservative Party has also found themselves shifting away from regionalism, or the traditional notion of being a Western-based party (Carty, 2007). Consequently, the party continues to make strides towards becoming a truly national party with support across the country.
Whether the movement of the Canadian political climate towards regionalism has been advantageous for the country is subjective, with several instances of regional parties bringing stability to the parliament on one end of the spectrum but a few contradicting instances on the other end. However, it has been apparent that no political party has been able to garner sufficient national support to form a majority government. Furthermore, regionalism arguably hinders the development of a national vision for Canada. Instead of parties collaborating on issues of mutual national interest, Canada is left with political parties that are “primarily focused predominantly on a given region’s interests” (Carty, 2007). It is arguable to a large extent, that it would be in the nation’s best interest to have the ruling political party focussing on the citizens’ interests and concerns in priority and as a whole. Therefore, it is evident that the Conservative Party maintains a strong degree of competitiveness in the local electoral system.
Characteristics of the Canadian Electoral System and the Implications on the Conservative Party
Capital is a crucial aspect of every political party’s success, regardless of the country and region. Not only is capital required to develop policies, funds are also used to employ support staff, conduct public opinion polls and foot general marketing/PR expenses. While the federal government has spearheaded policies to create a more level playing field with public subsidies and tax breaks based on specific party needs, the Conservative Party has received relatively higher levels of public subsidies than the other parties. On the other hand, public funds account for a smaller fraction of the Conservative Party’s revenue since compared against other parties, they have been widely successfully in acquiring donations from independent parties (Dyck, 2008). Although legislated limits on electoral spending have prevented the Conservative Party from exploiting their financial advantage over the other political parties, this has fallen in line with the notion that true political fairness requires minimizing financial inequalities as much as possible. Therefore, although this characteristic of the local electoral system seemingly limits the competitiveness of the Conservative Party, they have arguably achieved the best possible outcome against the other parties.
Tactics that were Adopted for The Conservative Party
As mentioned earlier in this paper, the Conservative Party of Canada holds that free markets and individual achievement are the main drivers behind a society’s economic wealth. This general notion falls in line with the theory of supply-side economics, which calls for lower income tax rates in order to raise GDP growth rates and ultimately maintain or raise government tax revenue from smaller tax amounts on the extra growth. These concepts also adhere to the Conservative Party’s core advocacy of tax cuts and if executed effectively, would reduce government expenditures and income tax amounts simultaneously. On a similar note, the Conservative Party has naturally provided support for their position on tax cuts by associating this with economic growth and job creation in the longer term, and also placing stronger emphasis on the financial perils of deficits.
Specific Electoral Systems and Implications on Conservatism in Canada
While Canada has a longstanding electoral system that mirrors the democratic developed societies of other North American and European nations, it is beneficial to analyze the first-past-the-post system, which is commonly adopted in America and fundamentally divides the country into several constituencies, each having one seat. In Canada, this system translates into the candidate with the highest number of votes being awarded the right to represent a particular sear in the House of Commons, even if the win does not constitute an absolute majority of the votes (Brodie, Rein, Smith, 2013). While this system has proven fairly beneficial to the Conservative Party’s political presence in each local region and the general voting public, strides need to be made in garnering alternative solutions.
The first-past-the-post system ultimately splits the Commons up, based on each party’s share of the vote, thereby making it problematic for the Conservative Party to maintain popularity as it would be more difficult to amass a majority of seats. Nevertheless, although this system uncourtly results in greater overall stability, the Conservative Party would be required to adopt policies focussed on the interests of specific groups in a hypothetical situation.
An Analysis of the Conservatives in the United Kingdom: Social Policy and Organizational Funding
In our study of the Conservative Party of Canada, it is useful to analyze the performance of Conservatives in other countries, along with active consideration of any similarities and differences in political climates.
Despite aggregate economic and social indicators being relatively similar between Canada and the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party of the UK has enjoyed considerably greater success in terms of elections won and periods of majority leadership. Therefore, it is beneficial to draw parallels between the 2 parties while debating whether similar practices should be adopted in Canada.
With regards to funding, within the first decade of the 21st century, more than 50% of the UK Conservative Party’s financial backing came from a group of 50 donors. While the 2010 general election saw half of the party’s funding being attributed to donations from the financial sector, businesses from the construction sector made significant donations to the Conservatives for the recent 2017 general elections (Quinn, 2008). Although the UK government implements strict controls regarding the volume of public subsidies each party is eligible to receive based on pre-existing private investments, the Conservative Party has struck a fine balance between garnering strong support from various private sectors and qualifying for certain public subsidies. In contrast, although the Canadian government exercises similar restrictions, the majority of funding for the local Conservatives is made up of public subsidies instead (Charlton, 2014). Consequently, it might be feasible for the Canadian Conservatives to utilize more aggressive PR tactics to garner more significant amounts of donations and investments from the private sector. If executed successfully, not only would the overall level of financial resources be the same, the party would also be highly likely to receive strong support from isolated groups from the manufacturing and service industries.
When comparing Social Policy set by the Conservatives of UK against that of the Canadian Conservatives, differences arise immediately. While the Conservative Party of the UK intentionally distances itself from the association with social conservatism, the Conservative Party of Canada has gone the opposite direction. Going into greater detail, in the UK, the Conservatives have gradually moved away from the stance that the link between one’s pension benefit and one’s earnings should be removed (Quinn, 2008). This has been a reaction to the general public consensus that public financial support was causing unemployment figures to rise. On the other hand, although such phenomena have yet to happen in Canada, the local Conservatives could arguably stand to gain more public support through gradual disassociation with social conservatism.
Another interesting aspect of the Conservative Party in UK is their program for developing future generations of conservative leaders. The party actively maintains a youth branch for members under the age of thirty. Named the Conservative Future and boasting a membership that has always been maintained at around 2,000 members, the group has branches at both University and Parliamentary levels (Quinn, 2008). While such strategies could be viewed in a controversial light, it has more or less attributed to the long-standing success of the Conservatives in the UK. Therefore, to a certain extent, the Conservative Party of Canada could consider the possibility of investing in the party’s future through similar programs.
Having analyzed how the Conservative Party of Canada evolved throughout the years to become a brokerage party today, and how strategies to maintain the support of key voters have influenced many policy decisions, we acquired a better understanding of how the party functions with the other political parties on an ongoing basis. At the same time, a review of past policy decisions also provided us with valuable insight regarding both losses and wins in the past general elections. We explored hypothetical cases to determine whether different electoral systems would produce different outcomes for the Conservatives. Finally, parallels were drawn against the Conservatives in the United Kingdom, while considering the similarities and differences in political climates between both countries. While inferences were drawn on possible future courses of action for the Conservative Party of Canada to take, we acknowledged that constantly changing tactics are required in competing against the other political parties of Canada.