Conservative wipeout: the lesson Canada’s 1993 election offers to the Tories

Last Updated: April 27, 2024By
The Election That Changed Everything: Lessons from Canada’s 1993 Political Upheaval

In the early 90s, Canada witnessed a political shakeup like never before. The ruling party was on the edge of losing power, the Prime Minister was incredibly unpopular, and new political forces were rising. This all set the stage for one of the most dramatic elections in Canadian history, fundamentally changing the country’s political landscape.

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The Stage is Set

Before the 1993 election, the Progressive Conservatives were in deep trouble. They had been in power for almost a decade, but their leader, Brian Mulroney, had stepped down after failing twice to amend the constitution and facing questions about his ethics. Kim Campbell, who took over as Prime Minister, became the first woman to hold the position in Canada. Initially, she enjoyed a brief surge in popularity, but it didn’t last. As the election campaign went on, many of the Progressive Conservative supporters started moving to other parties that echoed their regional and cultural frustrations.

Western and Quebec Discontent

In the oil-rich western provinces, people felt their hard-earned money was being wasted for the benefit of the eastern part of Canada. This led to growing anger against the Progressive Conservatives. Many turned to the Reform Party, which had strong roots in the prairies and stood for social conservatism. Meanwhile, in Quebec, the Bloc Québécois capitalized on rising separatist feelings.

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Election Night Shock

When the votes were counted at the end of October, the Liberal Party, led by Jean Chrétien, won a solid majority in parliament. For the Progressive Conservatives, the results were disastrous. They went from being the ruling party to holding just two seats – a record low for a governing party in any major Western democracy.

Learning from 1993

“The 1993 election teaches us that the worst-case scenario can happen,” says political analyst Éric Grenier. “Just because a party has a long history doesn’t mean it’s invincible. A bad election can force a party to rebuild from almost nothing.”

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The Progressive Conservatives lost their official party status and were buried in debt. They spent the next decade grappling with how to reshape their party and recover.

The Rise of Reform and the Conservative Merger

The Reform Party became the largest right-wing party in parliament, replacing the Progressive Conservatives. However, its focus on western Canadian issues limited its nationwide appeal. By 2000, the Reform Party rebranded as the Canadian Alliance in an effort to attract more voters, but it didn’t work out as planned. Eventually, the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives merged to form the new Conservative Party, which found success under Stephen Harper, winning three general elections.

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Warnings for Today

Political experts see parallels between Canada’s 1993 election and current political trends in other countries. Nigel Farage, leader of the UK’s Reform Party, recently drew comparisons to Canada’s political upheaval, warning of similar threats to the UK Conservative Party. Grenier suggests that the UK Conservatives, like their Canadian counterparts, could face a major defeat if they don’t heed the lessons of the past.

The Long Shadow of 1993

Lori Turnbull, director of Dalhousie University’s school of public administration, notes that nearly 30 years later, Canada still feels the effects of the 1993 election. It shattered the idea that only the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives could govern. Since then, Canada’s parliament has consistently had representation from multiple parties.

Turnbull also highlights ongoing tensions between different conservative factions. The merger of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives was initially seen as a partnership but is now often viewed as a takeover. Many former Progressive Conservatives feel their vision for government has been sidelined.

No Safe Seats

The 1993 election serves as a stark reminder that no political seat is ever truly safe. “For a ruling party to fall from a majority to almost nothing shows just how unpredictable politics can be,” Turnbull says. “People often think things can only get so bad, but the truth is, they can get much worse.”

The lessons from Canada’s political earthquake of 1993 remain relevant, reminding us that in politics, the only certainty is change.

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