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The Liberal Party of Canada Political Ideology


C) Choose a major Canadian political party (Liberals) and investigate its organisation, support base and political ideology. Discuss to what extent the Party’s ideology has changed over time. Why is (or isn’t) the party successful in winning power in federal elections. (Ch. 2,9)

Canada’s Liberal Party is one of the country’s two major political parties, with the Conservative Party as the second.


The Liberal Party Federation, with an amalgamation of liberal social policy and associated modern economic policies, could be considered fundamental to the Canadian political spectrum. Back in the formative years of the Liberal party of Canada, the political parties during those times were largely scattered and unstable as compared to the modern political parties of today’s times and coalesced into a cohesive organization only as late as the 1880s.  on the one side, the governing Liberal – Conservative coalition headed by Sir John A. McDonald in Canada West and his French – Canadian counterpart, George – Etienne Cartier in Canada East. This disparate organization encompassed a number of distinct groups, many of which had potentially conflicting interests – Catholic and Protestants, English and French, Urban and Rural (Stephen Brooks, page 282)

“The Liberal Party of Canada is always located somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum and often finds itself divided between a progressive wing and a conservative wing” (Patrick Malcolmson, Richard Myers, page 178)

The Liberal Party of Canada Political Ideology

Base of Support

The main support group for the classical liberals consisted of Industrialists, merchants and property owning- individuals while the chief supporters for the contemporary Liberal party includes several middle of the road advocacy groups within the feminist, environmental and multicultural movements, public – sector workers, middle – class intellectuals in the universities and the media, the national Liberal Party and the Bloc Quebecois; think – tanks including Canadian Policy Research Networks, the institute for Research on Public Policy and the Canada West Foundation. (Stephen Brooks, page 40 – 41)

According to the views propagated by R. B. McCullum, the Liberal Party was the “party of the middle class, with the support of the industrial workers” (Robert Kelly, page 43)

Political Ideology

One way of categorizing political ideas – perhaps the most popular way – is to describe them as being left wing/ right wing or centrist/ moderate. Such labels are used to denote the wider political premises which are assumed to lie behind an event, opinion or argument (Stephen Brooks Page 33). “The Liberal Party had always held the middle ground of Canadian political ideology and therefore had to appeal to people who were relatively scattered throughout the region of the spectrum” (Penny Bryden, Page 60)

Right and left are shorthand labels for conflicting belief systems. Such views include basic notions of how culture, economy and politics work, as well as suggestions on how to manage such matters. Generally speaking, to be on the right in Anglo – American societies mean that one subscribes to an individualistic belief system. Such a person is likely to believe that what one achieves in life is due principally to his or her own efforts – that the welfare of the society is best promoted by allowing individuals to pursue people have their own interests, and that modern government is too expensive and too intrusive. Nonetheless, to be on the left is to choose a set of beliefs which could be defined as collectivist. A leftist is likely to attribute greater weight to social and economic circumstances as determinants of one’s opportunities and achievements than does someone on the right. In comparison, those on the left have greater reservations about the economic efficiency and social justice of free markets, and more confidence in government’s ability to interfere in forms supporting the common good (Stephen Brooks, p. 34).

The role of these philosophies in forming the contours of political life is indicated by the fact that major and minor political parties tend to use them in many Western democracies the names liberal, conservative, and socialist.

Changes in the Party’s Political Ideology Over a Period of Time – History

The two parties that have dominated national politics in Canada for most of the country’s history are the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party (the Conservative Party was called the Progressive Conservative Party in 1942, since December 2003, when it merged with the Canadian Alliance, it is once again known as the Conservative Party of Canada). They have their roots in the ideological divisions of the nineteenth century. Over time, however, the labels have lost much if not all of their informative value. Today, the ideological distance between a Liberal and a Conservative is likely to be small. Nonetheless, the astute French observer Andre Siegfried had already commented at the beginning of the twentieth century that the Liberal and Conservative parties were virtually indistinguishable in terms of their ideological principles. They and their supporters shared in the dominant Liberal tradition that pervaded Canada and the United States. (Stephen Brooks, page 35)

At the heart of this tradition was the primacy of individual freedom. Classical liberalism – liberalism as understood until the middle of this century – was associated with freedom of religious choice and practice, free enterprise and free trade in the financial domain, and freedom of expression and political association. These liberal values constituted a sort of national ethos in the United States, where they were enshrined in the Declaration of independence and in the American Bill of Rights. In the colonies of British North America, which would become Canada in the late nineteenth century, liberalism’s democracy dominance was somewhat more tentative than in the United States.

“Modern liberalism has always sought to dilute and kill ideology as logic in the name of the advance of cybernetics. Yes, it is itself a strong philosophy, and one that speaks against nation states such as Canada’s survival “(James Laxer, Robert Laxer, page 11).

In reaction to each other the classical philosophies were developed and adapted, as well as the social and economic circumstances in which they were embedded. Today, Canadians, Americans and Europeans live in affluent, middle – class societies that bear little resemblance to those of the 19th century, when Europe was a tilting ground for the rivalries between conservatism, liberalism and socialism. As the character of Western societies has changed, so too have the ideologies that slug it out in their politics. (Stephen Brooks, page 37)

Modern liberalism has also become associated with support for multiculturalism and openness towards non traditional lifestyles and social institutions. (Stephen Brooks, page 36)

Reasons for its Success in the Federal Elections

With the accession of Pierre Trudeau to the party leadership in 1968, the Liberals became identified in the minds of most Canadian voters with a strong central state (hence the ongoing battles between Ottawa and the provinces over control of natural resource revenues), with economic nationalism (Petro-  Canada , the National Energy Program, the Foreign Investment Revenue Agency [FIRA]), and with ‘French Power’  (Stephen Brooks, 286).

In the 1993 elections the Liberals won with a solid majority, taking 177 of the 295 seats in the House of Commons and 41.3% of the popular vote. Only the Liberals succeeded in practicing the old brokerage style politics. It emerged from the 1993 elections as the only truly national party, electing members from every province and territory and receiving no less than one – quarter of the votes cast in any province. (Stephen Brooks, pg 291)

The 1997 general elections was a replay of the 1993 in several important respects. The Liberals swept all but one of Ontario’s 103 seats.  (Stephen Brooks, 294). Most significant were the election results in the Atlantic province. The loss of several Liberal seats and the ascendance of the Conservatives and the NDP in the region were almost certainly due to voters’ unhappiness with federal spending cuts, particularly in transfers to provincial governments, which were felt more deeply in their region than in more affluent parts of Canada. The message of fiscal conservatism that the Liberals preached particularly after the 1995 federal budget, was an unnerving one in provinces whose job markets and public services, have long been sustained by a life support system of federal assistance. (Stephen Brooks, page 296)

The fact that the Liberal Party has been in the office for so much of the twentieth century and particularly since World War II it is often assumed that it has enjoyed overwhelming support of the Canadians. (Howard Rae Penniman, page 2)

In the 2000 election, the Liberals were re-elected with a larger majority than they held before the election. The 2003 merger of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party dismissed all notions of a permanent Liberal government in Canada. With the right now united the prospect of making inroads into the Liberal stronghold Ontario, seemed well within reach. The opposition parties’ hopes increased at the onset of the 2004 election, when the federal Auditor General expressed concern over the shady and almost unlawful misallocation of public funds by the Liberals on advertising in Quebec. The money was traced to individuals and ad companies who had nothing to offer against the money allocated. This popularly came to be known as the Adscam scandal and ruined the chances of the Liberal’s fairly effortless march to another majority government. However, halfway through the campaign when public support was on a decline in the English Canada, the Liberals unleashed an onslaught of negative campaigns against the Conservatives and their strategy worked as the Conservatives were again overthrown by the Liberals. The scenario continued well into the year 2006 and placing the Liberals well ahead of the Conservatives in the polls. (Stephen Brooks, page 299).

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