Like many parts of our government structure, political parties were not created by law or entrenched in the constitution: A constitution is the system of fundamental principles according to which a nation, state or group is governed.constitution. They simply evolved. But they have become essential to our system.
Political parties are associations of people who have similar ideas about public matters. They began to take shape in Canada in the 1840s over the issue of
responsible government: a system of government in which the executive (law makers) must have the confidence (support) of a majority in the elected legislative assembly.responsible government. Today the Liberal Party is generally seen as middle-of-the-road, combining some government intervention for social purposes with support of private enterprise in other things. The Conservatives are generally more supportive of private enterprise and tend to promote policies which reduce government intervention in the business of the country. The New Democratic Party grew out of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a child of the Depression. Its policies generally support labour and a greater degree of government involvement to achieve social ends.
In the federal election of 1993, two traditional parties - the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP - were practically decimated and two new parties emerged as major players. The Reform Party, which was founded in Alberta, gained a lot of support with its call for more responsible financial management of government in order to eliminate the huge national debt: the total amount a government owes; the accumulation of yearly deficits.debt. The other new party was the Bloc Québécois, a party dedicated to Quebec separation. With one more seat than the Reform Party, the BQ became "Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition" - a perhaps ironic situation given its aims.
In 2003, the Progressive Conservatives merged with the Canadian Alliance party which was a renamed version of the Reform Party. This was advertised as a "unite the right" movement, but a number of prominent Progressive Conservatives left the party afterwards because it had become too right-wing and socially conservative. The merged party dropped the word "Progressive" from its name and selected Stephen Harper as its leader.
By 2011, when Harper's Conservatives won their first majority, there was talk of trying to "unite the centre", because the NDP and Liberals were splitting the progressive side of the spectrum, allowing the Conservatives to win with less than 40 percent of the popular vote (39.6 percent; the NDP won 30.6 percent, the Liberals 18.9, the Bloc 6.1, the Green Party 3.9). That election also saw the election of the first Green Party member to the House of Commons, leader Elizabeth May.
The old Progressive Conservative Party and the Liberal Party were not that far apart in their thinking; one was centre-right, the other centre-left. With the new Conservative Party and a stronger NDP in parliament today, there is growing polarization in our political system. But parties evolve and moderate their positions to appeal to the centre where most of the Canadian electorate still resides.