I’m late, but I really like this, particularly the way you’ve wrote Klein. So often a lot of us (myself included) fall into the trap of writing him as the cartoonish caricature he’s since been remembered as, so it’s nice to see a more layered portrayal. Him governing as a progressive on social issues is also one of those fun things you don’t usually see, and the way you explain it makes it perfectly plausible as well.Something I've had on my harddrive and been kicking around for a while. Enjoy.
Two-thirds Is Enough
1968–1979: Pierre Trudeau (Liberal)
1979–1980: Joe Clark (Progressive Conservative)
1980–1984: Pierre Trudeau (Liberal)
1984–1991: Joe Clark (Progressive Conservative)
def. 1984 (maj.): Pierre Trudeau (Liberal), Ed Broadbent (New Democratic)
def. 1988 (min.): Donald Johnston (Liberal), Ed Broadbent (New Democratic)
66.9% was not a rousing endorsement of his leadership, but Joe Clark and his advisers decided it was enough support to stay on as leader— resigning and running in the subsequent leadership election was mooted, but ultimately rejected as "too clever by half". Of course, a relatively small mandate hardly silenced his critics— particularly those in the rank-and-file who believed he was too moderate— but for all the public sniping, Clark remained entrenched in his position. He was the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, and he would be taking it into the next election… he just needed to bring the party in-line first.
With Clark's on-going leadership problems, Trudeau is convinced to make one last run under the belief that since he beat Clark once, he could do it again. This does not pan out, and Clark wins a comfortable majority and, most notably, makes a breakthrough in Quebec with some dozen seats.
Cognizant of the changing ground in his party, Clark governed a bit more to the right during his second term, though his Red Tory instincts show through; concerns over full and unrestricted free trade limited a negotiated deal with the United States to a general reduction of tariffs and free trade only in certain sectors. The deal won bipartisan support— the Liberals' (now under Donald Johnston) only criticism is that doesn't go far enough— and passed without incident. Clark's major pursuit was a "flexible federalism" meant to both engage Quebec and address western concerns, which— after a series of meetings with fellow first ministers— evolved into a package of constitutional reforms dubbed the Harrington Accord (after the location it was finalized, the prime minister's summer residence).
The Accord's main features were to devolve more powers to the provincial governments— exclusive jurisdiction over natural resources, increased involvement in immigration, and allowing provinces to "opt-out", with full compensation, of a federal program to establish a provincial one— in exchange for full "harmonization" in certain policy areas (such as telecommunications, trade and labour), Senate reform that expanded its size (every province getting 12 seats, except Ontario and Quebec which remained at 24) and culled its power, and recognition of Quebec as a "distinct society" alongside similar clauses for linguistic minority communities across Canada.
The opposition was initially unsure what to make of the Accord. The New Democrats had concerns with the harmonized policy, but ultimately endorsed it, citing increased provincial powers and easier intra-Canada movement of people. The Liberals had a very tough time: Leader Johnston is staunchly opposed for how it weakens the federal government, but most of his MPs— representing Quebec ridings— support it for its cultural provisions, causing tension. Trudeau emerged from his quiet retirement to fiercely denounce the Accord, intending to throw his weight behind Johnston and bring the party in line, but instead only opened the party up to perceptions of having not moved on from his leadership.
Although the Accord could only be ratified by provincial legislatures, it nevertheless became the defining issue of the 1988 election. The Liberals attempt to adopt an ambiguous position but are widely known as the "anti-Accord" party, which results in major losses in Quebec— the Conservatives winning a majority of seats for the first time since John Diefenbaker— but does manage gains in English Canada— including a small rebirth in the western provinces. The vote split in such a way that Clark falls just short of a majority… but support from the New Democrats ensured the Accord's passage. Looking to put it behind them, the Liberals swiftly replace Johnston with the pro-Harrington Raymond Garneau.
1991–2001: Raymond Garneau (Liberal)
def. 1991 (maj.): Joe Clark (Progressive Conservative), Dave Barrett (New Democratic)
def. 1994 (maj.): Roch La Salle (Progressive Conservative), Dave Barrett (New Democratic), Raymond Speaker (Representative)
def. 1998 (maj.): Dennis Timbrell (Progressive Conservative), Dave Barrett (New Democratic), Raymond Speaker (Representative)
Clark's government navigated the minority situation surprisingly well, but ultimately fell in '91. In the subsequent election, Clark tried to run on the success and popularity of the Harrington Accord, but Garneau— aware his that his party was bitterly divided on it, "settled" or not— refused to play ball. He opted to simply ignore the Accord and turn his— and voters'— attention to the economy, the deficit and debt and other areas of fiscal responsibility; and with Canada undergoing a recession, it resonated with the public. Garneau won in a landslide, even improving his fortunes in western Canada some. His government went right to work on balancing the budget through a combination of more efficient taxes and budget cuts.
Garneau's reforms are not very popular with the public, but the Conservatives are in no position to provide opposition. Clark's had always had his detractors within his party, but forming government was enough to hold the party together; his resignation, then, revealed the cracks: not just the old Red vs Blue, but establishment vs grassroots, as well as regional tensions between the new, large, electorally important Quebec wing and a western stronghold that's feeling increasingly ignored and taken advantage of. In an effort to mend the gap, delegates back former industry minister Roch La Salle— a Clark ally and Quebec nationalist, but decidedly on the right of the party— but it just alienated everyone. Quebecers, while admiring his nationalist credentials, are put off by his hardline ideological stances; Clark's strongest supporters, of a Red Tory bent, are likewise not enthused; while westerners just don't trust a Quebec nationalist to work in their interests.
Garneau called a snap election to capitalize on the Conservatives' struggles, and the gamble paid off: not only did the Liberals increase their majority, but the Conservatives fragmented as their western base desert the party— heading not just to their typical western opponent the New Democrats, but also the upstart Representative Party. La Salle was quickly booted and replaced by Dennis Timbrell, moderate Blue Tory from Ontario, who set about repairing and rebuilding the party's base— namely by halting the courtship of Quebec and refocusing on Ontario and the West.
The next few years is the story of three parties trying to position themselves as the best voice for western Canada (with the Liberals occasionally joining in, mostly to stir the pot) while the Liberals operate largely without meaningful opposition; during this period, Garneau pursued the century-old Liberal dream of "reciprocity"— free trade with the United States— with it coming into effect on January 1, 2001.
By then, Garneau felt he had achieved a laudable legacy— rebuilding his party, eliminating the deficit, and free trade with the United States— and decided to retire from public life.
2001–2009: Ralph Klein (Liberal)
def. 2001 (maj.): Dennis Timbrell (Progressive Conservative), Piers McDonald (New Democratic), Raymond Speaker (Representative)
def. 2005 (maj.): Dennis Timbrell (Progressive Conservative), Piers McDonald (New Democratic), Garry Breitkreuz (Representative)
The moment Ralph Klein entered Parliament, he was a star, and his shine only got brighter from there. As Garneau's "western lieutenant", he held considerable sway in cabinet and received several high-profile posts (natural resources, industry and public safety); by the turn of the millennium, Klein was the de facto number two in government. It was only natural, then, that he became the number one after Garneau's retirement.
That is not to say that Klein was welcomed in all quarters of the party. Like Garneau, Klein was from the right wing of the party, and the succession of two right-wingers in a row was met with disappointment and concern from the left wing. In order to keep them on side and not bolt to the NDP— who had experienced steady growth throughout the 90s— Klein shifted to the left, pledging to increase funding for health care, increase payouts for social security programs, and— in a notable reversal— recognize same-sex "civil unions". Additionally, the Deputy Prime Minister role was revived and assigned to Art Eggleton, Klein's nearest leadership challenger and champion of the left.
Klein's pivot was not entirely convincing, but it was enough to keep much of his party in line. And so, with his base stable and riding high in his honeymoon period, Klein called a snap election to refresh and cement his mandate. The election was another Liberal rout; although the Conservatives made notable gains in Ontario, the Representatives collapsed: seeing a right-leaning westerner in the top job rather undermined their "The West Wants In" slogan, reducing them to their stalwart base and allowing the Liberals to make huge gains in urban Alberta and Saskatchewan.
With a mandate of his own, Klein governed as he had promised— and little more. While he fulfilled his pledges to boost health care transfers et al, his left-wing policies largely stopped at additional funding and tinkering around the edges; Klein's instincts remained fiscally conservative, and he remained committed to holding spending steady and delivering balanced budgets. Modest surpluses were held onto or used to pay down the debt rather that reinvested, to the frustration of the more left-wing Liberals. Klein was more amiable to moving on social issues: after various provincial courts started ruling that barring same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, Klein was persuaded by Eggleton to get ahead of the issue and legalize it nationwide in 2005— a timely sop to the activist wing before the impending election.
But the biggest conflict Klein had was over environmental policy. As the decade wore on and evidence continued to mount about anthropogenic climate change, there were increasing calls to enact tighter environmental regulations, move to "green" technology and reduce carbon emissions, and otherwise move to a low carbon economy. Klein, however, was a proud Albertan and staunch proponent of Alberta's oil industry, and had worked— as natural resource minister and later as prime minister— to further develop and exploit them, and brushed off any suggestion to limit it, arguing that oil was good for Canada's economy. Klein made some token efforts to combat pollution more generally, and announced initiatives and subsidies to support clean energy, but continued to support the oil sands. It was too much for the left flank to bear, and in the next election they broke for the more environmentally conscious opposition.
2009–2019: Elizabeth May (Progressive Conservative)
def. 2009 (maj.): Ralph Klein (Liberal), Piers McDonald (New Democratic), Garry Breitkreuz (Representative)
def. 2014 (min.): Denis Coderre (Liberal), Gilles Bisson (New Democratic), Shayne Saskiw (Representative)
def. 2016 (maj.): Denis Coderre (Liberal), Gilles Bisson (New Democratic), Shayne Saskiw (Representative)
In many ways, Elizabeth May was the opposite of Ralph Klein. But it wasn't just that she was the first female prime minister, that she was from the other side of the country (in fact, the first prime minister to come from Atlantic Canada since Borden), or even that she ran on a platform of environmental protection; the biggest change was her attitude. Where Klein was boorish (in a charming way) and ran a tightly-controlled, top-down government, May had a sunny demeanour and promised a more collaborative cabinet— "I will be a prime minister who is first among equals," is how she put it.
May may have honestly believed it, but it's equally true that her party situation more or less forced a conciliatory approach. The nearly two decades the Conservatives spent in the wilderness was hard on them; Clark's resignation saw the party descend into factional infighting and split apart, and Timbrell spent a decade working to mend the divide. Timbrell's strategy wasn't just an ideological rethink— of finding common ground— but also included institutional reform to commit a Conservative government to implement policy passed by its membership, and to give MPs the ability to challenge and oust a leader. Thus, a party leader could no longer ride roughshod over opponents, lest they be unceremoniously ousted; they would have to work with opponents and keep them happy.
Consequently, May's cabinet was a Lincolnesque "team of rivals", comprising tories red (Bill Casey) and blue (Lewis MacKenzie); Quebec nationalists (Joseph Facal) and traditional bleus (Sébastien Proulx); and westerners both populist (Stockwell Day) and libertarian (Keith Martin). Moreover, May granted her ministers a degree of independence; although they had certain mandates they had to achieve, they were otherwise allowed to handle the portfolio and enact policy as they saw fit. This decision had mixed results: while ministers themselves were happy to have their own personal fiefs, it also meant ministers often came into conflict, leaving May to play referee and giving the impression of a very chaotic government. In the most notable instance, May's government enacted an emissions-trading program and tightened environmental protection laws, while also approving the EnergyEast pipeline and championing Quebec's asbestos industry.
The apparent chaos and contradictions saw the Conservatives' support shrink, and in the 2014 election they were returned with a narrow minority— saved by May's personal popularity and tireless campaigning. This, however, gave May the opportunity to restore a more top-down leadership, reign in her ministers and present a more unified vision. Over the next couple years, May pivoted to placing emphasis on tradition, nationalist sentiment, and provincial autonomy, and cobbled together an unlikely coalition of red tories, western populists and Quebec bleus; when the country went back to the polls in 2016, the re-energized Conservatives thundered back with a majority.
With both a majority and a stronger control over her party, May set about pushing her vision further: heavily investing in green technology and proclaiming her party to be "stewards of the environment", enacting a series of tax credits and programs targeting young families, tightening abortion laws and banning sex-selective abortions. A series of wildfires that ripped through western Canada also led to a large relief program to provide aid to affected families and rebuild the communities.
May stepped down in 2019, citing her age and a desire to spend more time with her family.
2019–2020: Pierre Karl Péladeau (Progressive Conservative)
2020–present: Filomena Tassi (Liberal)
def. 2020 (C&S): Pierre Karl Péladeau (Progressive Conservative), Gilles Bisson (New Democratic), Shayne Saskiw (Representative)
Although he was absent from May's first cabinet— still, then, a political neophyte albeit a star candidate— he quickly emerged as a key ally in her struggles to bring the party behind her; by the time of her retirement, Péladeau had positioned himself as her natural successor. Pélandeau was not in lockstep with May, but as a man of nebulous (perhaps flexible) ideology, Péladeau was arguably best situated to holding together the new base— or at least holding most of it as it as it shifted slightly under his tenure. If anything could be pinned down about Péladeau, it's that he was a proud Quebecer and staunch nationalist; though not necessarily a Quebec nationalist, he had sympathies with that faction and sought to bring them closer into the Conservative tent, with the larger goal of establishing Conservative dominance in the province.
Péladeau's emphasis on "cultural issues"— namely immigration and immigrants— did indeed play well in his home province, as the Conservatives increased their seat count and beat the Liberals into second place; however, it played less well in the rest of Canada— particularly Ontario— which more than cancelled out the gains. However, the coalition was still resilient enough to keep the Conservatives the largest party, even without their majority.
But for all Péladeau and the Conservatives took this as a rousing endorsement and mandate to remain in office, it was not so. Not too long after the election, Filomena Tassi and Gilles Bisson— leaders of the Liberals and NDP, respectively— held a joint press conference announcing that they had signed a four-year confidence-and-supply agreement, and would be voting down the government's throne speech with the intent of having the Liberals form a government. The Conservatives raged and denounced the "coup", but arithmetic, parliamentary procedure and— most importantly— public opinion disagreed, and soon enough Tassi was moving in to 24 Sussex.
Filomena Tassi was a bit of a newcomer to federal politics, but had a long career behind her. First elected as an MPP in 1995, she went on to serve as a minister in the Gerard Kennedy government in multiple portfolios, including labour, health and infrastructure. After the Kennedy government's defeat in 2013, she moved to federal politics for the 2014 election and quickly became a prominent member of the opposition; after Coderre's resignation, she was encouraged to enter the race and ran away with it. Though often regarded as being on the right of the party due to her views on abortion, her economic views place her on the left.
The Liberal–NDP agreement commits the government to an ambitious agenda that includes establishing a national pharmacare program, strengthening labour laws and granting public sectors the right to strike, and "pursuing" electoral reform. Tassi is an accomplished politician, but even she will have her work cut out for her. The next four years will be interesting indeed…
15. Pierre Trudeau (1968–1979)
16. Joe Clark (1979–1980)
(15). Pierre Trudeau (1980–1984)
(16). Joe Clark (1984–1991)
17. Raymond Garneau (1991–2001)
18. Ralph Klein (2001–2009)
19. Elizabeth May (2009–2019)
20. Pierre Karl Péladeau (2019–2020)
21. Filomena Tassi (2020–present)