I am starting a series on the major political parties at the federal level in Canada, as their October 14 general election approaches. I'll start with the current governing party: the Conservatives.
The oldest forerunner to the present Conservative Party of Canada was originally, confusingly, called the "Liberal-Conservative Party". It was the dominant party in Canadian federal politics in the first few years after Confederation.
Later on in the 19th century, the party began using the shorter name of "Conservative". A protectionist policy on international trade was a key part of their platform at that time. That was tied to a policy of emphasizing Canada's ties to Britain, and an aversion to a too-close economic relationship with the United States.
John A. McDonald, a Conservative, was the first prime minister of Canada. The party was in power for 24 of the first 29 years after Confederation.
The Conservatives were in opposition for most of the 20th century. During the few years they were in power, their most prominent prime ministers included Richard Bennett, John Diefenbaker and Brian Mulroney.
In 1942, the party changed its name to the Progressive Conservative Party. That was not, strictly speaking, a merger with the Progressive Party, but a faction within that party joined up with the Conservatives, and the name change resulted from that.
The Progressives had favored free trade, and the P.C. Party came around to that point of view. So much so, in time, that the 1988 general election was primarily fought over the issue of the proposed free trade agreement with the U.S., with Mulroney, the prime minister, successfully defending that agreement, and his party's majority in the House of Commons.
That 1988 election was the high water mark for the P.C. Party. At the next general election, in 1993, a new right-wing party called Reform was splitting the conservative vote. The P.C. party faced an astounding defeat in 1993, dropping from 169 House of Commons seats to two.
The Reform Party, later called the Canadian Alliance, remained the main center-right party in subsequent general elections. The bulk of its support came from western provinces.
In 2003, the Progressive Conservatives merged with the Canadian Alliance to form the Conservative Party of Canada, led by Stephen Harper. At a general election that was held on January 23, 2006, the Conservatives became the largest party in the House of Commons, although short of an overall majority. Harper became prime minister as head of a minority government.