Progressive Conservative party, former Canadian political party, formed in 1942 by the merger of the Progressive and Conservative parties. Beginning with the first Canadian prime minister, John A. Macdonald in 1867, the Conservative party dominated Canadian politics for much of the first three decades after confederation in 1867. The Conservative party's commitments to a strong confederation, national economic development, and close ties to Britain were continued by subsequent Conservative prime ministers, John J. C. Abbott, John S. D. Thompson, Mackenzie Bowell, and Charles Tupper. Reactions to the pro-British direction of Conservative policy and the execution of French-Canadian rebel Louis Riel led to a decline in Conservative party fortunes in Quebec, and the start of a long period of Liberal party dominance.
In the 1920s, Conservative prime ministers Robert Borden and Arthur Meighen managed to forge a coalition of groups alienated by Liberal party policies, but opposition by Quebec to the conscription policy during World War I led to a decline in Conservative support. During the Great Depression Richard B. Bennett formed a Conservative government, though the persistence of the depression led to its eventual collapse. In 1942, incorporating elements of the old Progressive party, the Conservative party adopted the label Progressive Conservative party and advocated a more reform-minded program, but this did little to change the party's national fortunes.
In John Diefenbaker, prime minister from 1957 to 1963, the Progressive Conservative party found a charismatic figure who helped forge a new base for the party in the western provinces. The growing problem of Quebec autonomy contributed to another two decades of Liberal government; Joe Clark, party leader from 1976 to 1983, was briefly prime minister in 1979. From 1986, the Progressive Conservative party under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney attempted to resolve the delicate constitutional issues of provincial status in the failed Meech Lake Accords and unsuccessful constitutional proposals, and negotiated a free trade agreement (1987) with the United States. The unpopularity of his economic policies, however led Mulroney to resign in 1993.
Kim Campbell, the party's and Canada's first female leader, briefly governed and led the party (1993) before she and all but two of the party's parliamentary candidates were rejected at the polls. She was succeeded as party leader by Jean Charest, who led the national party to a partial recovery in the 1997 elections, but the party's full recovery was hampered by the emergence of the Reform party (later the Canadian Alliance). Joe Clark again became the party's leader in 1998. In 2000 the party won only 12 seats in Parliament, making it the smallest of the five represented parties. although it garnered the third largest bloc of popular votes. Peter MacKay succeeded Joe Clark as party leader in 2003, and subsequently led the national party into a merger with the Canadian Alliance to form the Conservative party of Canada.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.