Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 1, issue 1

Lynda Erickson, "The October 1993 Election and the Canadian Party System," Party Politics , 1 (January, 1995), 133-143.

First Paragraph:
For Canada's national party system, the results of the 35th general election held on 25 October 1993 were of earthquake proportions. Regional fragmentation in the vote, compounded by an electoral system that has magnified the sanctions levied by the electorate on an unpopular governing party, has produced a new government with a comfortable majority in the House of Commons (the governing Liberal Party currently holds 60 percent of the seats) but a party system otherwise in disarray and an official opposition whose very success threatens national unity. Two long-standing national parties saw their representation in the elected house almost disappear, while the official opposition is a new separatist party from Quebec, which ran on a sovereignty platform, and the other opposition party of any size, also a relative newcomer, is firmly based in Western Canada and ran no candidates in the province of Quebec. Even for a country that is no stranger to major shifts in its party system, the changes heralded by this election are more profound and may be more consequential than any experienced to date.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1: Number of seats and percentage of votes won by party, Canadian General Elections of 1993 and 1988.

Last Paragraph:
Although Quebec is no longer the center of the governing party's coalition, that province continues to be critical for the future of the party system. Whether or not Quebec stays in Canada will be important in determining what electoral coalitions are forged and which party appeals are most successful. In the meantime, the NDP is pondering its alternatives as a social democratic party, the federal Conservatives are exploring the success enjoyed by their provincial counterparts in Alberta as they search for ways to revive the party nationally, and the Reform Party is faced with the dilemma that while invasion from the right was a successful strategy for breaking into the party system (Flanagan, 1994), it is likely to be less effective in achieving government status. Recently, with opinion polls in Quebec suggesting that separation does not have the support of a majority of the electorate there, the Reform Party appears to be rethinking the importance of Quebec voters and has opened a party office in that province. For its part, the Bloc has been preoccupied with politics within Quebec in anticipation of the provincial election. The Liberal Party has benefited from having the official opposition focused on the issue of Quebec independence and from the general disarray on the opposition benches. As a result the Liberal government has enjoyed a long honeymoon with the electorate. Even once the current honeymoon is over, the Liberals could continue to dominate the governing benches, winning future elections by virtue of a fragmented opposition and with no more than the 41 percent they won in the 1993 election. Still, given the uncertainty concerning Quebec, and the volatility of the electorate as displayed in this election, Liberal fortunes and indeed the future shape of the party system remain unpredictable.