Federal political office in Canada has been monopolized by two parties, the Liberals and Conservatives (officially the Progressive Conservatives after 1942), although minority parties have been consistently represented in Parliament.
The Two Major Parties. The continued preeminence of these two parties is attributable to the fact that they alone have maintained a sufficiently pragmatic approach to policy-making to attract wide support from the diverse regional, economic, language, and religious groups that make up Canadian society.
Of the two, however, the Liberals have been far more successful in this century. A major factor in Liberal dominance has been its success in the province of Quebec, which elects about one quarter of the members in the House of Commons. This success has been as much a function of Conservative mistakes as Liberal skill. In the early years of Confederation the Conservatives held a majority of Quebec's seats. But in the 1880s the government of the Conservatives' first leader, Sir John A. Macdonald, began to lose the support of Quebec's predominantly French-speaking Catholic population when he permitted the execution of Louis Riel, the French-speaking leader of a rebellion among the mÃÂ©tis in the Northwest Territories.
Subsequently, as new issues arose in French-English relations, the Conservatives made decisions that reinforced and deepened French-Canadian antipathy toward them, producing repeated electoral defeats for the Conservatives in federal elections in Quebec. The Liberals initially capitalized on the Conservative party's problems in Quebec by choosing-in 1887-the extremely able Francophone Sir Wilfrid Laurier as their leader. Under Laurier, who led them for 30 years, they developed an approach to Quebec that helped them to avoid the kinds of mistakes that were to become so damaging to the Conservatives. Thereafter the presence in their parliamentary caucus of a large bloc of Francophones kept them well attuned to political currents...