Canadian federal election, 1997
The Canadian federal election of 1997 was held on June 2, 1997, to elect members of the Canadian House of Commons of the 36th Parliament of Canada. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's Liberal Party of Canada won a second majority government. The Reform Party of Canada replaced the Bloc Québécois as the Official Opposition.
The election closely reflected the pattern that had been set out in the 1993 election. The Liberals swept Ontario, a divided Bloc managed a reduced majority in Quebec, and much of the west was won by Reform, particularly its Alberta base, enabling the Reform to overtake the Bloc as the second largest party.
The major change was that the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada all but wiped out the Liberals in Atlantic Canada, leaving only Prince Edward Island which remained entirely Liberal. Among these defeated were two cabinet ministers; David Dingwall, Minister of Public Works from Nova Scotia, and Doug Young, Minister of National Defence from New Brunswick, both lost to NDP candidates in a major blow to the Liberals, as Atlantic voters were upset over cuts to employment insurance and other programs. Also unsuccessful in his bid for a seat was Dominic LeBlanc, a Liberal and the son of then-Governor General Roméo LeBlanc.
Some commentators on election night were even predicting that the Liberals would be cut down to a minority government, and/or Chrétien would lose his seat, although it was clear that none of the opposition parties could manage a plurality of seats. Chrétien did narrowly win his riding and the Liberals would manage a four-seat majority thanks to some gains in Quebec at the expense of the Bloc, although they finished considerably lower than the 1993 total due to the losses in Atlantic Canada. Mostly because of these gains in Atlantic Canada, Jean Charest's Tories and Alexa McDonough's NDP both regained official party status in the House of Commons. This marked the first time in Canadian history that five political parties held official party status in a single session of Parliament. The Progressive Conservative Party placed third in the popular vote, behind Liberal and Reform, but still won the fewest seats due to the first past the post system. The Reform Party gained seats in Western Canada to overtake the Bloc as the second-largest party in the House to become the Official Opposition.
A change of 718 votes in just five ridings, Bonavista—Trinity—Conception, Simcoe—Grey, Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, Cardigan, and Bellechasse—Etchemins—Montmagny—L'Islet (286, 241, 117, 50, and 24 votes respectively), from the Liberals to the second place candidate (NDP, Ref, PC, PC, and BQ, respectively) would have resulted in a minority government.
Voter turnout was 67.0%, the ninth lowest voter turnout in Canadian history.
The election was declared on April 26, 1997, and to be held on June 2 of that year, one year and a half before the mandate of the government would expire. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was criticized for having called an early election for political reasons, as polls at the time predicted that the Liberal Party was expected to win a landslide victory capturing at least 180 to at most 220 of the 301 seats in the House of Commons. The right-wing conservative vote continued to be divided between the Progressive Conservative Party and the Reform Party and was expected to not be able to defeat the government.
When the election was called, many commentators noted that it ended the second shortest majority mandate in Canadian history; only Wilfrid Laurier's term of office from 1908 to 1911 had been even more brief. Chrétien's decision to hold an early election was seen as cynical by some, as Manitoba was still recovering from the devastating Red River Flood earlier in the year. Reg Alcock and several others inside the Liberal Party had opposed the timing of the vote, and the poor results prompted Paul Martin's supporters to organize against Chrétien.
The major issue in the campaign was national unity due to a referendum on independence from Canada being held in Quebec in 1995 which was only narrowly rejected.
The Liberal Party under Jean Chrétien campaigned on promising to continue to cut the federal deficit to allow the creation of a budget surplus and then to spend one half of the surplus on repaying Canada's national debt as well as cutting taxes while the other half of the surplus would be used to increase funding to social programs such as health care, taking action to assist Canadian children living in poverty, and to promote job creation. The platform was called Securing Our Future Together. The Liberal Party was attacked by the opposition parties for failing to keep many of the promises that the party campaigned on in the 1993 federal election. The Liberals attacked the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform Party for prematurely calling for tax cuts while a deficit still remained while attacking the New Democratic Party for proposing to increase government spending while Canada faced a deficit.
The Liberals suffered from a number of falters and weaknesses in their campaign. In one incident, Jean Chrétien was questioned by reporters over the financial cost of Liberals' election proposal of a national pharmacare program in which reporters claimed that Chrétien was unsure of what the costs of such a program would be. Chrétien also turned down invitations for interviews by Canada's national media outlet, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and MuchMusic. In the televised debates between the five major political parties, Chrétien conceded to apologize to Canadians for his government having cut funding for social programs.
On election day, the Liberals won with a significantly reduced majority. While they lost much of their support in Atlantic Canada, they won all but two seats in Ontario and improved on their numbers in Quebec, assuring them of at least a minority government. They were only assured of a majority when the final numbers came in from the West.
The Reform Party under Preston Manning campaigned on preserving national unity through equal enfranchisement and decentralization of multiple federal government powers to all of the provinces, cutting taxes, reducing the size of government, reducing spending, and strongly opposing proposals for a special distinct society status for Quebec. Their platform was titled the Fresh Start for all Canadians. The Reformers expanded candidates into Quebec, making this the first and last election in which it would run candidates in every region of Canada. It didn't run candidates east of Manitoba in 1988, and ran in every region except Quebec in 1993. Reform saw a chance to finally make the party a national party by aiming to make political inroads outside of its western heartland, particularly in Ontario.
The Reformers faced multiple problems. The party was repeatedly accused by other parties and the media for ostensibly holding intolerant views due to comments made by a number of Reform MPs. Manning's leadership abilities had been questioned by a number of former members, including Stephen Harper who accused Manning of inappropriately using the party's internal finances for a lavish $31,000 CAD personal expense allowance as leader. Critics had accused the party's performance during the 1993-1997 parliament of being disorganized. Some Reform Party supporters were frustrated by the party's decision to expand its political base into Quebec as they continued to believe that the party should represent English Canada and others from the right-wing and populist faction of the party were angry that Manning punished MPs Bob Ringma and David Chatters During the campaign the Reform Party released a controversial television advertisement where the faces of four Quebec politicians: Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe, Progressive Conservative leader Jean Charest, and the separatist Premier of Quebec Lucien Bouchard were crossed out followed by a message saying that Quebec politicians had dominated the federal government for too long and that the Reform Party would end this favoritism towards Quebec. The advertisement was harshly criticized by the other party leaders including accusations that Manning was "intolerant" and a "bigot" for having permitted the advertisement to be aired. The party already faced significant barriers in reaching out to Quebeckers. Besides Manning's inability to speak French, the party was already perceived as being anti-Quebec because of its opposition to official bilingualism. Though accused of being intolerant towards minorities by opponents, multiple visible minorities ran as Reform Party candidates. A number were elected as MPs, including Rahim Jaffer, who became Canada's first Muslim member of parliament; Gurmant Grewal, an Indo-Canadian; and Inky Mark, a Chinese-Canadian.
The Reform Party began the campaign with substantial finances with $1.5 million CAD in cash reserves and by the end of the campaign had raised a total of $8 million CAD with a vast majority of the money coming from donations by individuals or small businesses.
The results for the Reform Party were a minor tactical success. The party won 60 seats to displace the Bloc as Official Opposition, largely by building on its already heavy concentration of support in Western Canada. Strategically, Reform failed to make inroads into eastern Canada and lost its one seat in Ontario, leaving it effectively isolated as a Western regional party. The party actually made significant inroads into rural central Ontario, historically a somewhat socially conservative area. However, this didn't translate into seats due to vote-splitting with the Progressive Conservatives. Despite being all but invisible east of Manitoba, Reform cemented its status as the nation's major right-wing party.
The Bloc Québécois, under the leadership of Gilles Duceppe, lost its position of Official Opposition, falling to third place. Despite only running candidates in Quebec, the party captured 44 of that province's 75 seats, nearly sweeping the francophone ridings there.
New Democratic Party
The New Democratic Party under the leadership of Alexa McDonough regained official party status that the party lost in the 1993 Canadian federal election. The party won the fourth largest share of total votes and won 21 seats. Notably, the party made a substantial showing in Atlantic Canada, a region where it had only elected three MPs in its entire history prior to the election. It helped that McDonough herself was from Nova Scotia.
Progressive Conservative Party
The Progressive Conservative Party under Jean Charest campaigned on securing national unity in Canada by recognizing Quebec as being a distinct society within Canada. Charest and the Progressive Conservatives benefited from supporting distinct society in Quebec and resulted in the party rapidly rising in popularity amongst both francophones and non-francophones in Quebec, with polls indicating that Quebec voters preferred Charest over Gilles Duceppe, the leader of the Bloc Québécois.
The Progressive Conservatives faced multiple difficulties due to the party not being able to apply for federal financial assistance due to it not being an official party. In the previous election, they had collapsed from a strong majority government to only having two seats—those of Charest and Elsie Wayne. Western Canadians who had voted in protest for the Reform Party in 1993 due to their dismay with the Progressive Conservatives still remained frustrated with the party, and the Reformers remained the dominant conservative political force in the west. Reform also made inroads into rural central Ontario — traditionally the heartland of the Tories' provincial counterparts. This resulted in massive vote splitting between the two centre-right parties. In Canada's plurality electoral system, this allowed the Liberals to win many Ontario ridings to be elected when the total combined Reform Party and Progressive Conservative Party vote in such ridings was more than the Liberal Party.
The Progressive Conservatives won the third largest number of the total votes and improved their situation in the House of Commons as they were restored as an official party after winning 20 seats. Despite finishing just about half a point behind Reform in the nationwide popular vote, their only heavy concentrations of support were in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. Elsewhere, their support was too spread out to translate into actual seats. They only won one seat each in Ontario and Manitoba due to vote splitting with the Reform Party. This effectively left the Tories isolated as an eastern regional party.
The Green Party of Canada enjoyed a 79% increase in support from the previous election, and saw its greatest success in British Columbia where it received 2% of the vote despite not running a full slate of candidates in the province. The Green Party remained almost entirely off the national media's radar. At 0.43% of the vote, and 1.64% of the vote in the ridings it contested, the Green Party remained a small but growing movement.
|Party||Party Leader||Candidates||Seats||Popular vote|
|Bloc Québécois||Gilles Duceppe||75||54||50||44||-18.5%||1,385,821||10.67%||-2.85pp|
|New Democrats||Alexa McDonough||301||9||9||21||+133.3%||1,434,509||11.05%||+4.17pp|
|Progressive Conservative||Jean Charest||301||2||2||20||+900%||2,446,705||18.84%||+2.80pp|
|Natural Law||Neil Paterson||136||-||-||-||-||37,085||0.29%||+x|
|Christian Heritage||Ron Gray||53||-||-||-||-||29,085||0.22%||+x|
|Canadian Action||Paul T. Hellyer||58||*||-||-||*||17,502||0.13%||*|
|Sources: http://www.elections.ca History of Federal Ridings since 1867|
*: Party did not nominate candidates in the previous election.
x: Less than 0.005% of the popular vote
Vote and seat summaries
Results by province
|Parties that won no seats:|
Source: Elections Canada
- Number of parties: 10
- 1997 was one of only three elections in Canadian history (the others were 1993 and 2008) where the official Opposition did not have the majority of the opposition's seats. 60 seats for the Reform Party, yet 86 seats for the other opposition parties and independents combined.
10 closest ridings
- Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS: Peter Stoffer, NDP def. Ken Streatch, PC by 41 votes
- Bellechasse—Etchemins—Montmagny—L'Islet, QC: Gilbert Normand, Lib def. François Langlois, BQ by 47 votes
- Selkirk—Interlake, MB: Howard Hilstrom, Ref def. Jon Gerrard, Lib by 66 votes
- Cardigan, PE: Lawrence MacAulay, Lib def. Dan Hughes, PC by 99 votes
- Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok, QC: Yvan Bernier, BQ def. Patrick Gagnon, Lib by 179 votes
- Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK: Jim Pankiw, Ref def. Dennis Gruending, NDP by 220 votes
- Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NF: Gerry Byrne, Lib def. Art Bull, PC by 232 votes
- Chicoutimi, QC: André Harvey, PC def. Gilbert Fillion, BQ by 317 votes
- Frontenac—Mégantic, QC: Jean-Guy Chrétien, BQ def. Manon Lecours, Lib by 465 votes
- Simcoe—Grey, ON: Paul Bonwick, Lib def. Paul Shaw, Ref by 481 votes
Articles on parties' candidates in this election:
- Pomfret, R. "Voter Turnout at Federal Elections and Referendums". Elections Canada online. Elections Canada. Retrieved 10 March 2012.
- "Chrétien sets Canadian election for June 2". CNN. Retrieved April 28, 2010.
- Frizzell, Alan (ed.); Pammett, Jon H (ed.). The Canadian General Election of 1997. Dundurn Press Ltd, 1998. Pp. 45.
- Frizzell, Alan (ed.); Pammett, Jon H (ed.). 1998. Pp. 45.
- Frizzell, Alan (ed.); Pammett, Jon H (ed.). 1998. Pp. 46.
- Frizzell, Alan (ed.); Pammett, Jon H (ed.). 1998. Pp. 46 and 118
- Frizzell, Alan (ed.); Pammett, Jon H (ed.). 1998. Pp. 118.
- Frizzell, Alan (ed.); Pammett, Jon H (ed.). 1998. Pp. 112.
- Frizzell, Alan (ed.); Pammett, Jon H (ed.). 1998. Pp. 112
- Canadian Press. "Mr. George Hickes (Point Douglas), Member Statements". Government of Manitoba. Retrieved 2008-10-08.
- Frizzell, Alan (ed.); Pammett, Jon H (ed.). 1998. Pp. 120.
- Frizzell, Alan (ed.); Pammett, Jon H (ed.). 1998. Pp. 49.
- Clarke, Harold D.; Kornberg, Allan;Wearing, Peter. A Polity on the Edge: Canada. Pp. 246.
- Elections Canada: 1997 election
- Transcript of English Leader's debate
- Predicting the 1997 Canadian Election