Figueroa joined the Communist Party in 1977 and held many positions within the Party. In 1978, he became the party’s Greater Vancouver organizer, working with people such as city councilors Harry Rankin and Bruce Yorke as well as Party activist across the region. He also helped organize demonstrations which brought scores of thousands onto the streets, marching for nuclear disarmament.
From 1986 to 1992 Figueroa was the Party’s Atlantic region leader, and was based in based in Halifax). While leader of the Atlantic branch, Figueroa chaired an organizing committee that signed up 800 part-time seasonal professors and teaching assistants at Dalhousie University, ultimately leading to membership in the Canadian Union of Public Employees. He was also active in various mass movements like peace and disarmament, international solidarity, and trade union organizing.
The protracted ideological, political, organizational and legal battle created much confusion and disorientation within the ranks of the Party, and paralysed both its independent and united front work for over two years. Ultimately, the Hewison-led majority in the party's Central Committee voted to abandon Marxism-Leninism. An orthodox minority, led by Elizabeth Rowley, Figueroa and former leader William Kashtan, resisted this effort. In August 1991, evidence was revealed of the plans of the leadership to liquidate the party and seize its assets. The Hewison group reacted by expelling 14 leading members of those in opposition, suspending the Ontario Provincial Committee, and introducing 'loyalty oaths' which had to be signed by all members. As a result, they took the Communist Party to court. An out-of-court settlement resulted in the Hewison leadership relinquishing the name "Communist Party of Canada", while taking most of the old party's assets to the Cecil-Ross Society, a publishing and educational foundation previously associated with the party.
A convention was held in December 1992 in which delegates declared themselves to be the continuation of the Communist Party (thus the meeting was titled the 30th CPC Convention). Delegates rejected the changes instituted by Hewison by reaffirming the CPC as a Marxist-Leninist organization. Since most of the old party's assets were now the property of the Hewison-led Cecil Ross Society, the CPC convention decided to launch a new newspaper, the People's Voice, to replace the Canadian Tribune and Pacific Tribune.
Elected leader in December 1992 at the 30th Party Convention, Figueroa was re-elected to that office until his resignation in January 2016, for health reasons. Over his 23 year term, Figueroa led the party through eight federal election campaigns, touring and speaking across the country. As part of a new collective leadership, he worked to help achieve what the Party considers the clarification of its revolutionary orientation as well as its ideological identity based on Marxism-Leninism. In particular, Figueroa participated in the elaboration of the Party’s new political program, Canada’s Future is Socialism!, a process which began in the mid-1990s and culminated in the adoption of the final version at the 33rd Central Convention in February 2001.
His leadership also saw the consolidation and rebuilding of the Communist Party across the country — helping to launch People’s Voice and, later, Clarté, as well as The Spark! , the CPC’s theoretical and discussion journal. The Party re-established several clubs and committees, including the Party’s Quebec component the Communist Party of Quebec, as well as the youth organization known as the Young Communist League. The Party continues to play a role in many labour, peace, environmental, aboriginal, women’s, student, immigrant and other people’s movements.
Figueroa chaired the international commission of the Party and represented the CPC around the world, including Greece, India, Brazil, China, Vietnam, South Africa, Cuba, Venezuela and the United States. He was regularly present at the at the International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties where, on behalf of the Party, he advocated for efforts to build greater cooperation, political cohesion, and unity of action among Communist and Workers’ parties to deal with the growing dangers of imperialism and urgent problems of peace, solidarity and protection of the global environment.
The 38th Central Convention of the CPC is scheduled to be held May 21-23 in Toronto. The Convention will feature a tribute to Miguel Figueroa as a highlight of the weekend’s agenda.
The new party, with only a few hundred members, was much smaller than the old one and had lost a number of assets, including the party's headquarters at 24 Cecil Street in Toronto. The CPC was not in a position to run fifty candidates in the 1993 federal election, the number required to maintain official party status because of recent changes to Canada's Elections Act. As a result, the newly relaunched CPC was deregistered by Elections Canada, and its remaining assets were seized by the government. A prolonged legal battle, Figueroa v. Canada ensued, resulting in a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2003 that overturned a provision in the Elections Act requiring fifty candidates for official party status (the number had been increased by an act of parliament in the intervening years). Earlier in the legal battle, the party had its deregistration overturned and its seized assets restored.