For those interested in a little background on conservatism from a more academic perspective:
Canada’s conservative tradition started out aligned with the form it took in Britain in the 19th Century, in particular with the adoption of nationalist elements which ultimately led to the geo-political circumstances that started WWI and (arguably) WWII.
The NeoConservativesNow that I’ve chased off half of you because history is so damned dull, let’s skip ahead to the late 1970s, when we get the rise of the so-called “Neo-Conservatives” like Thatcher and Reagan. These two represent a turning point in conservative politics, and it's an important one that would start to take hold in Canada in the mid-1980s.
"They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. ...(https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/apr/08/margaret-thatcher-quotes)
Changes In Canada
The Rise of Reform
Although Reform started as a protest movement complaining very vocally about Alberta's seeming lack of influence in Ottawa, something else crept in quite quickly - Evangelical religious politics. Again, this is unsurprising if you know anything about Alberta. Rural Alberta is very religious, and there is a significant amount of connection to the American Evangelical movement. Although early Reform MPs like Deborah Grey were clearly religious, they generally didn't spend a lot of time talking about it when discussing matters of policy.
There’s a more concerning, and shadowy connection that emerges between Canada’s Reformers and US Conservatives: Morton Blackwell’s Leadership Institute (LI). Leadership Institute exists as a training ground for conservative political activists, and its primary role is to teach its participants a set of tools to forward the political objectives of a particular style of conservatism. Unsurprisingly, many of the rising stars of the Reform movement ended up attending training at LI (and they continue to do so).
The role of Blackwell's Leadership Institute cannot be underestimated. It explains the increasingly "American" approach to politics we saw being imported into Canada starting with the 1993 election. Most notoriously the infamous Chretien attack ad that the PCs attempted - which backfired entirely. The use of these tactics continued to expand among conservative politicians over the next several elections, culminating in the Harper-led CPC managing to successfully "character-assassinate" two successive Liberal leaders - Stephane Dion, and Michael Ignatieff.
The role of the Reform Movement in adopting more of the American style approaches to politics and campaigning is huge, and it marks the emergence of a significant degree of collaboration between conservatives in both countries.
Merger and the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC)Through the 1990s, the Reform party struggled to gain support beyond the Prairies. They made modest gains in BC, but couldn't seem to gain traction in Ontario. Concurrently, the post-Mulroney era PCs sputtered along, gaining a handful of seats, but sitting firmly in last place in the house. This gave rise to two major events:
1. The Reform Party rebranding itself as "Canadian Alliance", an attempt to make itself more appealing to voters in central Canada by shedding some of the more overtly "pro-west" aspects of the party and shifting somewhat to the left of where Reform sat policy-wise.2. The emergence of a "Unite The Right" campaign.
The first act garnered some modest gains for the new Canadian Alliance party - its first seats in Ontario.
The second part set the stage for both the return of Stephen Harper to elected politics, and the formation of what is now the CPC through a merger of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties.
Stephen Harper's Role
In 1997, Harper delivered a controversial speech on Canadian identity to the Council for National Policy, a conservative American think tank. He made comments such as "Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it", "if you're like all Americans, you know almost nothing except for your own country. Which makes you probably knowledgeable about one more country than most Canadians", and "the NDP [New Democratic Party] is kind of proof that the Devil lives and interferes in the affairs of men."
I'm no fan of Stephen Harper, so you can guess my personal reaction to these comments. They reflect many of the things I have come to dislike about Harper's politics, and the rising Americanization of Canada's conservatives.
The first point here is Harper speaking to the Council for National Policy. You don't get "noticed" by these people very easily. Harper becoming visible to them speaks to a great deal of interconnectedness between Canada's Reformers and American conservatives. The second point I wish to raise is how those very statements reflect attitudes that I believe are strongly influenced by Margaret Thatcher. They also reflect strongly the disdain that Harper always exhibited towards Canadians in general.
Whether Harper himself is a Social Conservative (SoCon) is a matter of some debate. I don't think he is myself (even though he does attend an evangelical church). My impression based on his overall background is that he comes more from the "American Libertarian" side of things. However, he was very conscious of the SoCon wing of the party and its importance. Hence while in office he allowed a significant amount of SoCon legislation to be tabled as "private member's bills", and they would progress until Harper decided the political price of letting them go further was too high.
This brings me to one of the most interesting and puzzling things about the CPC - the seeming alignment between the libertarians and the SoCons. Consider that a libertarian generally wants less government interference in people's lives, and the SoCon so often wants to impose all sorts of very expensive laws to regulate people's behaviours. How is it that they can co-exist? The short answer is this: the Social Conservatives have learned to wrap libertarians around their own positions by arguing that "it's just a different opinion, right?", and in doing so appealing to the libertarian's instincts regarding "freedom". After all, shouldn't the "free market of ideas" prevail?
The second role that Harper played was to run out of the CPC most of the moderate "PC" elements. If you weren't closely affiliated with the Reformers out of Alberta, or with Mike Harris' Ontario PCs, you found yourself largely isolated politically. It is particularly notable that after the merger of the two parties, Joe Clark refused to sit as a member of the CPC caucus.