Conservative Party of Canada
The Conservative Party of Canada (French: Parti conservateur du Canada), colloquially known as the Tories, is a federal political party in Canada. It was formed in 2003 from the multiple right-leaning parties which had existed in Canada for over a century, historically grouped into two camps known as the "Red Tories" and the "Blue Tories". The party sits at the centre-right to the right of the Canadian political spectrum, with their federal rivals, the Liberal Party of Canada, positioned to their left. The Conservatives are defined as a "big tent" party, practising "brokerage politics"[c] and welcoming a broad variety of members. The party's current leader is Erin O'Toole, who serves as Leader of the Official Opposition.
During the Conservative Party's governance of Canada from 2006 to 2015, its legislative decisions included reducing sales tax, reducing business taxes, balancing the national budget, eliminating the long-gun registry, introducing mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes, raising the age of consent to 16 years of age, appointing several elected senators, permitting the construction of several pipelines, supporting the State of Israel, negotiating the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and creating the Universal Child Care Benefit.
From Canadian Confederation until 1942, the original Conservative Party of Canada participated in numerous governments. Before 1942, the predecessors to the Conservatives had multiple names, but by 1942, the main right-wing Canadian force became known as the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party. In 1957, John Diefenbaker became the first prime minister from the PCs, and remained in office until 1963.
In 2003, the Canadian Alliance and the PCs merged, forming the Conservative Party of Canada. The unified Conservative Party generally favours lower taxes, small government, more transfer of federal government powers to the provinces modelled after the Meech Lake Accord and a tougher stand on law and order issues.
Under its first leader, Stephen Harper, the party governed with two minority governments after the federal elections of 2006 and 2008. It then won a majority government in the 2011 federal election before being defeated in the 2015 federal election by a majority Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau. However, under its second and third leaders, Andrew Scheer and Erin O'Toole, the party narrowly won the popular vote despite remaining in opposition, in 2019 and 2021.
The Conservative Party is political heir to a series of right-of-centre parties that have existed in Canada, beginning with the Liberal-Conservative Party founded in 1854 by John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier. The party later became known simply as the Conservative Party after 1873. Like its historical predecessors and conservative parties in some other Commonwealth nations (such as the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom), members of the present-day Conservative Party of Canada are sometimes referred to as "Tories". The modern Conservative Party of Canada is also legal heir to the heritage of the historical conservative parties by virtue of assuming the assets and liabilities of the former Progressive Conservative Party upon the merger of 2003.
The first incarnations of the Conservative Party in Canada were quite different from the Conservative Party of today, especially on economic issues. The early Conservatives were known to espouse economic protectionism and British imperialism, by emphasizing Canada's ties to the United Kingdom while vigorously opposing free trade with the United States; free trade being a policy which, at the time, had strong support from the ranks of the Liberal Party of Canada. The Conservatives also sparred with the Liberal Party because of its connections with French Canadian nationalists including Henri Bourassa who wanted Canada to distance itself from Britain, and demanded that Canada recognize that it had two nations, English Canada and French Canada, connected together through a common history. The Conservatives would go on with a popular slogan "one nation, one flag, one leader".
The Conservative Party's popular support waned (particularly in Western Canada) during difficult economic times from the 1920s to 1940s, as it was seen by many in the west as an eastern establishment party which ignored the needs of the citizens of Western Canada. Westerners of multiple political convictions (including small-"c" conservatives) saw the party as being uninterested in the economically unstable Prairie regions of the west at the time; instead, Western Canadians believed the party held close ties with the business elite of Ontario and Quebec. As a result of western alienation, both the dominant Conservative and Liberal parties were challenged in the west by the rise of a number of protest parties including the Progressive Party of Canada, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the Reconstruction Party of Canada and the Social Credit Party of Canada. In 1921, the Conservatives were reduced to third place in number of seats in the House of Common behind the Progressives, though soon after, the Progressive Party folded. The premier of Manitoba and leader of the Progressive Party of Manitoba, John Bracken became leader of the Conservative Party in 1942 subject to several conditions, one of which was that the party be renamed the Progressive Conservative Party.
Meanwhile, many former supporters of the Progressive Conservative Party shifted their support to either the federal CCF or to the federal Liberals. The advancement of the provincially popular western-based conservative Social Credit Party in federal politics was stalled, in part by the strategic selection of leaders from the west by the Progressive Conservative Party. Progressive Conservative leaders such as John Diefenbaker and Joe Clark were seen by many westerners as viable challengers to the Liberals who traditionally had relied on the electorate in Quebec and Ontario for their power base. While none of the various protest parties ever succeeded in gaining significant power federally, they were damaging to the Progressive Conservative Party throughout its history, and allowed the federal Liberals to win election after election with strong urban support bases in Ontario and Quebec. This historical tendency earned the Liberals the unofficial title often given by some political pundits of being Canada's "natural governing party". Prior to 1984, Canada was seen as having a dominant-party system led by the Liberal Party while Progressive Conservative governments therefore were considered by many of these pundits as caretaker governments, doomed to fall once the collective mood of the electorate shifted and the federal Liberal Party eventually came back to power.
In 1984, the Progressive Conservative Party's electoral fortunes made a massive upturn under its new leader, Brian Mulroney, an anglophone Quebecer and former president of the Iron Ore Company of Canada, who mustered a large coalition of westerners, aggravated over the National Energy Program of the Liberal government, suburban and small-town Ontarians, and soft Quebec nationalists, who were angered over Quebec not having distinct status in the Constitution of Canada signed in 1982. This led to a huge landslide victory for the Progressive Conservative Party. Progressive Conservatives abandoned protectionism which the party had held strongly to in the past and which had aggravated westerners and businesses and fully espoused free trade with the United States and integrating Canada into a globalized economy. This was accomplished with the signing of the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement (FTA) of 1989 and much of the key implementation process of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which added Mexico to the Canada-U.S. free trade zone.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, federal conservative politics became split by the creation of a new western-based protest party, the populist and social conservative Reform Party of Canada created by Preston Manning, the son of an Alberta Social Credit premier, Ernest Manning. It advocated deep decentralization of government power, abolition of official bilingualism and multiculturalism, democratization of the Senate of Canada, and suggested a potential return to capital punishment, and advocated significant privatization of public services. Westerners reportedly felt betrayed by the federal Progressive Conservative Party, seeing it as catering to Quebec and urban Ontario interests over theirs. In 1989, Reform made headlines in the political scene when its first member of Parliament (MP), Deborah Grey, was elected in a by-election in Alberta, which was a shock to the PCs which had almost complete electoral dominance over the province for years. Another defining event for western conservatives was when Mulroney accepted the results of an unofficial Senate "election" held in Alberta, which resulted in the appointment of a Reformer, Stanley Waters, to the Senate.
By the 1990s, Mulroney had failed to bring about Senate reform as he had promised (appointing a number of Senators in 1990). As well, social conservatives were dissatisfied with Mulroney's increasing social progressivism. Canadians in general were disenchanted with extremely high unemployment, Canada's soaring debt and deficit, a bungled implementation of the deeply unpopular Goods and Services Tax (GST) in 1991, and failed constitutional reforms of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords. In 1993, support for the Progressive Conservative Party collapsed, and the party's representation in the House of Commons dropped from an absolute majority of seats to only two seats. The 1993 results were the worst electoral disaster in Canadian history, and the Progressive Conservatives never fully recovered.
In 1993, federal politics became divided regionally. The Liberal Party took Ontario, the Maritimes and the territories, the separatist Bloc Québécois took Quebec, while the Reform Party took Western Canada and became the dominant conservative party in Canada. The problem of the split on the right was accentuated by Canada's single member plurality electoral system, which resulted in numerous seats being won by the Liberal Party, even when the total number of votes cast for PC and Reform Party candidates was substantially in excess of the total number of votes cast for the Liberal candidate.
In 2003, the Canadian Alliance (formerly the Reform Party) and Progressive Conservative parties agreed to merge into the present-day Conservative Party, with the Alliance faction conceding its populist ideals and some social conservative elements.
On October 15, 2003, after closed-door meetings were held by the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative Party, Stephen Harper (then the leader of the Canadian Alliance) and Peter MacKay (then the leader of the Progressive Conservatives) announced the "'Conservative Party Agreement-in-Principle", thereby merging their parties to create the new Conservative Party of Canada. After several months of talks between two teams of "emissaries", consisting of Don Mazankowski, Bill Davis and Loyola Hearn on behalf of the PCs and Ray Speaker Senator Gerry St. Germain and Scott Reid on behalf of the Alliance, the deal came to be.
On December 5, 2003, the Agreement-in-Principle was ratified by the membership of the Alliance by a margin of 96% to 4% in a national referendum conducted by postal ballot. On December 6, the PC Party held a series of regional conventions, at which delegates ratified the Agreement-in-Principle by a margin of 90% to 10%. On December 7, the new party was officially registered with Elections Canada. On March 20, 2004, Harper was elected leader.
The merger process was opposed by some elements in both parties. In the PCs in particular, the merger process resulted in organized opposition, and in a substantial number of prominent members refusing to join the new party. The opponents of the merger were not internally united as a single internal opposition movement, and they did not announce their opposition at the same moment. David Orchard argued that his written agreement with Peter MacKay, which had been signed a few months earlier at the , excluded any such merger. Orchard announced his opposition to the merger before negotiations with the Canadian Alliance had been completed. The basis of Orchard's crucial support for MacKay's leadership bid was MacKay's promise in writing to Orchard not merge the Alliance and PC parties. MacKay was roundly criticized for openly lying about an existential question for the PC party. Over the course of the following year, Orchard led an unsuccessful legal challenge to the merger of the two parties. MacKay's promise to not merge the Alliance and PC's was not enforceable in court, though it would have if one dollar exchanged hands as payment for consideration.
In October and November, during the course of the PC party's process of ratifying the merger, four sitting Progressive Conservative MPs — André Bachand, John Herron, former Tory leadership candidate Scott Brison, and former prime minister Joe Clark—announced their intention not to join the new Conservative Party caucus, as did retiring PC Party president Bruck Easton. Clark and Brison argued that the party's merger with the Canadian Alliance drove it too far to the right, and away from its historical position in Canadian politics.
On January 14, 2004, former Alliance leadership candidate Keith Martin left the party, and sat temporarily as an independent. He was reelected, running as a Liberal, in the 2004 election, and again in 2006 and 2008.
In the early months following the merger, MP Rick Borotsik, who had been elected as Manitoba's only PC, became openly critical of the new party's leadership. Borotsik chose not to run in the 2004 general election. Brison, at first, voted for and supported the ratification of the Alliance-PC merger, then crossed the floor to the Liberals. Soon afterward, he was made a parliamentary secretary in Paul Martin's Liberal government. Herron also ran as a Liberal candidate in the election, but did not join the Liberal caucus prior to the election. He lost his seat to the new Conservative Party's candidate Rob Moore. Bachand and Clark sat as independent Progressive Conservatives until an election was called in the spring of 2004, and then retired from Parliament.
Three senators, William Doody, Norman Atkins, and Lowell Murray, declined to join the new party and continued to sit in the upper house as a rump caucus of Progressive Conservatives. In February 2005, Liberals appointed two anti-merger Progressive Conservatives, Nancy Ruth and Elaine McCoy, to the Senate. In March 2006, Ruth joined the new Conservative Party.
Finally, following the 2004 federal election, Conservative Senator Jean-Claude Rivest left the party to sit as an independent (choosing not to join senators Doody, Atkins and Murray in their rump Progressive Conservative caucus). Senator Rivest cited, as his reason for this action, his concern that the new party was too right-wing and that it was insensitive to the needs and interests of Quebec.
In the immediate aftermath of the merger announcement, some Conservative activists hoped to recruit former Ontario premier Mike Harris for the leadership. Harris declined the invitation, as did New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord and Alberta Premier Ralph Klein. Outgoing Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay also announced he would not seek the leadership, as did former Democratic Representative Caucus leader Chuck Strahl. Jim Prentice, who had been a candidate in the 2003 PC leadership contest, entered the Conservative leadership race in mid-December but dropped out in mid-January because of an inability to raise funds so soon after his earlier leadership bid.
In the end, there were three candidates in the party's first leadership election: former Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper, former Magna International CEO Belinda Stronach, and former Ontario provincial PC Cabinet minister Tony Clement. Voting took place on March 20, 2004. A total of 97,397 ballots were cast. Harper won on the first ballot with 68.9% of the vote (67,143 votes). Stronach received 22.9% (22,286 votes), and Clement received 8.2% (7,968 votes).
The vote was conducted using a weighted voting system in which all of Canada's 308 ridings were given 100 points, regardless of the number of votes cast by party members in that riding (for a total of 30,800 points, with 15,401 points required to win). Each candidate would be awarded a number of points equivalent to the percentage of the votes they had won in that riding. For example, a candidate winning 50 votes in a riding in which the total number of votes cast was 100 would receive 50 points. A candidate would also receive 50 points for winning 500 votes in a riding where 1,000 votes were cast. In practice, there were wide differences in the number of votes cast in each riding across the country. More than 1,000 voters participated in each of the fifteen ridings with the highest voter turnout. By contrast, only eight votes were cast in each of the two ridings with the lowest levels of participation.) As a result, individual votes in the ridings where the greatest numbers of votes were cast were worth less than one percent as much as votes from the ridings where the fewest votes were cast.
The equal-weighting system gave Stronach a substantial advantage, because her support was strongest in the parts of the country where the party had the fewest members, while Harper tended to win a higher percentage of the vote in ridings with larger membership numbers. Thus, the official count, which was based on points rather than on votes, gave her a much better result. Of 30,800 available points, Harper won 17,296, or 56.2%. Stronach won 10,613 points, or 34.5%. Clement won 2,887 points, or 9.4%.
The actual vote totals remained confidential when the leadership election results were announced; only the point totals were made public at the time, giving the impression of a race that was much closer than was actually the case. Three years later, Harper's former campaign manager, Tom Flanagan, published the actual vote totals, noting that, among other distortions caused by the equal-weighting system, "a vote cast in Quebec was worth 19.6 times as much as a vote cast in Alberta".
For the first time since the 1993 federal election, a Liberal government would have to deal with an opposition party that was generally seen as being able to form government. The Liberals attempted to counter this with an early election call, as this would give the Conservatives less time to consolidate their merger. During the first half of the campaign, polls showed a rise in support for the new party, leading some pollsters to predict the election of a minority Conservative government. An unpopular provincial budget by Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty hurt the federal Liberals in Ontario. The Liberals managed to narrow the gap and eventually regain momentum by targeting the Conservatives' credibility and motives, hurting their efforts to present a reasonable, responsible and moderate alternative to the governing Liberals.
Several controversial comments were made by Conservative MPs during the campaign. Early on in the campaign, Ontario MP Scott Reid indicated his feelings as Tory language critic that the policy of official bilingualism was unrealistic and needed to be reformed. Alberta MP Rob Merrifield suggested as Tory health critic that women ought to have mandatory family counseling before they choose to have an abortion. BC MP Randy White indicated his willingness near the end of the campaign to use the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Constitution to override the Charter of Rights on the issue of same-sex marriage, and Cheryl Gallant, another Ontario MP, compared abortion to terrorism. The party was also criticized for issuing and immediately retracting press releases accusing both Paul Martin and Jack Layton of supporting child pornography.
Harper's new Conservatives emerged from the election with a larger parliamentary caucus of 99 MPs while the Liberals were reduced to a minority government of 135 MPs, twenty short of a majority.
In 2005, some political analysts such as former Progressive Conservative pollster Allan Gregg and Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert suggested that the then-subsequent election could result in a Conservative government if the public were to perceive the Tories as emerging from the party's founding convention (then scheduled for March 2005 in Montreal) with clearly defined, moderate policies with which to challenge the Liberals. The convention provided the public with an opportunity to see the Conservative Party in a new light, appearing to have reduced the focus on its controversial social conservative agenda. It retained its fiscal conservative appeal by espousing tax cuts, smaller government, and more decentralization by giving the provinces more taxing powers and decision-making authority in joint federal-provincial programs. The party's law and order package was an effort to address rising homicide rates, which had gone up 12% in 2004.
On May 17, 2005, MP Belinda Stronach unexpectedly crossed the floor from the Conservative Party to join the Liberal Party. In late August and early September 2005, the Tories released ads through Ontario's major television broadcasters that highlighted their policies towards health care, education and child support. The ads each featured Stephen Harper discussing policy with prominent members of his Shadow Cabinet. Some analysts suggested at the time that the Tories would use similar ads in the expected 2006 federal election, instead of focusing their attacks on allegations of corruption in the Liberal government as they did earlier on.
An Ipsos-Reid Poll conducted after the fallout from the first report of the Gomery Commission on the sponsorship scandal showed the Tories practically tied for public support with the governing Liberal Party, and a poll from the Strategic Counsel suggested that the Conservatives were actually in the lead. However, polling two days later showed the Liberals had regained an 8-point lead. On November 24, 2005 Opposition leader Stephen Harper introduced a motion of no confidence which was passed on November 28, 2005. With the confirmed backing of the other two opposition parties, this resulted in an election on January 23, 2006, following a campaign spanning the Christmas season.
The Conservatives started off the first month of the campaign by making a series of policy-per-day announcements, which included a Goods and Services Tax reduction and a child-care allowance. This strategy was a surprise to many in the news media, as they believed the party would focus on the sponsorship scandal; instead, the Conservative strategy was to let that issue ruminate with voters. The Liberals opted to hold their major announcements after the Christmas holidays; as a result, Harper dominated media coverage for the first few weeks of the campaign and was able "to define himself, rather than to let the Liberals define him". The Conservatives' announcements played to Harper's strengths as a policy wonk, as opposed to the 2004 election and summer 2005 where he tried to overcome the perception that he was cool and aloof. Though his party showed only modest movement in the polls, Harper's personal approval numbers, which had always trailed his party's significantly, began to rise relatively rapidly.
On December 27, 2005, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced it was investigating Liberal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale's office for potentially engaging in insider trading before making an important announcement on the taxation of income trusts. The revelation of the criminal investigation and Goodale's refusal to step aside dominated news coverage for the following week, and it gained further attention when the United States Securities and Exchange Commission announced they would also launch a probe. The income trust scandal distracted public attention from the Liberals' key policy announcements and allowed the Conservatives to refocus on their previous attacks on corruption within the Liberal party. The Tories were leading in the polls by early January 2006, and made a major breakthrough in Quebec where they displaced the Liberals as the second place party (after the Bloc Québécois).
In response to the growing Conservative lead, the Liberals launched negative ads suggesting that Harper had a "hidden agenda", similar to the attacks made in the 2004 election. The Liberal ads did not have the same effect this time as the Conservatives had much more momentum, at one stage holding a ten-point lead. Harper's personal numbers continued to rise and polls found he was considered not only more trustworthy, but also a better potential Prime Minister than Paul Martin. In addition to the Conservatives being more disciplined, media coverage of the Conservatives was also more positive than in 2004. By contrast, the Liberals found themselves increasingly criticized for running a poor campaign and making numerous gaffes.
On January 23, 2006, the Conservatives won 124 seats, compared to 103 for the Liberals. The results made the Conservatives the largest party in the 308-member House of Commons, enabling them to form a minority government. On February 6, Harper was sworn in as the 22nd Prime Minister of Canada, along with his Cabinet.
On September 7, 2008, Stephen Harper asked the Governor General of Canada to dissolve parliament. The election took place on October 14. The Conservative Party returned to government with 143 seats, up from the 127 seats they held at dissolution, but short of the 155 necessary for a majority government. This was the third minority parliament in a row, and the second for Harper. The Conservative Party pitched the election as a choice between Harper and the Liberals' Stéphane Dion, whom they portrayed as a weak and ineffective leader. The election, however, was rocked midway through by the emerging global financial crisis and this became the central issue through to the end of the campaign. Harper has been criticised for appearing unresponsive and unsympathetic to the uncertainty Canadians were feeling during the period of financial turmoil, but he countered that the Conservatives were the best party to navigate Canada through the financial crisis, and portrayed the Liberal "Green Shift" plan as reckless and detrimental to Canada's economic well-being. The Conservative Party released its platform on October 7. The platform states that it will re-introduce a bill similar to C-61.
The party's second convention was held in Winnipeg in November 2008. This was the party's first convention since taking power in 2006, and media coverage concentrated on the fact that this time, the convention was not very policy-oriented, and showed the party to be becoming an establishment party. However, the results of voting at the convention reveal that the party's populist side still had some life. A resolution that would have allowed the party president a director of the party's fund was defeated because it also permitted the twelve directors of the fund to become unelected ex officio delegates. Some controversial policy resolutions were debated, including one to encourage provinces to utilize "both the public and private health sectors", but most of these were defeated.
Following the election of a Liberal government in the 2015 general election, it was announced that Stephen Harper was stepping down as leader and that an interim leader would be selected to serve until a new leader could be chosen. That was completed at the caucus meeting of November 5, 2015 where Rona Ambrose, MP for Sturgeon River—Parkland and a former cabinet minister, was elected by a vote of MPs and Senators.
Some members of the party's national council were calling for a leadership convention as early as May 2016 according to Maclean's magazine. However, some other MPs wanted the vote to be delayed until the spring of 2017. On January 19, 2016, the party announced that a permanent leader will be chosen on May 27, 2017.
On September 28, 2016, Andrew Scheer announced his bid for the leadership of the party, and that he had the support of 32 members of the Conservative caucus. On May 27, 2017, Scheer was elected as the second full-time leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, beating runner up MP Maxime Bernier and more than 12 others with 50.95% of the vote through 13 rounds. Bernier subsequently left the party in 2018 to form the populist, right-wing People's Party of Canada, which went on to win no seats in the following federal election.
The Conservative Party entered the 2019 federal election campaign as the favourite after a controversy earlier that year involving Justin Trudeau, but the election resulted in a Liberal victory. The Conservatives did, however, win the largest share of the popular vote, and gained 22 seats. Notably, they won every single seat in Saskatchewan and all but one in Alberta. While the Conservative Party has historically been highly successful in Alberta and Saskatchewan, some point to a growing sense of western alienation to explain the results. Scheer announced his pending resignation on December 12, 2019, after the CBC reported that the Conservative party had been paying part of his children's private school tuition. He remained party leader, until his successor was chosen in May 2020.
During the 2021 election, O'Toole implemented a policy platform that was described as more socially progressive than that of his predecessors. In a similar manner to the 2019 election, the Conservatives again won the popular vote but fell short of gaining the largest amount of seats, enabling the Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau to form another minority government. As a result, O'Toole faces a mandatory leadership review at the next Conservative national conference in 2023, with party members expressing mixed views on whether he should resign or if the party should unite around him. Most party and caucus members appear to favour a post-mortem review along the lines conducted by the party after the 2004 federal election.
As a relatively young party with a mixed political heritage and history, the federal Conservatives are often described as a "big tent" party in a similar manner to the federal Canadian Liberals by encompassing members and voters who hold a variety of philosophies, ideas and stances, albeit sitting within the centre-right to the right-wing of the political spectrum.
In an effort to create a cohesive platform following its creation, the Conservative Party declared its founding core philosophies and principles to be fiscal accountability, upholding individual rights and freedom, belief in constitutional monarchy, the institutions of Parliament and Canada's democratic process, support for strong national defense, law and order, and Canada's history and traditions, and equal treatment for all Canadians.
Since 2013, the party has amended and expanded its policies to include the following. Policies in the party platform do not use the same headings as this list does.
In its current platform, the Conservative Party states that its core objectives are to protect the lives and property of ordinary citizens, promote democratic accountability and reform the senate to make it a fully elected chamber. While the party platform states it is open to debate over electoral reform, it also claims it will not support changing the current electoral system. The party calls for a "restoration of a constitutional balance between the federal and provincial and territorial governments" in regards to Canadian federalism. The Conservative Party also advocates offering tax incentives, increased business investment and more political autonomy to assist and integrate Indigenous Canadian communities over state affirmative action.
The party wants to keep the "Fiscal Balance" (which it introduced in its 2007 Budget while in government) in place and eliminate national debt. It also supports more simplified tax codes, controls on government spending and reductions in both personal and business taxes. Current party leader Erin O'Toole has listed economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic as a core priority for Canada. The party also supports abolishing the Carbon Tax. At the party's March 2021 policy convention, delegates voted 54%-46% to reject a proposal expand the party's existing climate change policies to include a statement that climate change is real, proclaim that Conservatives were "willing to act" on the issue, and calling for more innovation in green tech.
The Conservative Party presently supports Canada's involvement in NATO and international trade agreements, including a CANZUK agreement that would enable mobilization of goods, trade and people between Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom. The party is also supportive of Israel and Conservative leaders Andrew Scheer and Erin O'Toole have both expressed support for moving Canada's embassy to Jerusalem. However, the party also supports taking a tough stance against the Chinese Communist Party and has pledged to prevent China from entering Canada's 5G Networks. The party also calls on Canada to encourage other Western nations to prevent Chinese government backed corporations from accessing and taking control of important media, energy, internet, defense and security related infrastructure.
The party supports maintaining the Official Languages Act ensuring that English and French have equality of status in Canada. It also calls for the protection of Canada's history, culture and heritage. It also supports the re-establishment of the Office of Religious Freedom. The party currently calls for an immigration system that is "non-partisan, welcoming and well-managed" that encourages merit-based immigration and enticement of skilled workers to Canada to boost the economy whilst also taking a zero tolerance stance on illegal immigration and ensuring that immigrants speak English or French. The Conservatives also want to streamline the process of granting Canadian citizenship to foreign born children adopted by Canadian nationals, speed up the validation of refugee claims and give help to persecuted religious and sexual minorities whilst ensuring those who do not meet refugee status are escorted out of the country. Some MPs within the party have proposed a Canadian values test for prospective immigrants and long-term visitors, although this has not been adopted as a policy as a whole. Following the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests, several members of the party including incumbent leader Erin O'Toole called on the Canadian government to grant asylum to fleeing Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters facing extradition orders to China. The party also proposes eliminating birthright citizenship unless one of the parents of a child born in Canada has permanent residency or Canadian citizenship.
The Conservative Party generally supports a tough law and order stance. Presently, the party argues for a national register for convicted pedophiles, stricter sentences against repeat offenders, ending early release for violent felons and believes that victims of violent crime should have a say in National Parole Board decisions. The party also supports the creation of a cross-federal task force to tackle organized crime, human trafficking and threats to national security.
The party states that it supports responsible gun ownership and will "not deprive Canadian Citizens of legally owned firearms" but also calls for cost-effective gun control programs including screening all individuals wishing to purchase firearms and increased enforcement against arms trafficking.
The Conservative Party, while having no provincial wings, largely works with the former federal Progressive Conservative Party's provincial affiliates. There have been calls to change the names of the provincial parties from "Progressive Conservative" to "Conservative". However, there are other small "c" conservative parties with which the federal Conservative Party has close ties, such as the Saskatchewan Party and the British Columbia Liberal Party (not associated with the federal Liberal Party of Canada despite its name). The federal Conservative Party has the support of many of the provincial Conservative leaders. In Ontario, successive provincial PC Party leaders John Tory, Bob Runciman and Tim Hudak have expressed open support for Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada, while former Mike Harris cabinet members Tony Clement, and John Baird were ministers in Harper's government. In Quebec, businessman Adrien D. Pouliot leads a new Conservative Party of Quebec which was formed in 2009 in the wake of the decline of the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ) which had carried the support of many provincial conservatives.
Cross-support between federal and provincial Conservatives is more tenuous in some other provinces. In Alberta, relations became strained between the federal Conservative Party and the Progressive Conservatives prior to its provincial loss in 2015 election and eventually emergence with the Wildrose Party into the United Conservative Party in 2017. Part of the federal Tories' loss in the 2004 election was often blamed on then Premier Klein's public musings on health care late in the campaign. Klein had also called for a referendum on same-sex marriage. With the impending 2006 election, Klein predicted another Liberal minority, though this time the federal Conservatives won a minority government. Klein's successor Ed Stelmach tried to avoid causing similar controversies; however, Harper's surprise pledge to restrict bitumen exports drew a sharp rebuke from the Albertan government, who warned such restrictions would violate both the Constitution of Canada and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The rise of the Wildrose Party in Alberta has caused a further rift between the federal Conservatives and the Albertan PCs, as some Conservative backbench MPs endorse Wildrose. For the 2012 Alberta election, Prime Minister Harper remained neutral and instructed federal cabinet members to also remain neutral while allowing Conservative backbenchers to back whomever they chose if they wish. Wildrose candidates for the concurrent Senate nominee election announced they would sit in the Conservative caucus should they be appointed to the Senate.
After the 2007 budget was announced, the Progressive Conservative governments in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland & Labrador accused the federal Conservatives of breaching the terms of the Atlantic Accord.
As a result, relations worsened between the federal government and the two provincial governments, leading Newfoundland & Labrador Premier Danny Williams to denounce the federal Conservatives, which gave rise to his ABC (Anything But Conservative) campaign in the 2008 election.
The National Council of the CPC is its "highest governing body". The Council president, Robert Batherson—who was elected by CPC delegates on March 21, 2021, at the March 18–20 virtual policy convention to replace Scott Lamb—is the first president to come from the Atlantic provinces since the CPC was founded in 2003. Batherson and the Council—along with the "campaign team working with the [Conservative] Fund"—will focus on ensuring that Erin O'Toole becomes prime minister in the next federal election. While the National Council potentially has 21 members according to its constitution, there were no CPC candidates from either Nunavut or the Northwest Territories so these seats remain vacant until byelections are held, which will be in the next three months. The 21 seats—which are apportioned based on the of MPs it has in the House of Commons—include 4 from Ontario, 3 from Quebec, 2 from British Columbia, 2 from Alberta, 2 from Saskatchewan, 2 from Manitoba, 4 from Atlantic Canada, 1 from the Yukon Territories, 1 from Nunavut, and 1 from the Northwest Territories. On March 20, 2021, O'Toole proposed to the CPC Caucus at their annual meeting that they "embrace environment-friendly policies ahead of a likely federal election" in 2021. In preparation for the March 18–20 virtual policy convention, riding associations organized grassroot voting to determine which 34 resolutions would advance to plenary debate on potential changes to the CPC's Policy Declaration, with 6,500 votes cast for 196 policy proposals. The proposals to include the sentence, "we recognize that climate change is real. The Conservative Party is willing to act." in the Policy Declaration was rejected by 54% of delegates.
The Conservative Party has historically been strongest in the Canadian Prairies as well as rural Ontario. The party is strongest particularly in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, where it holds 33 out of 34 and all 14 federal seats respectively. It tends to be weaker in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, particularly Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island.
The Conservative Party's senate caucus is the only political Senate Group that is formally linked to a Federal political party. Unlike the Independent Senators Group, Canadian Senators Group and the Progressive Senate Group, which are unaffiliated with any party in the House of Commons, Conservative senators form part of the national Conservative parliamentary caucus made up of members of both houses of parliament, though the senators do meet separately to discuss Senate-specific issues.
The caucus was created following the establishment of the modern Conservative Party of Canada on February 2, 2004, as a result of the merger of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. All but three Progressive Conservative Senators joined the Conservative Party and were redesignated as Conservative senators.
When in government, the leader of the caucus has been appointed by the national Conservative Party leader, serving as Prime Minister of Canada. When in Opposition the leader is elected by Conservative senators. Most recently, Don Plett was elected Senate Conservative leader on November 5, 2019, defeating one other candidate.
The first leader of the senate caucus, John Lynch-Staunton, also served as interim leader of the Conservative Party of Canada until a leadership election could be held.