The 20th anniversary of the 1993 federal general election is today and it stands as a landmark moment in both Canadian and local political history.
That election sent a 49-year-old businessman named Dick Harris to the House of Commons as a Reform MP. While Harris has never risen to great heights of power in his party, he is the template of the modern right-wing politician in Canada. Like his party, he is fiscally conservative but socially moderate. He believes government should work hard to keep taxes low and provide essential services but little more. He believes government's only roles on issues such as abortion and homosexuality is to leave them up to personal choice and protect the rights of Canadians to make that choice.
Harris is one of only four MPs left from that 1993 election, which shook the Canadian political establishment to the core. Since then, it is the rest of the country that has caught up with the political views of Harris and voters in the Prince George region.
On the surface, the 1993 election was just another Liberal majority, with Jean Chretien sweeping to office with 177 seats. What Chretien faced on the opposition benches, however, was a sight no other prime minister had ever seen and it was the first wave in a political tide still being felt today.
The official Leader of the Opposition was not the leader of the Conservative Party or the NDP. Instead, the first person to rise during Question Period was Lucien Bouchard, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, a party whose sole purpose was to gain political independence for Quebec from the rest of Canada.
The Bloc gained 44 seats in that election, having had just 10 seats during the previous Parliament.
The Eastern media thought that was the most important outcome of the election but history proved them wrong. The Bloc was a historical oddity and the 1995 Quebec referendum was the beginning of the end for the Bloc, although it didn't know it at the time. One-issue political parties die a sudden death, which happened for the Bloc during the 2011 election where Stephen Harper finally won his first majority.
The origin of Harper's success leads directly back to what was the truly significant outcome of the 1993 election. The Reform Party, which previously had only one MP, but finished third with 52 seats, bringing Harris and his leader, Preston Manning, into the political spotlight for the first time. This was the truly significant outcome from 1993. The Progressive Conservatives under Kim Campbell were all but obliterated, winning just two seats and losing 154 ridings they had previously held. It was that result 20 years ago where Harris and the Western Canadian brand of conservatism took over from the traditional and elite Toronto conservatism.
The Eastern media thought the Reform Party and the Calgary school of conservatism would never last but a Calgary man has been Prime Minister since 2006 and Harper now enjoys a majority. Most interestingly of all, he's done it without Quebec. Turns out suburban residents of Toronto in general and Ontario in particular fancy the Western Canada conservatism of Harris and Harper, letting Conservatives all but abandon Quebec and Atlantic Canada. Coincidentally, these are the last remaining areas of Canada where the majority of residents believe the government should take care of them, not the other way around.
The 2011 election will always be recognized as the national vote where Canadians decided to embrace the two-party model familiar to Americans but also to British Columbians. The choice between a progressive left-wing party and a conservative right-wing party now leaves little room for the federal Liberals and they are now trapped between two parties with definitive platforms.
As historic as 2011 was, the seeds were sown 20 years ago today, when Harris unseated a one-term NDP MP in what was then called Prince George-Bulkley Valley and transformed his riding into one of the securest Conservative seats in Canada outside of Alberta.