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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 Canadamarker. 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 Ontariomarker, a divided Bloc managed a reduced majority in Quebecmarker, and much of the west was won by Reform, particularly its Albertamarker 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 Canadamarker (only Prince Edward Islandmarker remained entirely Liberal). Atlantic voters, upset over cuts to employment insurance and other programs, defeated two cabinet ministers. David Dingwall, Minister of Public Works from Nova Scotiamarker, and Doug Young, Minister of National Defence from New Brunswickmarker, both lost to NDP candidates in a major blow to the Liberals.

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 1908-1911 was shorter. 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.

36th Parliament

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 and the West voting Reform to kick the Bloc out of the Official Opposition. 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 least amount of seats due to the first past the post system.

Independent member John Nunziata, who had been expelled from the Liberal Party for opposing the Goods and Services Tax, was also re-elected in his riding in Torontomarker.

Interestingly, 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%, one of the lowest federal election turnouts ever.


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.

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.

Major political parties

Liberal Party

Liberal Party logo during the election.
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 faulters 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 MuchMusicmarker. 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.

Reform Party

Logo of the Reform Party during the election.
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 the Reform Party would hold candidates in every region of Canada, as in 1993 they excluded running candidates in Quebec and in 1988 the party only represented Western Canada. The Reform Party attempted to utilize the election to finally make the party a national party by aiming to make political inroads outside of Western Canada, particularly in Canada's most highly populated province of 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 of the Reform Party including future Canadian Prime Minister 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 Preston Manning was "intolerant" and a "bigot" for having permitted the advertisement to be aired. Though accused of being intolerant towards minorities by opponents, multiple visible minorities ran as Reform Party candidates and 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 as the party gained enough seats in Western Canada to become the Official Opposition, removing the Quebec separatist Bloc Québécois from the position. Strategically, the Reform Party failed to make inroads into Ontario and other parts of eastern Canada and lost its one seat it previously held in Ontario, leaving the party with no seats east of the province of Manitoba, isolating the party to effectively being a western-based party, which was in part due to vote-splitting of the right-wing conservative vote in Ontario between Reformers and Progressive Conservatives.

Progressive Conservative Party

Logo of the Progressive Conservative Party during the election.
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 as after the 1993 election, the Progressive Conservatives had collapsed from being federal government to only having two seats. 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. In addition, the inroads by Reformers into Ontario caused vote splitting between the Progressive Conservatives and Reformers which in Canada's plurality electoral system, allowed the Liberals with the plurality of votes in 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 improved their situation in the House of Commons as they were restored as an official party after winning 20 seats. However the Progressive Conservatives were isolated as largely an eastern regional party, as won most of their seats in Atlantic Canadamarker and Quebecmarker, while winning only one seat in both Ontario and Manitoba due to vote splitting with the Reform Party.



Results by province

Party Name BCmarker ABmarker SKmarker MBmarker ONmarker QCmarker NBmarker NSmarker PEmarker NLmarker NTmarker YKmarker Total

Liberal Seats: 6 2 1 6 101 26 3   4 4 2   155

Popular vote: 28.8 24.0 24.7 34.3 49.5 36.7 32.9 28.4 44.8 37.9 43.1 22.0 38.5

Reform Seats: 25 24 8 3                 60

Vote: 43.1 54.6 36.0 23.7 19.1 0.3 13.1 9.7 1.5 2.5 11.7 25.3 19.4

Bloc Québécois Seats:           44             44

Vote:           37.9             10.7

New Democrats Seats: 3   5 4     2 6       1 21

Vote: 18.2 5.7 30.9 23.2 10.7 2.0 18.4 30.4 15.1 22.0 20.9 28.9 11.0

Progressive Conservative Seats:       1 1 5 5 5   3     20

Vote: 6.2 14.4 7.8 17.8 18.8 22.2 35.0 30.8 38.3 36.8 16.7 13.9 18.8

Other Seats:         1               1

Vote: 0.6 0.2 0.1 0.3 0.6 0.4   0.4   0.5 7.6 8.9 0.5
Total seats: 34 26 14 14 103 75 10 11 4 7 2 1 301
Parties that won no seats:

Green Vote: 2.0 0.4     0.4 0.1       0.2     0.4

Natural Law Vote: 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.6 0.4 0.1 0.2     0.3

Christian Heritage Vote: 0.4 0.1   0.4 0.4       0.2     1.0 0.2

Canadian Action Vote:     0.3   0.2               0.1

Marxist-Leninist Vote: 0.1     0.2 0.1 0.1             0.1

Source: Elections Canada


  • 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

  1. Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS: Peter Stoffer, NDP def. Ken Streatch, PC by 41 votes
  2. Bellechasse—Etchemins—Montmagny—L'Islet, QC: Gilbert Normand, Lib def. François Langlois, BQ by 47 votes
  3. Selkirk—Interlake, MB: Howard Hilstrom, Ref def. Jon Gerrard, Lib by 66 votes
  4. Cardigan, PE: Lawrence MacAulay, Lib def. Dan Hughes, PC by 99 votes
  5. Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok, QC: Yvan Bernier, BQ def. Patrick Gagnon, Lib by 179 votes
  6. Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK: Jim Pankiw, Ref def. Dennis Gruending, NDP by 220 votes
  7. Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NF: Gerry Byrne, Lib def. Art Bull, PC by 232 votes
  8. Chicoutimi, QC: André Harvey, PC def. Gilbert Fillion, BQ by 317 votes
  9. Frontenac—Mégantic, QC: Jean-Guy Chrétien, BQ def. Manon Lecours, Lib by 465 votes
  10. Simcoe—Grey, ON: Paul Bonwick, Lib def. Paul Shaw, Ref by 481 votes

See also

Articles on parties' candidates in this election:


External links

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