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From rule to ruin: the Conservative Party of British Columbia, 1928-1954 Alper, Donald K

Abstract

In 1928 the Conservative Party of British Columbia won an impressive electoral victory, taking 35 of the 48 seats in the legislature. The victory was a comeback for Conservatives since after forming consecutive governments during the years 1903-1916, they remained in opposition from 1916-1928. The comeback, however, was not to be permanent. Five years later, in the 1933 election, the Conservative Party met disaster. Not a single candidate running with the Conservative label was elected. Although their fortunes improved in the 1937 and 1941 elections, Conservatives would not again form a government on their own in British Columbia. Throughout the 1940s they shared power in a coalition government, but in so doing the forces were set in motion which culminated in the party's collapse in the early 1950s. The party suffered a massive defeat in the 1953 election, an event which marked the end of the Conservative Party as a serious contender in the province's electoral politics since Conservatives have been unable to make a showing in provincial elections in the 21 years since. What happened to the provincial Conservatives is the question addressed in this study. How did a party which has enjoyed a history of success in both the province's federal and provincial arenas lose, almost entirely, its support base in the early 1950s? The general approach of this study is historical-interpretative. An account and interpretation of the Conservatives' fate is given through a detailed analysis of the party's internal politics. The focus is on politicians (party leaders) and their efforts to build and maintain a party clientele, their definition of goals and the strategies devised to attain them. The major theme which emerges is that the party's ultimate failure to survive as a contender in provincial politics is inextricably bound up with the internal fractionalization that continued to plague it. This study begins by examining the period when the Conservative Party was one of two major parties in British Columbia. The background of this early period is important in understanding the principal actors and political conflicts which set the context for later events. The main body of the study examines the personalities and conflicts in the party during the years 1933-1954. The years of coalition government (1941-1952) are singled out for special treatment because the chain of events precipitated by the coalition ultimately led to the party's disintegration and collapse.

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