While the party was historically a powerful force in Canadian federal politics (Canada's first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald, was a Tory), today the party is a shell of its former self, holding only 14 of 301 federal seats. At the provincial level, however, the Progressive Conservatives continue to enjoy strong support, with active organizations in 7 of Canada's 10 provinces (they no longer exist in Quebec, British Columbia or Saskatchewan).
In the early days of the Canadian confederation, the party supported a mercantilist approach to economic development: export-led growth with high import barriers to protect local industry. On the foreign relations front, the party was pro-monarchy, pro-empire, and, following World War II, increasingly pro-US. Although it was seen by some French Canadians as supporting a policy of assimilation, it nonetheless dominated Canadian politics for the nation's first 30 years of existance. In general, Canada's political history has consisted of Tories alternating power with their arch-rivals, the Liberals, albeit often in minority governments supported by smaller parties.
By the late 1960's, with Quebec's Quiet Revolution in full swing, Canada's main political parties attempted to lure more support from Canada's francophone population. At the same time, the Tories began their move away from mercantilism towards a neoliberal platform of free trade. Both movements culminated with the election of Brian Mulroney as Prime Minister in 1984.
During Mulroney's tenure as Canadian Prime Minister, a number of elements together contributed to the fall of the Progressive Conservative party at the federal level. First, economic issues dogged the party toward the end of Mulroney's term as Prime Minister: Canada suffered its worst post-WWII recession, unemployment rose to the highest levels since the Great Depressions, the federal government faced high and persistant defecits, and a much-hated new tax, the GST, was introduced. Second, under Mulroney, the party's base in Quebec came from francophone nationalists, who withdrew their support after the failure of the Meech Lake[?] and Charlottetown[?] Accords. Finally, attemps from both Tories and Liberals to woo Quebec drew the ire of western Canadians, who turned their support to the Reform Party of Canada and its successor, the Canadian Alliance.
The rise of the Canadian Alliance has been particularily damaging to the Tories. The result is that the conservative vote is split between the two parties, often allowing Liberal candidates to win ridings formerly considered to be Tory strongholds. While there have been attempts to join the two parties, many so-called "Red Tories", or moderate conservatives, balk at the prospect of joining forces with the Canadian Alliance, which is seen as being more radical. Ironically, this radicalism is shared by some of the provincial Progressive Conservative parties, who are sometimes called "Blue Tories", or, more colloquially, "reformatories".
Tory Leaders since Confederation: