1988 Canadian federal election

← 1984 November 21, 1988 1993 →

295 seats in the House of Commons
148 seats needed for a majority
Opinion polls
Turnout75.3%[1] (Steady)
  First party Second party Third party
Leader Brian Mulroney John Turner Ed Broadbent
Party Progressive Conservative Liberal New Democratic
Leader since June 11, 1983 June 16, 1984 July 7, 1975
Leader's seat Charlevoix Vancouver Quadra Oshawa
Last election 211 seats, 50.03% 40 seats, 28.02% 30 seats, 18.81%
Seats before 203 38 32
Seats won 169 83 43
Seat change Decrease34 Increase45 Increase11
Popular vote 5,667,543 4,205,072 2,685,263
Percentage 43.02% 31.92% 20.38%
Swing Decrease7.02pp Increase3.89pp Increase1.57pp

Popular vote by province, with graphs indicating the number of seats won. As this is an FPTP election, seat totals are not determined by popular vote by province but instead via results by each riding.

The Canadian parliament after the 1988 election

Prime Minister before election

Brian Mulroney
Progressive Conservative

Prime Minister after election

Brian Mulroney
Progressive Conservative

The 1988 Canadian federal election was held on November 21, 1988, to elect members to the House of Commons of Canada of the 34th Parliament of Canada. It was an election largely fought on a single issue: the Canada–United States Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

The incumbent prime minister, Brian Mulroney, went on to carry his Progressive Conservative Party to a second majority government. Mulroney became the party's first leader since John A. Macdonald to win a second majority.[a] The Liberal Party doubled their seat count and experienced a moderate recovery after the 1984 wipeout. The New Democratic Party won the highest number of seats at the time, 43, until they would beat that record in 2011.

The election was the last time until 2011 that a right-of-centre party formed a majority government, as well as the last where a right-of-centre party won the most seats in Quebec. It was also the last election in Canadian history in which only three parties would be elected to Parliament.


Free trade

Incumbent Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, leader of the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party, had signed the agreement on free trade with the US. The Liberal Party, led by John Turner, was opposed to the agreement, as was the New Democratic Party led by Ed Broadbent.


Support swung back and forth between the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals over free trade. With mid-campaign polls suggesting a Liberal government, this prompted the Conservatives to stop the relatively calm campaign they had been running, and go with Allan Gregg's suggestion of "bombing the bridge" that joined anti-FTA voters and the Liberals: Turner's credibility. The ads focused on Turner's leadership struggles, and combined with over $6 million CAD in pro-FTA ads, managed to stop the Liberals' momentum.

The Liberals reaped most of the benefits of opposing the FTA and doubled their representation to 83 seats to emerge as the main opposition; the NDP had also made gains but finished a distant third with 43 seats. Although most voters opted for parties opposed to free trade, the Tories were returned with a majority government and implemented the deal.


The Liberal Party led by John Turner was preparing to campaign for the second election under his leadership. Turner face several challenges. First, his leadership marked the beginning of the decentralization of the Liberal Party, in contrast to his predecessor, Pierre Trudeau, who centralized operation.[2] Turner envisioned regional independence for the provincial wings of the Liberal Party, and strongly campaigned on that for party leadership in 1984.[2] Following the Liberal failure in 1984, Turner focused the Liberal machine on bolstering the provincial wings of the party which resulted in gains in Anglophone provincial legislatures across the country.[3] Despite the provincial success, the Liberal party was in financial and political disarray; by 1986 the party was heavily in debt and the expenses of the national organization continued to rise.[4] Turner's office experienced significant staff turnover, and leaving members were willing to recount stories of the office's disfunction to the press, resulting in the Turner's leadership being nicknamed a "reign of error".[4]

The Liberals had some early struggles, notably during one day in Montreal where three different costs were given for the proposed Liberal daycare program. The campaign was also hampered by a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) report that stated there was a movement in the backroom to replace Turner with Jean Chrétien, even though Turner had passed a leadership review in 1986 with 76.3 percent of delegates rejecting a leadership convention.[3]

Election milestones

Until the 2011 federal election, the 1988 election was the most successful in the New Democratic Party's history. The party dominated in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, won significant support in Ontario and elected its first (and, until the 2008 election, only) member from Alberta.

This was the second election contested by the Green Party, and it saw a more than 50% increase in its vote, but it remained a minor party.

The election was the last for Canada's Social Credit Party. The party won no seats, and had an insignificant portion of the popular vote.

This was the first election for the newly founded Reform Party which for this vote only contested seats in Western Canada. The party at this stage was filled to a large extent with former Socreds along with some former PC supporters disaffected at the perceived lack of support from the Mulroney government for western interests. It was led by Preston Manning, who was himself a one time Socred candidate and the son of longtime Alberta Social Credit premier Ernest Manning.

Reform won no seats and was not yet considered a major party at the national level. However, Deborah Grey would win the first seat for Reform, Beaver River in Alberta, in a by-election held four months later. Grey, who had finished a distant fourth running in the same riding in the general election, succeeded rookie Progressive Conservative MP John Dahmer. Dahmer was in office for only five days before dying of pancreatic cancer.

For the Progressive Conservatives, this was the last federal election they would ever win.

National results

The Progressive Conservatives won a reduced but strong majority government with 169 seats. Despite the Liberals' improved standing, the results were considered a disappointment for Turner, after polls in mid-campaign predicted a Liberal government. In an ironic reversal of most prior federal elections, the Liberals were kept out of power by their inability to make any headway into the overwhelming Tory majority in Quebec. Indeed, the Liberals actually lost five seats in Quebec, many of which they had only retained in 1984 due to vote-splitting between the Tories and the since-defunct Parti nationaliste du Québec. This election loss sealed Turner's fate; he would eventually resign in 1990, and was succeeded by Jean Chrétien, who proved to be a more effective leader.

Had the Progressive Conservatives won a minority government, there would have been a strong possibility of the Liberals forming government with the New Democratic Party holding the balance of power, as these two left-of-centre parties would have made up the majority of seats in the House of Commons.

For a complete list of MPs elected in the 1988 election see 34th Canadian Parliament.

Party Party leader # of
Seats Popular vote
1984 Dissol. Elected % Change # % Change
  Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney 295 211 203 169 -19.9% 5,667,543 43.02% -7.02pp
  Liberal John Turner 294 40 38 83 +107.5% 4,205,072 31.92% +3.89pp
  New Democratic Party Ed Broadbent 295 30 32 43 +34.4% 2,685,263 20.38% +1.57pp
Reform Preston Manning 72 * - - * 275,767 2.09% *
Christian Heritage Ed Vanwoudenberg 63 * - - * 102,533 0.78% *
Rhinoceros Cornelius I 74 - - - - 52,173 0.40% -0.39pp
Green Seymour Trieger 68 - - - - 47,228 0.36% +0.14pp
Confederation of Regions Elmer Knutson 51 - - - - 41,342 0.31% -0.68pp
Libertarian Dennis Corrigan 88 - - - - 33,135 0.25% +0.06pp
  No affiliation 100 - - -   24,516 0.19% -0.12pp
  Independent 55 1 4 - - 22,982 0.17% -0.01pp
Commonwealth of Canada Gilles Gervais 58 - - - - 7,467 0.06% -0.21pp
Communist George Hewison 51 - - - - 7,066 0.05% -0.01pp
Social Credit Harvey Lainson 9 - - - - 3,407 0.03% -0.10pp
     Vacant 5  
Total 1,573 282 282 295 +4.6% 13,175,494 100%  


"% change" refers to change from previous election

169 83 43
Progressive Conservative Liberal NDP

Vote and seat summaries

Popular vote
Seat totals

A number of unregistered parties also contested the election. The Western Canada Concept party, led by Doug Christie, fielded three candidates in British Columbia. The Western Independence Party ran one candidate in British Columbia, seven in Alberta, and three in Manitoba (although one of the Manitoba candidates appears to have withdrawn before election day).

The Liberal candidate in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Emmanuel Feuerwerker, withdrew from the race after suffering a heart attack, resulting in the Liberals not running a candidate in all 295 ridings during this election.

The Marxist–Leninist Party fielded candidates in several ridings.

Blair T. Longley campaigned in British Columbia as a representative of the "Student Party". Newspaper reports indicate that this was simply a tax-avoidance scheme.

The moribund Social Credit Party fielded nine candidates, far short of the 50 required for official recognition. However, the Chief Electoral Officer allowed the party's name to appear on the ballot by virtue of its half-century history as a recognized party. It would be the last time that the party, which had been the third-largest or fourth-largest party in Canada at its height, would fight an election under its own name. The party was deregistered before the 1993 election after it failed to nominate enough candidates to keep its registration.

Results by province

Party name BC AB SK MB ON QC NB NS PE NL NT YK Total
     Progressive Conservative Seats: 12 25 4 7 46 63 5 5 - 2 - - 169
Popular Vote: 35.3 51.8 36.4 36.9 38.2 52.7 40.4 40.9 41.5 42.2 26.4 35.3 43.0
     Liberal Seats: 1 - - 5 43 12 5 6 4 5 2 - 83
Vote: 20.4 13.7 18.2 36.5 38.9 30.3 45.4 46.5 49.9 45.0 41.4 11.3 31.9
     New Democratic Party Seats: 19 1 10 2 10 - - - - - - 1 43
Vote: 37.0 17.4 44.2 21.3 20.1 14.4 9.3 11.4 7.5 12.4 28.3 51.4 20.38
Total seats 32 26 14 14 99 75 10 11 4 7 2 1 295
Parties that won no seats:
Reform Vote: 4.8 15.4   3.3                 2.1
Christian Heritage Vote:   1.1     1.4             2.0 0.8
Rhinoceros Vote:           1.2             0.4
Green Vote:                         0.4
Confederation of Regions Vote:             4.3           0.3
Libertarian Vote:                         0.3
Commonwealth of Canada Vote:           0.2             0.1
Communist Vote:                         0.1
Social Credit Vote:                         xx
  Other Vote:                         0.4

xx - less than 0.05% of the popular vote.

Note: Parties that captured less than 1% of the vote in a province are not recorded.


10 closest ridings

  1. London-Middlesex, ON: Terry Clifford (PC) def. Garnet Bloomfield (Lib) by 8 votes
  2. Northumberland, ON: Christine Stewart (Lib) def. Reg Jewell (PC) by 28 votes
  3. Hamilton Mountain, ON: Beth Phinney (Lib) def. Marion Dewar (NDP) by 73 votes
  4. York North, ON: Maurizio Bevilacqua (Lib) def. Micheal O'Brien (PC) by 77 votes
  5. Rosedale, ON: David MacDonald (PC) def. Bill Graham (Lib) by 80 votes
  6. London East, ON: Joe Fontana (Lib) def. Jim Jepson (PC) by 102 votes
  7. Haldimand-Norfolk, ON: Bob Speller (Lib) def. Bud Bradley (PC) by 209 votes
  8. Hillsborough, PE: George Proud (Lib) def. Thomas McMillan (PC) by 259 votes
  9. Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC: Dave Worthy (PC) def. Jack Langford (NDP) by 269 votes
  10. Vancouver Centre, BC: future Prime Minister Kim Campbell (PC) def. Johanna Den Hertog (NDP) by 269 votes

See also

Articles on parties' candidates in this election:


  1. ^ Pomfret, R. "Voter Turnout at Federal Elections and Referendums". Elections Canada. Elections Canada. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  2. ^ a b Clarkson 1989, p. 28.
  3. ^ a b Clarkson 1989, p. 30.
  4. ^ a b Clarkson 1989, p. 31.


  1. ^ Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden won two majority governments, however, the second majority he won in 1917 was when he was leader of the Unionist Party, a party composed of pro-conscription Conservatives and Liberals.

Party platforms

Further reading