The Conservative Party of Canada has undergone several name changes throughout its history. From the 1860s to the early 20th century, the forbearer of the modern political party called itself the “Liberal-Conservative Party”. The hyphen denotes the merging of two distinct political groupings that formed one new party. For a brief time, it called itself simply the “Conservative Party.” After winning the leadership in 1942, John Bracken, a former Progressive Premier of Manitoba, insisted that the party style itself as “Progressive Conservative”. The provincial Conservative parties also adopted the “Progressive Conservative” moniker – even in the Atlantic, where the Progressive Party was almost non-existent. The right united in 2003 under the new “Conservative Party of Canada”, and after nearly a decade, the provincial parties ought to follow suit – if only to eliminate the oxymoron that is “Progressive Conservative”!
The French name of the former Progressive Conservative Party of Canada serves to highlight the curious error in the English name: Le Parti progressiste-conservateur du Canada. The hyphen in between the French equivalents of “progressive” and “conservative” denotes that both of those words remain nouns. The English version, without the hyphen, turns “Progressive” into an adjective and thus renders the phrase “Progressive Conservative” a contradiction in terms. Logically, the English name should also have included the hyphen in order to denote the merger of two parties (nous) or two ideologies (also nouns). (I also prefer the French title, which would literally be rendered “Progressivist” in English, since the –ist morpheme turns abstract nouns into proper nouns.) However, the English name does not contain the hyphen, which means that “Progressive” becomes an adjective modifying the noun “Conservative.” Since ‘progressive’ generally refers to change and reform, while ‘conservative’ often means resistance to change and deference to tradition, the Progressive Conservatives created a curious contradiction.
The most infamous oxymoron in Canadian politics could have been avoided with proper punctuation!