Political parties must perform a multitude of pressing tasks in the political system, which often results in the exclusion of certain social interests. The Canadian electorate, therefore, has become disillusioned with political parties and social movements have emerged as key actors in the promotion of political change and alternative representation. The rise of social movements, beginning in the 1960's, has forced political parties to address their issues and demands. The traditional Liberal and Conservative two party political system in Canada has ultimately failed to deal with the concerns of minority groups and their social issues. As a result, the creation of new political parties representing different social interests has emerged. However, the inability of political parties to broker to the diversity of the entire Canadian electorate has caused citizens to lose confidence in the political system and seek representation by groups other than political parties. This essay will address the aforementioned issues relating to the relationship between social movements and political party representation by defining the terms and presenting different perspectives regarding their roles in the political system. The rise of social movements such as the women's and the gay and lesbian rights movements will illustrate how the various political parties have reacted differently in addressing these concerns. These differences will demonstrate how certain parties are more open in addressing these public policy issues than others. This split among political parties will account for their rise and fall in parliamentary representation and the alleged decline of the current Canadian political party system.
To understand the relationship between political parties and social movements, one must first define their functions and explain their roles in relation to the political system in Canada. According to Meisel, the function of the Canadian party system is to create a national consensus on the broad purposes of government and on the general means most suited to achieve them.