As a result of World War I and the Conscription Crisis of 1917, the party joined with pro-conscription Liberals to become the "Unionist Party", led by Robert Borden from 1917 to 1920, and then the "National Liberal and Conservative Party" until 1922. It then reverted to "Liberal-Conservative Party" until 1938, when it became simply the "National Conservative Party". It ran in the 1940 election as "National Government" even though it was in opposition.
The party was almost always referred to as simply the "Conservative Party" or Tories.
The roots of the party are in the pre-Confederation coalition government of 1854 comprising the Parti bleu of George-Étienne Cartier (see also Quebec Conservative Party), along with Ontario Liberals and Conservatives led by Sir John A. Macdonald. It was out of this coalition that the Liberal-Conservative Party (generally known as the Conservative Party) was formed and it was this period that formed the basis for Confederation in 1867.
Macdonald became the leader of the Conservative Party and formed the first national government in 1867. The party brought together ultramontane Quebec Catholics, pro-tariff businessmen, United Empire Loyalist Tories and Orangemen. One major accomplishment of Macdonald's first government was the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway which also led to the Pacific Scandal that brought down the government in 1873.
The Conservatives under Macdonald returned to power in 1878 by opposing the Liberal Party's policy of free trade or reciprocity with the United States and promoting, instead, the National Policy which sought to promote business and develop industry with high tariff protectionist measures as well as settle and develop the west.
The principal difference between the Conservatives and the Liberals in this period and well into the twentieth century was that Conservatives were in favour of imperial preference (a protectionist system in which tariffs would be levied against imports from outside the British Empire) and strong political and legal links with Britain while Liberals promoted free trade and continentalism (that is closer ties to the United States) and greater independence from Britain. Macdonald died in 1891 and, without his leadership, the Conservative coalition began to unravel under the pressure of sectarian tensions between Catholic French Canadians and British imperialists who tended to be anti-French and anti-Catholic. The government's mis-handling of the grievances that aroused the Red River Rebellion and the North-West Rebellion, and its hanging of their leader Louis Riel), and the Manitoba Schools Question exacerbated tensions within the Conservative Party and suppressed much of the support among Quebecois for the Conservative party, a problem only smoothed over by the 1980s.
Free trade between Canada and the U.S. was the major issue of the 1911 election. Sir Wilfrid Laurier's Liberals, in favour of increased trade with the U.S., were swept from power. Robert Borden led a new Tory administration that emphasised a revitalised National Policy and continued strong links to Britain. Borden had built a base in Quebec by allying with anti-Laurier Quebec nationalists, but, in government, tensions between Quebec nationalists and English Canadian imperialists made any grand coalition untenable.