Farmers never settled easily into the two party system of Liberals and Conservatives. There was an inherent conflict with the National Policy, which proved more adapt at settling the west than it did providing a stable market for western agricultural products. This was never more true than in the early 1920s. The First World War had Canada strained economically and politically. Western agriculturalists, expected to carry the burden of feeding the British Empire, felt that in recognition of this they should be granted some exception from conscription and taxation. In addition to this, the attempt to find meaning in the carnage of war fueled a reforming zeal in many Canadians.
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The federal election of 1921 brought Canada its first minority government. Prairie farmers united with their Ontario counterparts under the leadership of Thomas Crerar, a former Liberal Cabinet Minister, and proposed a new national policy of free trade, the nationalization of railways and direct democracy. Progressives captured 65 seats, many from the west, making it the second largest party in Parliament. Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King sardonically called them "liberals in a hurry". Holding the balance of power, they did manage to impose many of their reforms on the government. The Progressives were unable to overcome their distrust of 'political parties' and rarely acted as a group.
In the idealistic furor of the 1920s, Cooperatives flourished. A cooperative is a business owned and operated for the benefit of its members. This was a radical move-it merged ownership of the means of production with the consumer. Farmers, tired of trying to convince business to provide them with many goods and services affordably, established credit unions, elevators, grocery stores and even medical clinics. These reforms had a historical precedent; there was a cooperative creamery as early as 1890.
The Beginning |
Farmer-Labor Party |
Regina Convention |
Social Democracy in the Depression | Election of 1944 | Conclusion | Acknowledgements | Educational Resources | Sources | Français