Impact of WW1 on Canadian Politics

Dividing Issues
 Canada entered the war displaying political unity but
underneath their were signs of disquiet.
Many issues divided the French and English
The issue of conscription split English and French
Many French Canadians were reluctant to enlist.
They felt Canada would best serve the Empire by
shipping wheat and other commodities.
Dividing issues contd.
 Could French Canadians enlist in units that would
serve the French army?
 Of the 619,636 soldiers that served in the CEF only
35,000 were French Canadians only 14,000 had
volunteered before 1917.
 Over 228,000 of the CEF were born in Great Britain
and had emigrated to Canada.
 Many French Canadians were farmers and across the
country farmers were very reluctant to enlist.
French language issue
 Montreal police discouraged people from singing ‘O
Canada” and instead insisted on “God save the King”
Other issues that divided the French and English….
Prejudice had always existed – fear of the other
language or the Catholic religion or on the other side Protestants.
There was a dispute over French as a language of
education in the English speaking provinces.
French was banned as a language in the Ontario
school districts.
French language issue contd.
 This decision was supported by the English speaking
Catholic hierarchy it was enforced by squads of school
How could French Canadian soldiers fight for justice
abroad when they were denied it at home?
Robert Borden – Conservative Prime Minister was not
interested in dealing with the issue.
He also paid little attention to the weak French
Canadian contingent in his government.
The Ontario govt did nothing so did Borden!
French and English issues…
 Issue of the “Ontario schools” embittered relations in
Canada during the Great War and did nothing to
encourage French Canadian recruitment during that time.
 After visiting London in May 1917 Borden decided that
conscription would be needed to fill the holes in the army.
 Although there was a strong tradition of reconciliation in
the national political system. The English and French
Canadians got on because they had to.
 Despite this a constant tension simmered between the
Conscription issues….
 English Canadians believed there was one Canadian
nationality and the Empire was worth fighting for.
 Henri Bourassa, an extreme French Canadian
nationalist, preached to English Canadians that their
participation and commitment to the Empire was
 He stated that the grievances of the French Canadians
of Ontario should be the priority, not the wrongs of
distant Europe and the excitement of the Empire.
 Bourassa was one of the biggest opponents of the issue
of conscription.
Borden and Conscription
 Borden returned from a meeting of the Imperial War
Cabinet in 1917. During the meeting the ministers
discussed the issue of manpower.
 Borden visited Canadian troops in France who had
been victorious in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
 After this visit Borden decided that in order to keep
faith with the troops at the Front he must send
 Borden brought up the controversial issue of
conscription upon his return home in may 1917.
Conscription cntd.
 He knew this would be a controversial issue one of the
reasons being that French Canadians showed little
interest in volunteering for the army.
 Borden tried to gain the support of Sir Wilfrid Laurier
and the liberals by offering them half the places in the
Cabinet and any seat except the prime ministership.
 Laurier refused as the Liberals were against
 Although many of the English speaking Liberal leaders
would have preferred to take Borden’s offer they
supported Laurier.
Conscription contd..
 In Ontario and the West many Liberals were recent
immigrants and farmers who were not interested by
appeals of patriotism and as a group they resisted
 Borden passed the Wartime Elections Act which banned
anyone that had immigrated from an enemy country from
voting and allowed all military personnel and their
families to vote. He also promised to exempt farmers from
 An election was called in Dec 1917 with simplified issues: “
Do we want German rule?” if so, vote for Laurier, if not
Borden was the man.
Election 1917
 Laurier lead a French Canadian party with some
English Canadian candidates, one of the most notable
of these, Mackenzie King (he became PM in the first
post-war election of 1921).
 Borden won the election and he got conscription.
 His followers won in a campaign that came very close
to preaching racial hatred which was extremely
unpopular in Quebec.
 The election of 1917 would have far reaching
consequences in the 20 years for the Conservative
1918 – Last year of the war.
 There was evasion from the draft and other forms of
resistance especially when Borden broke his election
promise and applied conscription to farmers’ sons.
 Although the result’s of Borden’s conscription were
disappointing, his industrial mobilization was not.
 The Canadian government was doing well on the
economic front.
 After Sam Hughes was removed production of
armaments and munitions soared. 25% of the shells
fired on the Western front came from Canada.
Stronger Canada
 By 1918 the money to pay for war production came from
The government introduced an income tax but most of the
money came from selling bonds inside Canada.
The Victory Loans of 1917, 1918 and 1918 were bough by over
a million people raising billions of dollars.
As a result of this Borden represented a stronger, less
dependent Canada.
Great Britain was using Canadian funds for armaments,
eating Canadian produced food and relying on dominion
soldiers (mostly Canadian and Australian) as replacements
for the BEF.
Impact of WW1 on Canada
 Initial political unity as Canada enters the war but
eventually a split between French and English
Canadians over the issue of conscription.
 This issue took place during the conflict and its
impact extended to the post-war era.
 In 1920 Robert Borden retired and he was replaced by
one of his lieutenants, Arthur Meighen, as prime
 Meighen had imperialist leanings and was a strong
conscriptionist during the conscription crisis which
left him with many opponents in French Canada.
Impact of WW1 contd.
 This led to Meighen and the Conservatives losing in
the first post-war election in 1921.
 Mackenzie King became the new Liberal leader and
prime minister.
 Conditions occurring during the First World War led
to decisions and conditions that in the post-war era set
the stage for the development of new political parties:
 High prices for wheat during the war, due to wartime
demand , dropped sharply after the war but farmers
still had debts to be paid which were at a high interest
Impact of WW1 contd.
 Western farmers felt that they were at the mercy of
eastern business and these grievances grew , leading to
the development of political parties founded to oppose
eastern influence.
 They were joined by eastern farmers in this.
 “United Farmers” governments were formed in
Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario.
 In Ottawa, farmers’ representatives coalesced as
“Progressives”, determined to implement a platform
that favored themselves.
Impact of WW1 contd.
 The close of the First World War led to a growing
demand for new goals in politics with an upsurge of
democratic feeling after participating in the “ war to
make the world safe for democracy”.
 Desire for broad government policies that would
improve the welfare of the people.
 The growth of industry during the First World War led
to a growth in union membership.
 Unemployment rose as the nation shifted from a war
to peace time economy .
Impact of WW1 contd.
 Working class discontent also grew with the removal of
price controls and an increase in living expenses.
This development of One Big Union, and the Winnipeg
Strike in 1919 are examples of this which led to the election
of Labor members to provincial legislatures and a more
prominent role in politics.
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