Co-operative Commonwealth Federation

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation
Co-operative Commonwealth Federation
Leader J.S. Woodsworth,
M.J. Coldwell,
Hazen Argue
President M.J. Coldwell,
Frank Scott,
David Lewis
Founded 1932
Dissolved 1961
Entered into coalition with the Canadian Labour Congress to form the New Democratic Party
Headquarters Ottawa, Ontario
Ideology Social democracy: Canadian,
Democratic socialism,
Populism: Canadian[1]
Political position Left
International affiliation Socialist International
Official colours Green and Yellow
Seats in the House of Commons N/A
Politics of Canada
Political parties

The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) (French: Fédération du Commonwealth Coopératif, then in 1955 rebranded in French as Parti social démocratique du Canada) was a Canadian political party founded in 1932 in Calgary, Alberta, by a number of socialist, farm, co-operative and labour groups, and the League for Social Reconstruction. In 1944, it became the first socialist government in North America (based in Saskatchewan). In 1961, it disbanded and was replaced by the New Democratic Party. The full, but little used, name of the party was Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (Farmer-Labour-Socialist).



The CCF aimed to alleviate the suffering of the Great Depression through economic reform and public "co-operation". Many of the party's first Members of Parliament (MPs) were former members of the Ginger Group of left-wing Progressive and Labour MPs. These MPs included: United Farmers of Alberta MP William Irvine; Agnes Macphail, MP; Ted Garland, MP; Humphrey Mitchell, MP; Abraham Albert Heaps, MP; Angus MacInnis, MP; J.S. Woodsworth, MP. Also involved in the plans to found a new party were members of the League for Social Reconstruction (LSR) such as F.R. Scott and Frank Underhill.[2] It can be said that the CCF was founded on 26 May 1932, when the Ginger Group MPs and LSR members met in William Irvine's office, the unofficial caucus meeting room for the Ginger Group, and went about forming the basis of the new party.[3] J. S. Woodsworth was unanimously appointed the temporary leader until they could hold a convention.[3]

CCF founding meeting, Regina, 1933

At its founding convention in 1932, the party settled on the name "Co-operative Commonwealth Federation - (Farmer-Labour-Socialist)" and selected J.S. Woodsworth as party leader.[4] Woodsworth had been an Independent Labour Party MP since 1921, and a member of the Ginger Group of MPs. The party's 1933 convention, held in Regina, Saskatchewan, adopted the Regina Manifesto as the party's program. The manifesto outlined a number of goals, including: Public ownership of key industries; Universal pensions; Universal health care; Children's allowances; Unemployment insurance; Workers compensation.[5]

It concluded that "No CCF Government will rest content until it has eradicated capitalism and put into operation the full programme of socialized planning which will lead to the establishment in Canada of the Co-operative Commonwealth."[4]

Electoral performance

Federal CCF Caucus, in 1942 with new leader M.J. Coldwell. Left to right, Tommy Douglas, George Castledon, Angus MacInnis, Coldwell, Clarie Gillis , Joe Noseworthy, Sandy Nicholoson, and Percy Wright.[6]

In its first election in 1935, seven CCF MPs were elected to the House of Commons. Eight were elected in the following election in 1940. The party was divided with the outbreak of World War II: Woodsworth was an uncompromising pacifist, and this upset many supporters of the Canadian war effort. Woodsworth had a physically dehabilitating stroke in May 1940, and could no longer perform his leader's duties.[7] In October, Woodsworth wrote a letter to the 1940 CCF convention, in essence asking to retire from the leadership.[7] Instead, the delegates created the new position of Honorary President, abolished the President's position, and re-elected M. J. Coldwell as the National Chairman.[7] Coldwell was then appointed acting House Leader on November 6.[8] Woodsworth died on 21 March 1942, and Coldwell officially became the new leader at the July convention in Toronto, and threw the party's support behind the war-effort.[8] As a memorial to Woodsworth, Coldwell suggested that the CCF create a research foundation, and Woodsworth House was established in Toronto for that purpose.[7] The party won a critical York South by-election on 8 February 1942, and in the process prevented the Conservative leader, former Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, from entering the House of Commons. In the 1945 election, 28 CCF MPs were elected, and the party won 15.6% of the vote.

However, the party was to have its greatest success in provincial politics in the 1940s. In 1943, the Ontario CCF became the official opposition in that province, and in 1944, the Saskatchewan CCF formed the first socialist government in North America with Tommy Douglas as premier. Douglas introduced universal healthcare to Saskatchewan, a policy that was soon adopted by other provinces and implemented nationally by the Liberals under Lester B. Pearson

Federally, during the Cold War, the CCF was accused of having communist, dictatorial leanings. The party moved to address these accusations in 1956, by replacing the Regina Manifesto with a more moderate document, the Winnipeg Declaration. Nevertheless, the party did poorly in the 1958 election, winning only eight seats.

After much discussion, the CCF and the Canadian Labour Congress decided to join forces to create a new political party, which could make social democracy more popular with Canadian voters. In 1961, the CCF became the New Democratic Party.

Election results 1935-1958

Election Leader # of candidates nominated # of seats won # of total votes  % of popular vote
1935 J.S. Woodsworth 117 7* 386,253 8.78%
1940 J.S. Woodsworth 94 8 388,058 8.42%
1945 M.J. Coldwell 205 28 815,720 15.55%
1949 M.J. Coldwell 181 13 785,910 13.42%
1953 M.J. Coldwell 170 23 636,310 11.28%
1957 M.J. Coldwell 162 25 707,828 10.71%
1958 M.J. Coldwell 169 8 692,668 9.49%

* Not including Agnes Macphail who worked with the CCF but was elected as a United Farmers of Ontario-Labour MP.


The CCF estimated its membership as being slightly more than 20,000 in 1938, less than 30,000 in 1942 and over 90,000 in 1944.[9] Membership figures declined following World War II to only 20,238 in 1950 and would never again reach 30,000.[9]

By the late 1940s the CCF had official or unofficial weekly newspapers in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, twice-monthly papers in Ontario and Manitoba and a bimonthly in the Maritimes. A French-language paper in Quebec was also attempted at various times. The party also produced various educational books, pamphlets and magazines though these efforts declined in the 1950s.

Party leaders

Picture Name Term start Term end Riding as leader
Ac.woodsworth.jpg J.S Woodsworth 1 August 1932 21 March 1942 Winnipeg North Centre, Winnipeg Centre, MB
M.J. Coldwell in 1944.jpg M.J. Coldwell 22 March 1942 10 August 1960 Rosetown—Biggar, SK
Hazen Argue 11 August 1960 2 August 1961 Assiniboia, Wood Mountain, SK

National Chairmen

Four past and future National Chairmen in September 1944: National CCF delegation attending the Conference of Commonwealth Labour Parties in London, England. Pictured from left to right: Clarie Gillis, MP for Cape Breton South; David Lewis, National Secretary; M. J. Coldwell, National Leader, MP for Rosetown—Biggar; Percy E. Wright, MP for Melfort; and Frank Scott, national chairman.

The national chairman was the equivalent of "party president" in most Canadian political parties, and was sometimes referred to as such, in that it was largely an organizational role. In the case of the CCF, the national chairman oversaw the party's national council and chaired its meetings. Following an initial period, in which Woodsworth held both roles, it was usually distinct and secondary to the position of party leader. National president originally was also a title the leader held, as both Woodsworth and Coldwell held that title when they held seats in the House of Commons. In 1958, after Coldwell lost his seat, the position of national chairman was merged formally into the president's title and was held by David Lewis.[10]

National Secretaries

The national secretary was a staff position (initially part-time, full time beginning 1938) which was responsible for the day-to-day organizing of the party. The national secretary was the only full-time employee at the party's national headquarters until 1943 when a research director, Eugene Forsey, and an assistant to the leader were hired.

CCF song

"Towards the Dawn!" - a 1930s promotional image from Saskatchewan

The CCF had a song, which would be later popularized by the movie Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story

First verse:

A call goes out to Canada
It comes from out the soil—
Come and join the ranks through all the land
To fight for those who toil
Come on farmer, soldier, labourer,
From the mine and factory,
And side by side we'll swell the tide—
C.C.F. to Victory.[17]

Provincial sections


  1. ^ Francisco Panizza. Populism and the Mirror of Democracy. London, England, UK; New York, New York, USA: Verso, 2005. Pp. 177.
  2. ^ Young, p. 31
  3. ^ a b McNaught (1959), pp.259–260
  4. ^ a b Morton (1986), p. 12
  5. ^ Young, Appendix A, pp. 304-313
  6. ^ Smith (1992), p. 88
  7. ^ a b c d McNaught (1959), pp.313-315
  8. ^ a b Stewart (2000), pp. 244–245
  9. ^ a b Young, Appendix B, Table III, p. 320.
  10. ^ Young, p. 235
  11. ^ a b Braithwaite, Dennis (1950-07-29). "C.C.F. Disavows Marx Class Struggle Idea, Tempers High in Debate". The Toronto Daily Star: pp. 1, 7. 
  12. ^ Staff (1952-08-09). "Make Own Foreign Policy, Follow U.N. CCF Meet Urges". The Toronto Daily Star: pp. 1, 2. 
  13. ^ a b Stewart (2000), p. 211
  14. ^ Young, p.127n
  15. ^ Smith (1989), p. 294
  16. ^ Stewart (2000), p. 212
  17. ^ "Foreword". CCYM Sings. Saskatchewan Coucil for Archives and Archivists. Retrieved 2010-07-17.  CCYM is the Co-operative Commonwealth Youth Movement, the image is from a larger collection of scans in jpeg format.

Bibilographical references

  • Avakumovic, Ivan (1978). Socialism in Canada : a study of the CCF-NDP in federal and provincial politics. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. ISBN 978-0-7710-0978-5. 
  • Azoulay, Dan (1999). "A Desperate Holding Action: The Survival of the Ontario CCF/NDP, 1948–1964". In Azoulay, Dan. Canadian political parties:historical readings. Toronto: Irwin Publishing. pp. 342–363. ISBN 978-0-7725-2703-5. 
  • Boyko, John (2006). Into the Hurricane: Attacking Socialism and the CCF. Winnipeg, Canada: J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing Inc. ISBN 978-1-897289-09-9. 
  • Caplan, Gerald (1973). The Dilemma of Canadian Socialism: The CCF in Ontario. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. ISBN 978-0-7710-1896-1. 
  • Horowitz, Gad (1968). Canadian Labour in Politics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-1902-8. 
  • Lewis, David (1981). The Good Fight: Political Memoirs 1909–1958. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada. ISBN 978-0-7715-9598-1. 
  • Lewis, David; Frank Scott (1943/2001). Make this YOUR CANADA: A Review of CCF History and Policy. Canada: Hybrid Publishers Co-operative Ltd.. ISBN 978-0-9689709-0-4. 
  • MacDonald, Donald C. (1998). The Happy Warrior: Political Memoirs (2 ed.). Toronto, ON, Canada: Dundurn Press. ISBN 978-1-55002-307-7. 
  • McHenry, Dean Eugene (1950). The Third Force in Canada; the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation 1932–1948. Berkeley: University of California Press. 
  • McLeod, Thomas; Ian McLeod (2004). The Road to Jerusalem (2 ed.). Calgary: Fifth House. ISBN 978-1-894856-48-5. 
  • McNaught, Kenneth; With a new introduction by Allen Mills (1959/2001). A Prophet in Politics: A Biography of J. S. Woodsworth. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-3555-8. 
  • Morton, Desmond (1986). The New Democrats: 1961-1986 (3 ed.). Toronto: Copp Clark Pitman Ltd. pp. 92. ISBN 0-7730-4618-6. 
  • Penner, Norman (1988). Canadian Communism: the Stalin years and beyond. Toronto: Methuen. ISBN 978-0-458-81200-4. 
  • Scott, Frank R. (1986). A New Endeavour: Selected Political Essays, Letters, and Addresses. Edited and introduced by Michiel Horn. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-5672-6. 
  • Shackleton, Doris French (1975). Tommy Douglas. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. ISBN 978-0-7710-8116-3. 
  • Smith, Cameron (1989). Unfinished Journey: The Lewis Family. Toronto: Summerhill Press. ISBN 978-0-929091-04-4. 
  • Smith, Cameron (1992). Love & Solidarity: A Pictorial History of the NDP. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-7710-8209-2. 
  • Stewart, Margaret; Doris French Shackelton (1959). Ask no quarter; a biography of Agnes Macphail. Toronto: Longmans,Green.{CKEY}&searchfield1=GENERAL^SUBJECT^GENERAL^^. 
  • Stewart, Walter (2000). M.J.: The Life and Times of M.J. Coldwell. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Co. Limited. ISBN 978-0-7737-3232-2. 
  • Stewart, Walter (2003). Tommy: the life and politics of Tommy Douglas. Toronto: McArthur & Company. ISBN 978-1-55278-382-5. 
  • Young, Walter D. (1969). The anatomy of a party: the national CCF 1932–61. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-5221-6. 

See also

External links

Preceded by
Ginger Group
Co-operative Commonwealth Federation
1932 - 1961
Succeeded by
New Democratic Party

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