- William Irvine (Canadian politician)
William Irvine (
April 19, 1885- October 26, 1962) was a Canadian politician, journalist and clergyman. He served in the Canadian House of Commonson three different occasions, as a representative of Labour, the United Farmers of Albertaand the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. During the 1920s, he was active in the Ginger Groupof radical Members of Parliament (MPs).
Irvine was born at
Gletnessin Shetland, Scotland, one of twelve siblings in a working-class family.ref|birth He became a Christian Socialistin his youth, and worked as a Methodistlay preacher. He moved to Canada in 1907 after being recruited for ministerial work by James Woodsworth, the father of future CCF leader J.S. Woodsworth.ref|Woodsnr
Irvine was a follower of the
social gospel, and rejected Biblical literalism. He refused to sign the Articles of Faith when ordained as a Methodist minister, claiming that he accepted the ethical but not the supernatural aspects of Christianbelief. He was nonetheless accepted into the ministry, and was stationed at Emo in Northern Ontarioin 1914. Irvine was accused of heresy the following year by a more conservative church elder, and, while acquitted of the charge, chose to resign his commission. He left the Methodists, and accepted a call to lead the UnitarianChurch in Calgary, Albertain early 1916.ref|unit
In addition to his work as a Unitarian minister, Irvine became politically active after moving to Alberta. He helped establish an Alberta branch of the radical agrarian Non-Partisan League (NPL) in December 1916, and was an NPL representative at the creation of the Alberta Labour Representation League (LRL) in April 1917. Irvine himself stood as an LRL candidate in the 1917 provincial election, but was defeated in Calgary.ref|LRL He also founded the "Nutcracker" newspaper in 1916, and oversaw its later transformations to the "Alberta Non-Partisan" and the "Western Independent".ref|ANP
He unsuccessfully campaigned for the
Canadian House of Commonsin 1917, as a Labour candidate opposing Robert Borden's Unionist government in the Conscription Crisis election of 1917. While not a pacifist, Irvine denounced war profiteering and called for the " conscriptionof wealth" rather than of men.ref|WW1 He was accused of holding pro-German symphathies and, in addition to losing the election, lost his funding from the American Unitarian Associationin Boston. Still supported by his local congegreation, he set up his own "People's Church" in Calgary in 1919 as part of the Labour church movement.ref|LCM In the same year, he helped establish the Alberta wing of the Dominion Labour Party.ref|DLP
Irvine briefly moved to
New Brunswickin 1920, and became a prominent supporter of that province's United Farmers movement during a federal by-election.ref|NB After returning to Calgary, he helped convince the United Farmers of Alberta(UFA) to enter political life. The UFA had previously been divided between members who supported direct political action, and others such as Henry Wise Woodwho wanted to remain an agrarian pressure group. The former position was accepted following a series of public debates between Irvine and Wood at UFA meetings, though Wood was successful in restricting the UFA's membership to farmers. Irvine's first book, "Farmers in Politics" (1920), endorsed the UFA policies of economic co-operation and group government.ref|UFA
He was first elected to the House of Commons in the 1921 federal election as a Dominion Labour Party candidate in
Calgary East. Irvine was one of two Labour parliamentarians elected in 1921, and caucused with Winnipeg North CentreMP J.S. Woodsworth, who became one of his closest friends. Defeated in 1925, he was returned for the rural Albertariding of Wetaskiwin in 1926 as a United Farmers candidate. Despite the change in his party affiliation, he remained a leading ally of Woodsworth and of farmer-labour co-operation. His second book, "Co-operative Government", was published in 1929.
In the late 1920s, Irvine introduced an early bill favouring the abolition of
capital punishmentin Canada.ref|cap He also became interested in social creditmonetary theories during the 1920s and early 1930s, but he did not have any involvement with the Social Credit Party that later formed in Alberta under William Aberhart.ref|SC
Margaret Stewart, the embryonic meeting at which several radical MPs decided to found the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation was held in Irvine's parliamentary office.ref|CCF Irvine later helped bring the UFA parliamentary caucus into the CCF for the 1935 election. He was personally defeated (as were all of the UFA's MPs in that election), losing to a Social Credit candidate. He attempted to re-enter parliament later that year through a by-electionin Assiniboia, Saskatchewanbut was defeated by former Saskatchewan Premier James Garfield Gardiner.
Irvine remained active in the CCF, becoming the Alberta CCF's first president, and was returned to parliament again in the 1945 election for the
British Columbiariding of Cariboo. He served in the CCF caucus for four years, and was defeated in 1949 when the opposition united behind Liberal candidate George Matheson Murray. Irvine made three attempts to return to parliament in the 1950s, but was unsuccessful.
Irvine remained a key figure in the CCF throughout its existence. Toward the end of his life, he called for greater cooperation with the
Soviet Unionand the People's Republic of China.
# Anthony Mardiros, "The Life of a Prairie Radical", (Toronto: J. Lorimer, 1979), p. 6.
# Mardiros, pp. 9-11.
# Mardiros, pp. 19-21, 26-27.
# Mardiros, pp. 56-60.
# Mardiros, pp. 41, 62, 76.
# Mardiros, pp. 45-47, 64.
# Mardiros, p. 67.
# Mardiros, p. 78.
# Mardiros, p. 81.
# Mardiros, pp. 87-90, 102.
# Mardiros, p. 130.
# Mardiros, p. 144. Irvine had a very low opinion of Aberhart's ideology and political ambitions.
(1) Stewart, Margaret, " Ask no quarter; a biography of Agnes Macphail" (1959) page 98.
* [http://www.ucsaskatoon.org/WE_ARE/WilliamIrvine/MDW-Lecture.html William (Bill) Irvine and The Social Gospel]
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