Socialism and social democracy in Canada

Socialism and social democracy in Canada

Democratic socialism and Social democracy have been, along with liberalism and conservatism, a political force in Canada.


The radical years

Election poster for Fred Rose, the first Communist MP.

Canada's socialist movement is believed to have originated in Western Canada. The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 and Great Depression (1929–1939) are considered to have fuelled socialism in Canada. The Socialist Party of Canada was the first Canadian based left-wing party. Founded in 1904, it collapsed as a national party in 1924.

During the Great Depression, the Communist Party of Canada experienced a brief surge in popularity, becoming influential in various labour unions and electing a single Member of Parliament, Fred Rose. The Communist Party of Canada was created in Guelph, Ontario in 1921 by a group of Marxist activists led by William Moriarty. During the early years of their existence the party's membership faced persecution and arrest for their political activities. In 1935 the Communists gained notoriety by organizing a massive march of unemployed workers known as the On-to-Ottawa Trek and before that organized the young inmates of the relief camps into the Relief Camp Workers' Union to resist the poor conditions of the camps. The On-to-Ottawa Trek never made it to Ottawa, instead it ended with the Regina Riot of July 1, 1935. The trek and the living conditions in the government's "relief camps" helped to discredit Conservative Prime Minister R. B. Bennett, leading to his defeat at the hands of the Liberals in 1935. After the trek the communists were instrumental in organizing over 1,448 Canadians to fight in the Spanish Civil War.

Joined by volunteers of other political stripes, the Canadian contingent known as the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion joined the International Brigades (a coalition of volunteers from many countries) to fight for the elected leftwing government of the Second Spanish Republic against the fascist supported insurgency of General Francisco Franco. The "Mac-Paps" fought bravely in many battles but were forced to leave Spain in 1938 by Prime Minister Juan Negrín López along with the other foreign volunteers as it became clear that the war was lost. Of the close 1,500 Canadians known to have fought in Spain, 721 are known to have lost their lives. The most famous Canadian to serve in the Mackenzie–Papineau Battalion was Dr. Norman Bethune, a surgeon who would invent the world's first mobile medical unit. Dr. Bethune would later be killed during the Second Sino-Japanese War, while aiding the Communist Party of China. Today he is a national hero in the People's Republic of China and is remembered as being a friend of Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

By the start of the Second World War, the Communist Party began to lose its momentum. Its only elected federal representative, Fred Rose was accused of being a Soviet spy. Rose was expelled from parliament, arrested for four years and then tailed at every jobsite by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). He eventually left for Poland with the intention of returning to clear his name, but had his Canadian citizenship revoked in 1957.

"CCF to Victory", the rise of democratic socialism

CCF founding meeting, Regina, 1933.

By a wide margin, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a democratic socialist political party from the Prairies with its origins in the Christian left and the social gospel, became the most influential socialist party in Canada.

The CCF gained support in the Prairies as well as from many labour unions. Led by Tommy Douglas, the CCF was elected to power during the 1944 Saskatchewan election. Douglas governed Saskatchewan until 1961. Today his party remain an important force in the politics of the province.

The CCF and the early democratic socialist movement is seen, by some political scientists (such as Gad Horowitz), as mainly a Christian and European Canadian movement.

In 1961, the CCF joined with the Canadian Labour Congress to form the New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP is more moderate and social-democratic than its predecessor, the CCF. The Regina Manifesto of the CCF called for abolishing capitalism, while the NDP merely wants to reform capitalism. They are generally perceived as being responsible for the creation of universal healthcare, pensions, a human rights code and for the development of Canada's social safety net in general. In the past the NDP has formed provincial governments in British Columbia, Yukon Territory, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia. At present Manitoba and Nova Scotia have New Democratic governments, while the NDP is the second largest party in Saskatchewan and British Columbia. At the federal level the NDP has held strong influence over various minority governments, in particular a Liberal minority led by Pierre Trudeau from 1972-1974. During this period the NDP was successful in forcing the government to create a state-owned oil company, called Petro Canada.

The NDP has also held influence over other Liberal-led minority governments during the Lester B. Pearson government (1963-1968) and the Paul Martin government (2004-2006). Their self stated goal is to one day form a federal government on their own and introduce social-democratic policies.

In the province of Quebec the NDP has been considerably less popular, but recently, in the May 2nd, 2011 election, elected a record number of Members of Parliament for a total of 59 of the 75 elected members coming from Quebec. The party is now the Official Opposition.

For most of the late 20th century the strongest social-democratic party in Quebec has been the sovereigntist Parti Québécois. Like the NDP, the Parti Québécois officially considers itself to be "social democratic".[citation needed]

Radical versions of socialism

Many socialists in Canada have attempted to organize outside of the framework of parliamentary politics, to pursue conceptions of socialism that are more radical than the social-democratic politics of either the CCF or the NDP.

Some of the radical socialist organizations operating in Canada today include the International Socialists (Canada), the New Socialist Group, the Communist League (Canada), Autonomy & Solidarity,[1] and the London Project for a Participatory Society,[2] among others.

Socialist and social democratic parties in Canada

  • Revolutionary Communist Party (Organizing Committees) is a communist organization advocating the overthrow of the capitalist system. It is in the organizing stage. The ideology of the organization, founded in 2000, can be regarded as anti-revisionist in character. They describe their ideology as "Marxism-Leninism-Maoism" which they consider the third phase of Marxism. The group does not take part in electoral politics, instead aiming to educate the working class about the need for a revolution in the style of the Russian and Chinese revolutions. The RCP(OC) is non-collaborationist and opposes all Canadian political parties, including ones calling themselves communist.
  • Québec Solidaire ("Solidarity Quebec") is Quebec's most popular left-wing party. They claim to be devoted to the causes of democratic socialism, such as environmentalism, feminism, Quebec Sovereignty and alter-globalization. They have gained support amongst left-wing sovereigntist voters who are dissilusioned with the Parti Québécois' embrace of neoliberalism.

Historical parties

Parties that have held seats in the Canadian House of Commons and provincial legislatures.

  • Canadian Labour Party (1917-1942)
  • Ginger Group (1924-1932) - a group of radical members of the Progressive Party of Canada
  • United Farmers - farmer advocacy groups tied to the Progressive Party of Canada. In Ontario, the United Farmers of Ontario governed from 1919 to 1924 with a fairly social democratic agenda, while the United Farmers of Alberta governed Alberta from 1921 to 1930 following more conservative guidelines.
  • Socialist Party of Canada - names used by two political parties. The first existed from 1905 to 1925 and was created by the Socialist Party of British Columbia; it played an important role in the creation of the CCF. The second has existed since 1931 and has been very marginal in terms of support.
  • Labour-Progressive Party - was the name used by the Communist Party of Canada from 1941 to 1959 while it was an illegal party. The LPP followed a Marxist line and succeeded in not only electing a member of the House of Commons, but also electing representatives to the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
  • Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (1932-1962) - known as the CCF, it was, before the NDP, Canada's most popular left-wing party. The CCF was formed during The Great Depression by members of the centrist Progressive Party of Canada (the Ginger Group), the United Farmers, the Labour Party and a social advocacy group known as the League for Social Reconstruction. At the party's first convention in Regina, Saskatchewan, the Regina Manifesto was launched announcing 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." The radical Regina Manifesto was replaced by the more moderate Winnipeg Declaration in 1956. The CCF went onto form one of Canada's most popular and historically significant provincial governments in 1944 in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan under Tommy Douglas. In Ontario the CCF formed the official opposition in 1943 and again in 1948 until losing that position to the Liberals. In British Columbia the CCF also formed the official opposition after 1941. Federally the party never got past third place and in an attempt to broaden their support base the CCF merged with the Canadian Labour Congress to create the NDP.
  • Cape Breton Labour Party, the Cape Breton Labour Party was a social-democratic party from the province of Nova Scotia represented in the Nova Scotia legislature from 1981-1988 by a former NDP member Paul MacEwan.
  • New Democratic Party of Quebec was the Quebec wing of the NDP. The Quebec NDP failed to win any significant support or win any seats in the Quebec legislature (its parent party, the Quebec CCF won one). After years of infighting in 1989, the party broke off relations with the federal NDP and in 1994 changed its name to the Parti de la Democratie Socialiste (PDS) or "Socialist Democratic Party". The PDS adopted a program calling for Quebec's separation from Canada and had attempted to nominate a former terrorist, Paul Rose (formerly of the FLQ) as a federal candidate. The PDS contested the 1998 Quebec election without any success. In 2002 the PDS joined the Communist Party of Quebec and other far left, sovereigntist parties in an alliance known as the Union des forces progressistes (UFP). In 2006 the UFP became Quebec solidaire.


  1. ^ Upping the Anti | A Journal of Theory and Action
  2. ^ London Project for a Participatory Society
  3. ^ Pcc/Pcq


  • Berton, Pierre. The Great Depression 1929-1939. Anchor Canada, 2001.
  • Canadian Labour in Politics Gad Horowitz

See also

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Social democracy — Social democracy …   Wikipedia

  • Socialism — This article is about socialism as an economic system and political philosophy. For socialism as a specific stage of socioeconomic development in Marxist theory, see Socialism (Marxism) …   Wikipedia

  • Social — DefinitionIn the absence of agreement about its meaning, the term social is used in many different senses, referring among other things to:* attitudes, orientations or behaviours which take the interests, intentions or needs of other people into… …   Wikipedia

  • Social Credit — is a socio economic philosophy wherein consumers, fully provided with adequate purchasing power, establish the policy of production through exercise of their monetary vote.cite book |title=Credit Power and Democracy |last=Douglas |first=C.H.… …   Wikipedia

  • Socialism in Pakistan — Socialism …   Wikipedia

  • Socialism in India — Socialism …   Wikipedia

  • Social anarchism — Not to be confused with Social Anarchism (journal). Part of the Politics series on Anarchism …   Wikipedia

  • Social liberalism — Liberalism …   Wikipedia

  • Democracy — For other uses, see Democracy (disambiguation) and Democratic Party (disambiguation). A woman casts her vote in the second round of the French presidential election of 2007 …   Wikipedia

  • SOCIALISM — Introduction The words socialism and socialist were first used about the year 1830 but the origin of the ideas which led to the establishment of the modern labor movement goes back to the time of the French Revolution. For a variety of reasons… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.