- Canadian federal election, 1917
The 1917 Canadian federal election (sometimes referred to as the khaki election) was held on
December 17, 1917, to elect members of the Canadian House of Commonsof the 13th Parliament of Canada. Described by historian Michael Blissas the "most bitter election in Canadian history", it was fought mainly over the issue of conscription(see Conscription Crisis of 1917). The election resulted in Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden's Unionist government elected with a strong majority, and the largest percent share of the popular vote for a single party in Canadian history.
The previous election had been held in 1911, and was won by Borden's Conservatives. Under the elections law, Canada should have had an election in 1916. However citing the emergency of the First World War, the government postponed the election, largely in hope that a coalition government could be formed, as was the case in Britain.
Wilfrid Laurier, head of the Liberal Party of Canada, refused to join the coalition over the issue of conscription. Conscription was strongly opposed in the Liberal heartland of Quebec. Laurier worried that agreeing to Borden's coalition offer would cause that province to abandon the Liberals, and perhaps Canada as well. Borden proceeded to form a "Unionist" government, and the Liberal Party split over the issue. Many English Canadian Liberal MPs and provincial Liberal parties in English Canada supported the new Unionist government.
To ensure victory for conscription, Borden introduced two laws to skew the voting towards the government. The first of these, the
Wartime Elections Act, disenfranchised conscientious objectors and Canadian citizens who were born in enemy countries who had arrived after 1902. The law also gave female relatives of servicemen the vote. Thus, the 1917 election was the first federal election in which some women were allowed to vote. The other new law was the Military Voters Actthat allowed soldiers serving abroad to choose which riding their vote would be counted in. This allowed government officials to guide the strongly pro-conscription soldiers into voting in those ridings where the government felt they would be most useful.
Soon after these measures were passed, Borden convinced a faction of Liberals (using the name
Liberal-Unionists) along with Gideon Decker Robertsonwho was described as a "Labour" Senator (but was unaffiliated with any Labour Party) to join with them, forming the Unionist government in October 1917. He then dissolved parliament to seek a mandate in the election which pitted "Government" candidates, running as the Unionist Party, against the anti-Conscription faction of the Liberal Party which ran under the name Laurier Liberals.
The divisive debate ended with the country divided on linguistic lines. The Liberals won 82 seats, 62 of which were in Quebec. The Unionists won 153 seats. The three Unionist seats in Quebec were all in mainly
*Party did not nominate candidates in the previous election.
1 % change for Government compared to Conservative Party in 1911 election, and for Opposition to Liberal Party.
Results by province
13th Canadian Parliament
Conscription crisis of 1917
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