Socialism and social democracy in Canada: Wikis


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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 are considered to have fuelled socialism in Canada. The Socialist Party of Canada was the first Canadian based leftist party. Founded in 1904, it collapsed as a national party in 1924.

During the Great Depression (1929–1939) 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 social democracy

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 Health Care, 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 held lesser 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 has elected a Member of Parliament named Thomas Mulcair from the traditionally Liberal riding of Outremont.

For most of the late 20th century the strongest social democratic party in Quebec has been the sovereigntist Parti Québécois. During the government of Premier René Lévesque the PQ governed with a fairly leftwing agenda; however, in the last two decades the "Péquistes" have moved considerably to the centre of the political spectrum and are considered by many on the Left to be neo-liberal. However like the NDP, the Parti Québécois officially considers itself to be "social democratic".

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

New Democratic Party logo.
Communist Party of Canada logo.
Marxist-Leninist Communist Party logo.
Québec Solidaire logo.
Parti Québécois logo.
  • Parti Québécois considers itself to be a social democratic political party, similar to the NDP. However unlike most NDP governments the Parti Québécois followed a fiscal conservative agenda during its previous stint in office 1994-2003 by greatly reducing social spending. The PQ is better known in the "Rest of Canada" (outside Quebec) for its support of Quebec sovereignty movement. The PQ has informal links to the Bloc Québécois.

Historical parties

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


  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


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