A Short History of Canada

Author: Donald C. Masters  | Date: 1945-1958

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Chapter 6

Political Developments after World War II. For twelve years after World War II Canadian politics was dominated by the Liberals, who were returned to power in the elections of 1945, 1949, and 1953. The Liberals continued to occupy the position of a moderate, middle- of-the-road party. The bonne entente between French and English was its basic principle. The Liberals identified themselves with an external policy essentially in Canada’s interests and professedly not prejudiced by emotional loyalties to objects outside Canada. They balanced moderate protection for industry with price supports for agricultural commodities, particularly wheat. In the sphere of dominion-provincial relations, they continued to press for taxation agreements which would redress the disparity between "have" and "have-not" provinces. Unlike the Liberal Party of the nineteenth century, the modern Canadian Liberals did not stress freedom or constitutionalism. They showed slight concern for the privileges of parliament in the debates on the Emergency Powers Bill in 1955 and the Pipe Line Bill in 1956. More radical than liberal, they sponsored measures of social amelioration. The principal landmarks in this programme were the Unemployment Insurance Act of 1940, the Family Allowances Act of 1944, and the Old Age Security Act of 1951. An amendment to the B.N.A. Act in 1940 added unemployment insurance to the powers of the federal parliament. The succession of Louis St. Laurent as Liberal leader and Prime Minister in 1948 did not involve any major alterations of policy. St. Laurent was more forthright and less adroit than Mackenzie King, but, prior to the election of 1957, he was equally successful at the polls.

In the years after 1945 many Conservatives continued to retain their traditional loyalties and antipathies. Conservative loyalism received considerable stimulus from royal tours in 1939 and 1951, World War II, and the Battle of Britain. Conservatism still showed itself in its insistence upon the preservation of the title "Dominion" of Canada, and upon retaining the Union Jack as at least part of the national flag. The Conservatives failed to make much progress with the French. The party had never recovered from the loss of the French bloc between 1885 and 1896. The breach had been widened by the conscription crises of 1917 and 1944-1945. For over twenty years after 1935 the Conservatives were unsuccessful in federal politics. John Bracken was leader from 1942 to 1948, and George Drew led the party from 1948 to 1956, but neither was able to displace the Liberals. Under John Diefenbaker the party secured 111 seats, out of a total of 265, in the election of 1957. The Conservatives took office as a minority government. The number of Liberals in the House of Commons was reduced from 172 to 107. The failure of the Liberals was the result of a number of factors. Many Canadians resented the use of closure by the Liberals in the debate on the Pipe Line Bill in 1956. The Liberals were regarded as too complacent in their attitude toward foreign economic penetration of Canada. They were thought to be insufficiently concerned with the interests of the common man. They were charged with failure to reduce taxes and interest rates and with failure to increase old age pensions. Western farmers were dissatisfied with the government’s wheat policy. The Liberals were regarded by many of the voters as overconfident and domineering. (See Reading No. 24.)

Other Political Parties. The C.C.F. showed a high level of ability in its parliamentary group which included M. J. Coldwell, Stanley Knowles, Angus McInnis, and Clarie Gillis. The party, however, failed to achieve any considerable electoral success except in Saskatchewan. There were indications that the party was modifying its doctrinaire socialism. The revised manifesto of 1956 was very critical of capitalism; but it was less sweeping than the Regina Manifesto of 1933 in its proposals to socialize the means of production. The party retained its concern for social justice. Members of the Social Credit Party in the federal parliament continued to expound their traditional monetary arguments. Since they were in opposition, they could afford to be more doctrinaire in this regard than the Social Crediters in power in Alberta and British Columbia, where the party had been elected to office in 1952.

In Quebec, Mr. Duplessis and the Union Nationale were in opposition during World War II. Mr. Duplessis was returned to office in 1944 and continued to dominate Quebec provincial politics in the period following the war. He functioned in a society which was being subjected to great strains and stresses by the process of industrialization. Among its repercussions was a new militancy on the part of French-Canadian trade-unions. This was indicated by the Asbestos Strike of 1949. There was evidence of a growing social conscience and of a renewed emphasis upon political morality in French Canada. Notable exponents of this attitude were the Faculty of Social Sciences at Laval University and a group called Le Rassemblement which appeared in 1956. This new trend was slow to make serious inroads into the voting strength of the older parties in Quebec politics.

Canada in World Affairs. After 1945 Canada played an effective role as a middle power, strong enough to be listened to with respect in the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Canada’s entry into the United Nations in 1945 was not attended by the isolationist sentiments which had weakened its role in the League of Nations. However, in the atmosphere of controversy between Russia and the West in the 19451949 period, Canadians gradually lost faith in the United Nations as a guarantor of world peace. The Canadian government was active in the negotiations which led to the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, in 1949 as a more effective defence against aggression. Canada participated in the Korean War of 1950-1953, maintaining a brigade in the Commonwealth Division. Canada also played a part of considerable importance in the commissions which were set up in 1954 to supervise the truce in Indochina. After the outbreak of hostilities in the Middle East in October, 1956, the Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs, L. B. Pearson, was largely responsible for the despatch of the United Nations Expeditionary Force to Egypt. The U.N.E.F. was one important factor in the re-establishment of peace. Mr. Pearson was subsequently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1957. (See Reading No. 23.)

Canada’s foreign policy is now sufficiently distinct to make possible an analysis of the forces which shape it. An important conditioning factor is the country’s geography: its position, terrain, climate, and the character of its natural defences. The size of its economic potential gives Canada weight in the counsels of the world but sets limits to the commitments which it can undertake. Canadian foreign policy is strongly influenced by the nature of the Canadian people. They possess a high degree of technological skill. They have a Christian and liberal-democratic background. They are divided by racial and religious differences, and, like others, they are certain to react against excessive taxation. Canadian foreign policy is conditioned also by relations with outside countries, particularly the United States and Great Britain. Canada has two roles in foreign policy. First, it is an executor of policies previously worked out by the great powers. The Korean War and the Indo-Chinese settlement of 1954 are cases in point. Canada’s other role consists in the attempt to find a middle way between powers with divergent views. The Canadian genius for compromise has shown itself in the part played by Canada in the United Nations. A notable example of this ability at compromise was the part played by Canada in the admission of sixteen new member countries to the United Nations in 1955.

The Canadian Achievement. Among the nations of the world, Canada is still a comparatively young country. It is about 350 years since Champlain founded Quebec and 200 since the British conquest. The most obvious achievement has been the settlement of the country from coast to coast and the development of its natural resources sources: furs, timber, wheat, wood pulp, and minerals. Canada has established an important industrial plant. Much of it, such as meat-packing and paper-manufacturing, is complementary to the primary industries. Canadians also have created a system of transportation and finance to facilitate the process of economic expansion and consolidation. Much of Canada’s industrial development is comparatively recent and dates from World Wars I and II. Largely it has been made possible by the tremendous expansion of hydroelectric facilities. Vast ironore developments since 1939 have been mainly the result of discoveries in Ontario and in the Quebec Labrador region. By 1952 iron-ore production had reached a figure in excess of five million tons. Canada is an important producer of other minerals: nickel, gold, silver, and asbestos. Pulp and paper has become the country’s leading export; it comprised 24 per cent of total Canadian exports in 1954. Canada is the world’s second largest producer of aluminum.

Progress of the Canadian labour movement has kept pace with the development of the Canadian economy. At the beginning of 1955 there were over 1,200,000 union members in Canada. Most of the unions were affiliated with a central labour congress. Of these, the three largest were the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada, the Canadian Congress of Labour, and the Canadian and Catholic Confederation of Labour. In April and May, 1956, the Canadian Labour Congress was formed by a merger of the T.L.C. and the C.C.L.

Since Canada is one of the world’s major industrial and commercial powers, its population, some fifteen million, appears surprisingly small. It is composed of people of British descent, French Canadians, and Europeans in the approximate proportions of five, three, and two. The last group consists chiefly of Scandinavians, Germans, Italians, Netherlanders, Poles, and Ukrainians. To a large extent they are the immigrants who have come to the country since 1900. The Jewish population, a minority of 200,000, have made a contribution to Canada’s development out of all proportion to their numbers.

The political achievements of the Canadians are impressive. Canada has worked out a system of diversity in unity. The Canadian system of federalism has made possible reasonably amicable relations between French and English. Conflicts of interest between the different regions of Canada have been in large measure resolved within the framework of the federation. The French and the English have not always agreed on the issue of civil and religious liberty; but loyal acceptance of judicial decisions has always enabled them to settle their differences. Decisions of the Supreme Court in regard to the Padlock Law and also in regard to the Jehovah’s Witnesses are cases in point.

Canadians are proud of their various racial and religious traditions; but they have come to regard themselves primarily as Canadians. They are determined to exist as an independent people and develop their own culture. The Canadian culture is in large measure derivative, but its elements are mingled in unique proportions and are modified by the geography and history of Canada itself. French and English Canadians speak their respective languages; but each is unique in accent and much of its terminology. They share a common affection for the geographic region, Canada, and for the Canadian state with its capital at Ottawa. (See Reading No. 25.)


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Chicago: Donald C. Masters, "Chapter 6, Conclusion: Canada Since 1945," A Short History of Canada in "Chapter 6, Conclusion: Canada Since 1945," a Short History of Canada (Princeton, New Jersey: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1958), 83–88. Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQZGJXRDR57EWNT.

MLA: Masters, Donald C. ""Chapter 6, Conclusion: Canada Since 1945"." A Short History of Canada, in "Chapter 6, Conclusion: Canada Since 1945," a Short History of Canada, Princeton, New Jersey, D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1958, pp. 83–88. Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQZGJXRDR57EWNT.

Harvard: Masters, DC, '"Chapter 6, Conclusion: Canada Since 1945"' in A Short History of Canada. cited in 1958, "Chapter 6, Conclusion: Canada Since 1945," a Short History of Canada, D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., Princeton, New Jersey, pp.83–88. Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQZGJXRDR57EWNT.