Progressive Party of Canada

Progressive Party of Canada

The Progressive Party of Canada was a political party in Canada in the 1920s and 1930s. It was linked with the provincial United Farmers parties in several provinces and, in Manitoba, ran candidates and formed governments as the Progressive Party of Manitoba. The party was part of a farmers political movement that included provincial Progressive and United Farmers' parties.

The United Farmers movement in Canada rose to prominence after World War I. With the failure of the wartime Union government to alter a tariff structure that hurt farmers, various farmers movements across Canada became more radical and entered the political arena. It was tied to the federal Progressive Party of Canada and formed provincial governments in Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba. United Farmers rejected the National Policy of the Conservatives but also felt that the Liberals were not strong enough proponents of free trade and were too strongly tied to business interests. Generally, farmers groups formed alliances with Labour and socialist groups though, in power, they became more pragmatic and closer to the Liberals causing ruptures in several provinces between United Farmer governments and their organizations.


The origins of the Progressive Party can, in many ways, be traced to the politics of compromise under Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The most important issue to farmers in western Canada at the time was free trade with the United States. The National Policy implemented by Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald in the 1890s forced farmers to pay higher prices for equipment, and to sell their produce for less. After World War I, however, neither of the major political parties supported free trade.

Western Canada at the turn of the century began to receive an influx of radical political ideas. From the United States, came Progressivism and the Non-Partisan League. From Britain, the new immigrants brought Fabian socialism. This mix of ideology and discontent led to much discussion of forming an independent party, especially in the "Grain Growers Guide", a magazine of the day. The first organizations of agricultural protest were the farmers’ organizations such as the Manitoba Grain Growers Association and the United Farmers of Alberta.

In the period immediately following World War I farmers organizations across Canada were becoming more politically active and were entering electoral politics on the provincial level. The United Farmers of Ontario ran in the 1919 provincial election and won a surprise victory.

In June 1919 Thomas Crerar, Minister of Agriculture in the Unionist government of Robert Borden quit the Borden cabinet because Minister of Finance Thomas White introduced a budget that did not pay sufficient attention to farmers' issues. Farmer leader and MP John Archibald Maharg also withdrew his support from the government and joined Crerar and in 1919 and 1920 several by-elections were won by "United Farmers" candidates. In 1920, Crerar and his supporters founded the Progressive Party of Canada with Crerar as its first leader. The new party won 58 seats in the 1921 general election.

Elected to office

Traditionally, the Progressive Party has been viewed as a western protest party, but some now contest this. It is certain that its core of support was western. But as the 1921 election shows, the Progressives began life as a truly national movement. The Progressives won 24 of the 81 House of Commons seats in Ontario. At the time, the party viewed this as a disappointing result Fact|date=December 2007. The Progressives received significant support in the Maritimes provinces as well, but only one seat in New Brunswick. At the provincial level, farmers' parties became significant presences in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

By taking a very decentralized approach, the Progressive Party copied the method used in the United States to build a national party in the U.S. Congress Fact|date=December 2007.Crerar was not the national leader of the party, but only the parliamentary leader. The media regarded him as the leading spokesman of the party, although he had no official position outside of parliament. The party also had no national organization relying instead on the Canadian Council of Agriculture to provide some degree of national structure. Each candidate was free to promote any policies they desiredFact|date=December 2007. Support for reforming the National Policy was a common denominator, but even this was not universal within the party. The Progressives can barely even be called a party, and many have argued that the term "Progressive Movement" is perhaps more apt.

In the 1921 election, the Liberal Party of Canada won the largest number of seats, and formed a minority government. The Progressives were divided over what to do, however. A significant group of ex-Liberals, including Crerar, supported forming a coalition government with the Liberals. This was resisted both by Montreal interests in the Liberal Party and the radical Progressives. Some radical Progressives, who were followers of Henry Wise Wood of the UFA, supported a very different strategyFact|date=December 2007. They wished to remain a decentralized party with each member simply representing his constituents. The two groups agreed to refuse the position of Official Opposition, normally accorded to the party with the second largest number of seats , and this was passed on to the third-largest party, the Conservative Party.


Crerar attempted to introduce certain attributes of a standard party to the Progressives, including Parliamentary Whips and a national party organization. These efforts were resisted, however, and in 1922, Crerar resigned as leader. He was replaced by Robert Forke, another ex-Liberal who agreed with Crerar on most issues. The Progressives proved unsuccessful in Parliament, and lost much of their moderate support in eastern Canada. While in the 1921 election Crerar had toured the entire nation, Forke abandoned everything east of Manitoba. In the 1925 election, the Progressives lost almost all of their Ontario members, but were still moderately successful in the west.

This left the party dominated by the radical Alberta wing. Forke resigned as Progressive house leader on June 30, 1926, one day after Mackenzie King resigned as Prime Minister. Forke and most of the Manitoba Progressives made a deal with the Liberal Party and ran as Liberal-Progressives in the 1926 election prompted by the fall of the interim Conservative government of Arthur Meighen. The Liberals were able to form a stable minority government following the 1926 election with the support of the 7 elected Liberal-Progressive MPs and Forke entered the Mackenzie King cabinet as Minister of Immigration and Colonization. The Alberta Progressives reconstituted themselves as parliamentary representatives of the United Farmers of Alberta electing 11 MPs in the 1926 election and 9 in 1930 - most of whom were members of the radical Ginger Group faction of left wing Progressive, Labour and United Farmer MPs. The remaining UFA MPs were routed in the election of 1935 when most sitting United Farmers of Alberta MPs joined the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and were defeated at the polls by the Social Credit Party of Canada. Only three MPs were elected as Progressives in the 1930 election, Milton Neil Campbell and Archibald M. Carmichael of Saskatchewan and Agnes MacPhail of Ontario. MacPhail successfully ran for re-election as a United Farmers of Ontario-Labour candidate in the 1935 election but was defeated running under the same banner in 1940.


After the collapse of the party, most Progressive voters returned to the Liberal Party. The Liberals had always viewed the Progressives as simply 'Liberals in a hurry', and for a large group of the party's supporters, this was true. The most important example of this return to the Liberals is T.A. Crerar, who served with the Liberals for decades, first as a cabinet minister and then as a Senator.

The more radical of the progressives split two ways. The Ginger Group was a faction formed in 1924 by radical Progressives and were later joined by several Labour and Independent MPs. They would eventually formed the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the forerunner of the modern New Democratic Party).

Others, especially the radical populists, would later turn towards Social Credit ideology, forming a definite line of western protest that continued to run through the Reform Party of Canada and the Canadian Alliance party. Both the CCF and Social Credit had its roots in the United Farmers movement, from which a large number of MLAs were elected in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Manitoba, and which formed governments in Alberta, Ontario and Manitoba. On Manitoba, the United Farmers of Manitoba changed their name to the Progressive Party of Manitoba after coming to power in 1922.

It could be argued that the United Farmers parties were provincial wings of the federal Progressive Party. The Conservative Party received the least of the Progressive's spoils, inheriting only the name. More important than these effects on individual parties, the Progressive Party also had a great effect on Canada's governmental system -- it was the first successful example of a third party in Canada. Despite the Duverger's Law of political science, the Canadian Parliament has always had a third, and sometimes a fourth or even fifth, party present ever since (although no third or fourth party has ever formed a national government in Canada.) The Progressives thus served as both a model and a cautionary tale for those that followed after.

Party leaders

* Thomas Crerar 1920 - 1922
* Robert Forke 1922 - 1926

Election results

Does not include MPs elected as United Farmers, Labour, Independent, Independent Progressive or other designations who may have been part of the Progressive Party caucus.

Progressive MP Agnes MacPhail was re-elected in the 1935 federal election as a United Farmers of Ontario-Labour candidate but was defeated running under the same banner in the 1940 federal election. [ [{1D6A8F18-7D15-4909-B0F5-88F9B514F20A}&Language=E Agnes MacPhail, Parliamentary biography] , Library of Parliament, accessed February 14, 2008]


The study of the Progressive Party is almost wholly dominated by one author, W.L. Morton, whose 1950 book, "The Progressive Party in Canada", won a Governor General's Award, and had been the principal text on the Progressive Party ever since. A great number of more recently published works on western politics cite only Morton’s book in their discussion of the Progressive Party. Morton, a Red Tory, wrote in the context of a seemingly spreading Social Credit movement. Morton’s book was the first in a series exploring the origins of the Social Credit movement.

Provincial parties


Though not part of the "United Farmers" movement, or indeed a movement of farmers at all, the Fisherman's Protective Union of Newfoundland provides an interesting case that parallels that of the "United Farmers".

Nova Scotia

The United Farmers of Nova Scotia was formed in January 1920 at meetings that followed the Nova Scotia Agricultural Association's convention. At an April meeting, 300 farmers approved the UFNA's constitution and the publication of a newspaper, "United Farmer's Guide". The movement nominated 16 candidates and elected 7 in the 1920 general election. Aligning with the Independent Labour Party they formed the official opposition with 11 MLAs (elected with a 30.9% of the popular vote). [Craig Heron, "The Workers' Revolt in Canada, 1917-1925", University of Toronto Press, 1998] Daniel G. MacKenzie, a successful farmer and former and school-teacher from Malagash, was appointed party and opposition leader. [ Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture History, Chapter 3 1916-1930] , retrieved January 12, 2008]

The party began to lose its momentum in the fall when one of its founders, Major Hugh Dickson, was defeated in the Colchester by-election. In 1921, Nova Scotia Liberal Party Premier George Murray discredited the party in the eyes of the public when he offered to divide the government's budget surplus among members of the legislature. All but one United Farmer MLA accepted Murray's largesse. Later that session another scandal rocked the party when it was revealed that MacKenzie had secretly accepted a government salary of $500. A series of defections followed and by 1925 the United Farmers of Nova Scotia had virtually ceased to exist.

New Brunswick

The 1920 provincial election elected 9 United Farmers and 2 Farmer-Labour MLAs who sat together and allowed the incumbent Liberals to maintain confidence in a minority government situation. None of them were re-elected in the 1925 election and no other UF candidates were elected at subsequent elections.


In Ontario, the United Farmers of Ontario formed government as a result of the 1919 provincial election with E.C. Drury as Premier. After the government's defeat in 1923 and the formal decision of the UFO to withdraw from electoral politics, most remaining UFO Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) took to calling themselves "Progressives". In the 1934 provincial election the remaining Progressive MLAs under Harry Nixon ran as Liberal-Progressives in an alliance with the Ontario Liberal Party led by former UFO member Mitch Hepburn. The Liberal-Progressives subsequently joined the Liberal Party.


The Progressive Party of Manitoba had merged with the Manitoba Liberal Party in the 1920s to form a Liberal-Progressive party there. Despite this, in 1942, Manitoba Premier John Bracken, a Progressive, was persuaded to become the leader of the national Conservative Party. As a condition of his accepting the leadership, the party's name was changed to Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. The Progressive Party of Canada, however, refused to disband, and ran its own candidates in the subsequent federal election against Bracken's Tories. The party's electoral fortunes continued to decline, and most Progressives ended up joining either the Liberal Party or the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), rather than the renamed Progressive Conservatives.


The Progressive Party of Saskatchewan ran seven candidates and elected six members to the Saskatchewan legislature in the 1921 general election despite the absence of a provincial organization due to the reluctance of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers Association to break with the Saskatchewan Liberal Party. The Liberals had a tradition of consulting the SGGA about farm policy and of appointing prominent farm activists to cabinet such as Charles Dunning and John Maharg. A political crisis ensued the Liberal government in late 1921 in which Premier William Melville Martin angered the SGGA by campaigning for the federal Liberal Party of Canada against the Progressive Party of Canada in the 1921 federal election. Agriculture Minister Maharg, a former SGGA president, resigned from the Cabinet in protest and crossed the floor to sit as an Independent and become Leader of the Opposition. Martin himself was forced to step down and the federal Progressives won 15 of 16 Saskatchewan seats in the federal election. The SGGA subsequently authorized the creation of local political action committees across the province but were unable to build on the 1921 federal breakthrough and only ran 6 of a possible 63 candidates in the next two provincial elections. In the 1925 provincial election the Progressives again won six seats and formed the official opposition. They were reduced to third party status and five seats in the 1929 provincial election with the Liberals reduced to minority government status due to a strong showing by a revived Conservative Party of Saskatchewan. The Progressives joined with the Conservatives to force the Liberals from office on September 6, 1929 and formed a coalition government allowing the Conservatives leader James T.M. Anderson to take power as premier; one Progressive, Reginald Stipe, was appointed to Anderson's cabinet as minister without portfolio. By the next election the Progressives had disappeared. [Coneghan, Damian, [ Progressive Party] , "Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan"]

While the Progressives moved to the right, more radical formers gravitated to the United Farmers of Canada (Saskatchewan Section) which was formed in 1926 by members of the Farmers' Union of Canada and the Saskatchewan Grain Growers' Association. As a result of the Dust Bowl farm crisis during the Great Depression the UFC (SS) became politicised and adopted a socialist platform. In 1930, in response to the Progressive-Conservative coalition, the UFC (SS) under the leadership of George Hara Williams decided to form a new political party. In 1932 it joined with the Independent Labour Party in the province to form the Farmer-Labour Group. Progressive MLA Jacob Benson joined the new party to become its first MLA. In the 1934 provincial election, the FLG returned five MLAs to the legislature and subsequently became the Saskatchewan section of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation.


The United Farmers of Alberta formed was the governing party in Alberta from 1921 until its defeat in 1935. It also elected a number of MPs to the Canadian House of Commons who sat initially as Progressive Party MPs but were re-elected as UFA MPs beginning in 1926 due to a split in the Progressive movement.


ee also

*List of Progressive/United Farmer MPs
*United Farmers
*Fisherman's Protective Union a similar movement in Newfoundland
*Labour Party
*Non-Partisan League
*Co-operative Commonwealth Federation
*New Democratic Party
*List of political parties in Canada
*Farmers' movement

External links

* [ The Prairie Roots of Canada's Political 'Third Parties']

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