Ernest C. Manning, Peter Lougheed, Tommy Douglas, W.A.C. Bennett, Louis Riel


The West Has Its Own Political Traditions

Edmonton - Monday, September 9, 2002 - by: Ron Thornton


According to the history books, Canada has had two traditional governing parties; the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives. While that might be so for the rest of the nation, it has been an entirely different story in the west. Sure, it began with both the Liberals and Conservatives tied for the hearts of western voters in 1908 and 1911, and support of the war effort saw the Unionists the overwhelming favourite in 1917. That is where our story takes a marked departure.



to be

Looking for something different is a western tradition, and in 1921 the Progressives claimed 39 of the 56 seats in the region. They promised direct democracy, free trade, and nationalization, especially of the railways. Interestingly enough, this new party was an Ontario creation, with enough representation in Parliament to form the official opposition. Yet, it did not. Not wishing to be a political party in the traditional sense, they yielded the honour to the Conservatives. Failing to understand the need for organization and unity of action, the party soon unravelled, with a remnant joining the Conservatives in 1942.


The west supported Mackenzie King during the war years, but their second choice proved to be the Social Credit Party. The party was based on a monetary theory that strove to keep the value of money and prices static through increasing the money supply just enough. Rather than using banks to introduce the money into the economy by lending out extra credit, the government would give equal "dividends" out to its citizens as a "social credit." While the banks and the federal government debunked the theory, Social Credit remained a conservative voice of choice, at least in Alberta.




After the war, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, or CCF, rose to become one of the top two parties in the region for decades. Formed in Calgary in 1932, it was a coalition of progressives, socialists, and labour forces that joined together to seek reforms to improve the lot of those suffering the effects of the Great Depression. They called for nationalization of key industries and the establishment of the welfare state. Joining with the Canadian Labour Congress to form the New Democratic Party (NDP) in 1961, they have remained one of the top three parties in the region in an unbroken string going back to 1945.


Despite what most might think, the Tories were pretty much a fourth party in the west for twenty-years after the depression. It took John Diefenbaker's leadership to raise them from the ashes when they claimed second to the CCF among western voters in 1957; becoming their party of choice over a forty-five year stretch that began with their sweep of 1958. Lester Pearson would never have become Prime Minister if the west had its way, while the best Pierre Trudeau could do on the plains and Pacific coast was a tie with the PC's in 1968. As far as the west was concerned, former Nova Scotia premier Robert Stanfield was Prime Ministerial material and Joe Clark would have won two majorities. Then Brian Mulroney came along. After leading the Progressive Conservatives to national power the people of the west discovered there wasn't much difference between the Tories and the Liberals they replaced. The Diefenbaker legacy was squandered.



< 13% in
the west

The Liberals are called the natural ruling party of Canada. Well, not if the good folks in the west had anything to say about it. In the west, the Liberals are almost as foreign as the Democrats and the Republicans. Since 1957 the Liberals have managed to win less than 13% of the ridings they have contested in the four western provinces. While they have had something of a resurgence in the region, their seat count has steadily been reduced since winning 27 seats in the west in 1993. After 2000's date with destiny, that number had been reduced to 14.


While the rest of Canada, especially Ontario, was seemingly intent on sending the Liberals to Ottawa with massive majorities, the west turned from the Tories to Reform and its successor, the Canadian Alliance. Their share of western seats has risen from 59 to 68 to 70%, even after undergoing needless upheavals in the late 1990's. Their promise of reforming our Parliament to make it more accountable, more democratic, and to enhance its structure so that it might reflect a more national form of governance, has resonated within a region that has felt alienated within their own country for far too long.

to positive

Neither of our nation's traditional ruling parties are seen as agents of hope nor progress in this region. The Liberals, since the 1950's, and the Progressive Conservatives, since the 1990's, have been viewed, at best, as barriers to positive change and, at worst, as the root of our frustrations. In the west, it seems we like our choices more clear cut, more definitive as to what they stand for. We‚ve discovered that parties that try to be all things to all people end up standing for nothing at all.

not an

While Canada may be the land of Macdonald, Laurier, King, and Trudeau, the west's political titans had names like Manning, Lougheed, Douglas, Bennett, and Riel. We have seen our economies come under attack by governments that do not represent us or that are willing to sell out our interests. Our attempts for resolution have gone by such names as the Progressives, Social Credit, CCF, and Reform. That is our tradition. Obviously, for us, a perpetualization of the status quo is not an option. Our nation needs to be stronger, more united, to ensure its long-term survival and we seek leadership that can provide meaningful change to allow that to take place. We have long ago discovered that there are some traditions that we simply can do without.


Ron Thornton

  Canadian General Elections: The West and the Rest
  Progressive Party
  Social Credit
  Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (Regina Manifesto)



Retrun to Ensign - Return to Saskatchewan News

This page is a story posted on Ensign and/or Saskatchewan News, both of which are daily web sites offering a variety of material from scenic images, political commentary, information and news. These publications are the work of Faster Than Light Communications . If you would like to comment on this story or you wish to contact the editor of these sites please send us email.

Editor : Timothy W. Shire
Faster Than Light Communication
Box 1776, Tisdale, Saskatchewan, Canada, S0E 1T0
306 873 2004