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Progressive Party of Canada

Progressive Party of Canada
Parti progressiste du Canada
Former federal party
Founded 1914 (1914)
Dissolved 1930
Succeeded by United Farmers of Alberta,
Co-operative Commonwealth Federation
Ideology Agrarianism,
Social democracy
Political position Centre-left
Colours Green
Politics of Canada
Political parties

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. The United Farmers movement was tied to the federal Progressive Party of Canada and formed provincial governments in Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba. It rejected the National Policy of the Conservatives and 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 closer to the Liberals causing ruptures in several provinces between United Farmer governments and their organizations.


  • Origins 1
  • Elected to office 2
  • Demise 3
  • Legacy 4
  • Party leaders 5
  • Election results 6
    • Combined Progressive/United Farmer/Labour results 6.1
      • 1921 6.1.1
      • 1925 6.1.2
      • 1926 6.1.3
      • 1930 6.1.4
      • 1935 6.1.5
  • Historiography 7
  • Provincial parties 8
    • Newfoundland 8.1
    • Nova Scotia 8.2
    • New Brunswick 8.3
    • Ontario 8.4
    • Manitoba 8.5
    • Saskatchewan 8.6
    • Alberta 8.7
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


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.

At the turn of the century voters in Western Canada began to consider an influx of radical political ideas. From the Manitoba Grain Growers' Association and the United Farmers of Alberta.

In the period immediately following 1919 provincial election and, surprisingly, won.

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. 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 of the 235 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. For example, almost all the MPs from Alberta were United Farmers of Alberta candidates who were allied to the Progressives (and included in the totals recorded above). That province had elected a UFA government just prior to the 1921 federal election.[1] 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 . 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 .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 desired. 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 but not a majority of the seats. Thus it formed a minority government, which needed the support of the Progressive Party/UFA caucus to stay in office. 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 strategy. 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 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, composed of United Farmers of Alberta MPs. 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 formed 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 UFA MPs dropped the Progressive label. Identifying themselves as parliamentary representatives of the United Farmers of Alberta, they elected 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. Most sitting United Farmers of Alberta MPs joined the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, and all the UFA MPs were defeated at the polls in the election of 1935 by the Social Credit Party of Canada political landslide.

Aside from Alberta electing nine UFA MPs in 1930, 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 (who was known as a proponent of the United Farmers 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 form 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 to the present day Conservative Party of Canada party. Both the CCF and Social Credit had their 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. In 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 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 both as a model and a cautionary tale for those that followed after.

Party leaders

Election results

Election Party leader # of candidates nominated # of seats won # of total votes % of popular vote
Thomas Crerar
Robert Forke

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. (see United Farmers of Alberta)

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.[2]

Combined Progressive/United Farmer/Labour results


Party Party leader # of
Seats Popular vote
1917 Elected % Change # % pp Change
Progressive T.A. Crerar 137 * 58 * 658,976 21.09% *
     Labour J. S. Woodsworth 28 - 3   85,388 2.73% +0.90
United Farmers of Alberta   2 * 2 * 22,251 0.71% *
United Farmers of Ontario   1 * 1 * 3,919 0.13% *
     Independent Progressive 1 * 1 * 3,309 0.115% *
Socialist   1 * - * 3,094 0.10% *
Total 170 - 65 - 776,397 24.875%  
Sources: -- History of Federal Ridings since 1867


Party Party leader # of
Seats Popular vote
1921 Elected % Change # % pp Change
Progressive Robert Forke 68 58 22 -62.1% 266,319 8.45% -12.65
     Labour J.S. Woodsworth 20 3 2 -33.3% 56,987 1.81% -0.93
United Farmers of Alberta   2 2 2 - 8,053 0.26% -0.46
Labour-Farmer   2 * - * 4,774 0.15% *
Independent Labour   1 * - * 2,901 0.09% *
Socialist   1 - - - 1,888 0.06% -0.04
  Independent Progressive 1 1 - -100% 1,768 0.06% -0.05
Farmer   1 * - * 1,130 0.04% *
Farmer Labour   1 * - * 762 0.02% *
United Farmers of Ontario   - 1** - -
Total 97 65 26 - 304,582 10.94%
Sources: -- History of Federal Ridings since 1867


* not applicable - the party was not recognized in the previous election

**Robert Henry Halbert was elected as UFO in 1921, ran for re-election as a Progressive in 1925 but was defeated.


Party Party leader # of
Seats Popular vote
1925 Elected % Change # % pp Change
Progressive   28 22 11 -50.0% 128,060 3.93% -4.52
United Farmers of Alberta   12 2 11 +450% 60,740 1.87% +1.61
     Labour   18 2 4 +100% 55,661 1.71% -0.10
United Farmers of Ontario   1 * 1 * 6,909 0.21% *
     Labour-Farmer   1 - - - 1,441 0.04% -0.11
Socialist   1 - - - 672 0.02% -0.04
Total 61 26 26 - 253,483 7.78%
Sources: -- History of Federal Ridings since 1867


* not applicable - the party was not recognized in the previous election

x - less than 0.005% of the popular vote


Party Party leader # of
Seats Popular vote
1926 Elected % Change # % pp Change
United Farmers of Alberta   10 11 9 -18.2% 56,968 1.46% -0.55
Progressive   15 11 3 -72.7% 70,822 1.82% -2.41
     Labour J.S. Woodsworth 8 4 2 -50.0% 26,548 0.68% -0.95
     Independent Labour 2 * 1 * 15,988 0.41% *
     Farmer   5 * - * 11,999 0.31% *
     Labour-Farmer   2 - - - 3,276 0.08% +0.04
     Farmer-Labour   1 * - * 2,091 0.05% *
     Independent Progressive 1 * - * 1,294 0.03% *
United Farmers of Ontario   - 1** * *
Total 44 26 15 - 188,926 4.84%
Sources: -- History of Federal Ridings since 1867


* The party did not nominate candidates in the previous election.

** Beniah Bowman was elected as a UFO MP in 1926 and ran for re-election as a Liberal in 1930 and was defeated.


Party Party leader # of
Seats Popular vote
1930 Elected % Change # % pp Change
     United Farmers of Ontario-Labour   1 - 1**   7,210 0.39% +0.16
     Labour   5 2*** - -100% 14,423 0.33% -0.35
Socialist   1 * - * 251 0.01% *
     Independent Labour 1 1*** - - 221 0.01% -0.41
United Farmers of Alberta   - 9**** - -
Progressive   - 3***** - -
Total 8 15 1 - 22,105 0.74%
Sources: -- History of Federal Ridings since 1867


* The party did not nominate candidates in the previous election.

** Progressive MP Agnes MacPhail ran for re-election as a UFO-Labour candidate in 1930 and was successful.

*** The three Labour and Independent Labour MPs, J.S. Woodsworth, Abraham Albert Heaps and Angus MacInnis successfully ran for re-election as Co-operative Commonwealth Federation candidates. A fourth Labour MP, Humphrey Mitchell, who entered parliament in a 1931 by-election refused to join the CCF and ran for re-election as a Labour candidate but was defeated. He later joined the Liberals.

**** Of the 9 United Farmers of Alberta MPs, 8 ran for re-election as CCFers and were defeated, the ninth ran as a Conservative and was also defeated.

***** Of the 3 Progressive MPs elected in 1930, one, Agnes MacPhail, ran in 1935 as a UFO-Labour candidate and was re-elected, a second, Milton Neil Campbell, resigned in 1933 to become vice-chairman of the Tariff Board of Canada and was succeeded in a by-election by a Liberal, and the third, Archibald M. Carmichael, did not seek re-election in 1935

x - less than 0.005% of the popular vote


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. However Newfoundland was not part of Canada until 1949.

Nova Scotia

The United Farmers of Nova Scotia was formed in January 1920 at meetings that followed the annual convention of the Nova Scotia Farmers' Association. 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).[3] Daniel G. McKenzie, a successful farmer and former school-teacher from Malagash, was appointed party and opposition leader.[4]

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,

  • The Prairie Roots of Canada's Political 'Third Parties'

External links

  1. ^ WorldHeritage: United Farmers of Alberta
  2. ^ Agnes MacPhail, Parliamentary biography, Library of Parliament, accessed February 14, 2008
  3. ^ Craig Heron, The Workers' Revolt in Canada, 1917-1925, University of Toronto Press, 1998
  4. ^ a b Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture History, Chapter 3 1916-1930, retrieved January 12, 2008
  5. ^ Coneghan, Damian, Progressive Party, Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan


See also

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.


While the Progressives moved to the right, more radical farmers gravitated to 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 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.[5]


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.


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 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.

New Brunswick


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