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Labour Party (Canada)

There have been various groups in Canada that have nominated candidates under the label Labour Party or Independent Labour Party or other variations from the 1870s until the 1960s. These were usually local or provincial groups using the Labour Party or Independent Labour Party name, backed by local Labour Councils (made up of all the union locals in a city) or individual trade unions. There was an attempt to create a national Canadian Labour Party in the 1920s, but this was ultimately unsuccessful.

A number of local Labour parties and clubs participated in the formation of the Communist Party of Canada in 1921. The Independent Labour Party and other labour groups helped found the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in 1932.

Members of Parliament

The first Labour Member of Parliament (MP) was Arthur Puttee who founded the Winnipeg Labour Party, and was elected to the House of Commons from Winnipeg, Manitoba in a 1900 by-election and kept his seat at the 1900 federal election held later the same year.

Other MPs elected under the "Labour" or "Independent Labour"label include:

MacInnis, Heaps and Woodsworth joined the Ginger Group of left wing MPs prior to forming the CCF.

Members of provincial legislatures

In Nova Scotia

Four Independent Labour Party MLAs and one Farmer-Labour MLA (all but one from Cape Breton) were elected to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly in the 1920 general election. The joined with 6 United Farmer MLAs to form the official opposition in the legislature with United Farmer MLA Daniel G. MacKenzie as leader. All the United Farmer and ILP MLAs were defeated in the 1925 general election. A single Labour MLA, Archibald Terris was elected in 1928 representing Cumberland County; he did not run for re-election in 1933.

The Nova Scotia Co-operative Commonwealth Federation began running candidates with the 1933 general election and became the New Democratic Party in 1961. In 1982 the Cape Breton Labour Party was formed by MLA Paul MacEwan after he was expelled from the NDP. It ran 14 candidates in the 1984 general election but MacEwan was the only candidate to win the seat. The party soon dissolved and MacEwan was re-elected in 1988 as an Independent before joining the Nova Scotia Liberal Party in 1990.

In Quebec

A number of members of the Legislative Assembly of Quebec were labeled Parti ouvrier (Labour Party) from the 1890 election until the 1931 election. They represented predominantly labour-class neighbourhoods in Montreal and Quebec City and consisted of:

In Ontario

A number of Labour MLAs were elected in the 1919 provincial election which led to the formation of a United Farmers of Ontario-Labour coalition government. Labour MLAs included:

  • James Bertram Cunningham, Labour, Sault Ste Marie
  • John Govenlock, Labour, Huron Centre, (1919)
  • Frank Greenlaw, Labour, St. Catharines, (1919)
  • George Grant Halcrow, Labour, Hamilton East, (1919)
  • Peter Heenan, Labour, Kenora, (1919, 1923, returned as Liberal 1934, 1937 see Liberal-Labour))
  • Karl Homuth, Labour-UFO, Waterloo S., (1919, as Labour 1923, 1926, Conservative 1929, d. 1930)
  • Morrison MacBride, Labour, Brantford (1919, 1923, returned as Independent 1934, Ind. Liberal 1937 d. 1938)
  • Harry (Henry) Mills, Labour, Fort William, (1919)
  • Walter Ritchie Rollo, Labour, Hamilton W., (1919) Minister of Labour and leader of the Labour group in the legislature (1919-1923)
  • Hugh Stevenson, Labour, London, (1919)
  • Charles Swayze, Labour, Niagara Falls, (1919)
  • Thomas Tooms, Labour, Peterborough W., (1919)

The last Labour MLA elected to the legislature was Earl Hutchinson who was elected in Kenora in 1929 and re-elected in 1934. He agreed to resign shortly after his re-election to allow former Labour MLA Peter Heenan to seek the Kenora seat in a by-election so that he could be appointed to the provincial cabinet by the newly elected Liberal government of Mitchell Hepburn. Hutchinson accepted an appointment by Hepburn to the post of vice-chairman of the Workmen's Compensation Board shortly after leaving politics.

The Ontario Co-operative Commonwealth Federation was formed in 1932 with the support of a number of Independent Labour Party clubs and elected its first MLA in the 1934 provincial election, Samuel Lawrence in Hamilton East.

In Manitoba

In Alberta

  • See also The Rise and Fall of the Labour Party in Alberta, 1917-42

In British Columbia

  • Although there were officially no parties in the British Columbia legislature until 1903, various candidates began to declare for labour parties in the 1890s. The first to succeed, in the 1898 election, was Ralph Smith, in the coal-mining riding of South Nanaimo. Once the party system was introduced, Smith joined the Liberal Party and was re-elected as a Liberal in the 1903 and then won a seat as MP in the Canadian House of Commons in the 1904 and 1908 elections, but was defeated for his seat in the 1911. He returned to provincial politics and won his seat again as part of the province's first Liberal government in the wake of the general election of 1916. He served as Finance Minister in that government until his death in 1917, and was succeeded by his wife, Mary Ellen Smith, who won the resulting by-election and sat as an Independent Liberal, later becoming the first female cabinet minister in the British Empire.


In 1917, the Trades and Labour Congress (TLC) national convention in Toronto passed a resolution calling on provincial labour federations to establish a political party which would unite socialist and labour parties in the province and eventually form a national party. A Canadian Labour Party was formed, and endorsed several candidates in the 1917 federal election. The leadership of the TLC changed in 1918, however, and the new leaders favoured the "non-partisan" approach of American Federation of Labor leader Samuel Gompers. The CLP was abandoned, as such.

Between, 1920 and 1926, provincial parties were founded in British Columbia, Manitoba, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

The Federated Labour Party was created by the British Columbia Federation of Labour in 1920, absorbing the Social Democratic Party and part of the Socialist Party of Canada.

From 1906-1909, there had been a Canadian Labour Party of B.C. (CLP(BC)). This party was a split from and rival to a group calling itself the Independent Labour Party.

A later Independent Labour Party was organized in British Columbia in 1926 by the Federated Labour Party and Canadian Labour Party (B.C. section) branches. In 1928, it severed its CLP(BC) connections. In 1931, it reorganized, and was renamed the Independent Labour Party (Socialist). The following year it became the Socialist Party of Canada.

In Manitoba, a Dominion Labour Party (DLP) had been created in 1918. This was a reformist party, although more explicitly socialist than the previous such organizations in the province (see Winnipeg Labour Party, Manitoba Independent Labour Party, Manitoba Labour Party, Labour Representation Committee). The DLP elected several members to the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba in 1920. It was taken over by rightist elements affiliated with the American Federation of Labour later in the year, and most of the MLAs formed a new Independent Labour Party.

An Alberta Dominion Labour Party was also formed in 1920. Unlike the Manitoba DLP, this party was not taken over by rightist elements. It remained a viable organization until the 1930s, in an alliance with the Canadian Labour Party (see below).

In Saskatchewan, the Independent Labour Party was formed in 1931 and led by M.J. Coldwell, It merged with the United Farmers of Canada (Saskatchewan Section) to form the Farmer-Labour Group in 1932 which became the Saskatchewan CCF in 1934.

The Ontario Labour Party was created in 1922, led by James Simpson of the Independent Labour Party, and the Reverend A. E. Smith, later of the Communist Party of Canada.

In 1921, Simpson also revived the Canadian Labour Party. The CLP was intended to be an umbrella organization for the various labour parties throughout the country. It succeeded in forming alliances with the Federated Labour Party, Ontario Labour Party, Dominion Labour Party and other groups including local labour councils (though not the Manitoba ILP). Between 1922 and 1924, the provincial affiliations of the Workers Party of Canada (the legal face of the Communist Party of Canada) also joined the CLP. It was never a strong central organization, however, and never elected a candidate at the national level. The CLP ceased to exist in most parts of the country after 1929, when the Communists withdrew. In Alberta, the CLP survived until 1942, in alliance with the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation after 1935.


At various times in political history of Canada and of Ontario, candidates have sought election as Liberal-Labour candidates. (Please see linked article.)

Conservative Labour

Conservative Labour was the label used by Canadian Conservative Party politician Henry Buckingham Witton as a candidate in Hamilton, Ontario from 1872 to 1875. Witton may have added "Labour" to the Conservative Party name because Hamilton is a largely industrial city. The first workingman ever to sit in parliament in Canada, Witton was elected largely on the strength of the Hamilton labour movement. Indeed, his candidacy was aided by workers throughout southern Ontario, as can be seen by the very supportive coverage he received in the (Toronto) Ontario Workman.

Witton was employed as a master painter at the Great Western Railway Shops when he was elected in the 1872 federal election, and sat with the Conservative caucus of Sir John A. Macdonald before being defeated in the 1874 election. He ran again in an 1875 by-election but was again defeated.


Across Canada, labour and the farmers movements, particularly the United Farmers, formed alliances, and often ran joint candidates. The Progressive Party of Canada was effectively a coalition of farmer and labour groups.

John Wilfred Kennedy, a farmer, was elected as a United Farmers of Ontario-Labour MP for Glengarry and Stormont in a 1919 by-election. He was re-elected as a Progressive MP in the 1921 federal election and was defeated in 1925.

Agnes Macphail, who was first elected to the House of Commons as a Progressive, was re-elected in 1935 as a UFO-Labour candidate before being defeated in 1940. She was a supporter of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, but ran as UFO-Labour because the UFO, of which she was a member, had disaffiliated from the CCF in 1934 after a brief association.

A small number of candidates ran under the "Farmer-Labour" banner in federal elections of the 1930s and 1940s, although there was no formally organized party. None of these candidates ever won election to the House of Commons.


Labour and Independent Labour Party Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) joined with members of the United Farmers of Ontario to form a Farmer-Labour coalition government from 1919 to 1923 with E. C. Drury as Premier of Ontario.


Several Labour MLAs joined the initial United Farmers of Alberta government.


The United Farmers and the Independent Labour Party merged to form the Farmer-Labour Group in 1932. In the 1934 provincial election, the Farmer-Labour Group won almost 24% of the popular vote and 5 seats in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, where it became the official opposition to the Liberal government. After the election, it became the Saskatchewan section of the CCF.

Nova Scotia

The United Farmers and Labour elected 11 MLAs to the Nova Scotia Legislative Assembly in the 1920 general election forming the official opposition in the province.

New Brunswick

The 1920 provincial election elected 9 United Farmers and 2 Farmer-Labour MLAs[1] who sat together and allowed the incumbent Liberals to maintain confidence in a minority government situation. None of the MLAs were re-elected in the 1925 election.

See also


External links

  • Labour Party (Canadian Encyclopedia article)
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