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Western Clarion, official newspaper of the Socialist Party of Canada, 2 January 1922
Western Clarion, official newspaper of the Socialist Party of Canada, 2 January 1922

Socialism in Canada has a long history and along with conservatism and liberalism is a political force in Canada.[1]

In its early days, Canada's socialist movement gained momentum in Western Canada. The Socialist Labor Party was formed in 1898 in Vancouver. The Socialist Party of British Columbia in 1901. The Socialist Party of Canada was the first Canadian-wide based Socialist party by native Canadians, founded in 1904. Later, the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 and Great Depression (1929–1939) are considered to have fuelled socialism in Canada. The Communist Party of Canada was founded in 1920 and is the oldest active socialist party in Canada, and the second-oldest active political party in Canada.

The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) was founded in 1932 as an agrarian socialist party. Its first platform was the Regina Manifesto, adopted in 1930. The CCF gained popularity among industrial workers throughout the 1930s. In 1944, the Saskatchewan wing of the party formed the first Socialist government in a Canadian party and stayed in power until 1964.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) was founded in 1961, as a merger of the CCF and the interests of the Canadian Labour Congress. At the end of a five-day-long Founding Convention which established its principles, policies and structures, and Tommy Douglas, the long-time CCF Premier of Saskatchewan, was elected its first leader.[2] While the NDP has never won a federal election, its provincial wings have taken power in six out of ten provinces since its inception. In the preamble of its original constitution, the NDP self-described as a socialist party. Since 2013, the party constitution states that "social democracy and democratic socialism are influences on the party".


Early 20th century socialism

The Socialist Labor Party was Canada's first socialist party, formed in 1898 by Canadian supporters of the ideas of American socialist Daniel De Leon and the Socialist Labor Party of America.[3] It became a national party in the 1930s and had its headquarters in Toronto. The party never won any seats. The party ran only a small number of candidates (listed below), all of whom placed last in their respective elections.[4]

The Socialist Party of Canada (SPC) existed from 1904 to 1925 led by E. T. Kingsley. It published the Western Clarion newspaper. The party was founded at the Socialist Party of British Columbia's 4th annual convention in December 1904. The SPC was instrumental in setting up One Big Union in Canada. [5] The SPC strongly oppose participation in World War I. As a result of the Russian Revolution and the Winnipeg General Strike, a number of the SPC's supporters became attracted to Bolshevism and the ideas of Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. The party disbanded in 1925.[6]


1945 election poster for Fred Rose, the first Communist MP
1945 election poster for Fred Rose, the first Communist MP

During the Great Depression, the Communist Party of Canada experienced a brief surge in popularity, becoming influential in various labour unions and electing a single Member of Parliament, Fred Rose. The Communist Party of Canada was created in Guelph, Ontario in 1921 by a group of Marxist activists led by William Moriarty. During the early years of their existence, the party's membership faced persecution and arrest for their political activities. In 1935 the Communists gained notoriety by organizing a massive march of unemployed workers known as the On-to-Ottawa Trek and before that organized the young inmates of the relief camps into the Relief Camp Workers' Union to resist the poor conditions of the camps. The On-to-Ottawa Trek never made it to Ottawa; instead, it ended with the Regina Riot of July 1, 1935. The trek and the living conditions in the government's "relief camps" helped to discredit Conservative Prime Minister R. B. Bennett, leading to his defeat at the hands of the Liberals in 1935. After the trek the communists were instrumental in organizing over 1,448 Canadians to fight in the Spanish Civil War.

Joined by volunteers of other political stripes, the Canadian contingent known as the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion joined the International Brigades (a coalition of volunteers from many countries) to fight for the elected leftwing government of the Second Spanish Republic against the fascist-supported insurgency of General Francisco Franco. The "Mac-Paps" fought bravely in many battles but were forced to leave Spain in 1938 by Prime Minister Juan Negrín López along with the other foreign volunteers as it became clear that the war was lost. Of the nearly 1,500 Canadians known to have fought in Spain, 721 were verified as having lost their lives. The most famous Canadian to serve in the Mackenzie–Papineau Battalion was Dr. Norman Bethune, a surgeon who would invent the world's first mobile medical unit. Dr. Bethune would later be killed during the Second Sino-Japanese War, while aiding the Chinese Communist Party. Today, he is a national hero in the People's Republic of China and is remembered as being a friend of Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

By the end of World War II, the Communist Party began to lose its momentum. Its only elected federal representative, Fred Rose, was accused of being a Soviet spy. Rose was expelled from parliament, arrested for four years, and then followed at every job site by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). He eventually left for Poland with the intention of returning to clear his name, but had his Canadian citizenship revoked in 1957.

Democratic socialism

CCF founding meeting in Regina, 1933
CCF founding meeting in Regina, 1933

By a wide margin, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a democratic socialist political party from the Prairies with its origins in the Christian left and the social gospel, became the most influential socialist party in Canada.

The CCF gained support in the Prairies as well as from many labour unions. Led by Tommy Douglas, the CCF was elected to power during the 1944 Saskatchewan election. Douglas governed Saskatchewan until 1961. As of the 2019, his party remains an important force in the politics of the province. The CCF also emerged as the official opposition in British Columbia during the election of 1941 and in Ontario during the province's 1943 election. At the federal level, opinion polls initially indicated a dramatic surge in support for the CCF prior to the 1945 federal election. Although in the end it only translated into modest gains for the party, it is widely believed to have influenced the early steps taken by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in introducing the welfare state.[weasel words] The CCF and the early democratic socialist movement is seen, by some political scientists (such as Gad Horowitz), as mainly a Christian and European Canadian movement.

In 1961, the CCF joined with the Canadian Labour Congress to form the New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP is more moderate and social-democratic than its predecessor, the CCF. The Regina Manifesto of the CCF called for abolishing capitalism while the NDP merely wants to reform capitalism. They are generally perceived as being responsible for the creation of universal healthcare, pensions, a human rights code and for the development of Canada's social safety net in general.[citation needed] In the past, the NDP has formed provincial governments in Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon Territory, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. The NDP government created a public auto insurance company upon taking power in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia. At present only British Columbia has a New Democratic government, while the NDP is the official opposition in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Yukon.

At the federal level the NDP has held strong influence over various minority governments, in particular a Liberal minority led by Pierre Trudeau from 1972-1974 during the 29th Canadian Parliament. During this period the NDP was successful in forcing the government to create a state-owned oil company, called Petro Canada.[citation needed]

The NDP has also held influence over other Liberal-led minority governments during the Lester B. Pearson government (1963–1968) and the Paul Martin government (2004–2006). Their self-stated goal is to one day form a federal government on their own and introduce social-democratic policies.

In the province of Quebec, the NDP has been considerably less popular, but recently, in the May 2, 2011 Canadian Federal Election a record number of NDP Members of Parliament were elected, including 59 of the 75 available seats in Quebec. The party was the Official Opposition in the 41st Canadian Parliament.

For most of the late 20th century, the strongest social-democratic party in Quebec has been the sovereigntist Parti Québécois. Like the NDP, the Parti Québécois is generally considered to be "social democratic".[7]

Revolutionary socialism

Many socialists in Canada have attempted to organize outside of the framework of parliamentary politics, to pursue conceptions of socialism that are more radical than the social-democratic politics of either the CCF or the NDP.

Some of the radical socialist organizations operating in Canada today include Socialist Action (Canada) the International Socialists (Canada), Socialist Alternative (Canada), Spring, the Communist League (Canada), Autonomy & Solidarity,[8] and the London Project for a Participatory Society,[9] among others.

Socialist parties in Canada

Current parties

Historical parties

Parties that have held seats in the House of Commons of Canada and provincial legislatures.

See also


  1. ^ Horowitz, G. (1966). "Conservatism, Liberalism, and Socialism in Canada: An Interpretation". The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science. 32 (2): 143–171. doi:10.2307/139794. ISSN 0315-4890. JSTOR 139794.
  2. ^ "The evolution of CCF into NDP: 1961 and after". Archived from the original on February 5, 2009.
  3. ^ Cronin, Sean (1977). "The Rise and Fall of the Socialist Labor Party of North America". Saothar. 3: 21–33. JSTOR 23195205.
  4. ^ "Socialist Labor Party of Canada collection". Retrieved 20 March 2020.
  5. ^ Monto, Tom, Protest and Progress, Three Labour Radicals in Early Edmonton, Crang Publishing, 2012 (available at Alhambra Books, Edmonton, p. 71
  6. ^ History of the Socialist Party of Canada, by J.M. Milne (1973)
  7. ^ Arsenault, Gabriel (2018-06-22). "Explaining Quebec's Social Economy Turn". Canadian Journal of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research. 9 (1): 62. doi:10.22230/cjnser.2018v9n1a237. ISSN 1920-9355.
  8. ^ Upping the Anti | A Journal of Theory and Action
  9. ^ London Project for a Participatory Society Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Constitution of the New Democratic Party of Canada" (PDF). New Democratic Party of Canada. p. 1. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  11. ^ Laura Payton (14 April 2013). "NDP votes to take 'socialism' out of party constitution". CBC News. Retrieved 26 May 2020.
  12. ^ Pcc/Pcq Archived 2007-08-24 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "Fightback Canada - Home". Retrieved 2017-11-13.