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Canadian Social Democracy Historical Evolution Essay

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made towards social democracy. Most political parties might have overlooked the issue of social welfare, but they have been unable to reverse what the C The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) was a democratic movement formed in 1933 by a federation of farmers, labor, and other socialist affiliations. The CCF’s main purpose was to ensure regulation in the production and distribution of goods to meet the Canadians’ needs as opposed to making profits.

This goal was to be achieved by replacing the capitalist system, which created domination and exploitation of one class by the other. The CCF believed that in a bid to alleviate inequality, which was occasioned by the irresponsible capitalists, there was a need to develop a socialized economy in which production and distribution was to be under control of the public sector.

The CCF adopted the Regina Manifesto whose purpose was to enable social and economic transformation by replacing the government, which was controlled by the business people through funding. The CCF felt that if the farmers and workers in the capitalist economy continued to be exploited, the economy would favor the rich and the underprivileged end up being poor (Logan 80).

The main objective of this paper is to show how the CCF managed to fight for social democracy for the Canadians despite the objection from the conservative capitalists whose agenda was to benefit from the unbalanced economy and maintain their dominance. The thesis will be developed by explaining the dynamics in the nature of social democracy with respect to the changes of capitalism in response to economic instabilities during the war and the stability regained in post war period.

The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF)

The CCF was a federation of democratic socialists, agrarian farmers, and industrial workers who aimed at alleviating capitalism to ease suffering for the underprivileged groups (Berger 97). The CCF sought to achieve economic cooperation, public control of the economy, and political reforms. The federation targeted a community free from class domination and misuse of economic power.

The CCF developed the Regina Manifesto during its first national federation to eradicate the capitalist system and replace it with organized socialism. Frank Underhill and F.R. Scott were among the league of social reconstruction, which adopted the Regina manifesto in 1933. Some of the objectives of the Regina manifesto were achieved in the short run such as security for farmers via marketing boards coupled with improved working conditions for workers.

These factors were critical in influencing the huge success in provincial politics by the CCF. Later in 1944, the Saskatchewan’s CCF led by Premier Tommy Douglas established the first socialist government in North America. Douglas became very vocal when addressing the welfare of the citizens and he fought indefatigably to introduce the Universal Medicare program in Saskatchewan (Macpherson 80).

In 1956, the CCF members felt that Canada had grown and that the Regina Manifesto had profound influence on the Canadian social system. However, due to the evolving nature of capitalism, the CCF had to adopt another document to match the growing maturity of the Canadian society.

The Winnipeg Declaration was formed and it identified that Canada was still driven by socio-economic inequalities. Even during the post war era, the Canada’s productivity production was low and scramble for resources by private sector was creating unnecessary waste. The decline in party popularity was reflected during the 1958 elections when the CCF secured only eight seats (Logan 75).

The party immediately called a crisis meeting and following extensive discussions, the party members in company of the Canadian Labor Congress resolved to work together and constitute a new party to popularize social democracy amongst Canadian citizens (Logan 87). In1961, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation changed to the New Democratic Party (NDP) with Tommy Douglas being appointed as the first federal leader of the NDP.

Beyond 1961

After the depression, workers and farmers were the most affected with the monopolistic corporations blocking every opportunity for the middle and low class to progress. The Canadian labor Congress was compelled to engage in negotiations with the CCF. The talks resulted in a merger to form the NDP.

The spring of 1963 marked the peak of the ongoing federal election campaigns. Tommy Douglas joined a mammoth crowd stacked at the Maple Leaf Garden in Toronto where he called for universal Medicare for every citizen across Canada. Medicare was believed to go beyond the obvious understanding of medical health since it encouraged goodwill within the society (Macpherson 92). This move could foster equality and social justice to everyone across Canada.

Tommy Douglas was very determined and he looked true to his words, but he knew well that his agenda to bring equality was going to be received with severe criticism from the conservatives. The first move by Douglas’ government involved the creation of policies, which ensured that hospital costs were surfaced by the government.

However, Tommy’s government did not wait for long to face the challenges on the ground, as his electoral mandate to provide universal Medicare was faced with contention from the Continental Doctors’ lobby, which geared toward inflating the scare of what it termed as ‘state medicine’. In 1960, doctors staged a confrontation against the CCF. The Liberal Party as well opposed the move by Douglas’ government.

This scenario called for a special session of the policymakers who were mandated to enact Medical care Insurance Act, which was to take effect six months down the line (Caplan 40). Tommy had stepped down from premiership to take on his new role in the leadership of the NDP. The implementation of Medicare was delayed, which gave doctors extra time to strengthen their opposition. Immediately after the Medicare act was put to action, doctors went on strike, thus jeopardizing the efforts by the government.

Selfish and ruthless demonstrators became a threat to the Medicare proponents. This move was an agenda by the conservative capitalists to block any advancement to improve the social welfare of the poor, hence decline their dominance (Berger 67). However, in 1967, the efforts to introduce Medicare nationwide matured when the Liberal government adopted the program.

The struggles in Saskatchewan had great implication toward achieving democracy for the Canadian citizens as well as the international community. The key virtues of the Medicare initiative were preserved and incorporated in the national medical plan.

The misconceptions aired to the public by the striking doctors such as government bringing their own doctors to command doctor-patient relationship were ignored and a common goal to better the lifestyle of all people flourished. With time, Medicare had taken giant step to medical success, thus reflecting great care for all Canadian citizens (Logan 37).

Emerging threats

With the dynamics in the economic sector in the 1990s, such as increase in population size and expensive medical technology among other fears in the Medicare program, the provincial governments were compelled to spend more in a bid to sustain the program. Since Medicare had gained great acceptance among the Canadians, it was very hard to cut on its spending. Financing Medicare by the provincial governments sparked heated political debates.

Following the electoral defeat of the NDP in the 1964 provincial election, the first socialist democrat’s party in Canada had to hand over. The NDP had successfully introduced the popular social reform in Medicare, which was to be left under the mercies of the capitalist Liberals. Ross Thatcher, a former CCF MP, joined the former opposition where fellow conservatives and Liberals thrived.

This was a blow to social democracy since it indicated that some leaders were motivated by individual gains as opposed to the social wellbeing for Canadians. The new Premier advanced ideals of individualistic capitalism. He Went ahead and challenged the Crown corporations formed by the CCF and encouraged a radical free enterprise system (Macpherson 79).

Finally, the CCF-NDP, which was a party established under great will of the common person and social welfare of the Canadian citizens, was now at a compromised position to advance its manifesto. The CFF had fought hard for farmers in Saskatchewan. As farmers became successful, they forgot the common purpose that had united them against capitalism and gradually some joined conservatism.

Most farmers amassed wealth and forgot the Social Democratic Party, which stood for the benefit of all during times of struggle. The Liberals’ conception of equality did not suit the disadvantaged groups in society as opposed to the social democrats who defined equality as opportunity for all people to get a fair piece of what they produced (Young 23). The virtues practiced in the Canadian Medicare remain as evidence for its democratic aspects by tracing its origin to the CFF-NDP socialist movements.

Social values

Different personalities developed self-opinions towards the Medicare. Tommy Douglas’ ethical issues for Medicare are reflected in the religious gospel of the Protestants as well as his personal experience having been brought up in a needy family (Young 34). He argued that it was inhumane to watch the less fortunate suffer from sicknesses because they could not afford healthcare.

The social gospel claimed that the individuals had to incorporate the society by sharing with those who are suffering in a bid for everyone to live a good life. Social revivalists believed that Christian life was about the wellbeing of the entire society by caring about one’s neighbor. These sentiments were common to the views of the democrats. For instance, J.S. Woodsworth established houses to shelter the poor in the most forgotten parts of the cities.

New political Ideology

After the 1957 elections, the CCF faced an electoral problem, which was never anticipated. The newly elected and inexperienced leadership by Lester Pearson made the Liberals to move a vote of no confidence, which led to snap elections later in 1958 (Careless 65). During the elections, the CCF declined its representation by garnering only eight seats.

This result meant that the party had declined popularity, and thus it faced the danger of declining and irrelevancy. It was now evident that the party ideologies had declined in value and political direction had to be changed in the quest to avoid the death of the party. David Lewis, the architect of the Winnipeg Declaration, was keen to rescue the party from decline.

He aimed at strengthening and lengthening the life of the Canadian social democracy by creating a firm link between the CCF and the Labor movement. This period was the best time for the CCF to join forces with the Labor movement and stage a strong political system.

The adoption of the Keynesian model advanced the social democratic ideals as the bulk of the economy was to be directed at the expense of the private sector. The Keynesian model emphasized the stabilizing of employment, which strengthened the people’s purchasing abilities in wages and salaries. The Keynesian approach was used not only by the social democrats, but also by the liberal governments especially after the war to alleviate the economic crisis of the post war (Arbela 90).

As with many industrialized nations, Canada faced many deficits in the economy. Following the election of the Harris government in 1995, Ontario did not wait long to experience the repercussions of these deficits. The working and the middle class had come out faithfully to elect a leader whom they hoped would bring reforms to stabilize the current situation, but he was already failing them.

The government failed to regulate policies and the influence of the privileged classes was accumulating by taking their children to private schools as well as mounting security guards around them to protect them from the developing crisis (Young 64). By accessing private services, they did not mind about the welfare of others, and thus they refrained from paying for public services they did not need.

Bob Rae seemed to be concerned with the welfare of the community. He wanted to convince the business communities to back him in his quest to save the situation. He worked beyond his party will to ensure that he achieved a publicly operated initiative of auto insurance (Caplan 117). He knew his course would place him at an elevated political position for the provincial position. His government, in 1993, introduced the social contract, which steered the reopening of public sector contracts for employees as well as salary rollbacks.

However, this initiative increased the taxes coupled with cutting down government spending, thus taking the burden to the people. Many social democrats and public workers were not happy with the idea since they were not involved in the decision. Rae’s government was compelled to work in a situation, which was not pleasing the workers due to the forces of the strengthening capitalist system.

The introduction of the free trade system in Canada spelt a danger for the socio economies. The expensive social initiatives brought by the free trade model raised taxes, which affected those with lower purchasing power. The free trade policy turned the economic weight against the wishes of the social welfare of the unprivileged. The NDP party was now seen to be losing focus in realizing its political will for the social welfare.

Even after the technological advances in the economic sector, the NDP had failed to adjust its position on the socio-economic and political perspective for a long period. The Winnipeg Declaration had served its purpose a long time ago in championing for social democracy of the state.

However, a time to adjust had come, and thus the party had to adopt a highly inclusive document addressing the socio-economic and political dynamics. The NDP knew that the Winnipeg Declaration had declined in value, but hesitated to rethink of a new strategy to move the party to the next level.

The current dispensation

The NDP has enhanced its popularity since the 2004 election by raising the number of MPs by nine. The NDP indicated that the interests of the working population were to be given priority in a bid to enhance their social welfare. In contrast, the Layton government seemed not to abide by its promises as the Harper minority, who were on the front line fulfilling what they had promised the citizens, allegedly overshadowed it.

The NDP was receiving pressure from the neo-liberalism who looked highly organized in the capitalist economy in the process, thus making it difficult for the NDP to dispense its social democratic ideals. In addition, over the previous three decades, societies at home and abroad had created an ever-broadening gap, hence becoming highly unequal, and thus all level inequity was been experienced across Canada. The level of exploitation of the poor by the dominant class had gone high to resemble the period of colonialism (Berger 111).

The gap between the lower social class and the rich in the Canadian society is widening due to the capitalist policies advanced by the liberals. The poor have limited opportunities to advance, thus making their livelihood dependent on the rich who own the means of production. The argument by the social democratic critiques that all these political parties have turned into selfish political entities aiming at outdoing each other rather than working for the people was becoming valid.

In its quest to replace the Liberals, the NDP was increasingly overlooking its original push for social democracy. The post war decades were characterized with high technology and increased production, which favored the capitalist model. Most champions of social democracy were gaining place in the capitalist economy, thus weakening the NDP support The Liberals were very decisive by engaging the Catholic Church and trying to reinvent their past.

The changing dynamics in voting during the 20th century has favored church-aligned parties more than the socialist advocators. With Canada edging close to 50 percent Roman Catholic, it gave the Liberals a green light in long dominance in power (Laxer and Laxer 69). The difference in the political parties in Canada today lies only on the manifestos, which are often ignored immediately a party ascends to power as from the campaigns, everything else is done for the interest of the party rather than the welfare of the people.

During the early decades of Tommy Douglas, the environment was allowing for the establishment of social welfare with a few number of business people being involved in politics. Social programs like Medicare were given priority and the education system in Canada was broadening. With the current neo-conservative situation, it is close to impossible to advance social programs (Caplan 115).

Many social movements have tried to introduce or re-introduce social programs, but it has always proved difficult. Not even the NDP has shown efforts to support the current social welfare. However, the CCF-NDP had great significance in shaping social democracy in Canada, and due to the changes in the political realm, it became hard for the presiding leaders to live by the dream of the founding fathers of the party.


Progressiveness involves the changes brought by technology and social awareness in a given community. The changing political ideals by the social democrats were highly influenced by the evolution that capitalism attained from the post war advancement in the production sector. During the time of Tommy Douglas, the NDP had few obligations to meet and minimal adjustments were involved. Later and up to the present, Canada has advanced in terms of technology as well social transformations, thus compelling parties to adjust as well.

These changes had several implications for the party as well as the people. Neo-liberal labor policies undermined the Canadian Medicare advantage as government reduced the federal funding, thus resulting in a decline in the number of doctors per hospital (Laxer and Laxer 71). The neo-liberal perspective to political reforms and policies led to the rise in economic inequalities. High inequality did not only financially deprive the poor, but it also weakened the social bonds that connect the poor society to the rest of the world (Abella 89).

Currently, the NDP, as the only social democratic party in Canada, can use this opportunity to change the experiences of the society under the leadership of Thomas Mulcair. The NDP faces the reality that Canadian voters have always elected Liberals and Conservatives to form the federal government and it can only have a chance of forming the 2015 government by strategizing on how to work with the people.


In the raising spectra of changing politics, the NDP is contemporarily standing at a cross road with unclear sense of political direction. Apparently, the NDP party should adjust and work closely with the workers’ union rather than contradicting itself by advancing some capitalistic ideals. Whether it is a political tactic to benefit from the two, the NDP might be losing its political bearing and popularity.

Since voting is not enough to bring change, the NDP has to get back to the basics and purpose to work for the welfare of the society. However, despite the current challenges facing the NDP and the Canadian society, much has been attained in the previous decades and the social changes introduced have helped to shape the current milestones CF-NDP established in the past.

Works Cited

Abella, Irving. Nationalism, Communism and Canadian Labor: The Cio, the Communist Party and the Canadian Congress of Labor, 1935-1956, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973. Print.

Berger, Carl. The Sense of Power: Studies in the Ideas of Canadian Imperialism, 1867-1914, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013. Print.

Caplan, Gerald. The Dilemma of Canadian Socialism: The CCF in Ontario. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1973. Print.

Careless, James. Brown of the Globe: Volume Two: Statesmen of Confederation, 1860-1880, Toronto: Macmillan, 1963. Print.

Laxer, James, and Robert Laxer. The Liberal Idea of Canada: Pierre Trudeau and the Question of Canada’s Survival, Toronto: J. Lorimer, 1977. Print.

Logan, Harold. Trade Unions in Canada: Their Development and Functioning, Toronto: Macmillan, 1948. Print.

Macpherson, Crawford. Democracy in Alberta: Social Credit and the Party System, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962. Print.

Young, Walter. The Anatomy of a Party: The National CCF, 1932-1961, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969. Print.

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