Canada History

Canada History   timelines 
AskAHistorian    blog 




Prehistory | 2 Worlds Meet | New France | England Arrives | Clash of Empires | Revolution | British America | Reform/Revolt | Responsible Government | Confederation | Nation Building | Laurier | The Great War | Roaring 20's | Great Depression | WWII | The Peace | Cold War | Trudeau | PC's in Power | Modern Canada

1929 Crash | Economic slump | Bennett in Power | The Ottawa Conference | Praire Drought | Relief | The Regina Riot | Alberta & Bible Bill | Statue of Westminister | Woodsworth & CCF | The Union Nationale | Relief Camps | Bennett's Conversion | King's Return | European Unrest | Royal Visit

As the economy worsened and the depression set in, Mackenzie King felt that he and he Liberal Party were in quite good shape for the upcoming Federal election. He had just entertained the British Prime Minister Ramsey Macdonald during his visit to Canada which was bound to reflect upon him positively and although the stock market had fallen sharply, he believed that the economy was fundamentally sound.

A delegation of local political leaders meet on January 29th in Winnipeg to determine what could be done about the rapidly increasing problem of unemployment.  They went to Ottawa to meet with King who simply did no believe here was a problem and bluntly told them that the issues they were looking to redress had to be handled by provincial and municipal authorities and were not within the scope of Federal jurisdiction.

When the Canadian Parliament convened on February 20th, many felt that the economic conditions were deteriorating quickly but did not get around to discussing the issue of help for the unemployed until March 31st. As the debate picked up speed the Liberals fell into the difficult position of arguing that the economic problems were seasonal and not that serious. Quebec and Ontario had not yet been hit as hard as the western provinces and hence King actually believed that things were not that bad. The Conservatives demanded action and claimed that the economy was quickly falling apart to which a large degree it was.

King made his statements in the House on April 3rd which consisted of a refutation of any drastic action to help an economy which was just readjusting itself. He knew that an election was looming and to admit that things were not as good as they could be would weaken him in the country. He was also adverse to handing any relief money from the Federal Government to Conservative Provincial governments who might use some for the Federal election or claim that relief it provided for the people of their provinces was a result of Conservative concern.

The attacks continued and finally King did something he rarely did, he reacted to the attacks with a political mistake and stated in the House

"So far as giving money from this federal treasury to provide provincial governments is concerned," King said, "in relation to this question of unemployment as it exists today, I might be prepared to go to a certain length possibly in meeting one or two western provinces that have Progressive premiers at the head of their governments..." "But, I would not give a single cent to any Tory government!" He continued " With respect to giving moneys out of the federal treasury to any Tory Government in this country for these alleged unemployment purposes, with these governments situated as they are today, with policies diametrically opposed to those of this government, I would not give them a five cent piece."

The main election issue had been set and King did not even realize that he had set it. By April 8th it began to dawn on him how big of a mistake his comment about a five cent piece could have been and by this point the media had devoured the comment and were blasting it all over the country. By May King had decided to call an election for July 30th believing that he could win and that the country would support his positions once again.

The campaign kicked off in June with over 200,000 Canadian unemployed, a devastating drought baking the prairies and wheat prices down by 54%. R.B. Bennett, the leader of the opposition Conservatives had jumped on the spreading despair across the country and made the economy the central issue of his campaign. He used the five cent comment made by King whenever and wherever he could. Bennett a rich lawyer from Calgary was not adverse to using the people's desperation to his advantage in the campaign and beloved he could make a difference.

He began on June 9th in Winnipeg with a speech that promised that the Tories would get men back to work, they would improve the economy and they would bring back the good times. His tool for achieving this was the same old Conservative platform of increasing tariffs which was actually doing enormous harm to the economies of the world. His speech marked a watershed in Canadian politics because for the first time it was broadcast on the radio which gave him massive reach across the country. King listened to the speech on the radio and felt that Canadians would not fall for Bennett's demagoguery. Bennett proclaimed "Canadians didn't want charity, they wanted work. I will not permit this country with my voice or vote,  to ever become  committed to the dole system."

He continued this theme on the campaign trail with, "Mr King promises consideration of the problem of unemployment. I promise to end unemployment. Which plan do you like best?"

King kicked off his campaign with emphasis on taxation and trade as the solution to the problems facing the country. As he made his way across he country he was increasingly met with boos, catcalls and negative references to his five cent piece comment. It turned into a tough campaign to which he never was able to understand the depth and breadth of the resentment over unemployment and the economy.

On election day, 1930 the results came in with a clear mandate for the Conservatives and Bennett. They had won 137 seats to the Liberals 91 with 17 other seats going to the smaller parties. As it turned out, this Conservative win only entitled them to govern for the worst five years of economic disaster in Canadian history.

By the time Bennett called another election, the Liberals looked like a god sent and Bennett was to leave office a broken, dispirited man. He was never to run for office again and left Canada for England where he lived out his remaining years bitter that he had tried end the depression in Canada but had been overwhelmed by force larger then any Prime Minister could have handled. King was to continue on as opposition leader waiting to retake his role as Prime Minister with he most glorious years still ahead of him.