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Even before the storm clouds were gathering over Europe, Mackenzie King was apprehensive about any foreign events that might drag Canada into a conflict which might require the commitment of large land forces. He was particularly sensitive to the Conscription Crisis and its results form the First World War. On his visit to Britain and Germany in 1937 he was particularly attentive  to diplomatic judgements and actions that would calm the European situation and minimize the potential of another great war.

By 1939 when war began to look possible and then after the signing of the Nazi/Soviet pact in August, King was still determined to avoid sending a land force to any war in which it might become involved but to build up the Canadian air force and navy in order to be able to restrict the number of soldiers needed and hence the possibility of having to resort to conscription to fill those numbers. The members of his cabinet from Quebec made it completely clear to him that if he was to bring conscription in, they would have to leave the cabinet and the government might then fall.

During the stunning days of September, as Poland fell, King realized that Canada would have to make a land force contribution and it was decided to send the 1st Division to England as a start. The Liberal government promised that it would not introduce conscription as a way of filling the ranks of the quickly expanding army and hoped to settle fears in Quebec that it was coming regardless of speeches.

By June, the Germans had again devastated several more allies and countries as the lowlands and France all toppled under the relentless attack of the German Blitzkrieg. The outcry from the country to do more to support Britain was overwhelming and in order to avoid conscription but draw manpower into the military and support services the National Resources Mobilization Act was introduced in Parliament and passed on June 21, 1940. This act allow the Liberals to show that they were taking action by drafting any able bodies man into home service to support the war effort and appease the anti- conscriptionists by avoiding conscription which would send Canadians overseas that did not want to go. Registration for the NRMA occurred with little resistance.

By 1942 the pressure to bring conscription in and make the war effort total was again rising and King faced a rebellion from his English Cabinet Ministers over the issue. King presented the idea of holding a plebiscite which would release the Liberals from their commitment not to bring in conscription. On April 17th, 1942 Bill 80 was passed although the vote for conscription was over 80% in English Canada and over 70% against conscription in Quebec. The wording of the bill authorized conscription for overseas service if it was deemed necessary.


By 1944 the military personnel that had been conscripted and not sent overseas were known as Zombies and the high casualty rates seemed to indicate that they would need to be used for overseas duty. On November 22, King gave into the pressures from his government and decided to start sending the conscripts overseas as replacements. He saved his government and although only just over 12,000 conscripts arrived in combat areas by the end of the war, the outcry form Quebec and anti-conscriptionist remained relatively quite compared to WWI. King had successfully navigated the competing demands of politic, economic, military and international demands and survived the war with a strong Liberal party and victory in the war.

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