Co-operative Commonwealth Federation

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Co-operative Commonwealth Federation
Fédération du Commonwealth Coopératif
Parti social démocratique du Canada
Chairman J. S. Woodsworth
M. J. Coldwell
F. R. Scott
Percy Wright
David Lewis
SecretaryM. J. Coldwell
David Lewis
Lorne Ingle
Carl Hamilton
Founded1 August 1932
Dissolved3 August 1961
Preceded by Ginger Group
Independent Labour Party
United Farmers of Alberta (political wing)
Succeeded by New Democratic Party
Headquarters Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Ideology Democratic socialism
Social democracy
Agrarianism [1]
Political position Left-wing [2]
International affiliation Socialist International
  • Green
  • yellow

The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF; French : Fédération du Commonwealth Coopératif, FCC) was a federal democratic socialist [3] and social-democratic [4] political party in Canada. The CCF was founded in 1932 in Calgary, Alberta, by a number of socialist, agrarian, co-operative, and labour groups, [5] and the League for Social Reconstruction. In 1944, the CCF formed one of the first social-democratic governments in North America when it was elected to form the provincial government in Saskatchewan. [6]


The full, but little used, name of the party was Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (Farmer-Labour-Socialist). [7]

In 1961, the CCF was succeeded by the New Democratic Party (NDP).



The CCF aimed to alleviate the suffering that workers and farmers, the ill and the old endured under capitalism, seen most starkly during the Great Depression, through the creation of a Co-operative Commonwealth, which would entail economic co-operation, public ownership of the economy, and political reform.

The object of the political party as reported at its founding meeting in Calgary in 1932 was "the federation [joining together] of organizations whose purpose is the establishment in Canada of a co-operative commonwealth, in which the basic principle of regulating production, distribution and exchange will be the supplying of human needs instead of the making of profit." [7]

The goal of the CCF was defined as a "community freed from the domination of irresponsible financial and economic power in which all social means of production and distribution, including land, are socially owned and controlled either by voluntarily organized groups of producers and consumers or – in the case of major public services and utilities and such productive and distributive enterprises as can be conducted most efficiently when owned in common – by public corporations responsible to the people's elected representatives". [8] Many of the party's first Members of Parliament (MPs) were members of the Ginger Group, composed of United Farmers of Alberta, left-wing Progressive, and Labour MPs. These MPs included United Farmers of Alberta MPs William Irvine and Ted Garland, Agnes Macphail (UFO), Humphrey Mitchell, Abraham Albert Heaps, Angus MacInnis, and Labour Party MP J. S. Woodsworth. Founding groups included the Independent Labor Party (of Manitoba), the Canadian Labor Party (mostly in Edmonton), the Dominion Labor Party of southern Alberta, the UFA, and the United Farmers of Ontario (which withdrew from the CCF in 1934). [9]

Also involved in founding the new party were members of the League for Social Reconstruction (LSR), such as F. R. Scott and Frank Underhill. [10] :31 It can be said that the CCF was founded on May 26, 1932, when the Ginger Group MPs and LSR members met in William Irvine's office, the unofficial caucus meeting room for the Ginger Group, and went about forming the basis of the new party. [11] J. S. Woodsworth was unanimously appointed the temporary leader until they could hold a founding convention. [11] The temporary name for the new party was the Commonwealth Party. [10] :30 The Social Gospel was a significant influence on the CCF. [12]

CCF founding meeting, Calgary, 1932 CooperativeCommonwealthFederationFoundingMeeting.jpg
CCF founding meeting, Calgary, 1932

At its founding convention in 1932 in Calgary, the party settled on the name "Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (Farmer-Labour-Socialist)" and selected J. S. Woodsworth as party leader. [13] Woodsworth had been an Independent Labour Party MP since 1921 and a member of the Ginger Group of MPs. The party's 1933 convention, held in Regina, Saskatchewan, adopted the Regina Manifesto as the party's program. The manifesto outlined a number of goals, including public ownership of key industries, universal public pensions, universal health care, children's allowances, unemployment insurance, and workers' compensation. [10] :304–313

Its conclusion read, "No CCF Government will rest content until it has eradicated capitalism and put into operation the full programme of socialized planning which will lead to the establishment in Canada of the Co-operative Commonwealth." [13] The party affiliated itself with the Socialist International. [14]

Electoral performance

Federal CCF Caucus, in 1942 with new leader M.J. Coldwell. Left to right, Tommy Douglas, George Hugh Castleden, Angus MacInnis, Coldwell, Clarie Gillis, Joseph W. Noseworthy, Sandy Nicholoson, and Percy Wright. CCF Caucus meeting.jpg
Federal CCF Caucus, in 1942 with new leader M.J. Coldwell. Left to right, Tommy Douglas, George Hugh Castleden, Angus MacInnis, Coldwell, Clarie Gillis, Joseph W. Noseworthy, Sandy Nicholoson, and Percy Wright.

In line with Alberta's important role in founding the CCF, it is said that the first CCF candidate elected was Chester Ronning in the Alberta provincial constituency of Camrose, in October 1932. [16] The UFA, under whose banner he contested the election, formalized its already-strong connection to the CCF in its next provincial convention, in January 1933. [17]

In its first federal election, seven CCF MPs were elected to the House of Commons in 1935. Eight were elected in the following election in 1940, including their first member east of Manitoba, Clarence Gillis, in Cape Breton, a coal-mining area of Nova Scotia (specifically the federal riding of Cape Breton South).

The party was divided with the outbreak of World War II: Woodsworth was a pacifist, while many party members supported the Canadian war effort. Woodsworth had a physically debilitating stroke in May 1940 and could no longer perform his duties as leader. [18] In October, Woodsworth wrote a letter to the 1940 CCF convention, in essence asking to retire from the leadership. [18] Instead, the delegates created the new position of Honorary President, abolished the President's position and re-elected M. J. Coldwell as the National Chairman. [18] Coldwell was then appointed acting House Leader on 6 November. [19] Woodsworth died on 21 March 1942, and Coldwell officially became the new leader at the July convention in Toronto and threw the party behind the war effort. [19] As a memorial to Woodsworth, Coldwell suggested that the CCF create a research foundation, and Woodsworth House was established in Toronto for that purpose. [18]

The party won a critical York South by-election on 8 February 1942, and in the process prevented the Conservative leader, former Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, from entering the House of Commons.

In the 1945 election, 28 CCF MPs were elected, and the party won 15.6% of the vote.

In the 1949 election, 13 CCF candidates were elected. This was followed by 23 elected in the 1953 election and a disappointing eight elected in the 1958 election. (In that election the party took almost ten percent of the vote so was due about 26 MPs proportionally.)

The party had its greatest success in provincial politics.

In 1943, the Ontario CCF became the official opposition in that province.

In 1944, the Alberta CCF took almost a quarter of all votes cast but due to lack of PR, were held to winning just two seats.

In 1944, the Saskatchewan CCF formed the first democratic socialist government in North America, with Tommy Douglas as premier. Douglas introduced universal Medicare to Saskatchewan, a policy that was soon adopted by other provinces and implemented nationally by the Liberal Party of Canada during the administration of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. Tommy Douglas's CCF governed Saskatchewan from 1944 to 1961.

New Party

Federally, during the Cold War, the CCF was accused of having Communist leanings. The party moved to address these accusations in 1956 by replacing the Regina Manifesto with a more moderate document, the Winnipeg Declaration. Nevertheless, the party did poorly in the 1958 federal election, winning only eight seats.

After much discussion, the CCF and the Canadian Labour Congress decided to join forces to create a new political party that could make social democracy more popular with Canadian voters. This party, initially known as the New Party, became the New Democratic Party (NDP) in 1961.

Election results

ElectionLeaderVotes %Seats+/–PositionGovernment
1935 James Woodsworth 410,1259.3
7 / 245
Increase2.svg 7Increase2.svg 4thLiberal Majority
1940 388,1038.4
8 / 245
Increase2.svg 1Increase2.svg 3rdLiberal Majority
1945 Major James Coldwell 815,72015.6
28 / 245
Increase2.svg 20Steady2.svg 3rdLiberal Majority
1949 784,77013.4
13 / 262
Decrease2.svg 15Steady2.svg 3rdLiberal Majority
1953 636,31011.3
23 / 265
Increase2.svg 10Steady2.svg 3rdLiberal Majority
1957 707,65910.6
25 / 265
Increase2.svg 2Steady2.svg 3rdPC Minority
1958 692,3989.5
8 / 265
Decrease2.svg 17Steady2.svg 3rdPC Majority [20]


The CCF estimated its membership as being slightly more than 20,000 in 1938, less than 30,000 in 1942, and over 90,000 in 1944. [10] :Appendix B,Table III,p. 320 Membership figures declined following World War II to only 20,238 in 1950 and would never again reach 30,000 [10] :Appendix B,Table III,p. 320

By the late 1940s, the CCF had official or unofficial weekly newspapers in Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan; twice-monthly papers in Ontario and Manitoba; and a bimonthly in the Maritimes. A French-language paper in Quebec was also attempted at various times. The party also produced many educational books, pamphlets, and magazines, though these efforts declined in the 1950s.[ citation needed ]

Party leaders

PictureNameTerm startTerm endRiding as leaderNotes
Ac.woodsworth.jpg J. S. Woodsworth 1 August 193221 March 1942 Winnipeg North Centre, Winnipeg Centre, MB"Temporary leader" from the party's founding meeting on August 1, 1932 until the founding convention in July 1933 when he was elected president (leader) of the CCF. Due to illness, Woodsworth ceased to be parliamentary leader in October 1940. He remained honorary president (leader) of the CCF until his death. [21]
M.J. Coldwell in 1944.jpg M. J. Coldwell 29 July 194210 August 1960 Rosetown—Biggar, SKBecame parliamentary leader of the CCF in October 1940. Was unanimously elected party president (leader) at the CCF's national convention in Toronto in July 1942. [21]
Hazen Argue.jpg Hazen Argue 11 August 19602 August 1961 Assiniboia, Wood Mountain, SKChosen parliamentary leader by the CCF caucus after Coldwell lost his seat in the 1958 general election. Officially elected party leader, without opposition, at the CCF national convention in 1960.

National chairmen

Four past and future National Chairmen in September 1944: National CCF delegation attending the Conference of Commonwealth Labour Parties in London, England. Pictured from left to right: Clarie Gillis, MP for Cape Breton South; David Lewis, National Secretary; M. J. Coldwell, National Leader, MP for Rosetown--Biggar; Percy E. Wright, MP for Melfort; and Frank Scott, national chairman. Claire Gillis, David Lewis, M.J.Coldwell c007253.jpg
Four past and future National Chairmen in September 1944: National CCF delegation attending the Conference of Commonwealth Labour Parties in London, England. Pictured from left to right: Clarie Gillis, MP for Cape Breton South; David Lewis, National Secretary; M. J. Coldwell, National Leader, MP for Rosetown—Biggar; Percy E. Wright, MP for Melfort; and Frank Scott, national chairman.

The national chairman was the equivalent of party president in most Canadian political parties and was sometimes referred to as such, in that it was largely an organizational role. In the case of the CCF, the national chairman oversaw the party's national council and chaired its meetings. Following an initial period in which Woodsworth held both roles, it was usually distinct from and secondary to the position of party leader. National president originally was also a title the leader held, as both Woodsworth and Coldwell held the title when they held seats in the House of Commons. In 1958, after Coldwell lost his seat, the position of national chairman was merged formally into the president's title and was held by David Lewis. [10] :235

National secretaries

The national secretary was a staff position (initially part-time, and then full-time beginning 1938) which was responsible for the day-to-day organizing of the party. The national secretary was the only full-time employee at the party's national headquarters until 1943, when a research director, Eugene Forsey, and an assistant to the leader were hired.

CCF song

"Towards the Dawn!" - a 1930s promotional image from Saskatchewan Towards the Dawn.jpg
"Towards the Dawn!" – a 1930s promotional image from Saskatchewan

The CCF song would be later popularized by the movie Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story .

First verse:

A call goes out to Canada
It comes from out the soil—
Come and join the ranks through all the land
To fight for those who toil
Come on farmer, soldier, labourer,
From the mine and factory,
And side by side we'll swell the tide—
C.C.F. to Victory. [27]

Provincial sections

See also

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  1. Seymour Martin Lipset (1971). Agrarian Socialism: The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in Saskatchewan : a Study in Political Sociology. University of California Press. ISBN   978-0-520-02056-6 . Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  2. Alvin Finkel (1979). Business and Social Reform in the Thirties . James Lorimer & Company. p.  154. ISBN   978-0-88862-235-8.
  3. The following sources describe the CCF as a democratic socialist political party:
  4. These sources describe the CCF as a social-democratic political party:
  5. Alvin Finkel (1997). Our Lives: Canada After 1945 . James Lorimer & Company. p.  5. ISBN   978-1-55028-551-2 . Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  6. Peter Davis (1983). Social Democracy in the South Pacific. Peter Davis. p. 53. ISBN   978-0-908636-35-8 . Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  7. 1 2 Calgary Herald, August 1, 1932
  8. Laurence Gronlund, Co-operative Commonwealth, An Exposition of Socialism (1884), p. 36 as quoted in Monto, Tom, Protest and Progress, Three Labour Radicals in Early Edmonton, Crang Publishing/Alhambra Books, p. 156
  9. "Quebec History".
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Young, Walter D. (1969). The anatomy of a party: the national CCF 1932–61 . Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Anatomy of a party
  11. 1 2 McNaught (2001), pp. 259–260.
  12. "The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan | Details".
  13. 1 2 Morton (1986), p. 12.
  14. Kenneth Murray Knuttila (2007). The Prairie Agrarian Movement Revisited. University of Regina Press. pp. 173–. ISBN   978-0-88977-183-3.
  15. Smith (1992), p. 88.
  16. Mardiros, Anthony (1979). William Irvine, The Life of a Prairie Radical . Toronto: James Lorimer & Co. p.  208. ISBN   978-0-8886-2237-2.
  17. Champion Chronicle, January 26, 1933
  18. 1 2 3 4 McNaught (2001), pp. 313–315.
  19. 1 2 Stewart (2000), pp. 244–245.
  20. The Canadian Encyclopedia
  21. 1 2 "Co-operative Commonwealth Federation". Library of Parliament. Parliament of Canada.
  22. 1 2 Braithwaite, Dennis (1950-07-29). "C.C.F. Disavows Marx Class Struggle Idea, Tempers High in Debate". The Toronto Daily Star . pp. 1, 7.
  23. Staff (1952-08-09). "Make Own Foreign Policy, Follow U.N. CCF Meet Urges". The Toronto Daily Star . pp. 1, 2.
  24. 1 2 Stewart (2000), p. 211.
  25. Smith (1989), p. 294.
  26. Stewart (2000), p. 212.
  27. "Foreword". CCYM Sings. Saskatchewan Council for Archives and Archivists. Retrieved 2010-07-17. CCYM is the Co-operative Commonwealth Youth Movement, the image is from a larger collection of scans in jpeg format.



Preceded by Co-operative Commonwealth Federation
Succeeded by