James S Woodsworth

James Shaver Woodsworth (29 July 1874 - 21 March 1942), Canadian socialist leader, was born in Etobicoke, near Toronto, Ontario, the son of a Methodist minister. He moved with his family in 1885 to Manitoba, where his father became an administrator with the Methodist Church. He was ordained as a Methodist minister in 1896 and spent two years as a circuit preacher in Manitoba before going to study at Victoria College in Toronto and at Oxford University in England.

Returning to Canada, he worked with immigrant slum dwellers in Winnipeg wrote extensively, and preached a social gospel which called for the Kingdom of God "here and now". By 1914 he had become a socialist and an admirer of the British Labour Party. He was also a pacifist, and in 1917 he was fired from a government social research position for opposing conscription. In 1918 he resigned from the ministry and worked as a longshoreman on the Vancouver docks.

Woodsworth returned to Winnipeg in May 1919 to support the general strike which had broken out there. He became editor of the Western Labour News. When the Royal North West Mounted Police charged into a crowd of strikers demonstrating in the centre of Winnipeg, killing one person and injuring 30, Woordsworth led the campaign of protest, and soon became involved in organising the Manitoba Independent Labour Party.

In 1921 Woodsworth was elected to the House of Commons for the riding of Winnipeg North Centre. Rejecting violent revolution and any association with the new Communist Party of Canada, Woodsworth became a master of parliamentary procedure and used the House of Commons as a public platform.

When the Canadian Liberal Party nearly lost the 1925 elections, Woodsworth was able to bargain his vote in the House for a promise from the Liberal government to enact an old age pension plan. Introduced in 1927, the plan is the cornerstone of Canada's social security system.

When the Great Depression struck, Woodsworth and the ILP joined with various other labour and socialist groups to found a new socialist party, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, with Woodsworth as its first leader. Woodsworth said: "I am convinced that we may develop in Canada a distinctive type of Socialism. I refuse to follow slavishly the British model or the American model or the Russian model. We in Canada will solve our problems along our own lines."

At the 1935 elections, seven CCF Members of Parliament were returned and the party captured 8.9 percent of the popular vote. But the CCF was never able to break through Canada's two party system. In particular, the enormous prestige of the long-time Liberal Prime Minister, William Mackenzie King, prevented the CCF displacing the Liberals as the main party of the left, as happened in Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

In 1939 the majority of CCF members refused to support Woodsworth's opposition to Canada's entry into World War II. During the debate on the declaration of war, Mackenzie King said: "There are few men in this Parliament for whom I have greater respect than the leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. I admire him in my heart, because time and again he has had the courage to say what lay on his conscience, regardless of what the world might think of him. A man of that calibre is an ornament to any Parliament."

Nevertheless Woodsworth was almost alone in his opposition to the war, and his days as a party leader were over. He was re-elected to the House in 1940 but a series of strokes had weakened his health. He died in Winnipeg in May 1942.

Woodsworth's memory is held in great respect in Canada, although even the party he founded, today called the New Democratic Party, has largely abandoned his idealistic vision of a socialist Canada. Woodsworth College at the University of Toronto is named after him.

First Leader CCF leaders Succeeded by:
Major Coldwell