Ordeal by Fire: Canada, 1910-1945

By Ralph Allen | Go to book overview

XXXIX
The resurgence of the provinces--Social Credit and William Aberhart--The astonishing revolt of R. B. Bennett

NOT even in 1917 had the country been in such political ferment as in that seething year of 1935. At least half a dozen new acids, unguents, soporifics, and abrasives were at work on the raw nerves of the electorate. Between them the warring leaders of the Left, Buck and Woodsworth, had already supplied enough new spice for any normal campaign--the cloak-and-dagger disclosures of Sergeant Leopold, the mysterious shots at Kingston, the riots at Regina, the noisy debates over Section 98, the audacious challenge to capitalism not merely by crackpots and foreigners but by respected college professors, preachers, and sober grain growers.

There were other new elements of greater complexity. One of them was a revolt against the growing weight of federalism.

By and large the provinces had been content from Confederation until after the First World War to pattern their politics after the politics of the Dominion. Thousands of people made it their habit to vote one way federally and another way provincially, but in both areas the two-party system was challenged only occasionally and usually only briefly.

Between 1914 and 1918, when the most important functions of government were concentrated in Ottawa, the provinces were little more than satellites. This high degree of centralization had not been intended by the Fathers of Confederation. It was not desired by the populace at large, who agreed that in a country so various and scattered the best government was the government nearest to home -- the provincial legislature and the city or town or rural council. Centralization held no attractions even for those on whom it bestowed extra power. King and Bennett were both against it.

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