William Lyon Mackenzie King: 1932-1939: the Prism of Unity

By H. Blair Neatby | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THIRTEEN
THE PROVINCIAL CHALLENGE TO NATIONAL UNITY

THE TWO MONTHS IN EUROPE had been as good as a holiday for Mackenzie King. He would never face domestic controversies with serenity or eagerness; politics was a solemn responsibility and even he recognized regretfully that he could not "be light-hearted or seem to get much enjoyment out of it." 1 But at least he was no longer tired and depressed, and he had regained his usual confidence that conflicts could somehow be resolved. His confidence would be severely tested over the next few months; the Canada to which he returned in July 1937 was in serious difficulties.

The economic indicators in the spring of the year had all confirmed that Canada was recovering from the depression. In western Canada, however, the spring and summer of 1937 were the driest on record and by July it was obvious that over most of the prairies there would be no crops harvested and no fodder for the livestock. Relief measures and railway deficits would disrupt King's cherished plans for a balanced budget. More serious still, the disastrous conditions in the west, coming at a time when the end of the depression had seemed in sight, would almost certainly amplify the political protests from a region that was already bitter and disillusioned. And yet increased federal aid to the west would have serious repercussions in central Canada where Hepburn and Duplessis were already denouncing the financial burden on Ontario and Quebec. In the next few months federal policies would be directly challenged by provincial leaders.


I

The first serious challenge came from Alberta. King had long ago recovered from the initial shock of William Aberhart's election. Aberhart had somehow swayed the voters of Alberta with his promise of economic salvation but common sense and reason would eventually triumph even there. Common sense to King meant cautious administration and economic retrenchment; either Aberhart would forget his Social Credit

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