Monday, April 30, 2012

JS Woodsworth and voting against Canada joining World War Two

Recently there has been attacks by the Conservatives on the NDP because of the vote by JS Woodsworth, the leader of the CCF, against Canada joining World War Two.  The media coverage of this has not delved deeply into what happened in 1939.

JS Woodsworth opposed the war because of his faith.   He was a very committed pacifist because of his faith.  He was fired from his job at the Bureau of Social Research because he published his opposition to the idea of war and to conscription.  In 1918 he quit his job as a Methodist minister in Gibson's Landing because he could not support the Methodist church support for the war.   He also quit the church completely.

He ended working on the docks in Vancouver for a while to support his family.   He stood by his faith even though it was very clearly unpopular and it cost him is career.

He was also very much opposed revolution and was an opponent of the Communist Party of Canada.   He was consistent in his pacifism.

It was not surprise to anyone that Woodsworth opposed the war.   The actual CCF caucus was not opposed to the war, though had concerns about how Canada would approach the war.   Woodswarth remained the leader of the CCF, but effectively the parliamentary caucus was lead by MJ Coldwell, who would become leader after Woodsworth dies in 1942.

In parliament during the debate on entering the war, Mackenzie King said of him:

"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 lays on his conscience, regardless of what the world might think of him. A man of that calibre is an ornament to any Parliament."

Given that JS Woodsworth was against any war, the newspapers of the time did not go on a witch hunt against him.   In parliament it seems that it was mainly the Conservatives that attacked him.

JS Woodsworth was re-elected in the 1940 Federal election but only narrowly, I assume this had to do with his stance on the war.   He managed to win by 125 votes or 0.44% of the vote.   United Church minister Stanley Knowles easily won the by-election in 1942 for the CCF and held the seat till 1984 except for 1958-1962.

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