The Co-Operative Government in Saskatchewan, 1929 - 1934: Response to the Depression
Russell, Peter A.
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The subject of this thesis is "The Co-operative Government in Saskatchewan, 1929-1934: Response to the Depression". It is composed of a brief introduction, five chapters and a conclusion. The first chapter provides a background to Saskatchewan politics in the 1920s: the decline of the Progressive party in the face of the ruling Liberal party and the Conservative revival under Dr. J.T.M. Anderson. The overestimation of the Ku Klux Klan's impact in the 1929 general election and the formation of the Conservative-Progressive coalition is corrected by giving consideration to other factors, particularly the movement for civil service reform. The second chapter outlines the personalities of the Co-operative Government cabinet and its policies prior to the depression. The government removed sectarianism and instructional French from the public schools. A Cancer Commission which provided free diagnosis and treatment, a strong Public Service Commission, labor legislation and the ambitious highway program of 1930-1931 were soon overshadowed by the economic and social crisis of the 1930s. The third and major chapter discusses government responses to the depression's impact on Saskatchewan. After attempting to meet wide-spread destitution by the traditional policy of assisting municipal relief programs, the Co-operative Government established the Saskatchewan Relief Commission to co-ordinate and sustain all provincial projects. The government also underwrote the Wheat Pool and the Co-op Creamery to enable them to survive. Although the cabinet initially attempted to use deficit financing to maintain social services, dwindling revenues and the financial orthodoxy of the business community and Ottawa, forced it into a policy of retrenchment. Declining incomes -- a product of drought and low grain prices -- disproportionately increased the burden of debt on farmers and merchants. After initial attempts to provide a mediation procedure between creditors and debtors, the government required all creditors to put their case to a Debt Adjustment Board which attempted to ensure that the debt was "reasonable" and the debtor was able to pay. Similarly the tax consolidation bills of 1933 and 1934 deferred payment of tax arrears, providing a long term schedule for repayment. Both debt adjustment and tax consolidation deferred present obligations to allow the property owner to retain possession. The Co-operative Government's experiments in economic regulation were not successful. The Grain Marketing Act, which attempted to establish a compulsory Wheat Pool in Saskatchewan was vetoed by the courts as contravening the British North America Act. The Gasoline Sales Discrimination Bill failed to even pass, as both government and opposition were divided on it. With the exception of the latter bill, the government did everything constitutionally possible for a provincial authority to meet the depression. The fourth chapter deals with the internal politics of the coalition. The formal groups of the Cooperative Government -- Conservatives, Progressives and Independents -- were not so much divided as were the radical sections of each group, which together formed a "government left wing". At the other end of the political spectrum, a faction within the Conservative party, calling itself the "true blues", attempted first to challenge Premier Anderson's leadership and then to undermine his entire government. Anderson's attempt to expand the coalition by adding Liberal Charles McIntosh to his cabinet failed with the defeat of that member in the 1933 Kinistino by-election. In spite of many tensions, however, the Cooperative Government had cohesive legislative support throughout its five year term. The fifth chapter describes the 1934 general election. The government's defensive campaign, weakened by attacks from Conservative renegades, was beaten by the Liberal opposition's aggressive, partisan campaign. The rising Farmer-Labor Group, a democratic socialist party, replaced the Co-operative coalition as the chief opposition to the Liberals. The conclusion assesses the place of the Cooperative Government in Saskatchewan's history. The removal of sectarianism and instructional French from the public school was the culmination of a long term trend which encompassed Liberals, Conservatives and Progressives. Within the limits of the social matrix and the Canadian constitution the government did what it could in responding to the depression. The similarity between the social and public service policies of the Co-operative and C.C.F. governments can be explained in terms of the ideological affinities between conservatism and socialism. In breaking the Liberal hegemony in Saskatchewan and struggling to maintain and expand social services in the face of depression, the Co-operative Government represented a major turning point in Saskatchewan's political history.