Canadian federal election, 1921

Canadian federal election, 1921

The Canadian federal election of 1921 was held on December 6, 1921 to elect members of the Canadian House of Commons of the 14th Parliament of Canada. The Union government that had governed Canada through the First World War was defeated, and replaced by a Liberal government under the young leader William Lyon Mackenzie King. A new third party, the Progressive Party of Canada, won the second most seats in the election.

Since the 1911 election, the country had been governed by the Conservatives, first under the leadership of Prime Minister Robert Borden, and then under Prime Minister Arthur Meighen. During the war, the Conservatives had united with the pro-conscription Liberal-Unionists and formed a Union government. A number of Members of Parliament (MPs), mostly Quebecers, stayed loyal to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, however, and maintained their independence. When Laurier died, he was replaced as leader by the Ontarian Mackenzie King. After the 1919 federal budget, a number of western unionist MPs, who were former Liberals, left the Union government in protest against high tariffs on farm products imposed by the budget. Led by Thomas Alexander Crerar, this group became known as the Progressive Party. Also running were a number of Labour advocates, foremost amongst them J. S. Woodsworth of Winnipeg, who had organized their political movement after the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. Meighen had played a key role in violently suppressing the strikers and this earned him the animosity of organized labour.

Meighen attempted to make the "Unionist" party a permanent alliance of Tories and Liberals by renaming it the National Liberal and Conservative Party, but this name change failed, and most Unionist Liberals either returned to the Liberal fold or joined the new Progressive Party. Besides the labour strife and farm tariffs in the Prairie provinces, the Conscription Crisis of 1917 had a lasting effect on Tory fortunes by making the party virtually unelectable in Quebec.

The election was the first in which the majority of Canadian women were allowed to vote, thanks to reforms passed by the Conservatives. Four women also ran for office. Agnes Macphail of the Progressive Party was elected as the first woman MP in Canada.

Parliament was split three ways by this election. King's Liberals won a majority government of just one seat: they won almost all of Quebec, much of the Maritimes, and a good portion of Ontario. The Progressive Party won the second largest number of seats, dominating the West, and winning almost a third of the seats in Ontario. The party won only one seat east of Ontario, however. Despite winning the second most seats, they declined to form the official opposition. It would be the only Canadian federal election prior to 1993 where a party other than the Liberals or the (Progressive) Conservatives won the second most number of seats.

The Conservatives lost the most seats up to that time of any governing party at the federal level. They won only a few fewer seats than the Progressives (despite gaining more popular votes), but wound up forming the official opposition. They Conservatives won a good section of Ontario and had some support in the Maritimes and British Columbia.

Two Independent Labour MPs were elected: J. S. Woodsworth won his seat, largely due to his role in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, and William Irvine was elected in Calgary.

Voter turn-out: 67.7%

Majority or minority?

The government that King formed in the parliament resulting from this election is often referred to as Canada's first minority government. Despite the fact that King's party won a bare majority of seats at the election, this is in fact correct as, due to the close numbers, resignations occasionally changed the parliament from a bare majority to bare minority. However, this was never permanent as the Liberals never lost a by-election which threatened their majority.

They did, in fact, lose 2 by-elections to Conservative candidates, however they had previously gained two seats from Progressives who crossed the floor so their majority was not affected by these losses. From November 25, 1924 to the dissolution of parliament they held a two seat majority thanks to their victory in a by-election in a seat previously held by the Conservatives on that date.

In any event, the Progressives as a caucus were more disunited than the Liberals or Conservatives and they had promised among other things that they would reject the traditional Parliamentary traditions such as that of bending to the will of the party leader and whip. Many Progressives argued that an MP should be able to vote against the party line so long as the vote was in accordance to his constituents' wishes. As a result, King could always find enough Progressive MP's who would be willing to back him on every crucial vote, and governed for a standard four year term as though he had a working majority.

National results


* not applicable - the party was not recognized in the previous election

Results by province

ee also

*14th Canadian Parliament

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