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Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (Saskatchewan Section)

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  • Tommy Douglas, PC CC SOM (1904 - 1986)
    Thomas Clement "Tommy" Douglas, PC, CC, SOM was a Scottish-born Baptist minister who became a prominent Canadian social democratic politician. As leader of the Saskatchewan Co-operative Commonwealth Fe...

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (Saskatchewan Section)

The origins of the party began as early as 1902. In that year a group of farmers created the Territorial Grain Growers' Association. The objective of this group was to lobby for farmer's rights with the grain trade and the railways. The name was changed to the Saskatchewan Grain Growers' Association (SGGA) when Saskatchewan became a province in 1905.

In 1921 a left-wing splinter group left the SGGA to form the Farmer's Union. However, the two groups reconciled in 1926 and reformed as the United Farmers of Canada (Saskatchewan Section) (UFC). The first leader of the UFC was George Williams.[4]

The Progressive Party of Saskatchewan, a farmers movement, elected six MLAs in the 1921 provincial election as well as in the 1925 election and five in 1929 but were never able to field candidates in more than half a dozen of the province's 63 ridings. After the 1929 provincial election returned a Liberal minority government, the Progressives joined with the Conservatives to defeat the Liberals and form a coalition government dominated by the Tories. The Progressives disappeared over the course of the next four years and were largely absorbed by the Tories.

The rightward drift of the Progressives prompted the UFC-SS to decide, in 1930, to run its own candidates in the following election. In 1931, the UFC participated in the March on Regina to protest against government indifference to the farmer's plight during the depression. During that event the UFC met with the Independent Labour Party, led by M.J. Coldwell, to discuss their options. From that meeting they agreed to form the Farmer-Labour Group (FLG) with Coldwell as the leader. The new party acquired its first member in the Saskatchewan legislature when Jacob Benson, elected as a Progressive in 1929, joined to become a Farmer-Labour MLA.

The FLG participated in the 1934 provincial election and won five seats and became the official opposition to the Liberals. Coldwell failed to win a seat but remained as leader.

Founding of the CCF

Following the election, the Farmer-Labour Group officially became the Saskatchewan section of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), although it had been known unofficially as the CCF's Saskatchewan wing before that.

In 1935, Coldwell ran for federal office in the 1935 federal election and was elected. Williams took over as party leader. Williams' radicalism caused moderates in the party to believe that the CCF could not form government with him as leader while his unwavering support for the war alienated pacifists, one of whom, Professor Carlyle King, unsuccessfully challenged Williams for the party presidency (but not the leadership) in 1940 gaining one third of the vote. Tommy Douglas, a charismatic federal CCF MP, was persuaded to challenge Williams for the leadership and succeeded in defeating him for the party presidency in 1941 and for the party leadership in 1942.

CCF in provincial government

In the 1944 election, the Saskatchewan CCF, led by Tommy Douglas, swept to power. They took 47 out of 52 seats to form the first avowedly socialist government in North America.[9] In the process, they handed the Liberals the worst defeat that a sitting government has ever suffered in Saskatchewan. Since that election, the CCF/NDP has won 12 out of 17 elections and held power for 47 of 63 years (as of 2007).

Arguably, the party's greatest accomplishment was the introduction of North America's first comprehensive system of public medical insurance or Medicare. The fight to introduce Medicare in the province was intense, due to the opposition of the province's doctors who were backed by the American Medical Association. The AMA feared that public health care would spread to other parts of the continent if introduced in one part. In July 1962 the doctors staged the 23-day Saskatchewan Doctors' Strike. But despite a concerted attempt to defeat the controversial Medical Care Insurance Act, the strike eventually collapsed and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan agreed to the alterations and terms of the "Saskatoon Agreement". The program was introduced and became so popular it was soon adopted across Canada.

After doing much of the preliminary work on Medicare, Douglas resigned as party leader and Premier of Saskatchewan in 1961 to become the founding leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP had been formed by a coalition of the CCF and the Canadian Labour Congress. The Saskatchewan CCF followed suit, and adopted its current name in 1967 after a transitional period when the party was awkwardly named the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, Saskatchewan Section of the New Democratic Party (Canada) or NDP-CCF for short.

The turmoil of the Medicare fight took its toll, however, and the NDP-CCF government of Douglas's successor Woodrow S. Lloyd was defeated by Ross Thatcher's Saskatchewan Liberal Party in the 1964 election.