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Costs & Benefits: 1914-1929 Costs & Benefits: 1914-1929 Costs & Benefits: 1930-1939

Conscription Crisis

Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of eligible citizens for military service. In 1914, Canada did not need conscription, as enough men volunteered for service overseas. But, by 1917, the war’s unexpected length, the high number of casualties and labour shortages, especially on the farms, had contributed to Canada’s inability to maintain a volunteer army. Conscription was popular among English Canadians, who generally supported the war because they believed that Canada had to keep fighting until victory. French Canadians, in general, opposed conscription because they believed the war was unnecessary. The divisive issue led to an election on December 17, 1917, in which the Union government, composed of both Conservatives and Liberals dedicated to fighting the war and to conscription, received a clear majority of 153 seats in the House of Commons to the Liberals’ 82. The Union government’s victory allowed it to impose conscription and fill the ranks of the army at the expense of alienating French Canadians, who felt betrayed by a political system that would always impose the will of a majority on a minority.

Photo: A disabled soldier learns to use his prosthetic limb

A disabled soldier learns to use his prosthetic limb at the temporary quarters of the Military School of Orthopaedic Surgery and Physiotherapy, Hart House, University of Toronto, 1917. The federal government established the school.
From the Museum of Health Care at Kingston, 1974.4.70. Used with permission.

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    Date Created: March 31, 2010 | Last Updated: April 21, 2010