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History: 1914-1929 ORIGINS, 1914–1929 DEPRESSION DEVELOPMENTS, 1930–1939

Challenging the Status Quo: Labour in Parliament

In 1927 and 1928–1929, the Labour members of the House of Commons, J. S. Woodsworth and Abraham Heaps, had raised the question of unemployment, sickness and invalidity insurance through the Standing Committee on Industrial and International Relations. Vigorous debate demonstrated that few Conservatives supported their party's position favouring health insurance, adopted in 1927.

Photo: James Shaver Woodsworth in 1921, C-057365

James Shaver Woodsworth in 1921, after he was elected to the House of Commons as the Labour member for Winnipeg North Centre. His campaign slogan was “Human Needs before Property Rights”.
Library and Archives Canada, C-057365

Rural Members of Parliament from across Canada believed that “friends put their hands into their pockets to help [neighbours] through these unfortunate days” (Mr. Boulanger, Canada, House of Commons Debates, Hansard [March 16, 1927], p. 1283). But as Woodsworth and Heaps argued, immigrants, the poor and many urban workers lacked community links and found charity difficult and demeaning to obtain. National programs of sickness and unemployment insurance would treat these matters as a social good, equivalent to education. But in the post-war return to “normalcy,” the Liberals moved away from their promises regarding the introduction of insurance plans by cutting the Department of Health’s budget from 1924 onward and merging the department with the Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment in 1928 to form the Department of Pensions and National Health.

Photo: A. A. Heaps’ 1930 election poster

A. A. Heaps’ 1930 election poster. Heaps was the other Labour Party member from Winnipeg in the House of Commons.
From Leo Heaps, The Rebel in the House: The Life and Times of A. A. Heaps, M.P. (Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1984).

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