Born in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874–1950) was a labour relations expert, civil servant and politician who led the Liberal Party from 1919 to 1948 and was Prime Minister of Canada between 1921 and 1926, 1926 and 1930, and 1935 and 1948. King contributed to the development of the federal government’s role in social welfare by introducing old-age pensions in 1927, unemployment insurance in 1940, family allowance in 1944 and proposals for health insurance in the 1940s. King’s appreciation of the benefits of resolving conflicts by compromise, as Sir Wilfrid Laurier had done, as well as his awareness of the lasting divisions created by the conscription crisis of 1917, led him to seek consensus during his time in office. King’s successful compromises allowed him to introduce new social welfare measures, as well as lead the nation through the Second World War with minimal conflict between the provinces and the federal government and between French and English Canadians. In his 1918 book, Industry and Humanity: A Study in the Principles Underlying Industrial Reconstruction, King had argued that:
Social insurance, which in reality is health insurance in one form or another, is a means employed in most industrial countries to bring about a wider measure of social justice, without, on the one hand, disturbing the institution of private property and its advantages to the Community, or, on the other, imperiling the thrift and industry of individuals. Social insurance looks upon Industry as in the nature of social service. It regards the owner of land or capital as a capitalist, but also as a public trustee. It looks upon the worker in Industry as a wage-earner, but equally as a necessary member of the Community. It places the emphasis on personality rather than on property, and on life rather than on wealth.
(Industry and Humanity: A Study in the Principles Underlying Industrial Reconstruction, with an Introduction by David Jay Bercuson [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973 reprint], p. 222)
Mackenzie King campaigning for the Liberal party in Cobourg, Ontario in 1926. Library and Archives Canada, PA-138867. Photographer: F. J. Skitch.