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1867-1914 - Old Age and Poverty 1915-1927 - Our First Old Age Pension 1928-1951 - Demanding More 1952-1967 - Reducing Poverty 1968-1989 - Reaching More Canadians 1990-2000 - Pensions on Solid Ground 2000 on - A Secure Future

1915-1927 Our First Old Age Pension

Influential People

above NAC, detail of C-055544, William Lyon Mackenzie King - below NAC, detail of Abraham A Heaps, C-034443, James Shaver Woodsworth

The passage of the 1927 Old Age Pensions Act was made possible when the two Labour Members of Parliament elected in 1925, James S. Woodsworth and Abraham A. Heaps, offered to support Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King's minority government in return for Mackenzie King's promise to pursue the issue of public pensions.

William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874-1950) became leader of the Liberal party in 1919 upon the death of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. By this time, Mackenzie King was already associated with labour issues. He became Minister of Labour in 1909; during the First World War he advised the American Rockefeller Foundation on labour issues; and in 1918, his book, Industry and Humanity, advocated a more harmonious relationship among workers, employers and the government.

The Liberal party platform of 1919, created under party leader Mackenzie King, included public pensions. The Prime Minister was unable to pursue the issue, however, when his government failed to secure a majority in the House of Commons in the 1921 election. When the same situation occurred in 1925, Mackenzie King turned to Progressive and Labour Members of Parliament for support.

In the 1925 federal election, only two Labour Members were elected. James S. Woodsworth (1874-1942) and Abraham A. Heaps (1885-1954), both from Winnipeg, were strong advocates of unemployment insurance and old age pensions. Woodsworth was also a Methodist Church minister committed to social reform and was involved in the Social Gospel movement. In Parliament he was an outspoken advocate of many social security programs. His strong support for workers led to his involvement in the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.

Woodsworth and Heaps sent a now-famous letter to Mackenzie King in January 1926:

Dear Mr. King:
As representatives of Labour in the House of Commons, may we ask whether it is your intention to introduce at this session legislation with regard to (a) Provision for the unemployed; (b) Old Age Pensions. We are venturing to send a similar inquiry to the leader of the opposition.

Yours sincerely,
J.S. Woodsworth
A.A Heaps

(Grace McInnis, J. S. Woodsworth, A Man to Remember. Toronto, 1953, p.183.)

The leader of the opposition, Arthur Meighen, was unwilling to support either proposal at the time. Woodsworth and Heaps therefore accepted Mackenzie King's offer to pursue old age pensions and gave him their support.

When his government finally won a majority in 1926, Mackenzie King followed up on his promise to Woodsworth and Heaps by introducing legislation that became the Old Age Pensions Act in 1927.