The long-disbanded Cooperative Commonwealth Federation party would return to the Commons for the first time since 1961 by a legislator’s request. Independent MP Erin Weir (Regina-Lewvan) yesterday said he is petitioning the Speaker to sit as a Saskatchewan CCFer.
“I represent that political heritage,” said Weir. “My great-grandfather was a CCF candidate for Parliament in 1957 in Prince Albert, John Diefenbaker’s riding. There is a history and a heritage that I and a lot of other Saskatchewan people are tremendously proud of.”
The CCF, founded in 1932 as a farmer-labour party, disbanded 57 years ago with the establishment of the New Democratic Party. Saskatchewan’s provincial CCF carried the name until 1967 when delegates at a Saskatoon convention voted to rebrand themselves as New Democrats.
“This is the party I represent,” said Weir. “This is a tradition that is worth carrying on. The heart and soul of this movement was in Saskatchewan.”
Weir said he submitted a request to the Speaker of the Commons to be formally identified as a CCF Member of Parliament. “I’m going to defer to the Speaker,” he said. “MPs can make submissions to the Speaker about how they choose to be designated. The decision rests with the Speaker.”
The party elected its first government at the Saskatchewan legislature in 1944. CCF initiatives included the nation’s first Annual Holiday Act in 1944 mandating two weeks’ paid leave for private sector employees; introduction of the 40-hour week; passage of Canada’s first Bill Of Rights, a 1946 law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, colour or religion; and the first public hospital insurance program, in 1947.
The Saskatchewan party under then-Premier Tommy Douglas was also the first to rename jails as “correctional institutions”, and the first to introduce no-fault auto insurance. The national party at its peak in 1945 elected MPs in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
The federal party’s longest-serving leader, Major Coldwell, a former secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Teachers Federation, died in 1974. “He wanted to call it the Social Democratic Party,” Coldwell’s daughter Margaret Carman said in a 2009 interview. “He’d known poverty. His father was a butcher, and we lived in Saskatchewan in the Depression years.”
“He thought all people were entitled to a decent life, that no one should suffer from poor housing and poor health,” said Carman. “His whole life was devoted to improving conditions for the common man.”
By Tom Korski