The 1945 election would be the last election that William Lyon Mackenzie King would ever take part in. After leading the Liberals since 1919, through six elections prior to 1945, he would face one more contest.
By the time the election rolled around on June 11, the Second World War was winding down. The war in Europe had ended a month previous, and the war in the Pacific would end within two months. Through the past five years, the political landscape of Canada was changing. The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation had won the 1944 election in Saskatchewan, bringing in North America’s first socialist government. At the time, many were expecting that the federal CCF would have a huge breakthrough in the federal election. A poll done a year before the election actually found that the CCF led by one point over the Conservatives and the Liberals. As such, the party expected they would win 70 to even 100 seats in the next election.
At the start of 1945, a Gallup Poll asked Canadians what government they wanted to lead the country after the war. The Liberals led with 28 per cent, followed by the Progressive Conservatives at 21 per cent, the CCF at 17 per cent, Other at 13 per cent and undecided at 21 per cent.
The Conservatives had also gone through a change. Now called the Progressive Conservatives, they were led by John Bracken, the man who was the premier of Manitoba for 20 years, longer than anyone else. The name change came about thanks to Bracken, who insisted on it if he was going to serve as leader.
King would write in his diary, quote:
“He owes his long tenure of office to the Liberals, who have supported him, and the Progressives. He owes nothing to the Tories. He has made a fool suggestion that the party should be called the Progressive Conservatives. This, after being a leader of the Liberal Progressive Party.”
Since 1940, the Conservatives had gone through three leaders, with Bracken the new man at the job. Meighen had returned to leadership briefly, but when he didn’t win his election in a safe riding thanks to King orchestrating support for the CCF candidate, he was soon retired from politics.
Bracken, believing that the War in the Pacific would be a long affair, advocated for conscription. What he did not know, but King did, was that the United States had developed the atomic bomb. It is likely that with this knowledge, King knew that the war would be over soon, and he did not advocate for conscription at all in the election. The push for conscription, without a doubt, hurt the chance of the Conservatives nationwide.
The election would be announced by King on April 12, 1945. It also happened to be the day that King’s friend, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, passed away. King would write in his diary on that day, quote:
“In my heart, I felt a great gratitude for having been privileged to know the President so well, and particularly for the last happy days we had together.”
In a report published during the election campaign, it was found that among most Canadians, there were no issues in the forefront of voter’s minds. Supporters of the three major parties did put their reasons for voting for a party. The majority of Liberal supporters said they felt King and his government had done a good job and the war record was an example of that. For Progressive Conservatives, the main reasons were that the voter had always voted Conservative, and dissatisfaction with the Liberal government. Among the CCF voters, the main reason for voting for the party was that the voter did not like the other two parties, and that they felt the CCF were looking out for the small man and the working man.
The Liberals would campaign on the slogan of “Return The Mackenzie King Government”, which was simple and argued that the Liberal Party would represent all the provinces equally. King also pledged that if he was not elected with a majority, he would call another election immediately. He would state, quote:
“We would have confusion to deal with at that time when the world will be in a very disturbed situation. The war in Europe is over, but unrest in the east is not over.”
The Liberals also ran on a slogan of Build A New Social Order, advocating for new welfare programs as the social welfare movement was gaining steam in Canada. The platform included $750 million for land, jobs and veteran support, $400 million to build housing, $250 million for family allowances, tax reductions and loans for farmers. The platform, which amounted to about $1.5 billion in pledges, would be equal to $23.2 billion today.
Liberal literature would state, quote:
After the Progressives Conservatives had had a massive win only one week before the federal election, in the Ontario provincial election, picking up 66 of 90 seats, the federal party rallied on the slogan of “Ontario Shows, Only Bracken Can Win” and suggested that to win a majority, Ontario had to go behind the Conservative banner. Originally, the Ontario election would happen on June 11, but this was changed as a result of the federal election.
Under the Conservatives, the People’s Charter would be adapted. The charter included the right for every man to have a job at a fair day’s pay, the right to a fair return on investment, the right to have equal opportunity for health, the right to have security against loss of income, and the right of future generations to a world of plenty.
The CCF campaigned under the slogan of “Work, Security and Freedom For All With The CCF” and promised to retain high taxes on the rich, and to put money to fund social services, while also abolishing the Senate.
In Alberta, the Social Credit Party was doing well, so the federal party ran on the platform of “Good Government in Alberta, Why Not In Ottawa?”
With tens of thousands of soldiers still overseas in Europe, ballots had to be shipped out to them so they could vote.
The election would feature 751 candidates and the election would not get going until May 12, a week after the war in Europe had ended. The Liberals would put forward 200 candidates, while the Progressive Conservatives had 185, the same number as the CCF. King would begin his election campaign on May 16, due to spending the previous three weeks in San Francisco, where he was part of the Canadian delegation that would help found the United Nations. He would say in his first speech, quote:
“I am very happy to be back in Canada and on the shore of the Pacific. I trust you will support the government of the day. We promise to do the best we can in your interests.”
When asked if Canada would be taking part in the Pacific War, King would say, quote:
“I think the present administration can be trusted to carry on the Pacific War after the record in Europe. It is always better to have performance than promises in matters of government.”
Bracken would state on May 24, regarding the Pacific War, that no one expected Canada to support beyond, quote:
In the days before the election, King would state that he was confident in an election win, stating that he never felt better in his life. He would add, that this would be his last general election.
The day before the election, he seemed to be even more confident, stating quote:
“The signs are all in one direction, that Canada is to have strong government under the Liberal Party for the next five years as it has had in the past five years.”
The final gallop poll showed the Liberals with 39 per cent of the vote, the Progressive Conservatives with 29 per cent and the CCF with 17 per cent.
Overall, the election provided to be a surprise to many. The Liberals once again won, but it was with a minority government. The party had lost 59 seats to finish with 118, while the Progressive Conservatives gained 27 seats to finish with 67. Prime Minister King also lost his seat in the election, and was re-elected in a safe seat in Glengarry. That loss was double tragic as King’s election agent in Prince Albert had died suddenly only days before the election. In seven years, John Diefenbaker would win King’s old seat in Prince Albert and hold it until his death in 1979. The CCF came nowhere near winning 70 seats, but they did gain 20 seats and finished with 28 in total, while the Social Credit Party came in fourth with 13 seats, a gain of three from the previous election.
The Conservatives once again took over Ontario, winning 48 seats, while the Liberals won 34. In Quebec, the shutting out of Conservatives continued. Only one Conservative won in the province, while 47 Liberals won. The Liberals also dominated in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Manitoba. The Manitoba result, with only two Conservatives winning, was surprising considering the party was led by the man who served as premier for so long. The CCF took 18 of 21 seats in Saskatchewan, while those three parties split the vote in British Columbia. In Alberta, the Social Credit Party won 13 of 17 seats.
There were also eight independents. Those eight independents were Liberals and they had split with the party over conscription. With the war in Europe over, conscription was no longer an issue, so those independents aligned themselves with King and the Liberals, giving the party a working majority in the House of Commons.
There would be some unusual incidents in the election as well. Five people required treatment at the hospital after a raid by 30 men of the committee rooms of Roger Duhamel, who represented the Bloc Populaire Party in Montreal.
At the Victoria Machinery Depot Company, and Yarrows Limited in Victoria, workers dropped their tools at exactly 2:30 p.m. and left their work to vote in the election, even though plants were not supposed to close until 4 p.m.
A violent thunderstorm caused problems in getting election results from two ridings in Quebec.
One man, Jarvis Raymond of Wallaceburg, Ontario, was so keen to vote in the election that when he had trouble securing transportation, he grabbed a motorcycle, which he crashed enroute. He would break his leg in the crash and was sent to hospital, and in the end, couldn’t put in his ballot.
King would speak the following day, after he received a telegram from Bracken that congratulated him on the election win. He would state, quote:
“There is no longer any doubt that the result of today’s voting means the continuance in office of a Liberal administration with a majority over the combined total of representatives of all other parties in the House. For his expression of confidence in the present administration, I cannot thank you too warmly on behalf of all members of the government.”
Bracken would say in his concession, quote:
With the election loss, the Conservatives grew disenchanted with their leader. As Maclean’s would write in 1947, quote:
“It is no secret that for two years past a fairly substantial faction of Conservatives have been acutely dissatisfied with Mr. Bracken’s leadership. This group was strengthened when, in the 1945 general election, Mr. Bracken failed to capture the West for his party. That was what he had been brought in to do, and he hadn’t done it.”
Bracken would be out as leader by 1948.
From when R.B. Bennett retired, to the arrival of John Diefenbaker, the Conservatives would go through five leaders, including three in only ten years. For the party, these years were tough years but there was light at the end of the tunnel. As for the Liberals, the best years were still to come.
Information from Dynasties and Interludes, Macleans, Library and Archives Canada, Wikipedia, The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Journal, The Vancouver Sun,