The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation was founded in 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression.
Its goal was “the establishment in Canada of a co-operative commonwealth in which the basic principle regulating production, distribution and exchange would be the supplying of human needs, and not the making from profits.”
Its first candidate was Calgary’s Amelia Turner, who lost a provincial byelection in Alberta on Jan. 20, 1933. But the first full election the CCF fought was the British Columbia provincial election of 1933. And Vancouver’s newspapers treated it like a fight for the future of capitalism.
Les Callan summed it up in an incredible illustration on the front page of the Oct. 28, 1933 Vancouver Sun.
It depicted a cockfight between two angry roosters, tussling in mid-air, their talons apart to rip each other to shreds.
The rooster on the left is labelled Socialism, the one on the right is labelled Capitalism. They battled above a family whose home is labelled British Columbia.
The dad seems to have reading a book, but was upended in the scrap, as was some furniture labelled “business” and “established institutions.”
A terrified daughter is running to her mother, who stares at the ruckus and declares “Land Sakes! Why bring those roosters in here?! As if I don’t have enough trouble!”
It was an unusual election. Conservative Simon Fraser Tolmie had been elected in the previous election in 1928, taking 35 of 48 seats in the legislature. But then came the Depression, and massive public unrest with the Conservatives. It probably didn’t help that there was also an unpopular Conservative federal government led by R.B. Bennett.
The provincial Conservatives were so split among themselves they didn’t even contest the 1933 election — Tolmie ran under the new Unionist party, whole other conservatives ran as Independent Conservatives, Non-Partisan Independents, and Independents.
Complicating matters was the death of the head of the Non-Partisan Conservatives, former Premier William Bowser, during the campaign.
In any event, nobody seemed to pay much attention to Premier Tolmie during the election — the battle was between the Liberals and the CCF.
Liberal leader Duff Pattullo appealed to non-socialists not to split the vote, which he said could result in “political chaos.”
“British Columbia has already become a laughing stock governmentally by virtue of reason of the events of the last few years,” he said in a speech at the Hotel Vancouver Oct. 23.
“I appeal to people of all shades of political opinion, Conservative, Liberal and those of more radical trends, to save the good name of British Columbia by rallying behind the only instrument through which stable and progressive government can be maintained in this province.”
The Liberals weren’t always so diplomatic. They attacked CCF leader William Pritchard because he had been jailed as one of the labour leaders during the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919, and said the CCF goal wasn’t to win an election, but to enact radical change in society.
In a raucous meeting at the Hotel Vancouver Oct. 30, future Vancouver mayor Gerry McGeer charged if the CCF won, “it means revolution. The Dominion (of Canada) would declare war and take charge of British Columbia, and we would lose all our personal freedom.”
Meanwhile, former Conservative cabinet minister R.L. Maitland railed in the Oct. 30 Province that the CCF’s Lyle Telford “favoured companionate marriage and that the two sexes should have a two-year trial of married life before they were united, and then entitled to divorce.”
The CCF’s Pritchard laughed at some of the scare tactics used by the traditional parties, such as the “presumption that the CCF intended to teach absolute socialism” in schools.
“Can you imagine anything more ridiculous than an attempt to cram down the throats of children three volumes of Karl Marx?” he said in Victoria Oct. 21. “Not six men in the whole of the Dominion have read them.”
The election was held Nov. 2, and the next morning The Sun announced the Liberals had won in a landslide, taking 30 seats to six for the CCF.
When all the votes were counted , the Liberals had 34 seats, with 41.74 per cent of the vote, while the CCF won seven seats with 31.53 per cent. Tolmie’s Unionists only picked up one seat, and 4.05 per cent of the vote; even Tolmie was defeated.