Major James Coldwell
Major James Coldwell
|2nd Leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation|
|Preceded by||J. S. Woodsworth|
|Succeeded by||Hazen Argue|
|2nd National Chairman of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation|
|Preceded by||J. S. Woodsworth|
|Succeeded by||F. R. Scott|
|Member of the House of Commons of Canada|
1935 – 1958
|Preceded by||new constituency|
|Succeeded by||Clarence Owen Cooper|
|1st National Secretary of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation|
|Preceded by||new office|
|Succeeded by||David Lewis|
|1st Leader of the Saskatchewan Co-operative Commonwealth Federation|
|Preceded by||new office|
|Succeeded by||George Hara Williams|
|Member of the Regina City Council|
|Born||Major James William Coldwell
December 2, 1888
|Died||August 25, 1974
|Political party||Co-operative Commonwealth Federation
New Democratic Party
|Spouse(s)||Nora Gertrude Dunsford Coldwell|
|Occupation||Author, principal, teacher|
Major James William Coldwell, PC CC (December 2, 1888 – August 25, 1974), usually known as M.J. (Major was his first name, not a military title), was a Canadian social democratic politician, and leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) party from 1942 to 1960. He was born in England, and immigrated to Canada in 1910. Prior to his political career, he was an educator and union activist. In 1935 he was elected to the Canadian House of Commons, representing the Rosetown—Biggar electoral district. He would be re-elected five more times until he was defeated in the 1958 Diefenbaker sweep. He was the CCF's first national secretary in 1934, and became its national leader upon the death of J. S. Woodsworth in 1942. He remained as its leader until 1960, when there was a parliamentary caucus revolt against him. When the CCF was disbanded 1961, he joined its successor party, the NDP. He is mainly remembered for helping to introduce "welfare state" policies to Canada, by persuading the Canadian government to introduce an Old Age Security programme, and child benefits during the mid-1940s. Coldwell turned down several offers to cross the floor and join the governing Liberal Party of Canada, including one offer that eventually would have made him the Prime Minister of Canada. After his defeat in 1958, he was offered a Senate appointment, but declined it as well. He became a member of the Privy Council in 1964 and in 1967 became one of the initial inductees into the Order of Canada. After suffering two heart attacks on the same day, he died in Ottawa at the age of 85.
Coldwell was born in Seaton, England on December 2, 1888. While Coldwell attended Exeter University (at the time called Royal Albert Memorial College), he met Norah Gertrude Dunsford in 1907, and in December 1909, they became engaged. Norah was born in 1888, and was the daughter of a wealthy newspaper proprietor, John Thomas Dunsford. Coldwell left to teach in Canada's Prairie provinces in 1910 and came back to the United Kingdom during his summer break in 1912. They were married at the Wembdon Church in Bridgwater, Somerset on July 22. They honeymooned in England for two weeks, before they sailed to Canada for him to continue teaching in Sedley, Saskatchewan.
He started his teaching career, when he left for Canada in February 1910, and became a school teacher in New Norway, Alberta. After moving to Saskatchewan, he became known nationally as a leader of teacher's associations from 1924 until 1934. He first ran for the Canadian House of Commons as a Progressive candidate in Regina in the 1925 federal election but was defeated. He was elected as a city councillor for Regina City Council and developed links with labour and farmers organizations.
In 1926, Coldwell organized the Independent Labour party (ILP) in Saskatchewan. In 1929, The Farmers' Political Association and the ILP nominated three candidates, for the provincial election, under the joint banner of the Saskatchewan Farmer–Labour party, with Coldwell leading it. The party fought the 1934 provincial election under Coldwell's leadership, and won five seats in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, making it the official opposition to the Liberal government. Coldwell was defeated in his election bid. After the election, the party affiliated itself with the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, and became the Saskatchewan CCF.
In 1934, he became the CCF's first national secretary. In the 1935 federal election, Coldwell was elected to the House of Commons as Member of Parliament (MP) for the riding of Rosetown-Biggar. Coldwell also served as the CCF's national chairman from 1938 to 1942. He split with CCF leader J. S. Woodsworth when World War II broke out in 1939. Woodsworth, a pacifist, opposed the war effort, while Coldwell and the rest of the CCF caucus supported the war, and Coldwell's view was the party's official position.
When Woodsworth resigned as CCF leader in 1942, shortly before his death, Coldwell was unanimously elected the party's new national leader. He led the party through five general elections. After an upsurge of support for the party in the mid-1940s, the party embarked on a long decline during the Cold War. The Liberals, appropriated many of the CCF's policies, and made them government policy. Liberal governments implementing unemployment insurance, family allowances,and universal old age pensions stole much of the CCF's thunder with the electorate and one of the reasons that the party's electoral fortunes took a downward turn during the prosperous 1950s. Coldwell, mostly cared that his party's policies were becoming law, and was not too concerned if he and the CCF received little, if any, credit for them.
In 1945, Prime Minister Mackenzie King offered Coldwell a Cabinet post in his government. When Coldwell refused, MacKenzie King made another offer, that would have made him the next Liberal leader, and by extension, the Prime Minister of Canada. Again Coldwell, refused, mainly due to his loyalty to his party, and its principles, when he stated that "if the country needed me in the Prime Minister's chair, then it would be at the head of a Co-operative Commonwealth Federation government and not as a member of a party with views and politics contradictory to those in which I believed." Rumours that King made Coldwell an offer became public during the 1946 by-election campaign in the Parkdale electoral district. On October 11, while attending a rally for the CCF's by-election candidate, Ford Brand, at Parkdale Collegiate Institute, a partisan audience member asked him about the rumour that he was offered the leadership of the federal Liberal Party. Coldwell responded by stating that there was no official offer, and that "...the Liberals thought they could buy Coldwell. Coldwell is not for sale."
1945 elections: disappointment and defeat
Coldwell, and the CCF in general, were looking forward to the upcoming federal election in 1945, and to the Ontario provincial election. As it would turn out, the Canadian federal and the Ontario elections of 1945 were possibly the most crucial to Canada in the 20th century. They took place at the beginning of the welfare state, and the elections would set the course of political thought to the end of the century and beyond. The year was a disaster for the CCF, both nationally and in Ontario, which Coldwell and the CCF's main players realized at the time. The CCF never fully recovered, and in 1961 would dissolve and become the New Democratic Party. As NDP strategist and historian Gerald Caplan put it: "June 4 [Ontario], and June 11 [Canada], 1945, proved to be black days in CCF annals: socialism was effectively removed from the Canadian political agenda."
The anti-socialist crusade by the Ontario Conservative Party, mostly credited to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) special investigative branch's agent D-208 (Captain William J. Osborne-Dempster) and the Conservative propagandists Gladstone Murray and Montague A. Sanderson, diminished the CCF's initially favourable position both provincially and nationally: the September 1943 Gallup poll showed the CCF leading nationally with 29 percent support, with the Liberals and Conservatives tied for second place at 28 percent. By April 1945, the CCF was down to 20 percent nationally, and on election day it received only 16 percent.
Another factor in the CCF's defeat was the unofficial coalition between the Liberal Party of Canada and the communist Labor-Progressive Party. It guaranteed a split in the left-of-centre vote.
Leadership succession crisis
Coldwell had a moderating influence on party policy, and in 1956, at the party's bi-annual convention in Winnipeg, the party passed the Winnipeg Declaration as a statement of party principles to replace the more radical Regina Manifesto. He pushed the party to accept that there is room for the private sector in a mixed economy, in a hope that these new principles would make the CCF more palatable to the voting public.
In the 1958 election, Coldwell lost his House of Commons seat, and the party was reduced to a rump of eight MPs. Prime Minister Diefenbaker offered him a Senate appointment, which he declined. In the period following the election, he was constantly considering resigning as the CCF's leader, but was repeatedly dissuaded by the party's executive. However, the party needed a leader in the House of Commons to replace him, because he obviously was no longer a member of parliament. The CCF parliamentary caucus chose Hazen Argue as its new leader in the House. During the lead-up to the 1960 CCF convention, Argue was pressing Coldwell to step down. This leadership challenge jeopardized plans for an orderly transition to the new party that was being planned by the CCF and the Canadian Labour Congress. CCF national president David Lewis – who succeeded Coldwell as president in 1958, when the national chairman and national president positions were merged – and the rest of the new party's organizers, opposed Argue's manoeuvres, and wanted Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas to be the new party's first leader. To prevent their plans from derailing, Lewis attempted to persuade Argue not to force a vote at the convention on the question of the party's leadership. He was unsuccessful. There was a split between the parliamentary caucus and the party executive on the convention floor. Coldwell stepped-down as leader, and Argue replaced him, becoming the party's final national leader.
As far back as 1941, Coldwell wanted Douglas to succeed him in leading the National CCF (at that time, it was obvious that Coldwell would be assuming the national leadership in the near future). When the time came for the "New Party" to form, in 1961, Coldwell pressured Douglas to run for the leadership. Coldwell did not trust Argue, and many in the CCF leadership thought that Argue was already having secret meetings with the Liberals to merge the "New Party" with the Liberal Party of Canada. As well, it was thought by Coldwell and Douglas, that Lewis would not be a viable alternative to Argue, because he likely could not defeat him, partially due to his lack of a parliamentary seat but also, and likely more importantly, his role as party disciplinarian over the years, made him many enemies, enough to potentially prevent him from winning the leadership. Douglas, after much consultation, with Coldwell, Lewis and his caucus, decided in June 1961 to reluctantly contest the leadership of the New Party. He handily defeated Argue on August 3, 1961. Six months later Argue crossed-the-floor, and became a Liberal.
Coldwell was unenthusiastic about the movement to merge the CCF with the Canadian Labour Congress and create the "New Party", but he joined the New Democratic Party at its founding in 1961, and remained an elder statesman in the party until his death in 1974.
In 1964 he became a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, thereby allowing him to be referred to by the honorific "The Honourable" for the rest of his life. Also in 1964, he was appointed to the House of Commons Advisory Committee on Election Finances, which was chaired by Liberal Cabinet Minister, Judy LaMarsh. In 1966, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson appointed him to the Royal Commission on Security (the "Mackenzie Commission"), dealing with the RCMP and security issues that arose from the Munsinger Affair. When Douglas retired as the NDP's leader in April 1971, the party established the Douglas–Coldwell Foundation in Ottawa as its parting gift to Douglas, and to his aging friend and political mentor, Coldwell. The foundation's mandate was to be an intellectual think-tank that incubated ideas and policies for the NDP. On November 5, 1972, Coldwell was honoured by St. Francis Xavier University with a Doctorate in Laws degree (LL.D.).
On July 6, 1967, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada. He was invested into the order on November 24, 1967 for "his contribution as a Parliamentarian." It is noteworthy that his Order of Canada medal was sold at auction in 1981, the first time the Order of Canada is known to have been sold. It ended up in auction due to his will not specifying what to do with his various medals, so his son sold them to a private collector, who then put them up for auction. That same year, the Douglas-Coldwell Foundation purchased the medals back for about $10,000 so that they could be displayed in the Tommy Douglas House museum in Regina.
In his final years, his health was deteriorating. He was living alone in his home in Ottawa, with the assistance of his housekeeper, Beatrice Bramwell. He died in Ottawa's Civic Hospital after suffering two heart attacks on August 25, 1974. He had given specific orders not to perform "heroic measures" to keep him alive. He was 85 years old when he died.
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|Parliament of Canada|
|New constituency||Member of Parliament for Rosetown—Biggar
Clarence Owen Cooper
|Party political offices|
J. S. Woodsworth
|Leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation
J. S. Woodsworth
|National Chairman of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation
F. R. Scott
|New political party||National Secretary of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation