W. Ross Thatcher
|W. Ross Thatcher|
|9th Premier of Saskatchewan|
May 22, 1964 – June 30, 1971
|Lieutenant Governor||Robert Hanbidge
|Preceded by||Woodrow S. Lloyd|
|Succeeded by||Allan Blakeney|
|Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Moose Jaw
June 11, 1945 – August 10, 1953
|Preceded by||John Gordon Ross|
|Succeeded by||District abolished|
|Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Moose Jaw—Lake Centre
August 10, 1953 – June 10, 1957
|Preceded by||District created|
|Succeeded by||Louis Harrington Lewry|
|Member of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan for Morse|
June 8, 1960 – July 22, 1971
|Preceded by||Jim Gibson|
|Succeeded by||Jack Wiebe|
|Leader of the Opposition|
June 8, 1960 – May 22, 1964
|Preceded by||Alexander H. McDonald|
|Succeeded by||Woodrow Lloyd|
|Born||Wilbert Ross Thatcher
May 14, 1917
|Died||July 22, 1971
|Political party||CCF (1942-1955)
(m. 1938; his death 1971)
Born in Neville, Saskatchewan, Thatcher was a Moose Jaw-based businessman who developed an interest in politics shortly after the birth of his son, Colin Thatcher. His father, Wilbur, had built a chain of hardware stores across the province, which Ross helped manage.
He graduated from high school at the age of 15 and attended Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario where he earned a commerce degree at the age of 18. Thatcher obtained a job as executive assistant to the vice-president of Canada Packers in Toronto but had to return to Saskatchewan, to run the family business, when his father became ill.
Federal CCF Member of Parliament
Believing because of the Great Depression, that private business alone was unable to stimulate economic development in the province, he joined the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and was elected to Moose Jaw City Council on a labour-reform slate in 1942. In 1945, he was elected to Parliament representing Moose Jaw.
Thatcher grew increasingly uncomfortable in the CCF because of his roots in the business world, and he soon found himself on the right wing of the party caucus. In 1955, he left the CCF over the issue of corporate taxation. He sat out his term as an Independent MP before he ran unsuccessfully for the Liberal Party of Canada in the 1957 federal election.
During the campaign, he attacked the provincial CCF government's record on crown corporations, describing them as a dismal failure. Premier Tommy Douglas was angered and challenged Thatcher to a radio debate in the town of Mossbank, which was broadcast across the province.
The debate was largely regarded as a draw. However, many observers believed Thatcher more than held his own against the formidable Douglas. The debate established Thatcher as the province's main anti-CCF standard bearer.
Defeat in federal politics
Entry into provincial politics
Despite his defeat at the federal level, Thatcher was courted by the provincial Saskatchewan Liberal Party and became its leader in 1959 at the party's leadership convention by defeating three rivals. He led the party into the 1960 provincial election, which was fought over the issue of Medicare. The Liberals increased their level of public support but were unable to make a significant dent in the Saskatchewan CCF's large majority. The CCF had held power since the 1944 election. Thatcher himself was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan from the rural southern riding of Morse.
Premier of Saskatchewan
The Liberals had gained momentum, however, and the anti-CCF opposition coalesced around them, particularly in the face of events such as the Saskatchewan doctors' strike, which hurt the CCF's popularity. The Thatcher Liberals won a string of by-elections over the next three years. In the 1964 provincial election, the Liberals won a narrow victory, ending 20 years of CCF-NDP government. The Liberals were only 0.1% behind the CCF in the popular vote. However, a meltdown in Social Credit support allowed the Liberals to win a six-seat majority.
By now, there was very little left of Thatcher's roots in the CCF. His government sold several crown corporations and declared the province "open for business" by encouraging private investment in the potash and other industries.
On economic issues Thatcher's government was classically liberal, and Thatcher often clashed with the Liberal governments of Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau over agricultural policy, social welfare policies (which the federal party supported and Thatcher opposed) and constitutional reform as well as the federal party's attempts to form a federal political organization in the province separate from the provincial party.
Thatcher was reelected with a slightly increased majority in 1967. He then introduced an austerity program, which cut government services, increased taxes and introduced user fees on medical procedures. Reduced government investment hurt the potash industry as well as agriculture, and Thatcher's administration became increasingly unpopular. His government was defeated by the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party (the new name of the CCF) under Allan Blakeney in the June 1971 election. Although the Liberals won roughly the same number of votes they had in 1967, a meltdown in Progressive Conservative support resulted in the Liberals losing almost half their seats.
In July 1971, only a few weeks after his defeat in the election, he died in his sleep in Regina, Saskatchewan, apparently as a result of complications from diabetes and a heart condition. His death shocked the Saskatchewan public, and JoAnn Thatcher, who at the time was the wife of the former premier's son Colin Thatcher, later claimed she suspected the death was a suicide. However, it was an open secret that Thatcher had largely refused to deal with his severe diabetes over the years. A former aide told reporters that Thatcher's health had been so run down that his death from natural causes surprised few insiders.
Political involvement by his wife and son
In the 1975 provincial election Thatcher's son, Colin, would win a seat in Thunder Creek, a new constituency that contained parts of the riding that his father had represented. Although he was first elected as a Liberal, he later crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives before joining the government after the Blakeney government was swept from power in the 1982 provincial election. Following a brief stint as a cabinet minister in the Progressive Conservative government, he was later charged with murdering his ex-wife, JoAnn Wilson. He was convicted of first degree murder by the jury in the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench. His appeals to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada were dismissed.
- Quiring, Brett, Thatcher, Wilbert Ross, Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, accessed March 16, 2008
- Thatcher, Wilbert Ross, Canadian Encyclopedia, accessed March 16, 2008
- The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation became the New Democratic Party of Canada in 1961. The Saskatchewan CCF used CCF-NDP as a transitional name before it became the Saskatchewan NDP in 1967
- Anchor away: Journalist Keith Morrison has found success south of the border Archived October 4, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. from the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, July 2, 2003; accessed August 6, 2010
- History of Federal Ridings, Regina East, accessed March 16, 2008
- R v Thatcher,  1 SCR 652.