W. Ross Thatcher

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W. Ross Thatcher
9th Premier of Saskatchewan
In office
May 22, 1964 – June 30, 1971
Monarch Elizabeth II
Lieutenant Governor Robert Hanbidge
Stephen Worobetz
Preceded by Woodrow S. Lloyd
Succeeded by Allan Blakeney
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Moose Jaw
In office
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
In office
August 10, 1953 – June 10, 1957
Preceded by District created
Succeeded by Louis Harrington Lewry
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan for Morse
In office
June 8, 1960 – July 22, 1971
Preceded by Jim Gibson
Succeeded by Jack Wiebe
Leader of the Opposition
In office
June 8, 1960 – May 22, 1964
Preceded by Alexander H. McDonald
Succeeded by Woodrow Lloyd
Personal details
Born Wilbert Ross Thatcher
(1917-05-14)May 14, 1917
Neville, Saskatchewan
Died July 22, 1971(1971-07-22) (aged 54)
Regina, Saskatchewan
Political party CCF (1942-1955)
Independent (1955-1957)
Liberal (1957-1971)
Spouse(s) Peggy Thatcher (m. 1938)
Children Colin Thatcher
Religion United Church

Wilbert Ross Thatcher, PC (May 24, 1917 – July 22, 1971) was the ninth Premier of Saskatchewan, Canada, serving from 2 May 1964 to 30 June 1971.

Life and career[edit]

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, in 1938. Thatcher's father, Wilbur, had built a chain of hardware stores across the province which Ross helped manage.[1]

Thatcher 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.[1] 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.[1]

Believing, as a result 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.[1]

Thatcher grew increasingly uncomfortable in the CCF due to his roots in the business world, and soon found himself on the right-wing of the party caucus.[1] In 1955, he left the CCF over the issue of corporate taxation. He sat out his term as an Independent MP before running unsuccessfully for the Liberal Party of Canada in the 1957 federal election.[1] During the campaign, he attacked the provincial CCF government's record on crown corporations, describing them as a dismal failure.[2] Premier Tommy Douglas was angered by this, and challenged Thatcher to a radio debate in the town of Mossbank, which was broadcast across the province.[1] 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.[1][2]

Thatcher was defeated by Hazen Argue in the 1957 federal election and again in 1958 but Thatcher was nevertheless courted by the provincial Saskatchewan Liberal Party and became its leader in 1959 at the party's leadership convention[1] defeating three rivals.[2] 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.[1] Thatcher himself was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan from the rural southern riding of Morse.

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.[1][3] The Liberals only finished 0.1 percent ahead of the CCF in the popular vote. However, a meltdown in Social Credit support allowed the Liberals to win a six-seat majority.

By this time, 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" encouraging private investment in the potash and other industries.[1]

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[2] as well as the federal party's attempts to form a federal political organization in the province separate from Thatcher's party.[1]

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.[1] Thatcher's government was defeated by the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party (the new name of the CCF)[3] under Allan Blakeney in the June 1971 election.[1] 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, Thatcher 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. CTV journalist Keith Morrison interviewed Thatcher only a few hours before his death and is believed to be the last reporter to speak to him.[4]

Thatcher's widow Peggy was persuaded to run for the federal parliament in support of Pierre Trudeau's Liberals in the 1972 federal election but fared poorly coming in a weak third in Regina East.[5] In the 1975 provincial election Thatcher's son Colin would win a seat in Thunder Creek, a then-new constituency that contained parts of the riding his father had represented. Although he was first elected as a Liberal, Colin Thatcher 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 Tory government, Colin Thatcher was later charged and convicted of murdering his ex-wife.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Quiring, Brett, Thatcher, Wilbert Ross, Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, accessed March 16, 2008
  2. ^ a b c d Thatcher, Wilbert Ross, Canadian Encyclopedia, accessed March 16, 2008
  3. ^ a b 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 becoming the Saskatchewan NDP in 1967
  4. ^ Anchor away: Journalist Keith Morrison has found success south of the border from the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, July 2, 2003; accessed Aug. 6, 2010
  5. ^ History of Federal Ridings, Regina East, accessed March 16, 2008