The CCF, Hitler and history

Harper’s reading of history inspired something of a Twitter meme


Twice this week—see here and here—Stephen Harper saw fit to lament that a precursor to the NDP hadn’t supported World War II. A Conservative backbencher, Scott Armstrong, was sent up before QP this morning to directly attack JS Woodsworth and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird then repeated the citation in response to an NDP question about extending this country’s mission in Afghanistan (both Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Baird invoking Hitler by name).

It is true that Mr. Woodsworth, leader at the time of the CCF, the party that would become the NDP some 22 years later, opposed Canada’s involvement in the war. Mr. Woodsworth was a pacifist. But he was also the only member of the CCF to oppose the declaration of war. Indeed, he was the only MP in the entire House of Commons who opposed the motion. Major James Coldwell, who would soon thereafter succeed Mr. Woodsworth as leader of the CCF, supported the declaration. As apparently did a young CCF MP named Tommy Douglas.

This is not the first time a Conservative has raised Mr. Woodsworth’s vote as something the current NDP needs to answer for. Here is Jason Kenney, then of the Canadian Alliance, raising the issue in 2003. At the time, Mr. Kenney was advocating for the use of a “credible threat of force” against Iraq.

Meanwhile, Mr. Harper’s reading of history inspired something of a Twitter meme yesterday and the NDP duly sent up Dan Harris before QP today to inform the House of the highlights.

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the Prime Minister accused the NDP of not doing enough to stop Hitler. I am sure the NDP’s founding members would have found this pretty strange when they first gathered in 1961.

Last night, tens of thousands of Canadians responded with an outpouring of social medial comedian. In the spirit of co-operation, I would like to offer the Prime Minister some great suggestions for next week’s attacks on the NDP.

Comedian Dan Speering led things off last night by tweeting, “Damn you NDP for not standing up to Genghis Khan.”

Another wrote, “It was really the NDP that helped organized the stampeded that killed Mufasa in the Lion King.”

Another, “The NDP refused to come to the aid of men when Mordor invaded Gondor. Shame.”

“The NDP got Fox to cancel Firefly.”

And, “The NDP cancelled Arrested Development because they oppose free enterprise banana stands.”

I hope the Conservatives take this humour in stride and do not respond with more of their humourless anger.

Update… More context and history here.


The CCF, Hitler and history

  1. I can’t believe I am saying this but…….one thing though…….the NDP in particular are very fond of calling the Conservatives ‘Reformers’ by way of insult. They are not. So, if we are getting texbook literal about the designations of the party names…..then the NDP need to acknowledge and stop calling Conservatives ‘Reformers’. While it’s very true that the NDP grew out of the merging of CCF and the CLC it is equally true that the Conservatives grew out of an eventual merger of the Alliance, the Reform and the Progressive Conservatives……therefore if throwing around inaccurate names and history is whron for the goose, it’s wrong for the gander.

    • Surely how you can see how one is much much closer than the other, right?

    • Reformacons…there, that better?

      • Or Reformatories.

    • Are there any CCFers still around? No

      Are there any Reformers still around? Gawd yes

    • don’t get me wrong guys……not a big fan of Harper, BUT IF the new benchmark is accuracy (which it hasn’t been for a while…well 6 years, in the smear category) THEN accuracy must apply to Harper as well…..if we are going to all of a sudden hold him to account for accuracy, then in fairness you gotta respond in kind.

      • The corollary to your argument would seem to be, if Harper is not bound by accuracy, then the NDP shouldn’t be either.

        • Now, you got it…….IF we are going to play this game, let’s all play it by the same rules……feigned outrage and a pity party isn’t required here. The NDP gives as good as it gets……

          • Guestly why do you keep insinuating people are outraged? I think the NDP showed some humour here. Do you not get humour? Is it outrage to you?

    • It is certainly true that many Conservatives were members of the Reform Party, including the Prime Minister.

      Can you name one NPD MP who was a member of the CCF?

      • Not really the point and a bit of a straw man to boot. the New Conservative party has a whole new constitution and the Reform party has ceased to exist……calling them Reformers when they have no allegiance to any such party is the same whether it was 50 years ago or 10 years ago. Like I said, can’t believe I am saying it becuase I can’t stand Harper……but you can’t throw out names like Reformer, Hitler and Dear Leader when referring to Harper and then get all offended when he plays fast and lose with the facts…….In fact, no one seemed to mind when he did this with the Liberals……so should it be with the NDP OR EVERYONE changes the way things are done.

        • Well it’s the Cons that are insisting on their ties to Sir John A, and Diefenbaker plus Manning and all….one continuous seam according to them with only a minor family feud along the way.

          • In actual fact, they have never said that outright……they use it (true enough) under the theory that if you merge a party, you accept the history. NDP see it differently and that’s just fine. But the point is… can’t lose your nut about Harper playing fast and loose with the facts and then go off and do the same thing by way of rebuttal (well you can, the it kind of loses it’s edge as ‘real outrage’)

          • LOL yes they have. They’ve invoked the names many times.

            Harper has played fast and loose with many facts, notably on the F-35, and been tromped on for it…even by the AG.

            This one’s just funny.

        • “.but you can’t throw out names like Reformer, Hitler and Dear Leader when referring to Harper and then get all offended…”

          Ok, but to invoke Hitler is kinda special, right? There’s even a “law.” And I read this blog very regularly and can’t recall anybody invoking Hitler to smear Harper. It could’ve happened, and it may have happened on other blogs, but it’s hardly common.

          And most importantly: some anonymous wanker referring to Hitler on a public comment board is NOT the equivalent of the Prime Minister doing it in the House of Commonsl.

    • Both parties will haul their past traditions out of the closet when it suits them and cry foul when the other side does it. Not sure why this is a game the general public should play along with them.

    • Guesty, your point would be more valid if people who were in the CCF were sitting on the NDP benches today. I do not believe that is the case. It is the case for many current members of the Conservative caucus, and I have always felt that when attacks included ‘Reformer’ it was because the attack was against one or more former Reformers. I haven’t paid that close attention and could be wrong, but that has been my assumption.

      • Well, they cite Tommy Douglas often enough, particularly his creation of Medicare as a CCF premier of Saskatchewan. I suppose they’re happy to be associated with the CCF in that instance.

        • The key would be your last two words, there, m’boy. Your trying to excuse Harper drawing a line from one member of one party to another member of its later incarnation as a frame for total endorsement of policy is, well, lame.

  2. I posit that Harper’s gaffe’s about Canadian history are even greater than Iggy’s details regarding the genesis of certain Quebec powers, and thus render Harper even more unfit for his role as Prime Minister.

  3. The fact that the Cons are resorting to such loopy criticisms of the NDP suggests that they are getting pretty desperate and/or losing the last vestiges of their grip on reality.

  4. When your PM starts throwing out “Hitler” in a desperate attempt to quell dissent, then perhaps he has lost the moral authority to govern

    • Here’s the problem……how many times has the word Hitler been thrown at Harper? Does that mean that everyone who has lost the moral authority to govern too?

      • Usually Harper is called Dear Leader.

        • That’s my point…..he isn’t the Dear Leader is he now? Should he start a twitter war and pretend how sad he is at the inaccuracy of it all?

          • Well mostly you’re just arguing to argue….but I’d point out that being called after a comical dictator isn’t the worse name he could get.

          • love a good arguement….just don’t call me Hitler LOL. I suppose what I am really saying boiled right down is that the feigned outrage is a little rich.

          • People aren’t outraged, feigned or not….they’re laughing.

          • Exactly. Making a statement so patently ludicrous on its face only serves to make one the butt of jokes. Stupidity on this level provokes laughs, not anger.

          • Which MP has called Harper either of those?

            Name them. Just one. Go ahead. Until you can, you’re comparing apples and oranges.

        • Pity poor Stephen! It’s so ronery at the top.

      • Hi Guesty, the comment is in reference to this:

        “When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it’s rapidly losing its moral authority to govern.”

        Stephen Harper, Canadian Press, April 18, 2005

      • In the House of Commons? Not once.

  5. I think this is a fine time to discuss the Conservative Party’s associations with Sir Hugh Allan.

    • Don’t forget – they’re also the party that killed the Avro Arrow, destroying Canada’s chance at becoming an aeronautical leader in the world. Now they want us to buy underdeveloped foreign planes without specifying their total cost?
      Treason!! Treason, I say!!

  6. I personally am still outraged that the NDP sat around and let Riel hang Thomas Scott. I’ll never vote for them as a result.

  7. CCF leader J.S. Woodsworth knew his party would be supporting the war, and that he would be isolated in the House of Commons. He suffered a stroke the night before he made his speech opposing the war, and his wife wrote out his script on cue cards in inch-high letters because he could barely see. Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who had more class than anyone on the government benches now, objected when a few backbench Conservatives tried to heckle Woodsworth, saying: “There are few men in this Parliament for whom I have greater respect than the leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. I admire him in my heart, because time and again he has had the courage to say what lays on his conscience, regardless of what the world might think of him. A man of that calibre is an ornament to any Parliament.” I cannot imagine Prime Minister Harper or his ministers making similar comments today.

    (I posted this information elsewhere – it deserves to be remembered.)

    • hear hear.

    • You have a pretty poor imagination and even worse memory. I seem to remember Harper giving the former NDP leader a state funeral even though he didn’t have to. He even sat through and politely applauded the politically-charged sermon of Stephen Lewis whom he clearly doesn’t see eye-to-eye with. Far classier than anything most of you would ever do.

      • Maybe it wasn’t clear when you read it the first time – Woodsworth was both alive and leading the CCF opposition to KIng when King made the comments.

      • So Harper showed the minimum of accepted civility when a well regarded politician and leader of the official opposition died, and you think that shows class. I can see that. Let’s give him a parade for not being as low and petty as he wanted to be and acted like an actual human being.

        I’m sure that his actions had nothing to do with the very large outpouring of public grief that was going on across the country.

      • Harper followed the only precedent that existed – when Laurier died while Leader of the Opposition in 1919, he was given a state funeral. You say, in effect, that Harper held his nose while sitting through Layton’s funeral, which shows that you don’t even understand what I’m saying.

  8. OK, behind all the stuff about whether it’s dumb to call the CCF the NDP, or if it was inappropriate to invoke Hitler, or whether Harper was missing important context (my opinion, no, sort of, yes) he is striking on something that is going to cause some tough decisions for Tom Mulcair. Just about every time military action is in the table, some people will want to go and others won’t. The NDP has consistently been the political home for people on the left of every issue, including this one. And it’s not wrong for such people to have a consistent political home, but now that they’re transitioning to a party that aspires to be the home of the middle of the road Canadian voter (who occasionally thinks we should go to war, and sometimes doesn’t, depending), they’re going to have to look like a party that can be flexible in the face of circumstances, something that won’t sit well with a lot of the people whose work got them here. Ditto labour disputes, the environment, and on and on. Harper knows this because he had to go through the same process.

    • so your saying that sometimes some canadians will want to go to war, sometimes some canadians will not, and the ndp is in trouble because sometimes some of its members won’t want to go to war, and sometimes some will not.

      • I’m saying that Harper’s message to a particular group of Canadians is “If you think the Canadian Forces occasionally do good work by fighting, the NDP never will, no matter what.” I think this is tough to argue against (plenty of Canadians consider it a feature, not a bug, but they would never vote Tory anyway), and the NDP’s attempts to go from a reliable leftist home to mainstream governing party is going to require some delicate stickhandling around this perception.

        • And I’m saying you were ahead before you replied.

    • Macleans:

      While I am glad to have the negative vote option back, The “below threshold” bit that makes one have to choose to display an unpopular comment such as Ryan’s (below threshold at only -3?) is a lousy idea and stifles debate. It is semi-censorship by popular vote. It needs to be disabled.

      • You are a minority in this group of Harper-Haters.
        Long live Lefty censors!

        • You seem to be implying I like Harper. If so, you’re not familiar with the thrust of many of my comments. I may not agree with much of what CPC supporters have to say, but I support their right to say (and display) it.

      • I agree with you about displaying unpopular comments, but I would also like to lose the negative vote option.
        However, these changes have been made and are being tested by Disqus.There is an option to give them feedback on the changes by clicking on the blue banner at the top of the comments.

        • I already gave Disqus my feedback. But as the ultimate client, Macleans’ voice carries more weight… so I decided to publicly post my thoughts where Macleans can see them (and others can vote to show whether they agree or not).

          • Point taken. I misunderstood the aim of your original comment.

  9. It’s a pity that this obscures the point that the NDP has had a pacifist stance for years. The NDP had a campaign plank in the ’80s calling for a unilateral Canadian withdrawal from NATO. The CCF may have supported a declaration of war against the Nazis, but the NDP wasn’t so certain about the validity of a defense pact against a totalitarian Communist state.

  10. I think the NDP and those that took to Twitter to make fun really took the best route in response to the illegitimate Harper parties immaturity. That is really the best way to confront their lack of credibility. Laugh at them.

  11. Wells and Geddes and Wherry should be ashamed of themselves for allowing this blog to become a lib blog , censoring those who would disagree.

  12. Pretty difficult to feel much more disgust, disdain and contempt for these horrors who call themselves The Harper Government. Most decent human beings wouldn’t allow these things to sully their homes.

  13. Mulcair wasn’t acting very socialist there, ’cause he sure owned Harper and the Cons in the House

  14. It de-legitimizes or minimizes any future political criticisms, even if they were valid. That was a gift Harper gave him in the House. Any smear attempts will be answered with references to events of the 2nd World War or sooner, and everybody’ll laugh ’em off.

  15. It was a Union with ties to the NDP that was responsible for all those faulty ACME products that kept getting Wile E. Coyote blowed up.

  16. Well, the problem is obvious. How on earth can this ethical government of transparency and accountability whine about the official opposition “doing it too” when they are caught doing something underhanded? Remember, that’s been their go-to standby for half a decade. They had to come up with something, and Mulcair just wasn’t giving them the time to come up with something GOOD.

  17. I object strenously to your interpretaton of history.

    Firstly, the CCF/NDP was founded in 1932 in Calgary, primarily as a federation of like-minded political and study groups across the country, and chose its first President, J.S. Woodsworth. The issue of pacifism was very contentious in our party then (as it is now) and for many years many criticized the growing militarization in Europe. So, when J.S. Woodsworth rose in the House to vote against a declaration of war against Germany, it was no surprise to CCFers as many were likeminded (there were many ideological people then that would not compromise their principles in spite of the threat of Nazism) and the issue was very hotly debated and divisive in the party. It was not a surprise that Woodsworth voted against the war, in fact he and many of the left in Canada were opposed to World War I as well, and led various rallies that culminated in the Winnipeg General Strike, where many returning soldiers participated.

    Stephen Harper’s statement is therefore 100% accurate. He said in the house, not that the NDP supported World War II, but that “The leader of the NDP, in 1939, did not even want to support war against Hitler.” See Hansard here:

    Secondly, the 1961 “founding” was a bonafide PR exercise for the CCF to re-establish itself in Canadian society. The NDP was supposed to be a “merger” of the CCF with the Canadian Labour Congress, however that is absolutely absurd. The structural changes that were made in the party do not warrant referring to it as a merger, as the CLC retained its autonomy and existence as a separate organization. In 1961, as a result of the PR exercise, more unions were affiliating with the NDP, however the CCF has had unions affiliated to it from the beginning, from the 1933 convention when the constitution of the CCF acknowledged affiliation. Yes, it’s true, that many more unions affiliated to the NDP in 1961 than before, however this does not make it a “merger”. In addition, New Party groups that had been formed (led in Ontario by CCF Leader Donald C. MacDonald) were groups of new people to the party with ideas relevant to the 1960s, tackling nuclear proliferation amongst other issues that were perhaps due to poor PR not what the CCF was known for. These New Party groups also “merged” into the NDP but they were not ideologically divergent from the party and therefore there is no difference in this exercise than from starting a new campus club or LGBT caucus and providing it with delegates to a convention.

    Therefore, the Co-operative Commonwealth experienced a NAME-CHANGE in 1961 when it was decided by the convention to call it the New Democratic Party and nothing more. This is why historians refer to our political party or grouping that we are part of as the “CCF-NDP” or even “CCF/NDP.” If you search google scholar, you will find many books with titles that include CCF-NDP, such as, “Canadian socialism: Essays on the CCF-NDP” by the imminent Canadian historian Alan Whitehorn, “Secular Socialists: The CCF/NDP in Ontario: a Biography,” by JT Morley, “Keeping the Dream Alive: The Survival of the Ontario CCF/NDP” by D. Azoulay, “Social democracy in Manitoba: a history of the CCF-NDP” by N. Wiseman, and “The Decline and Fall of a Good Idea: CCF-NDP Manifestoes, 1932 to 1969” by M.S. Cross. See:,5

  18. I am reading wikipedia and its article on the New Democratic Party in an attempt to find the difference between the CCF and NDP. The wikipedia page states, “Although the CCF was part of the Christian left and the Social Gospel movement,[3] the NDP is secular and pluralistic. It has broadened to include concerns of the New Left, and advocates issues such as gay rights, international peace, and environmental stewardship.”

    So that is why the party elects former Baptist Minister Tommy Douglas, who in his first speech at this founding convention of the party, asks New Democrats to not rest “until we have built Jerusalem in this green and pleasant land.” There was therefore no overt departure from the Christian left, only perhaps a gradual cultural change that was occurring slowly over a long period of time. If anybody has any evidence to contradict this, please let me know. See video in the 1961 section:

    As well, the absurdity that the party was in 1961 for gay rights is absurd. I mean we were progressive, but not that progressive. Again, please show me this evidence, as there is none. With regards to International Peace, it was obviously Woodsworth’s pacifism that reflected a drive to international peace, so I see no departure. And regarding environmental stewardship, it’s true that this was a modern sentiment at the time as it related to nuclear proliferation, however, the party adopting new and emerging policies in the form of environmental stewardship does not in itself establish a “new party.” Basically, the same people were in the executive level of the party, the same MPs merely changed their designation from CCF to NDP, and all ridings changed their name from CCF to NDP. All CCF members automatically became NDP members. The Saskatchewan CCF rejected the PR exercise as they were obviously quite successful with the CCF moniker, and they continued to be known as the CCF into the 1967 provincial election there, as I believe other provinces did.

    • Show us identical membership lists and blanket policy affirmations over decades, and MAYBE you will have a point. Until then you’re just barking.