Cause and consequence: What were the causes and most important aspects of your chosen event related to the guiding question? [5Ws]
Who: Robert Borden, Canadian soldiers, women related to soldiers serving overseas, immigrants and citizens of ‘enemy’ countries, Liberal party, Conservative party, Union Party, English Canadians, French Canadians
What: The wartime election act of 1917 gave the right to vote to female relatives of soldiers serving overseas during world war 1. It also took the vote away from many Canadians who had immigrated from “enemy” countries. The Act was passed by Prime Minister Robert Borden’s Conservative government in an attempt to gain votes in the 1917 election.
When: September 1917
Why: Robert Borden’s Conservative government had introduced conscription in May 1917, to strengthen and reinforce Canadian fighting forces in the First World War. Conscription deeply divided the country — English-speaking Canadians were largely in favour, while French-speaking Canadians and others not of British descent were opposed. The Conservatives feared that opponents of conscription, including the opposition Liberal Party, would join forces to defeat the Conservatives in the upcoming general election, which would be held in December. Borden made several political moves to strengthen his position ahead of the election. He convinced many pro-conscription Liberals and other opposition MPs to join the Conservatives in a Union government to push for conscription and steer the Canadian war effort. He also changed the rules about who could and couldn’t vote in the coming election by introducing the Wartime Elections Act. The Act was designed to create legions of new voters who were likely to support the Unionists, and to disenfranchise voters who would likely be opposed to conscription. On 20 September, after an angry debate, Parliament passed the Act. The new law disenfranchised Canadian citizens who had been born in “enemy” nations after March 1902, unless those citizens had a son, grandson or brother on active duty in the Canadian military. Meanwhile the Act granted the vote to the wives, mothers and sisters of serving soldiers, as well as to women serving in the military. Canadian women had previously been denied the right to vote in federal elections. Canadians, most of whom supported conscription and the war effort, also supported the Act.
Historical Perspective: How was your researched event viewed by Canadians at the time? How do you know?
Many women were unhappy with the act because it segregated women with relatives in combat and those without any. On top of that, all women in certain provinces were allowed to vote in provincial elections but weren’t allowed to vote in the upcoming federal election. This meant only a certain population of women could vote. However, Canadians, most of whom supported conscription and the war effort, also supported the Act. The voices of those who could no longer vote are not heard or seen in the newspapers.
Continuity and Change: To what extent did this event or idea affect Canadian social, political, or economic norms or values?
The act undoubtedly increased support for Borden’s party, but was not ultimately a major factor in the 1917 election, which the Unionists won. For decades afterwards, Conservative support in Quebec and among some ethnic and immigrant groups, was badly damaged. In the vote on 17 December 1917, some 500,000 Canadian women participated for the first time in a federal election. The Act was repealed at the end of the war, although by 1918 all women born in Canada over the age of 21 would permanently gain the right to vote in federal elections. The Act’s legacy is contentious, as it both provided many women with the vote for the first time, while also legitimizing in law many widely-held anti-immigrant fears.
Historical Significance: In what ways, specifically, did your event contribute to Canada’s social, political, or economic autonomy? Provide evidence from primary and secondary sources.
Canada became the 8th country to allow women to vote and certain provinces allowed them to vote before 1917 as well. The act was passed before America allowed their female citizen to vote. This shows that Canada isn’t a headless follower of the USA like some people south of the border believe. Canada is the most notable country trying to create equality and break barriers between groups in the country and around the world. Our values are always changing and are flexible to the norms of sociality today. Back then., many men were hesitant to let women vote but nowadays, not letting women vote seems unusual and unfair. This is how we are autonomous as a country and a society.