Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Wardhaugh, Robert


It is commonly accepted that a political divide exists between Saskatchewan and Alberta. Both provinces share similar settlement patterns, histories, and economies, but there exists a perceived division in their political cultures between a “conservative” Alberta and “socially democratic” Saskatchewan. Whereas Alberta emerged from the Great Depression as the champion of “free enterprise” and limited government control, Saskatchewan experimented with state ownership and sought to dramatically expand Canada’s social welfare system. There is a willingness to accept that modern Saskatchewan’s conservatism has moved it closer to its western neighbour, but historians remain wedded to the idea that this conservatism is a departure from the past. Saskatchewan’s political history remains almost entirely dedicated to explaining the rise of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and the roots of the province’s social democratic legacy.

This study challenges these narratives by detailing the development of a conservative ideology in Saskatchewan between the province’s creation in 1905 and the election of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in 1944. Rather than the preservation of a tory-touched hierarchy, Saskatchewan conservatives defended individual rights and freedoms. This individualist conservatism manifested itself in the major economic and social discussions of the period, including conservative farmers’ adherence to the capitalist grain trade, nativist campaigns for limited immigration and increased assimilation of “foreigners,” and the growth of conservative Christian schools in response to the Great Depression. This conservative ideology was also influential. Both the provincial Liberal and Conservative parties owed their successes to conservative support. Whereas the Liberal Party appealed to an economic conservatism that sought to limit the government’s involvement in the capitalist system, the Conservative Party built its support from a racial conservatism that argued for increased assimilation. Neither party, however, was able to withstand the rise of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. The 1944 election was a clear victory for the new party’s collectivist ethos, but the scale of the victory iii overshadowed the large segments of the population that championed an individualistic worldview.

Summary for Lay Audience

It is commonly accepted that Saskatchewan and Alberta constitute twins separated at birth. Although the provinces possessed similar demographics, economies, and experiences in territorial politics, we are told that Alberta’s conservatism is in direct contrast to Saskatchewan’s social democratic political culture. Election results certainly lend credence to this assumption. Alberta has continually elected a long series of right-of-centre governments, beginning with Social Credit in 1935, followed by the PCs in 1971, and most recently the United Conservative Party in 2019. In contrast, Saskatchewan’s 1944 election ushered in a long-period of CCF/NDP dominance wherein social democratic governments have ruled for forty-seven of the last seventy-five years. As this study demonstrates, however, Saskatchewan has always been more conservative than historians have suggested. To argue that Saskatchewan conservatism was a non-factor due to its inability to the CCF’s rise in 1944 assumes that elections serve as the sole barometer of ideological commitment. Social democracy was not Saskatchewan’s default setting. The province has always been home to a dynamic and influential conservatism that was predicated on a defence of individual rights and freedoms.