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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The government is seeking a mandate : the Liberal Party of Canada’s use of democratic rhetoric in the interwar years, 1919–1940 Coombs, Adam


This dissertation seeks to explain how and why the political concepts Canadians value differ substantially from the foundational ideals of the British North America Act 1867. It seeks to answer this question by examining democratic discourses propagated by national political parties during the key years of 1919–1940. In particular, it focuses on the role of the Liberal Party of Canada and its leader William Lyon Mackenzie King in advancing a certain set of democratic discourses as a means of responding to specific challenges the party faced during these years. Ultimately, it argues the Liberals used discourses based on the concept of popular sovereignty to justify centralizing political power in the person of the Prime Minister and creating a centralized political party designed to support the legislative agenda of their leader. While the Liberals were not the only party to employ democratic discourses as a means of advancing their political fortunes, their particular articulation of how Canada should function was uniquely successful in appealing to the popular imagination. Other parties, from the Progressive Party of the early 1920s, who advocated group governance, proportional representation and multi–member constituencies, to the Conservatives, who steadfastly defended British constitutional norms, all were either unable or unwilling to create an effective counter–narrative and so remained in the minority within the House of Commons, leading to a prolonged period of Liberal rule.

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