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Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act : Mackenzie King’s expedient response to the Spanish Civil War Frohn-Nielsen, Thor Erik

Abstract

Twelve-hundred Canadians volunteered for the republican cause during the Spanish Civil War. Along with the large number of recruits, committees were formed, fund raising begun, rallies organized, and parliament petitioned. Interest was widespread in Canada, and tended to become emotional as the conflict became a battlefield of ideals. Whether communist labourers, socialist intellectuals, or simply champions of democracy, English speaking Canadians were inclined to support the beleaguered Republic in its battle against Franco and his fascist allies. Though English speaking Canada tended to be sympathetic toward the Republic, Mackenzie King's Liberal government passed the Foreign Enlistment Act nine months into the war, which forbad any Canadian from volunteering for either side in the conflict. Why did the Prime Minister, usually so careful in his dealings with public opinion, pass legislation that seemed to go against the wishes of the electorate? This thesis will attempt to prove that King was, in fact, paying scrupulous attention to popular sentiments, and passed the Act after a thorough analysis of his government's situation. It will be shown that opinion in Quebec, a federal Liberal stronghold, had become increasingly reactionary, and by 1936 was indeed sympathetic to Franco. King believed, quite rightly, that the vehement anti-republicanism in Quebec was simply much stronger than the pro voice from the rest of Canada. The Foreign Enlistment Act was shrewdly designed to placate Quebec voters without alienating too many English speaking Canadians. To facilitate this study it will first be necessary to examine public opinion, and the role of the media in English Canada. An analysis of the Quebec situation will then be made. Finally, a chapter will be devoted to Mackenzie King and how he dealt with the rift in public opinion .exacerbated by the Spanish Civil War. This chapter will show the Prime Minister as a political animal par excellence, who in this case, put political survival before moral principles.

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