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UBC Theses and Dissertations

T. D. Pattullo as a party leader Sutherland, Neil


Thomas Dufferin Pattullo had a distinguished career as cabinet minister, leader of the opposition and premier of British Columbia. Born in Ontario, he was as a young man attracted to the Klondike gold rush and spent a number of years in the Yukon. He later moved to Prince Rupert where he opened a business and took part in local politics. Following his success in the 1916 provincial general election, Pattullo was appointed, as Minister of Lands, to the new Liberal cabinet of Premier Harlan C. Brewster. Under the successive premierships of Brewster, John Oliver and Dr. John Duncan MacLean he continued to hold this position until the Liberals were defeated in the general election of 1928. On MacLean's retirement from politics in 1929, Pattullo was elected House leader of the Liberal party; the following year he was made its permanent leader. In this position he carefully and shrewdly rebuilt the Liberal party machine which had been badly shattered in the 1928 election. Fortunately for Pattullo, it was the Conservatives, under Premier Simon Fraser Tolmie, who were first forced to contend with the problems of the economic depression of the 1930's. The depression quickly undermined the strength and morale of the Conservative government; in 1932 Tolmie confessed his government's inability to cope with economic conditions by offering Pattullo a position in a coalition cabinet. Pattullo, capitalizing on the Conservative's confessed ineptitude, used this offer to buttress the already strong image of himself as a man able and willing to solve the province's problems. He was strongly influenced by ideas then current regarding social change and "work and wages" became the Liberal's slogan. By 1933, Pattullo was the dominant figure on the British Columbia political scene, his party's machine was the most efficient the province had yet seen, and his version of the New Deal had captured the imagination of a large proportion of the citizens of British Columbia. In the provincial general election held in the autumn of that year he and his Liberal party decisively defeated both the Conservative party and the newly-formed Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. In November, 1933, Pattullo became British Columbia's twenty-second premier. During his first term of office the new premier found great difficulty in translating his campaign promises into legislative action. Although his government enacted considerable remedial legislation, it was unable to raise the money required for the vast scheme of public works which the Liberal party had promised in the election. Since they were beyond the capacity of the province by itself to fulfil, Pattullo's promises needed a large measure of federal financial assistance. Despite an increasingly acrimonious debate, first with R.B. Bennett and later with Mackenzie King, the premier was never able to secure federal participation in his economic schemes. In consequence, the Liberals lost a great deal of their early popularity. Between 1935 and 1937, this loss prompted considerable restiveness in the Liberal party organization and some dissatisfaction with Pattullo'a leadership. In these years, however, Pattullo's hold on the party machinery remained fairly firm and there was no open challenge to his position. In the spring of 1937, a fortunate combination of a general improvement in the economic conditions in the province with a rupture in the C.C.F., the party which had for a time been expected to win the next election, encouraged Pattullo to call a general election. Although Liberal support declined from the strength shown in 1933, the party was again victorious. In a convention called during the following year, Pattullo, capitalizing on his electoral success, made almost absolute his control over the party. During his second term, Pattullo became increasingly insensitive to public opinion. He alienated much of his support in the metropolitan areas by his handling of the "sit-down" strike of unemployed men in Vancouver and Victoria. In 1941, misjudging the attitude of the public toward the Report of the Rowell-Sirois Commission, he rejected its recommendations at the federal-provincial conference called to discuss the Report. This conduct was severely criticized throughout the province. These major political errors, more minor political issues, and antagonisms which accumulated during eight years of office, resulted in the Liberal party's defeat in the general election held in October, I94I. Although short of a majority in the legislature, the Liberals managed, however, to elect more supporters than either the Conservatives or the C.C.F. In these circumstances Pattullo decided to attempt to carry on with a minority government. He had, however, misjudged his strength within the Liberal party. Personal loyalty to the leader, so strong in 1933, had been transformed through the years (In part because of his increasingly dictatorial manner) into a loyalty which was given only to a successful office-holder. When, in the defiance of insistent demands from the press, from both opposition parties and from many of his own supporters for the formation of a coalition government, Pattullo refused to take such a step, his strength within the party faded away. Outmanoeuvred by the coalitionists within the Liberal party, he was forced by a party convention to yield up his place as premier of British Columbia and as leader of the Liberal party. His successor, John Hart, instituted the coalition of the Liberal and Conservative parties to which Pattullo had been for so long opposed.

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