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J.S. Woodsworth

FROM THE Heritage Minutes COLLECTION

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"I submit that the Government exists to provide for the needs of the people, and when it comes to choice between profits and property rights on the one hand and human welfare on the other, there should be no hesitation whatsoever in saying that we are going to place the human welfare consideration first and let property rights and financial interests fare as best they may." - J.S. Woodsworth, 1922

James Shaver Woodsworth, the "conscience of Canada," helped create Canada's social-security system. His combination of leadership, determination, and an unrelenting desire for social reform changed the lives of all working Canadians.

Born in Etobicoke, Ontario in 1874, J.S. Woodsworth was educated at Victoria College and Oxford University. He later worked with urban immigrant populations, was a staunch democratic socialist, and an ardent supporter of trade-union collective bargaining.

Woodsworth maintained his controversial views at great personal expense. In 1917, he resigned from his government position because of his opposition to conscription. Two years later, he was arrested for his participation in the Winnipeg General Strike. His fortunes changed in 1921 when Manitoba's voters elected him to the House of Commons with the Independent Labour Party slogan "Human Needs before Property Rights." He mastered parliamentary procedure and effectively used the House of Commons to focus awareness of the unemployed, the elderly, immigrants and farmers. His parliamentary genius helped establish a multiparty political system and forced the government to recognize the labour movement.

In 1926, Woodsworth realized his lifelong ambition when he and fellow Labour Party MP A.A. Heaps guaranteed Prime Minister Mackenzie King a coalition government in return for Mackenzie King's creation of Canada's Old-Age Pension plan. The following year, the plan was introduced and became the cornerstone of Canada's social-security system.

In 1933, Woodsworth became the leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, forerunner to today's New Democratic Party. Ever the adamant pacifist, Woodsworth won his last election in 1940 by a scant majority. He subsequently suffered a stroke and died in 1942.

Heritage Minute Cast
Woodsworth Colin Fox
King William Lyon
Heaps Daniel Kash
Charles Bowman Peter Van Wart
Additional Cast Ann Page

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