William Irvine Biography

William Irvine (April 19, 1885 – October 26, 1962) was a Canadian politician, journalist, and clergyman. He served in the House of Commons of Canada on three occasions, as a representative of Labour, the United Farmers of Alberta, and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. During the 1920s, he was active in the Ginger Group of radical Members of Parliament (MPs).

Early life

Irvine was born at Gletness in Shetland, Scotland, one of twelve children in a working-class family. He became a Christian socialist in his youth, and worked as a Methodist lay preacher. He moved to Canada in 1907 after being recruited for ministerial work by James Woodsworth, the father of future CCF leader J. S. Woodsworth.Irvine was a follower of the social gospel, and rejected biblical literalism. He refused to sign the Articles of Faith when ordained as a Methodist minister, claiming that he accepted the ethical but not the supernatural aspects of Christian belief. He was nonetheless accepted into the ministry, and was stationed at Emo, Ontario, in 1914. Irvine was accused of heresy the following year by a church elder, and, although acquitted of the charge, chose to resign his commission. He left the Methodists, and accepted a call to lead the Unitarian Church in Calgary, Alberta in early 1916.In addition to his work as a Unitarian minister, Irvine became politically active after moving to Alberta. He helped establish an Alberta branch of the radical agrarian Non-Partisan League (NPL) in December 1916, and was an NPL representative at the creation of the Alberta Labor Representation League (LRL) in April 1917. Irvine himself stood as an LRL candidate in the 1917 provincial election, but was defeated in Calgary. He also founded the Nutcracker newspaper in 1916, and oversaw its later transformations to the Alberta Non-Partisan and the Western Independent.

Political career

= First campaigns

He campaigned for the House of Commons of Canada in 1917, as a Labour candidate opposing Robert Borden's Unionist government during the Conscription Crisis election of 1917. His platform overlapped with that of the Alberta Non-Partisan League. While not a pacifist, Irvine denounced war profiteering and called for the "conscription of wealth" rather than of men. He was accused of holding pro-German sympathies. He was defeated, and he also lost his funding from the American Unitarian Association in Boston.

Still supported by his local congregation, he set up his own "People's Church" in Calgary in 1919 as part of the Labour church movement.In the same year, he helped establish the Alberta wing of the Dominion Labor Party.Irvine lived briefly in New Brunswick in 1920, and supported that province's United Farmers movement during a federal by-election. After returning to Calgary, he helped convince the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) to enter political life. The UFA was divided between those who supported direct political action, and others such as Henry Wise Wood who wanted it to remain an agrarian pressure group. Direct politics was endorsed following a series of public debates between Irvine and Wood at UFA meetings. Wood was successful in restricting the UFA's membership to farmers.

Irvine's first book, Farmers in Politics (1920), endorsed the UFA policies of economic co-operation and group government.

= Member of Parliament, 1920s

He was first elected to the House of Commons in the 1921 federal election as a Dominion Labour Party candidate in Calgary East. Two other Labour MPs were elected in Canada that year. Irvine became close political and personal friends with Winnipeg North Centre MP J. S. Woodsworth. The two of them launched an investigation into social credit, and invited social credit theorist Major C.H. Douglas, Edmonton farmer/bank reformer George Bevington and others to speak to the investigating committee on monetary and bank reform.

Although Irvine was never a member of the Social Credit Party, he was interested in social credit monetary theories, believing that monetary reform was an important part of bringing a co-operative commonwealth into effect. Their investigation of bank reform had special potency as it came just as the Home Bank collapsed leaving many families penniless and it led to the first discussion of social credit in Canada.

Irvine was defeated in 1925 when he ran for re-election.

He was next elected in 1926, when he ran for the UFA in the rural Alberta riding of Wetaskiwin. Despite the change in his party affiliation, he remained a leading ally of Woodsworth and of farmer-labour co-operation. He, Woodsworth and many Farmer and Labour MPs formed the "Ginger Group", which pushed and prodded the House of Commons to pass pro-labour and pro-farmer legislation. His book Co-operative Government was published in 1929.

In the late 1920s, Irvine introduced a bill to abolish capital punishment.The meeting in which Irvine, Woodsworth and several other farmer and labour MPs decided to found a national labour-farmer political party, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation party, was held in Irvine's parliamentary office in 1932. Irvine was active in the founding of the CCF in Calgary in 1932 and helped bring the UFA into the CCF in early 1933 and the parliamentary UFA caucus into the CCF for the 1935 election. He and all the other UFA MPs were defeated in the 1935 election, succumbing to Social Credit candidates.

He attempted to re-enter parliament the following year through a by-election in Assiniboia, Saskatchewan but was defeated by former Saskatchewan Premier James Garfield Gardiner.

Irvine became the Alberta CCF's first president.

He returned to parliament in the 1945 election for the British Columbia riding of Cariboo. He served in the House of Commons for four years. He was defeated in 1949 when the opposition united behind Liberal candidate George Matheson Murray.

Irvine made three more attempts to return to parliament, in the 1950s, but was unsuccessful each time.



= Footnotes

= Bibliography

External links

William (Bill) Irvine and The Social Gospel

William Irvine – Parliament of Canada biography

William Irvine (Canadian politician)

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