Military Voters Act
The Military Voters Act was a World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 piece of Canadian
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 legislation, giving the right to vote to all Canadian soldiers.

With the Conscription Crisis of 1917
Conscription Crisis of 1917
The Conscription Crisis of 1917 was a political and military crisis in Canada during World War I.-Background:...

 in full swing, Prime Minister Robert Borden
Robert Borden
Sir Robert Laird Borden, PC, GCMG, KC was a Canadian lawyer and politician. He served as the eighth Prime Minister of Canada from October 10, 1911 to July 10, 1920, and was the third Nova Scotian to hold this office...

 was anxious to produce a solution to the manpower problem that Canada had been experiencing as the war drew on. With the main opposition to conscription coming from his French-speaking ministers, the Prime Minister favoured the creation of a coalition government
Coalition government
A coalition government is a cabinet of a parliamentary government in which several political parties cooperate. The usual reason given for this arrangement is that no party on its own can achieve a majority in the parliament...

 of Conservatives and Liberals. It was believed that this was the best means to introduce mandatory service in the military. Although Wilfrid Laurier
Wilfrid Laurier
Sir Wilfrid Laurier, GCMG, PC, KC, baptized Henri-Charles-Wilfrid Laurier was the seventh Prime Minister of Canada from 11 July 1896 to 6 October 1911....

, the Liberal party leader, understood the need for a coalition government in order to withstand the war, he was opposed to the implementation of conscription. Prime Minister Borden, however, was able to convince several key Liberal members to join his Union government
Unionist Party (Canada)
The Unionist Party was formed in 1917 by Members of Parliament in Canada who supported the "Union government" formed by Sir Robert Borden during the First World War....

. It was prior to the dissolution of Parliament that two bills were created to increase Borden’s chances of getting the coalition government elected. The bills were the Wartime Elections Act
Wartime Elections Act
The Wartime Elections Act was a bill passed on September 20, 1917 by the Conservative government of Robert Borden during the Conscription Crisis of 1917, and was instrumental in pushing Liberals to join the Conservatives in the formation of the Canadian Unionist government...

 and the Military Voters Act.

The Military Voters Act was introduced in August 1917 and gave the vote to all Canadian soldiers regardless of their period of residence in the country. A military voter would cast his ballot, not for a specific candidate, which was standard procedure for general elections, but for the current government or the opposition. If the constituency in which the voter had lived at the time of enlistment was specified, it was there that the ballot would be counted. Without a specific constituency, the vote would be assigned to a riding by the governing party. With this ability of assigning votes, the governing party was able to use the vote in a constituency that was beneficial to their party.

The Women’s Suffrage Movement had also benefited through the Military Voters Act. The Act awarded the vote to women serving in the armed forces as well as nurses in the war.

Prime Minister Borden created the Military Voters Act coupled with the Wartime Elections Act with the intent of strengthening the coalition government’s chances at the polls. During election campaigning, the newly formed Unionist government fought with the Liberal opposition largely on cultural lines. The conscription issue dominated election tactics along with the aggressive opposition to conscription from Quebec and the French-speaking Canadians. The result of the 1917 federal election
Canadian federal election, 1917
The 1917 Canadian federal election was held on December 17, 1917, to elect members of the Canadian House of Commons of the 13th Parliament of Canada. Described by historian Michael Bliss as the "most bitter election in Canadian history", it was fought mainly over the issue of conscription...

saw the Unionist coalition government led by Borden receiving two-thirds of the constituencies outside Quebec, but only three seats within Quebec. Ninety percent of the soldiers’ vote went to the Unionist government. The Military Voters Act served the purpose for which it was created, to solidify the election of the Unionist government.

Further reading

  • Francis, D. 2004. Destinies: Canadian History Since Confederation. Scarborough: Nelson, A division of Thomson Canada Limited.
  • Library and Archives Canada
  • Morton, D. 2001. A Short History of Canada. Toronto: McClellan and Stewart Ltd.
  • Granatstein, J.L. et al. 1977. Broken Promises: A History of Conscription in Canada. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
  • Francis, R. 2006. Readings in Canadian History: Post-Confederation (7th Edition). Canada: Nelson, A Division of Thomson Canada Limited.
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