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Social Democracy in Twentieth Century Canada: An Interpretive Framework

  • Nelson Wiseman (a1) and Benjamin Isitt (a2)


Abstract. Social democracy changed over the course of the twentieth century in relation to changes in the structure of Canada's economy, society and state. In the following article, we advance a framework to interpret and understand this process of change, identifying four major periods in the development of social democracy: Social Gospel (1900–1925), Social Planning (1925–1950), Social Security (1950–1975) and Social Movements (1975–2000). These periods are neither exclusive nor rigidly drawn, but they are instructive in explaining the development of Canada's left-wing political tradition. Situating social democracy within the framework of Canada's political economy and intra-party debates, and also in an international and historical context, we trace the transition from a moral crusade against capitalism to the seasoned, yet vulnerable, electoralism of the contemporary NDP.

Résumé. La social-démocratie a évolué au cours du 20e siècle, en même temps que la structure de l'économie, de la société et de l'État canadien. Dans l'article ci-dessous, nous proposons un cadre pour interpréter et comprendre ce processus en décrivant quatre périodes majeures dans le développement de la social-démocratie : l'Évangile social (1900–1925), la planification sociale (1925–1950), la sécurité sociale (1950–1975) et les mouvements sociaux (1975–2000). Ces périodes ne sont ni exclusives ni rigides, mais elles aident à expliquer le développement de la tradition politique de gauche au Canada. En situant la social-démocratie dans le cadre de l'économie politique canadienne et des débats intrapartis, ainsi que dans un contexte international et historique, nous traçons la transition de la croisade morale contre le capitalisme à l'électoralisme chevronné mais vulnérable du NPD contemporain.


Corresponding author

Nelson Wiseman, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON. M5S 3G3;
Benjamin Isitt, Department of History, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB. E3B 5A3;


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Social Democracy in Twentieth Century Canada: An Interpretive Framework

  • Nelson Wiseman (a1) and Benjamin Isitt (a2)


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