The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) was founded in Calgary in 1932 as a political coalition of progressive, socialist and labour groups that wanted economic reform, to help Canadians affected by the Great Depression. The party governed Saskatchewan under Tommy Douglas, who went on to be the first leader of the federal New Democratic Party. The CCF was eventually folded into the NDP, which formed the Opposition party in the House of Commons in 2011.

Farmers and Unions

The CCF's founders were a mixture of farmers' organizations (including the United Farmers of Alberta, which governed that province), academics in the League for Social Reconstruction (LSR) and a Ginger Group of MPs in Ottawa allied with farmer and trade-union organizations.

In 1933, the party met in Regina, where it chose James Shaver Woodsworth as its first president. Woodsworth, a Manitoba Independent Labour Party MP since 1921 and a social worker, was the acknowledged leader of the CCF both inside and outside Parliament. The party also adopted the Regina Manifesto, which set out its goals, including that of creating a mixed economy through the nationalization of key industries and by establishing a welfare state with universal pensions, health and welfare insurance, children's allowances, unemployment insurance, workers' compensation and similar programs.

The CCF quickly established itself in Canadian political life, electing members to Parliament and to several provincial legislatures under the CCF banner. In 1935, seven CCF MPs were sent to Ottawa and the party captured 8.9 per cent of the popular vote. In 1940, eight MPs were elected with 8.5 per cent of the popular vote.

Growth Years

At the beginning of the Second World War, the CCF was split between supporters of Woodsworth's uncompromising pacifism, and supporters of Canada's entry into the conflict.

Major James William Coldwell, a teacher who succeeded Woodsworth as leader during this period, favoured Canada's participation, and under his moderate guidance the party began to flourish. It won the critical York South by-election in February 1942, in the process preventing the Conservative Party leader, former Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, from entering the Commons. The CCF also topped a September 1943 national Gallup poll and came second in that year's Ontario elections. In a key development, the party took office in Saskatchewan under Tommy Douglas. Then in the 1945 federal election, the CCF elected 28 MPs to Ottawa and captured 15.6 per cent of the popular vote.

Support Fades

Although the CCF was well established, it gradually declined in popular appeal after the war. A socialist party, it was accused of being associated with communism, and during Cold War tension this image was damaging. An attempt in 1956 to soften the party's image by replacing the Regina Manifesto with a new, moderate document, the Winnipeg Declaration, could not reverse the trend, and in 1958 the party suffered a disastrous defeat: only eight MPs were elected with a mere 9.5 per cent of the popular vote. Both Coldwell and Deputy Leader Stanley Knowles were defeated in their ridings.

Following this debacle, an arrangement was negotiated by David Lewis between the CCF and the Canadian Labour Congress. The CLC, urged by Lewis to save democratic socialism in Canada, agreed to enter a formal alliance with the CCF to create a new party. In 1961 the CCF entered a new phase, and emerged from a founding convention as the New Democratic Party. Although the CCF had never held power nationally, the adoption of many of its ideas by ruling parties contributed greatly to the development of the Canadian welfare state.