Wartime Prices and Trade Board

Wartime Prices and Trade Board, est 3 Sept 1939 by the Canadian government immediately before the onset of World War II, and initially responsible to the Dept of Labour. Its creation reflected the government's concern that WWI conditions of inflation and social unrest should not return. Until Aug 1941 the board's work seemed ineffective in restraining Canadian wartime inflation. It then became the responsibility of the Dept of Finance. On Oct 18 its powers were enormously expanded when PM Mackenzie King announced a price freeze and the "stabilization" of wages and salaries. To manage the large bureaucracy required to supervise the program, the government selected Donald Gordon, a prominent banker. Gordon attracted competent administrators from private industry and quickly built up an effective system in which businessmen administered the industries they knew best. A public-relations campaign urged Canadians to exercise restraint in wage demands and consumer demand. Canadians supported the board's aims until 1943, when labour officials became critical of its arbitrariness, farmers complained about discrimination and business tried to escape price ceilings. The board and the government kept the controls patched together through subsidization, social-security schemes, promises of postwar reforms and strategic political retreats. The board played a major role in postwar decontrol until Gordon resigned in 1947. Although there is much about it that can be criticized, the board's major achievement, a mere 2.8% increase in prices between Oct 1941 and Apr 1945, was a sign of its remarkable overall effectiveness.