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Unification of the Canadian Armed Forces

On 1 February 1968, the Canadian Forces Reorganization Act (Bill C-243) came into effect, and the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force ceased to exist as separate entities. The three previously separate armed services were combined into a unified Canadian Armed Forces. Liberal Minister of Defence Paul Hellyer drove the change. Its merits were widely debated before and after the Act came into effect. By 2014, many of the changes introduced by unification had been reversed.

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Wartime Elections Act

The Wartime Elections Act of 1917 gave the vote to female relatives of Canadian soldiers serving overseas in the First World War. It also took the vote away from many Canadians who had immigrated from “enemy” countries. The Act was passed by Prime Minister Robert Borden’s Conservative government in an attempt to gain votes in the 1917 election. It ended up costing the Conservatives support among certain groups for years to come. The Act has a contentious legacy. It granted many women the right to vote, but it also legitimized in law many anti-immigrant sentiments.

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Naval Aid Bill

As early as 1909 the Conservative Party believed that Canada should contribute "emergency" funds to help the Royal Navy maintain its superiority over the German navy. In March 1912 the RN required more "dreadnought" battleships.

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Somalia Affair

In 1992–93, Canada contributed military forces to UNITAF, a United Nations–backed humanitarian mission in the African nation of Somalia. In 1993, Canadian soldiers from the now-defunct Airborne Regiment tortured and killed a Somali teenager named Shidane Arone. These and other violent abuses during the mission shocked Canadians and damaged the country’s international reputation. They also led to a public inquiry that revealed serious failures of leadership at the highest levels of the Canadian Armed Forces, kick-starting reforms aimed a professionalizing the officer corps.

This article contains sensitive material that may not be suitable for all audiences.

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Military Service Act

The Military Service Act became law on 29 August 1917. It was a politically explosive and controversial law that bitterly divided the country along French-English lines. It made all male citizens aged 20 to 45 subject to conscription for military service, through the end of the First World War. As such, the Act had significant political consequences. It led to the creation of Prime Minister Borden’s Union Government and drove most of his French-Canadian supporters into opposition.

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Naval Service Act

The Naval Service Act, passed by the Liberal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, established the Royal Canadian Navy on 4 May 1910. Before the Act passed, Canada did not have a navy of its own and relied on the British Royal Navy. This new defence initiative was a direct response to the naval arms race between Britain and Germany in the years before the First World War and the 1909 panic in Britain over expansion of the German navy. The Act was built on earlier, distinctively Canadian approaches to defence and its key provisions remained in force until 1950. The Naval Service Act was bitterly opposed by French Canadian nationalists, led by Henri Bourassa, who feared deeper involvement in imperial affairs.

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Conscription in Canada

Conscription is the compulsory enlistment or “call up” of citizens for military service. It is sometimes known as “the draft.” The federal government enacted conscription in both the First World War and the Second World War. Both instances created sharp divisions between English Canadians, who tended to support the practice, and French Canadians, who generally did not. Canada does not currently have mandatory military service. The Canadian Armed Forces are voluntary services.

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NORAD

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was a pact made in 1957, at the height of the Cold War. It placed under joint command the air forces of Canada and the United States. Its name was later changed to the North American Aerospace Defense Command; but it kept the NORAD acronym. Canada and the US renewed NORAD in 2006, making the arrangement permanent. It is subject to review every four years, or at the request of either country. NORAD’s mission was also expanded into maritime warnings. The naval forces of the two countries remain under separate commands.

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Canada and the Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis lasted from 16 to 28 October 1962. The Soviet Union had stationed nuclear missiles in Cuba, which posed a threat to the United States and Canada. It brought the world to the edge of nuclear war. Canadian armed forces were placed on heightened alert. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s hesitant response to the crisis soured already tense relations between Canada and the US and led to the downfall of his government in 1963.

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Canadian Forces Base Valcartier

Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Valcartier is one of the oldest military training areas in Canada. Located a few kilometres north of Quebec City, it was founded as Camp Valcartier just before the First World War. During the war, it was the primary training base for the First Canadian Contingent before it departed for overseas service. Today it is one of the Canadian Army’s major bases and is known as 2nd Canadian Division Support Base Valcartier.

Macleans

Friendly Fire Victims Mourned

Canadians are not normally accustomed to outward displays of patriotic pride over their fallen warriors. Since 1948, more than 100 Canadians have lost their lives nobly in peacekeeping missions around the world, their passing hardly noted beyond their immediate families and regiments.

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Exercise Tocsin B

Exercise Tocsin B was a nationwide nuclear preparedness drill that lasted 24 hours between 13 and 14 November 1961. It was the last of three national survival exercises named Tocsin in 1960–61. It was also the largest and most widely publicized civil defence drill ever held in Canada. This Cold War exercise run by the Canadian Army simulated the impact of thermonuclear warfare in Canada. Its goals were to show how the state would warn Canadians of such an attack and how government would continue during the crisis. By raising popular awareness of the potential for a devastating nuclear attack, Tocsin B showed Canadians what was at stake in the Cold War.

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Bomarc Missile Crisis

The CIM-10B Bomarc was the world’s first long-range, nuclear capable, ground-to-air anti-aircraft missile. Two squadrons of the missile were purchased and deployed by the Canadian government in 1958. This was part of Canada’s role during the Cold War to defend North America against an attack from the Soviet Union. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s refusal to equip the missiles with nuclear warheads led to a souring of Canada’s relationship with the United States, especially once the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the issue to the fore. The issue split Diefenbaker’s Cabinet and contributed to his party losing the 1963 election.

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Merchant Navy of Canada

A merchant navy (or merchant marine) is a fleet of commercial vessels that carries troops and supplies in wartime. The history of Canada’s merchant fleet is one of up and downs. From the heady days of the late 19th century to its virtual disappearance a few years later, through a rapid build-up as a key Allied component during the Second World War, to its final demise in mid-20th century, Canada’s Merchant Navy has not been treated well.