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Canadian federal election, 1917


Canadian federal election, 1917

Canadian federal election, 1917

December 17, 1917

235 seats in the 13th Canadian Parliament
118 seats needed for a majority
  First party Second party
Leader Robert Borden Wilfrid Laurier
Party Government (Unionist) Opposition (Laurier Liberals)
Leader since 1901 1887
Leader's seat Halifax
candidate in Kings (electoral district)
Quebec East
Last election 132 85
Seats won 153 82
Seat change +21 -3
Popular vote 1,070,694 729,756
Percentage 56.93% 38.80%
Swing +8.38pp -7.02pp

Prime Minister before election

Robert Borden
Government (Unionist)

Prime Minister-designate

Robert Borden
Government (Unionist)

The 1917 Canadian federal election (sometimes referred to as the khaki 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 (see Conscription Crisis of 1917). The election resulted in Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden's Unionist government elected with a strong majority, and the largest percent share of the popular vote for a single party in Canadian history.

The previous election had been held in 1911, and was won by Borden's Conservatives. Under the elections law, Canada should have had an election in 1916. However citing the emergency of the First World War, the government postponed the election, largely in hope that a coalition government could be formed, as was the case in Britain.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, head of the Liberal Party of Canada, refused to join the coalition over the issue of conscription. Conscription was strongly opposed in the Liberal heartland of Quebec. Laurier worried that agreeing to Borden's coalition offer would cause that province to abandon the Liberals, and perhaps Canada as well. Borden proceeded to form a "Unionist" government, and the Liberal Party split over the issue. Many English Canadian Liberal MPs and provincial Liberal parties in English Canada supported the new Unionist government.

To ensure victory for conscription, Borden introduced two laws to skew the voting towards the government. The first of these, the Wartime Elections Act, disenfranchised conscientious objectors and Canadian citizens who were born in enemy countries who had arrived after 1902. The law also gave female relatives of servicemen the vote. Thus, the 1917 election was the first federal election in which some women were allowed to vote. The other new law was the Military Voters Act that allowed soldiers serving abroad to choose which riding their vote would be counted in, or to allow the party for which they voted to select the riding the vote would be counted in. This allowed government officials to guide the strongly pro-conscription soldiers into voting in those ridings where the government felt they would be most useful. Servicemen were given a ballot with the simple choice of "Government" or "Opposition."

Soon after these measures were passed, Borden convinced a faction of Liberals (using the name Liberal-Unionists) along with Gideon Decker Robertson who was described as a "Labour" Senator (but was unaffiliated with any Labour Party) to join with them, forming the Unionist government in October 1917. He then dissolved parliament to seek a mandate in the election which pitted "Government" candidates, running as the Unionist Party, against the anti-Conscription faction of the Liberal Party which ran under the name Laurier Liberals.

The divisive debate ended with the country divided on linguistic lines. The Liberals won 82 seats, 62 of which were in Quebec, with many other seats won in provinces like Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Ontario in ridings with significant francophone populations. The Unionists won 153 seats. The three Unionist won seats in Quebec were all in mainly anglophone ridings. This fact led to the Francœur Motion in January 1918.


  • National results 1
  • Vote and seat summaries 2
  • Results by province 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • See also 7

National results

153 82
Government Opposition
Party Party leader # of
Seats Popular vote
1911 Elected % Change # % pp Change
     Government (Unionist)1 Robert Borden 211 132 153 +15.9% 1,070,694 56.93% +8.38
     Opposition (Laurier Liberals)1 Wilfrid Laurier 213 85 82 -3.5% 729,756 38.80% -7.02
Labour   22 1 - -100% 34,558 1.84% +0.91
     Opposition-Labour   8 * - * 22,251 1.03% *
     Independent   5 - - - 12,023 0.64% -0.15
     Independent Liberal   2 * - * 7,753 0.41% -
     Unknown   12 - - - 3,773 0.20% -1.78
Nonpartisan League   3 * - * 2,863 0.15% -
Total   476 221 235 +5.9% 1,880,702 100%  
Sources: -- History of Federal Ridings since 1867


* Party did not nominate candidates in the previous election.

1 % change for Government compared to Conservative Party (including Liberal-Conservatives) in 1911 election, and for Opposition to Liberal Party.

Vote and seat summaries

Popular vote
Seat totals

Results by province

Party name BC AB SK MB ON QC NB NS PE YK Total
     Government Seats: 13 11 16 14 74 3 7 12 2 1 153
     Popular Vote (%): 68.4 61.0 74.1 79.7 62.3 24.7 59.4 48.4 49.8 54.3 56.9
     Opposition Seats: - 1 - 1 8 62 4 4 2 - 82
     Vote (%): 25.6 30.6 23.4 20.3 32.1 73.4 40.6 45.5 50.2 45.7 38.8
Total seats 13 12 16 15 82 65 11 16 4 1 235
Parties that won no seats:
Labour Vote (%): 5.6 0.8     2.3 0.3   6.1     1.8
     Opposition-Labour Vote (%):   5.0 2.6   1.2           1.0
     Independent Vote (%):   0.5     1.2 0.5         0.6
     Independent Liberal Vote (%):         0.8 0.5         0.4
     Unknown Vote (%): 0.4       0.1 0.7         0.2
     Non-Partisan Vote (%):   2.2                 0.2

See also


Further reading

  • Argyle, Ray. Turning Points: The Campaigns That Changed Canada - 2011 and Before (2011) excerpt and text search ch 6

See also

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