29/8/1917 Canada moves towards conscription

At the start of the war, Canada was like Britain and the other dominions in having a small professional army. Since then it has relied on voluntary enlistment to make up the numbers of its expeditionary force in Europe. But as the war has assumed an increasingly bloody character the number of volunteers has reduced. Within Canada enlistment is somewhat uneven. French Canadians appear to be particularly disinclined to enlist. This may be because they are unenthusiastic about the war, but the Canadian government’s failure to create francophone units for them may also be a factor.

In an effort to continue the flow of recruits to the Canadian army, Prime Minister Robert Borden proposes to introduce conscription. This should also ensure that each part of Canada plays its part in feeding the guns. So today Canada’s parliament passes the Military Service Act, which gives the government the power to conscript. The measure is bitterly opposed by many, not all of them French Canadians.

Borden does not yet invoke the powers given to him by the Act. There is an election due later this year, which will most likely be fought on the conscription issue. Rather than inflame the opponents of conscription now he decides to wait until after the election to begin enforced recruitment. In the meantime he looks at ways to manipulate the electoral rolls in order to maximise the likely votes of those who support conscription.

images source (A City Goes to War: 1917 Election – Conscription)

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