Canada passed the Wartime Elections Act in September 1917. The act was part of the Conservative government’s efforts to win the federal election later that year. The act, however, was not without controversy.
The act followed the nation’s conscription crisis that split the country between those of English decent, who favored conscription, and everyone else, who opposed it. Conservatives and pro-conscription Liberals joined forces to form the Unionist government. Unionist election posters portrayed them as standing up for the nation whereas anti-conscription Liberals were slackers.
If the Unionists could expand the electorate, they would ensure their victory. The result was the Military Voters Act, that granted the right to vote to all soldiers, and the Wartime Elections Act.
The Pros and Cons of the Wartime Elections Act
The elections act was a huge step forward for the suffrage movement as it granted the right to vote to all Canadian women who were 21 years or older and fit into one of these categories.
- Were serving in the military — this generally applied to nurses
- Were the wives or widows of soldiers
- Were the mothers of soldiers
- Were the sisters of soldiers
The act was repealed after the war, but Canadian women – with the exception of First Nations peoples and minority groups – had already permanently been given the right to vote.
The downside of the act was that it disenfranchised conscientious objectors and those born in enemy alien nations who had been naturalized after March 1902. The only exception was if members of these groups had a brother, son or grandson serving in the military.
Updated: 28 October 2020
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