Western Canada’s Farmer Political Philosopher & Practitioner
by George Siamandas
A strong promoter of farmer’s rights, Thomas Crerar, the prairie apostle of cooperation dominated the early grain trade. Crerar was born June 17, 1876 near Molesworth Ontario. Of Scottish immigrants, his dad Wiliiam relocated to the Silver Creek municipality 360 km north west of Winnipeg. Thomas Crerar attended school only till age 12 because he was needed on the farm to replace the hired hand his dad could no longer afford to pay because of a crop failure. It was not until age 18 that Crerar was able to return to school at Portage La Prairie. Thomas Crerar became a teacher although what he had always wanted to become was a doctor.
Crerar became active in establishing a farmer-owned elevator company so that the farmers could enjoy lower rates and to force a more competitive attitude by the big grain companies. Crerar rose fast in the grain industry. First as manager of the farmer owned elevator and then as President of the Grain Growers Company which ran from 1907 till 1929. It became UGG in 1917.
CRERAR’S POLITICAL LIFE
Because the grain industry was taken over by the government during WW1 Crerar went into Sir Robert Borden’s Union Government as a representative of grain growers. In 1945 he went into the Senate and began to warn of the growing power of the state: growing public debt, bureaucratic power, and the growing culture of dependence. He felt one could not surrender one’s independence for security because both would be jeopardized in the long run.
CRERAR THE PHILOSOPHER POLITICIAN
A classic liberal, Crerar believed in self reliance. He believed in a unrestricted competitive market in free trade, financial thrift, a minimum of government, and a maximum of freedom for the individual citizen. He was against the eastern trade policies that resulted in prices twice as high for farm machinery than farmers would pay if they bought from the US. He established the western Progressive party after WW1 and waged years of western agitation against eastern colonial policies. Crerar stayed on till 1919 when he moved on to federal politics.
PUBLICATIONS: THE GRAIN GROWERS’S GUIDE
Crerar also saw the value of communication with the western farmer, and established the Grain Growers Guide a farm journal. The Grain Growers Guide became a strong advocate for farmer’s interests and of the need for farmers to take political action. It was clear to farmers that the political and economic system allowed the exploitation of western Canada by eastern businessmen with political clout. The farmers wanted to see a restoration of the 1897 crow’s nest pass tariff reduction and to reduce some tariffs.
Crerar became disgusted with the prospects of social legislation after ww2 being planned by McKenzie King’s people. Crerar who believed in individualism and free enterprise felt that growing statism would be ruinous. He resigned from the government in 1945. He spent the last 20 years of his public life in the Senate.
TA played a prominent role in the agrarian and political life of Canada. He felt that people coming freely together in cooperative action could look after themselves much better than any government could. He held cabinet positions in both liberal and conservative governments and was the leader of a the only third party, the progressives, that swept the west. He transformed the Grain Growers Company into the UGG. After 22 years with the company Crerar had taken it to a $15m industry which owned 440 country elevators.
Thomas Crerar died in Victoria on April 11, 1975. at the age of 98. He had survived all his contemporaries: both friends and foes.