The conscription crisis of 1944 took place when the number of Canadian troops on European soil dwindled after a couple of years of War. In 1942, England pressured Canada into enforcing conscription and sending over more troops to help England and the other allies in winning the war. However, just like in World War I two decades earlier, there would be a massive backlash and opposition to conscription coming from Quebec. What the Canadian government first decided to do was to conduct a survey to determine whether the Canadian people wanted conscription forced on them or not. Once the results were in, the Canadian government found out that with the exception of Quebec that Canada wanted conscription. But the Canadian government knew that Quebec was a force to be reckoned with, so they waited another two years to take action.
Two years later, in 1944, Canada enforced conscription but however the number conscripted was limited to 16,000 troops, avoiding a conflict with Quebec while also sending more troops overseas. This was crucial because it meant that things could remain peaceful on the home front while troops were also sent out to fight on foreign soil. Most of the work and thinking that went into this conflict resolution was the Prime Minister of Canada at the time, Mackenzie King. He understood that what needed to happen was an action plan that not only addressed the concerns of people from Quebec, but also reinforced Canada’s numbers on the front lines. He was the main one who made sure that things went smoothly in this conflict resolution, and he is also the one who formulated the plan to limit the number of troops sent over to Europe. Posters were also put up around Canada at the time that the debate on conscription was occurring, posters like the one below would convince people that signing up for the war, or being brought in through conscription, was a good idea and of the best interest to them personally.
This poster delivered that message because it tells the average Canadian citizen that it was their war too, and that they need to fight with the military to win their war as well. The arm holding up the hammer symbolizes the common working person, a hint as to who this poster was designed for: the average person, of whom the Canadian government wanted fighting on the front lines.
The action that the Canadian government took was justified because of how well the dilemma of conscription was resolved after careful planning and consideration. Europe needed more troops, and Quebec did not want to be conscripted, and the middle ground was to enforce conscription, but to also limit the number of troops sent over to 16,000 ensuring that minimal (if any) people from Quebec were conscripted into Canada’s military. Considering the circumstances that the government and Prime Minister Mackenzie King were under, this was a great plan that benefited the most people at this time period. The significance that this event has on our history and the history of World War II was that rioting and outrage from the French side of Canada was avoided in the process of this wise decision on the Prime Minister’s part. If they hadn’t taken action and had not enforced conscription at all, then it would be guaranteed that Quebec would remain peaceful, but the number of Canadian troops overseas would have had an impact on the war: meaning that it would have been harder for the Canadian troops to win their battles when there aren’t enough troops over there to support the war effort. If Canada did as they did in World War I and enforced conscription without limiting the number conscripted, then Quebec would have erupted in outrage over the fact that they would have to fight for England, the very same country that pushed Canada to conscription in the first place.
The Canadian Encyclopedia