Many countries embrace conscription to unite the nation and rally the citizen together for a common course. In Canada, Conscription during World War I was a total failure as it left the nation more divided than it was before.
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Conscription is a term used to describe involuntary labor required by the authority to serve in the armed forces of a country. Various countries have different names for conscription.
Introducing of Conscription in World War 1
Many countries introduced conscription during the World War I to boost their overseas forces. Casualty rates in many camps were so high, and the number of volunteers had gone down. These prompted many governments to put up legislation requiring able men and, in some instances, women to enlist in the armed forces to boost the ground forces. All countries that were involved in World War I introduced conscription except Australia and South Africa.
Results of Conscription in Canada
In Canada, conscription divided the nation into two during World War I. Robert Borden, the prime minister, believed that a strong Canadian Military Force in the war was an opportunity to show the world that Canada was a powerful nation. He had the full support of English Canadian and, on one end, and opposed by the French Canadians.
Reason for support
The English Canadians supported conscription because they felt that the war was a test of National makeup. They felt that Canada needed to gain more military independence in the post-war period; this was only possible through the strengthening of the military force already in the war.
Reasons for Opposition
French Canada didn’t support the war and the principle of constriction for a number of reasons. The fact that authority in Ontario was stopping the teaching of French or in French caused huge outrage from the French Canadians. They felt that the authority was destroying the French Community in Canada, and this made them oppose every move the government tried to make.
By the time the war was starting, the population of Canada was around 10 million people; this was another reason why many people were opposed to constriction as they felt that the population was not big enough to send a large troop overseas to fight. Besides, they felt that the war was a British affair, and there was no need for Canadians to shed blood on British military affairs. Only less than 5% of men in the Quebec region, mostly dominated by French Canadians, volunteered to go to war.
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The Farmers from the west were another group opposed to conscription as they felt that men should remain at home to assist in food productions.
Impact of the Division in Support for Conscription
Divisions on the conscription issue caused further division in the political structure as MP took side with French Canadian MP on one side and English Canadian on the other, affecting even the voting pattern.
The Conservative party was left with serious liability in the west, where Agriculture was the main economic activity and in the Quebec Region.
The prime minister, through his government, introduced the Military Service Act making it compulsory for all eligible men to volunteer in Canada Military Service. The coalition Union Government, which fully supported conscription, was formed.
The government lost the support of the farmers as they felt that their issues dealing with farming were put on the back row, as the government pursued the interest of other countries.
Margaret Conrad, Alvin Finkel (1993) History of Canadian Peoples, Wesley Longman Publishers, Toronto Canada.