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Canada and Conscription (the Draft). Conscription. King did not want to see a repeat of the Conscription Crisis that had damaged French-English relations during World War One.

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  • King did not want to see a repeat of the Conscription Crisis that had damaged French-English relations during World War One.
  • French and English Canadians needed to remain united, but this would be impossible if conscription was imposed on a reluctant Quebec by the Anglo-Canadian majority
  • The National Resources Mobilization Act was passed in 1940 to create a conscripted force but for home defence only.
  • This policy seemed favourable to most French Canadians, who had no quarrel with being expected to defend Canada.
  • As the war deepened, King came up with the idea of a national plebiscite to free his government from its promise to not impose conscription.
  • In early 1942, Quebec voted 72.9% against conscription while in Ontario (and most of English Canada) only 17.7% voted against forced military service overseas.
  • King now found himself in a difficult position: should he listen to the majority will and impose conscription or favour national unity and not alienate Quebec?
  • The National Resources Mobilization Act was amended to make overseas conscription possible but only if it was deemed necessary.
  • King craftily claimed it was “not necessarily conscription, but conscription if necessary”
  • By 1944, there was a shortage of Canadian troops in Europe. Because Canada insisted on controlling its own forces in the war, a long supply line and reinforcement chain was necessary. Reinforcement shortages arose and wounded Canadians were being sent back out the front.
  • King decided that conscription had become “necessary” and sent 16,000 NRMA men overseas. In the end 2463 NRMA soldiers made it to the front and, of these, only 69 were killed.
  • The fallout in Quebec was sharply critical, but it did not destroy the Liberal government in Quebec. King still seemed the best of a bad lot of Anglo politicians to French Canadians.
  • By stalling until the end of the war, King had avoided a major division and the bloody riots that had accompanied the conscription crisis during WWI.
  • Why was Conscription such a problem for Canada? How did King resolve the issue and was he successful ?