Abstract: The Politics of Business in Canada during the 1930s: Charles Avery Dunning and the Limits of the Party System

Don Nerbas


This paper examines the politics of big business in Canada during the 1930s through the experience of Charles Avery Dunning (1886-1958). A farmers' advocate and a progressive politician in Saskatchewan in the 1910s and 1920s, Dunning emerged as a political figurehead of big business during the 1930s. Developing wide connections with leading Canadian business interests, including the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), Dunning and his business associates sought to marshal progressive rhetoric and non-partisan tactics in pursuit of political aims that included government retrenchment and amalgamation of the country's two railway systems under CPR management. Nonetheless, the effectiveness of their political agenda remained constrained by party politics and popular opinion, and Dunning became re-integrated into the party system, becoming Dominion Minister of Finance following the Liberal electoral victory in 1935. Although this gave big business a representative in the cabinet, Dunning's ability to shape public policy remained limited in the context of the continuing Depression and the social democratic alternatives that superceded the older "progressivism" of his worldview.