Thomas Alexander Crerar (1876-1975) was a Canadian political leader who, using farmers' organizations as a power base, represented the Western point of view in Canada's government.
Thomas Alexander Crerar was born at Molesworth, Ontario, on June 17, 1876. The family moved west to Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, where Crerar was educated. After a stint of teaching in small rural schools, he turned to wheat farming and eventually to grain buying.
In 1907 Crerar became president of the Grain Growers Grain Company, a farmers' organization that had been established to fight the railway monopolies and the Eastern-controlled elevator companies. The Grain Growers quickly established a position of power, and Crerar, who was president until 1929, acquired a reputation as an articulate spokesman for the Western point of view.
Inevitably he was drawn into politics. During World War I Sir Robert Borden formed a Union government to ram conscription through Parliament. Crerar was one of several outsiders brought into the government by the Conservative leader, and he was minister of agriculture from 1917 to 1919. As such, he played a part in directing the war effort in its closing stages. But he also found himself part of a government that was dedicated to the maintenance of the high tariff and to the conscription of farmers' sons, both concepts that were anathema to Western farmers, who wanted cheap agricultural implements and a sure labor supply.
Crerar resigned in 1919 and turned to bolstering the farmers' organizations. In 1921 he led the newly formed Progressive party to the polls in the general election. The Progressives were a loose coalition of provincial farmers' groups, divided in aims and ideology, disparate in composition, and burdened with a startling naiveté about the workings of the political system. Despite their success in the election, Crerar did not find it easy trying to shepherd his party through the intricacies of parliamentary procedure, for most of his followers distrusted all political parties, including their own.
Crerar's desire was to link up with the governing Liberal party, using his farm support as a bludgeon to win real concessions for the West. But after his supporters balked and after a series of frustrating incidents, he resigned as leader in 1923. The party hung on for a few years, but its strength was broken.
Returning to Parliament as a Liberal in 1935, Crerar entered the Cabinet of Mackenzie King as minister of immigration and minister of the interior. In 1936 he became minister of mines and resources, a portfolio he held until 1945. In this department Crerar played an important part in mobilizing Canadian industry for war, and he was always the leading spokesman for Manitoba in the government. Just before the end of World War II, Crerar was appointed to the Senate, where he remained as vigorous and outspoken as ever until his retirement in 1966 at the age of 90. Thomas Crerar died on April 11, 1975.
There is no biography of Crerar. The best book on the Progressive party is W. L. Morton, The Progressive Party in Canada (1950). Also important are Ramsay Cook, ed., The Dafoe-Sifton Correspondence, 1919-1927 (1966) and his The Politics of John W. Dafoe and the Free Press (1963). □