C-052283 | Henry H. Stevens

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Henry H. Stevens
20th century
This artefact belongs to : © National Archives of Canada
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Keys to History

First elected to the House of Commons in 1911, Henry Herbert Stevens (1878-1973) entered the cabinet of R.B. Bennett (1870-1947) in 1930.

As minister of trade and commerce, Stevens heard complaints from farmers and independent businesspeople about the buying practices of food- and tobacco processors and large retailers. He took the lead in establishing a House of Commons Committee investigation of price spreads and mass buying, which gave birth to a Royal Commission on the same subjects.

Stevens's sympathy with the harsh conditions faced by independent business people led him to attack some important Conservatives. This sparked conflict with other cabinet members, and prompted Prime Minister R.B. Bennett to ask for his resignation in 1934. The following year he founded the Reconstruction Party. It took almost 9% of the popular vote in the 1935 federal election, but the only successful candidate was Stevens himself.

  • What

    The distortions of Canada's "first-past-the-post" electoral system were evident in 1935. Reconstruction's 384,095 votes earned it one seat; Social Credit won 17 seats with 180,301 votes.

  • Where

    The Reconstruction Party got more than 10% of the popular vote in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario, and almost 9% in Quebec.

  • When

    Stevens returned to the Conservative caucus in 1939, but he left politics for business after an unsuccessful bid for the party's leadership in 1942.

  • Who

    Stevens's chief adversary in the Bennett cabinet was the secretary of state, Hon. C.H. Cahan (1861-1944), a Montrealer who was well-connected in the Canadian business community.