Archives

The election that everyone saw coming in Canada in 1974

The Liberals knew what was coming in the summer of 1974, as did their parliamentary opponents and the public: An election.

Minority Liberal government introduced budget, then defeated in non-confidence vote 2 days later

Pierre Trudeau and the Liberal Party hoped to win a majority government in the 1974 election, after having lived with the challenge of governing in a minority Parliament for 18 months. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

The Liberals knew what was coming, as did their parliamentary opponents and the public.

So, it was not a total surprise when the minority government got the hook on May 8, 1974, courtesy of a non-confidence motion that was backed by two opposition parties.

"I have to tell you what you probably already know ... that the country — we all — have been plunged into an election," Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau told Canadians, during an address that was broadcast on CBC shortly after the vote that toppled his government by a vote of 137-123.

The non-confidence motion had been favoured by the New Democrats and by the Progressive Conservatives. The minority Liberals did not have enough votes to stop it, even with the support of the Social Credit members. 

An election 'the country does not want'

Pierre Trudeau on government's defeat

Digital Archives

47 years ago
1:09
Pierre Trudeau speaks to Canadians after his government was defeated in the House of Commons on May 8, 1974. 1:09

"This vote occurred just a short while ago, less than two days after the minister of finance brought in his budget and before that budget could be approved by Parliament," said Trudeau in his televised address.

Trudeau said the vote meant an election would be called in short order.

"This will be a July election that I am sure the country does not want," said Trudeau, who believed the election was an unnecessary distraction from key challenges Canada was facing — among them inflation and the high prices it was forcing Canadians to deal with.

The parties on the other side of the aisle, however, believed an election was needed.

'The government had to come down'

David Lewis on the Liberals' 'unacceptable' budget

Digital Archives

47 years ago
1:00
NDP Leader David Lewis explains why his party voted to defeat the minority Liberal government on May 8, 1974. 1:00

New Democrat Leader David Lewis said the Liberal government's proposed budget could not be tolerated. 

"It produced a budget that was unacceptable to anyone with any sensitivity about the needs of the Canadian people and the cost of living," he told the CBC's Ron Collister in the aftermath of the vote.

"To ask us to support a budget that gave the ordinary worker 96 cents a week in a tax cut is just irresponsible and the prime minister was responsible for it and the government had to come down." 

He said the election was needed to refresh a Parliament that had not been working well any longer and that it would be up to Canadians to decide if they supported the budget the Liberals had brought forward.

Some pundits agreed that the politics surrounding the minority government had become untenable — including to voters.

"I think the Canadian people will probably feel that we've had a long enough period of minority government," said Norman Campbell, a veteran political journalist, who gave CBC News a brief analysis of what he believed the coming election would bring.

"Now is the time for a determined government with a policy that can be made effective in the House."

Another minority? Wait and see

PCs ready for an election

Digital Archives

47 years ago
1:29
On May 8, 1974, PC Leader Robert Stanfield explains why his party feels ready for battle on the election trail. 1:29

The Progressive Conservatives also favoured a trip to the polls.

They were ready to make their case to voters and seemed publicly confident in their electoral chances, after coming in neck-and-neck with the Liberals in the seat count in the prior election.

Eighteen months after the 1972 result, PC Leader Robert Stanfield said his party's focus was on winning a majority of seats.

"We're not worrying about minority [government] situations at least until one develops," Stanfield said.

Not the same result

A brief election recap

Digital Archives

47 years ago
0:48
Lloyd Robertson provides a recap of the results of the 1974 Canadian election. 0:48

There would be no minority outcome, however, as the Liberals would win a majority of seats at the polls in the election of July 8, 1974.

The New Democrats saw their seat total nearly halved, while the Tory ranks fell by 15 elected MPs. The Social Credit party lost a handful of seats.

The campaign that led to those results had seen its share of memorable moments: Trudeau had campaigned with his wife, Margaret, and Stanfield had suffered some bad luck when dropping a football in front of a news photographer.

Robert Stanfield's Tories would not be victorious in the 1974 election campaign. It would be the last election the PC leader led the party through. (Chuck Mitchell/Canadian Press)

Lewis lost his seat as a result of the election, but the NDP leader expressed no regrets in bringing down the prior Liberal government.

"I won't be in this Parliament because I've been defeated, but I hope that for the sake of Canada, Trudeau will not return to the kind of attitude which he had the last time he had a majority government," he told supporters.

Stanfield hung onto his own parliamentary seat, but failed to take his party over the top at the polls — the third such result the party had seen under his leadership.

Vowing that his party would provide a strong opposition to the Liberal government, the PC leader acknowledged the overall result was disappointing.

"Clearly, if we could do it over again knowing the results, we'd do it a little differently," Stanfield said. 

Both Lewis and Stanfield would leave their leadership roles before the next election, clearing the path for younger replacements — one of whom would become the country's youngest-ever prime minister.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now