The birth of Unemployment Insurance

During the economic depression of 1929-39, young, unemployed men had to work in government work camps for paltry wages in isolated locations.

In pursuit of a living wage, workers in Vancouver abandoned the camps, launching a strike. After striking for two months with no relief in sight, they took their case directly to Ottawa, travelling by rail and on foot. This journey became known as the ‘On to Ottawa trek’.

The trek was stopped by the RCMP on orders from Ottawa and after rioting and arrests of union leaders, the strike ended. Mackenzie King’s Liberals won the next election and legislated against the repressive conservative government, abolishing the camps.

This epic strike and trip captured the hearts and minds of Canadians and gave birth to unemployment insurance in 1940. Canada was the last major Western country to adopt an unemployment insurance system.

Today we refer to this system as Employment insurance (EI). Research has shown that EI was the single most important economic stabilizer in the past 3 recessions. (link to this.)