Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tobey Nollet: Agrarian Socialist

The description of Tobey Nollet in the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame might lead you to believe Tobey was a standard politician and Minister of Agriculture which, under his guidance, "the Lands Branch and the Conservation and Development Branch were established the latter providing an engineering service to deal with soil and water problems, flood control, irrigation and reclamation. Provincial community pastures were developed which now accommodate well over 100,000 head of cattle. Under an Earned Assistance Policy, hundreds of erosion control projects were undertaken, thousands of miles of field shelter belts were planted and more than 100 community grazing associations were organized and assisted."

But Tommy Douglas called him the most "vociferous socialist" amongst his ministers. Starting with the Farmer-Labor Group and then the CCF, Tobey was a dedicated reformer who fought hard to improve the lives of Saskatchewan farmers.

This snuff chewing, cussing Cutknife cattle rancher was elected with the first CCF governement in 1944. "We were out to build a new world, no matter how long it took. A world in which people would come first and in which the economic system would have social goals." he stated. "We were pioneering a new philosophy, and we were conscious that we couldn't fail. We had to make it work. We knew it wasn't going to be easy and there were no shortcuts."

His engagement as a soldier in World War One and his exposure to socialists back home in Montana shook his convictions and turned him to the left. "Ever since the war, I had been asking myself the question "What's wrong?'" He started reading everything from Robert Owen to Karl Marx. The Depression solidified his new convictions and he took up politics when he moved to Saskatchewan.

Throughout the fifties, Nollet denounced McCarthyism, the Cold War,  nuclear arms, military spending, world hunger and the "imperialistic exploitation" of the third world. His cantankerous character was infamous and he liked to stir up the right-wing opposition .

In the 1980s, he reviewed his accomplishments by asserting "I'm satisfied we did all we could. I would do it all over again, although I never considered myself as a politician; I considered myself as a reformer. Just to be in politics didn't appeal to me at all. But if there was a cause -- a real, just, worthwhile cause -- then I would endure politics and the political system as it is. I always considered myself in the left. I am a socialist and I'm proud of it. To be a socialist means your for the benefit of society. Politically it may be a bad word, but it expresses my viewpoint."

Tobey Nollet served as the Minister of Agriculture from 1946 to 1964. He died on April 16, 1988 in Kelowna, BC.

Quotes are taken from Olenka Melnyks's No Bankers in Heaven: Remembering the the CCF.

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