As the City of Toronto heads into a mayoral race with three of the six leading candidates being women, let’s look back at a very different election landscape as the Clara Thomas Archives highlights the achievements of Professor Ellie Prepas during her time as a member of the Waffle movement within the New Democratic Party (NDP) and as a candidate in the 1972 Federal Election.
Ellie Prepas was a graduate student in Environment Studies at York University when she joined the Waffle movement in 1971. Her roles as a core member of the executive committee of the Ontario Waffle and a member of the Waffle Women’s Caucus and the North Metro Waffle from 1971 to 1974 put her at the forefront of the ideology, political activism, and struggles of what was later deemed “a party within a party.” The Ellie Prepas fonds consists of 0.41 linear metres of textual records and captures Prepas’s political journey amid the Waffle’s internal workings through extensive correspondence, notes, reports, essays, publications, and flyers created or received by her during this intense period of Canadian politics.
Founded by John Smart, James Laxer, and Mel Watkins in 1969, the Waffle was a group determined to protect Canadian resources and jobs by calling for the creation of an ‘Independent and Socialist Canada.’ Ideologically, the Waffle was focused on creating a socialist movement that would distribute power amongst workers across the country and set Canada free from American corporate capitalism. To articulate their ideas, the Waffle presented their resolutions at the Ontario New Democratic Party Convention of 1970:
The Waffle’s progressive stances attracted many young Canadian activists like Prepas, as the Waffle membership brought attention to environmental concerns by protesting and hosting symposiums on the predicted impacts of the construction of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, which aimed to connect natural gas pipelines from the Beaufort Sea to the Mackenzie Delta, where it would then flow to pipelines in Alberta and the United States.
The movement also supported women’s liberation through their advocacy for accessible day care and the decriminalization of abortion in Canada. In the letter below, Prepas and other members of the North Metro Waffle Women’s Liberation Group expressed their disagreement with the anti-abortion statements made by NDP politician Joseph P. Borowski, Manitoba’s Minister of Highways:
The Waffle’s social positions, which were anti-American and Socialist in nature and pushed for Canadian nationalism, differed greatly from the official party policy adopted by the NDP caucus. Ontario NDP Leader Stephen Lewis outlined his opposition to the Waffle’s tactics in an hour-long speech, which was documented in the April 1972 issue of the Ontario NDP party newspaper new democrat:
As the Ontario NDP deliberated on the future of the Waffle within their party, Prepas ran as the NDP candidate for Toronto’s Trinity riding. Her fonds shows her extensive research into understanding voter concerns and the political issues of the day, which included her support for senior citizens and immigrants. The Waffle influence in her platform was evident in the campaign’s focus on tackling “Unemployment, Foreign Domination of Canada’s economy” and in “Improving Women’s Status” in Canada.
To put her candidacy into perspective, the 1972 election featured 71 female candidates representing only 6% of the total number of candidates, and only five female candidates ultimately won their seats in the House of Commons. This select group included future Secretary of State for External Affairs Flora MacDonald, Grace MacInnis, future Minister of Health and Welfare Monique Bégin, future Governor General Jeanne Sauvé, and Albanie Morin.
Although Prepas succeeded in securing the NDP nomination for Trinity riding, her candidacy was never put to the vote on election day. Discord between the Ontario NDP party and the Ontario Waffle led to the movement’s expulsion from the NDP caucus in Orillia in June 1972. Citing this expulsion and her belief that achieving the tenets of her platform were no longer possible as an NDP candidate, she resigned from her candidacy on 22 August 1972. The Waffle movement continued to organize protests and lectures on environmental and labour causes for some time after their expulsion, but eventually disbanded in 1975.
The Waffle is a fascinating movement in Canada’s political history, created at a time of significant change in the country and around the world. Its concerns mirror some of our current issues, including women’s rights, pipelines, the environment, unemployment, and the economy. Prepas’s passion for finding solutions to these issues was shared by fellow Wafflers like Hilary Armstrong, James Laxer, Giles Endicott and E. A. Beder, whose fonds can also be found at the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections.
CBC Archives. “Not Many Women Were Taking a Run at Federal Politics in 1972 | CBC Archives.” CBCnews, September 13, 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/archives/not-many-women-were-taking-a-run-at-federal-politics-in-1972-1.5273572.