David Croll was a distinguished Canadian politician who was repeatedly re-elected at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. In 1955, Croll became the first Jewish senator appointed to serve in the Canadian Senate.
David Avrum Croll was born in Moscow, Russia on March 20, 1900. His family immigrated to Canada early in the 20th century and Croll grew up to become a lawyer. He entered public life during the Great Depression, serving as mayor of Windsor, Ontario from 1931 to 1934. During this time, Croll pushed for social reform by requring the city to go into a deficit to provide assistance to those who were suffering from unemployment and poverty.
Croll entered provinical politics in 1934 becoming MPP for Windsor and Ontario minister of public welfare – the first Jew in Canada to serve as a provincial cabinet minister. He also served as minister of municipal affairs and minister of labour before resigning from cabinet in a dispute with premier Mitchell Hepburn over the United Auto Workers strike against General Motors. “I would rather walk with the workers than ride with General Motors,” he said.
During the Second World War, Croll served in the Canadian Army, enlisting as a private in the Essex Scottish Regiment and rising to the rank of lietenant-colonel. While in the Army, Croll continued to serve in the Ontario legislature until 1943 and served again as mayor of Windsor from 1939 to 1940.
Croll was elected to Parliament in Toronto’s Spadina riding in the 1945 federal election – the only Liberal elected in a Toronto riding. He was re-elected in the 1949 and 1953 elections but was never appointed to cabinet despite being the only Liberal MP from Toronto. Many believe Croll was excluded from cabinet due to anti-Semitism – it would be 1969 before a Jew, Herb Gray, was appointed to a federal cabinet.
Then-prime minister Louis St. Laurent appointed Croll to the Canadian Senate in 1955, where he became Canada’s first Jewish senator. Senate appointments were then for life and Croll served as an active senator until his death in 1991.
Throughout his political career, Croll was passionate about poverty, which led him to write the influential “Report of the Special Senate Committee on Poverty” which influenced prime minister Pierre Trudeau to triple family allowances and institute the child tax credit. In addition to his work on poverty, he worked on Senate reports on aging. In recognition of his contributions, Croll was sworn into the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, an honour typically reserved for federal cabinet ministers.
Croll died from heart failure at Ottawa’s Château Laurier Hotel on June 11, 1991 just hours after attending a Senate session – he was then Canada’s oldest serving senator.
Throughout 2017, in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial, the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin is publishing a series of profiles spotlighting the contributions of historically important Jewish Canadians to our country. Previously in the series: