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Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba
The origins of the party lie at the end of the nineteenth century. Party politics were weak in Manitoba for several years after it entered Canadian confederation in 1870. The system of government was essentially one of non-partisan democracy, though some leading figures such as Marc-Amable Girard were identified with the Conservatives at the federal level. The government was a balance of ethnic, religious and linguistic communities, and party affiliation was at best a secondary concern.
In 1879, Thomas Scott (not the same as the figure executed by Louis Riel) and Joseph Royal attempted to introduce partisan politics into the province. Both were Conservatives, and both believed that they could lead a provincial Conservative Party. Their plans were thwarted by Premier John Norquay, who also supported the Conservatives at the federal level but included both Liberals and Conservatives in his governing alliance.
Norquay himself formed a reluctant alliance with the provincial Conservatives in 1882, in the face of strong opposition from Thomas Greenway's Provincial Rights Party. His government was for all intents and purposes Conservative for the remainder of its time in office, though Norquay continued to describe it as "non-partisan". Starting in the election of 1883, moreover, political parties began to be listed on the provincial election ballot.
When Norquay resigned as Premier in 1887, his successor David H. Harrison also became leader of the Conservative parliamentary caucus. Norquay was able to reclaim the latter position early in 1888, following an extremely divided meeting of senior Conservative politicians. By this time, the new Liberal Premier Thomas Greenway had formally introduced party government to the province, and no one doubted that Norquay was now the province's Conservative leader.
The Conservative Party was not yet a legally recognized institution in the province, however, and began to lose its conherence again after Norquay's death in 1889. Conservative MLAs simply referred to themselves as "the opposition" for most of the decade that followed. Rodmond P. Roblin was the dominant Conservative MLA between 1890 and 1892, but he does not seem to have been recognized as an official leader.
After Roblin's defeat in the election of 1892, William Alexander Macdonald became the leader of the opposition. In 1893, his election for Brandon City was declared invalid, and he lost the subsequent by-election. Remarkably, the election of Macdonald's successor, John Andrew Davidson, was also voided in 1894. For the remainder of this parliament, James Fisher seems to have been the leading figure in the opposition ranks. It is not clear if he was formally recognized as "leader of the opposition", or even as an official member of the Conservative Party.
Rodmand Roblin was re-elected in 1896, and officially became opposition leader in the legislature. The next year, Hugh John Macdonald (son of former Prime Minister John A. Macdonald) became the party's official leader, while Roblin continued to lead the opposition in parliament.
The Conservative Party became an official entity in 1899, and drew up its first election platform in the same year. It promised a board of education for the province, the creation of agricultural and technical colleges, and government ownership of railways.
Hugh John Macdonald became Premier following in the 1899 election, but resigned shortly thereafter to re-enter federal politics. Sir Rodmond P. Roblin succeeded Macdonald, and ruled the province for fifteen years. Roblin's government was progressively oriented, negotiated the extension of the railway, bought Manitoba's Bell telephone operations in order to establish a government run system, introduced corporate taxation, and created a public utilities commission while running a budgetary surplus. It was less progressive on social issues, however, and is most frequently remembered today for its opposition to women's suffrage.
The Tories were brought down in 1915 by a scandal involving the construction of the province's new legislative buildings. Roblin was forced to resign as Premier, and James Aikins led the party to a disastrous loss later in the year.
The Manitoba Conservatives received their greatest strongest from the francophone community in the 1915 election , due to the fact that the party was seen as more supportive than the Liberals of francophone education rights. This was a pronounced contrast to the situation in federal politics, where most francophone Canadians opposed the war policies of Prime Minister Robert Borden.
Aime Benard was chosen as leader pro tem of the party on August 15, 1915, and Albert Prefontaine was chosen as the official parliamentary leader shortly thereafter. The party was a minor force in parliament, however, and was largely sidelined by the radical farmer and labour movements of the late 1910s.
On November 6, 1919, the Conservative Party chose farmer R.G. Willis to lead the party into its next electoral campaign. Willis's selection was a response to the provincial victory of the United Farmers of Ontario the previous month; he defeated Major Fawcett Taylor after three other candidates (including Prefontaine) withdrew their names. The vote total was not announced.
Willis was defeated in the election of 1920, and the Conservatives became the fourth-largest group in parliament with only six seats. John Thomas Haig subsequently became their parliamentary leader, and Fawcett Taylor was chosen as the official party leader in early 1922.
The Conservatives gradually regained support in the following twenty years, but were unable to defeat the Progressive government of John Bracken. In 1932, Bracken's Progressives formed an alliance with the Manitoba Liberal Party to ensure that Taylor would not become the province's Premier.
Taylor resigned as party leader in 1933, and W. Sanford Evans served as parliamentary leader for the next three years. In 1936, Errick Willis (son of R.G.) was acclaimed as party leader. He led the party in another unsuccessful challenge to the Bracken ministry in 1936, but in 1940 agreed to join Bracken in a wartime coalition government. Willis himself was given a prominent cabinet position in the all-party ministry which followed.
Three anti-coalition Conservatives were elected to the legislature in 1941, one of whom Huntley Ketchen , served as leader of the opposition. This group did not constitute a rival Conservative Party, however.
In 1946, the party changed its name to the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba to reflect the change in name of the federal Progressive Conservatives. Relations between the Tories and Liberal-Progressives deteriorated after Douglas Campbell became Premier in 1948, and the Tories voted 215-7 to leave the coalition in 1950.
The 1953 election was won by the Liberals, and Willis was compelled to accept a leadership challenge the following year. Duff Roblin, son of Sir Rodmond Roblin, became party leader on the second ballot and rebuilt the party's organization which had been weakened during the coalition period.
In 1958, Roblin's Tories ran and were elected to a minority government on a progressive platform of increased education grants, crop insurance, extension of hydro to the north, and road construction. In 1959, Roblin returned to the polls and won a majority, which pursued a policy of 'social investment', active government and social reform (including reintroducing French to schools and expanding welfare services). In 1967, Roblin left provincial politics and was replaced by Walter C. Weir, who led a more cautious and restrained government. Wier led the Conservatives to defeat at the hands of the New Democratic Party in 1969. Sidney Spivak, another progressive, led the party from 1971 to 1975, but was unable to defeat Schreyer's government.
Sterling Lyon became leader of the party in 1975 and took it in a more conservative direction, anticipating the neoconservatism of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Mike Harris. The Lyon Tories defeated the NDP in 1977. The Lyon government was to the right of previous Tory adminstraions and implemented a program of spending cuts and reduced taxes (while also promoting mega-projects in the energy sector). Manitobans were unreceptive to the government's conservatism, and defeated it in 1981 after only one term in office.
Gary Filmon became leader of the Progressive Conservatives in 1983, and formed a minority government in 1988 after defeating the NDP. Filmon's Tories remained in power for three terms, winning a majority government in 1990 and again in 1995.
Filmon's government avoided excessive conservative rhetoric, but nonetheless reduced corporate taxes, mandated balanced budgets, and limited the power of teacher's and nurse's unions. It supported the Charlottetown Accord (a proposal for amending the Canadian constitution), as well as free trade with the United States. The party's financial austerity program resulted in a balanced budget in 1995, the first in 20 years.
The Tories were hurt in the late 1990s by increased unemployment, a vote-manipulation scandal from the 1995 election (see Independent Native Voice), and the decline of the Manitoba Liberal Party. The latter development allowed the anti-Tory vote to coalesce around the NDP, contributing to that party's 1999 victory.
Leaders of the party
- Hugh John Macdonald (March 1897-October 1900)
- Sir Rodmond P. Roblin (October 1900-May 1915)
- Sir James Aikins (July 1915-August 1915)
- Albert Prefontaine (January 1916-November 6, 1919)
- R.G. Willis (November 6, 1919-April 5, 1922)
- Col. Fawcett G. Taylor (April 5, 1922-March 1933)
- W. Sanford Evans (April 1933-June 1936)
- Errick F. Willis (June 1936-June 1954)
- Dufferin Roblin (June 1954-November 1967)
- Walter Weir (November 1967-February 1971)
- Sidney Spivak (February 1971-December 1975)
- Sterling Lyon (December 1971-December 1983)
- Gary Filmon (December 1983-May 29, 2000)
- Bonnie Mitchelson (May 29, 2000-November 2000) (interim)
- Stuart Murray (November 2000-present)
- List of Manitoba general elections
- Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba leadership conventions
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