Manitoba History: Stuart Garson and the Manitoba Progressive Coalition

by Mark E. Vajcner

Number 26, Autumn 1993

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Stuart Garson, circa 1941.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

When Premier John Bracken decided to accept the leadership of the federal Conservative Party in December 1942, the Manitoba Progressive Coalition selected the Provincial Treasurer, Stuart Garson, as his successor. Premier of Manitoba from January 1943 to November 1948, Stuart Garson would preside over the extension of the coalition arrangement into the post-war era. Premier Bracken and the old United Farmers of Manitoba (U.F.M.) had committed the province to an experiment in group government with the intention of breaking the hold of the traditional parties over the provincial administration. Under Stuart Garson this coalition was, to a great extent, transformed into a tactical device designed to perpetuate the rule of the Liberal-Progressive Party.

Stuart Sinclair Garson was born in St. Catharines, Ontario on 1 December, 1898. He was the eldest son of Margaret Annable and William C. W. Garson, a successful contractor who had served as a member of the Ontario Legislature during the premiership of Oliver Mowat. A life long Liberal, William Garson became a prominent figure in Winnipeg political circles after moving his young family west in 1901. He served on the city’s newly organized Board of Control in 1906 and was closely identified with the establishment of Winnipeg’s publicly owned hydro-electric system. [1]

William Garson was one of the founders of the building stone industry in Manitoba. The towns of Tyndal and Garson, the latter named in honour of him, produce the famous white limestone from which the legislative building in Winnipeg is constructed. [2]

In 1911, while supervising a construction project in Calgary, William Garson caught pneumonia and died. His company, unable to finish the project without its principal member, soon collapsed. Young Stuart helped the family financially by working first as a delivery boy, later as a harvester, and finally as a guide in the Lake of the Woods. [3] In an effort to secure a summer job for Stuart, a Portage la Prairie contractor, most likely a friend of the late William Garson, wrote to Arthur Meighen, then Member of Parliament for Portage La Prairie, asking him to give Stuart a recently vacated government position. The only problem was that Stuart Garson was a Liberal. Of this the contractor confidently wrote that he would “straighten out these misconceptions,” particularly as he felt that the young Stuart Garson would “be a force in future political issues.” [4]

This conclusion was drawn from the results of Stuart’s first public debate. Held at the Y.M.C.A., it concerned Canada’s naval policy. Stuart, who was sixteen years old at the time, was up against a much older man. Nevertheless he carefully prepared his speech and rehearsed it before his mother and younger brother. After, in telling them about his success, he said, “I entirely forgot my speech and hardly know what I said, but when I got on my feet I just talked. I must have talked to some purpose for I won out by an overwhelming majority.” [5]

Rejected for military service due to a disability that was the result or an earlier battle with polio, Stuart Garson pursued his studies in Law. He graduated from the University of Manitoba and the Manitoba Law School with honours in 1918. After a year with a Winnipeg law office, Garson set out to practise law at Eriksdale and Ashern in the Interlake region, He proved to be an excellent public speaker and was persuaded to enter politics by Premier John Bracken who has heard him speaking at a rural meeting. [6]

Elected by acclamation to the legislature in 1927 as a Liberal-Progressive member for the Interlake constituency of Fairford, Garson came rapidly to the forefront both in debate on the floor of the legislature and as the chairman of several important committees. In September 1936, Garson was appointed Provincial Treasurer, succeeding E. A. McPherson and becoming the youngest minister in the Bracken cabinet. Despite the change in ministers, Bracken intimated that he expected the government to continue with the kind of administration that the times and conditions demanded. The government would be “venturing on no major experiments of an untried or unproven or unsound character.” [7]

Manitoba provincial cabinet, 1942. Stuart Garson is at the extreme right.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

When Bracken had become Premier in 1922 he indicated that he intended to conduct the government in a pragmatic, businesslike, and non-partisan manner. As he said to the legislature early in 1923, “We are not here to play politics or to represent a single class, but to get down to the serious business of giving this province an efficient government.” [8] Although this philosophy, which was widely known as “Brackenism,” claimed to transcend both class and political cleavages, it was in reality the ideology of the prosperous business class in Winnipeg and the British-Ontarian farmers in the southwestern portion of the province. The primary concern of this group was to protect itself from taxation. Since these businessmen and farmers constituted the major part of Bracken’s electoral support the government pursued rigorous thrift in its affairs. [9]

The Great Depression reinforced the government’s determination to reduce public expenditure. The depression was made worse on the prairies by one of the most prolonged dry spells in Canada’s history. Neither the province nor the municipalities had enough surplus revenue to meet the sharply rising cost of relief. Thus between 1931 and 1933 the province imposed increases in taxation which raised Manitoba’s tax rates to the highest of any province in Canada. [10] Nevertheless this achieved nothing more than to make up for previous declines in revenue and the vast portion of relief had to be paid for by increased borrowing. By 1932 the credit of the province and its municipalities was exhausted and thereafter the federal government had to guarantee loans made to either the municipalities or the provinces.

As Provincial Treasurer Garson represented Manitoba on the various committees that met to discuss the financial crisis facing the provinces. Garson quickly became an expert on federal-provincial relations and emerged as one of the most powerful ministers in cabinet. His crowning achievement as Treasurer was the role that he played in the preparation of Manitoba’s brief to the Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations in 1937 and 1938. This brief was hailed as a masterly treatment of Manitoba problems and was regarded as the best provincial brief presented to the commission.

The philosophy that government was mainly a matter of careful administration, transcending both class and political cleavages, led to the belief that the most efficient way of organizing the provincial government would be on a non-partisan basis. The goal on non-partisan government had long been a part of what William L. Morton had called the “bias” of prairie politics. [11] Since the early years of the twentieth century the West had been influenced by organizations such as the Non-Partisan League to which many farmers, frustrated with the near identical tariff policies of both the Liberal and Conservative parties, had turned. In provincial affairs, particularly in Manitoba, both parties had been tainted by either scandal or waste. The idea that the elimination of “parochial interests” and “partisan objectives” would provide for a government based on “sound, businesslike administration” paved the way for the election of the U.F.M. in 1922. Although the new premier had a strong distaste for partisan motivations it was not until the late autumn of 1940 that Premier Bracken came close to achieving the long standing goal of non-partisan government for Manitoba. His all-party government was established on the premise that the elimination of partisan politics would aid in the war effort. Accordingly, each party was to abandon partisan activities and, on this understanding, Bracken reorganized his cabinet to include representatives from all four major political parties on the basis of their strength in the legislature. [12]

When the C.C.F. entered the government in 1940 it had hoped that Bracken would break with the right-wing of the Liberal Progressive Party and look more sympathetically on C.C.F. proposals. [13] Bracken, however, remained true to his party and the C.C.F. quickly discovered that “nonpartisanism” would exist in name only. Seymour J. Farmer, the provincial leader of the C.C.F. and now also Minister of Labour, was denied a free rein in his department. On many of the proposals for legislation which Farmer did manage to introduce, Bracken insisted on holding free votes in the legislature. Since this allowed the members to vote along party lines the C.C.F. invariably lost. [14]

Premier Bracken’s “non-partisan” government was largely swept away by the events of December 1942. In that month Farmer resigned his cabinet position and led his party out of the Manitoba government. This action reduced the government eventually to a coalition of Liberal-Progressives and Conservatives. At the same time the withdrawal of the C.C.F. added to the prestige of that party as Farmer and the two other C.C.F. members of the legislature now became the official opposition. [15]

Farmer’s resignation from cabinet was in part triggered by Bracken’s willingness to assume the leadership of the federal Conservative party. [16] Premier Bracken was elected to the leadership of the federal Conservative party at its national convention in Winnipeg on 11 December 1942. He had agreed to be a candidate on the condition that the party would adopt a platform that would reflect the progressive character of the Port Hope conference. Errick Willis, provincial leader of the Conservative Party, had taken an active interest in the convention which confirmed Bracken as leader. Bracken, it was believed, was now honour bound to do all that he could to aid his provincial counterpart. [17] These developments led many to believe that the coalition had outlived its usefulness. Thomas A. Crerar, the federal Minister of Mines and Resources and the representative of Manitoba in the federal Cabinet, was one of the first to take this position:

The strains and stresses which I feel sure would be bound to result from a Coalition with the Conservatives alone would be exploited by the C.C.F. provincially and would work definitely to their advantage, and the repercussions of this would be marked both in the Provincial and the Federal fields. [18]

Stuart Garson at this time was still the provincial Treasurer but was the favoured candidate to succeed Bracken in the premiership. In his correspondence with Crerar, the federal minister urged Garson to abandon the coalition upon taking office:

The C.C.F. have abandoned the truce, to which, indeed, they never at any time closely adhered. I think the same thing may be said of the Conservatives. There is no point in the Liberal-Progressives continuing to maintain the truce. [19]

Crerar reasoned that a government, formed on a straight Liberal-Progressive basis, would be able to survive in the legislature. Not only did it have a majority of the members, but none of the independent or Social Credit members would vote to defeat the government because, in so doing, they would “plunge themselves into the icy and uncertain waters of an election.” [20]

Garson was more careful in his assessment of the situation. He believed that the coalition had not yet outlived its usefulness because it was still popular in public opinion, and in any event, the Liberal-Progressives with their majority were in control of government policy. Garson’s primary goal as leader would have to be to avoid any serious split in caucus. [21] Such a split was more likely to result from an abandonment of the coalition idea than from its continuance. As Garson wrote to Crerar after the decision in caucus:

I do not think that there would have been the slightest hope of carrying a unanimous Caucus out of the coalition; and of course a split upon this or any other issue would have been fatal to the Liberal-Progressive dominant position in the Legislature. [22]

This all important meeting of the Liberal-Progressive caucus occurred on the night of Monday 22 December 1942 at the St. Regis Hotel in Winnipeg. The caucus was to meet with Premier Bracken on the following morning; thus a preliminary caucus was held to decide on a new leader and on the fate of the coalition. Many of the members came directly from the train or bus station to this last minute caucus, and some arrived late. [23] Stuart Garson was chosen as leader, as many had predicted, even though some members had indicated they intended to support William Morton, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, for the leadership. Morton declined to run. [24] On the issue of the coalition, the caucus discussed the matter at length, but finally decided to continue on with the Conservatives and Social Crediters in governing the province at least until the end of the next session of the legislature. A delegation from the junior section of the Manitoba Liberal Association waited for several hours to address the caucus. The delegation urged the Liberal-Progressives to pull out of the coalition at once warning, as Crerar had, of the growing strength of the C.C.F in Manitoba. Now that it was the official opposition it was certain to gain support at the expense of the government. [25]

The Tuesday morning meeting with Bracken lasted less than an hour. This was followed later in the afternoon by a joint meeting of the combined Liberal-Progressive, Conservative and Social Credit parties. Forty-one of the fifty-five members of the legislature were present [26] and gave unanimous approval to the continuation of the coalition government and to the leadership of Stuart Garson. [27] Bracken formally resigned as Premier in early January 1943. Stuart Sinclair Garson, inheriting a rural-based and rural-orientated government, was sworn in as the thirteenth Premier of Manitoba on 14 January 1943.

While the U.F.M. and Premier John Bracken had a philosophical belief in non-partisan government, to Stuart Garson the central utility of the all-party coalition appears to have been as a tactical device to maintain the dominance of the Liberal-Progressive party in the Legislature. An example of this utilitarian belief in non-partisanship is the position taken by Garson during the 1943 by-elections.

By the middle of 1943 the electoral district of Killarney had been without a member in the legislature for almost two years and three more electoral districts, including John Bracken’s former seat of The Pas, were also vacant. The central question within the Liberal-Progressive party was whether or not the coalition arrangement would be maintained. Many of the same arguments that had been advanced in December 1942 were again being cited. As the arrangement stood, if a seat represented by a Conservative member (as Killarney had been) became vacant, the Liberal-Progressives and Social Crediters were committed to stand aside. The same was true in a Liberal-Progressive or Social Credit seat; the party which held the constituency had the sole right among the parties of the coalition to contest it. [28] This resulted in a unusually high number of members being elected by acclamation as the smaller parties did not have the funds to field a full slate of candidates. Several members of the Liberal-Progressive party, however, were urging Garson to abandon the arrangement, and the coalition with it, by supporting the nomination of a Liberal-Progressive candidate in Killarney even if the Conservative candidate declared his support for the government. Stuart Garson dismissed these overtures after a very pragmatic analysis of the utility of the coalition arrangement.

We cannot go back on an arrangement of this sort as long as it exists. It is certainly not in our interest to do so because since the majority of the members of the House are Liberal-Progressive this arrangement would seem to be distinctly to our advantage. [29]

In other words the continuation of the coalition was the best method of preserving a Liberal-Progressive majority in the legislature because the only opposition would come from the C.C.F. and thus the existing distribution of seats would most likely continue. Thus the Liberal-Progressive, Conservative, and Social Credit party associations in Killarney nominated and supported a single candidate, A.W. Harrison, who easily defeated his C.C.F. opponent by a vote of 1,377 to 988. [30] As a result of the election in the northern constituency of The Pas, which had been represented by the former Premier John Bracken for twenty years, the C.C.F. increased its membership in the legislature to four. This was partly due to the fact that the “old-line” parties were unable to nominate a common candidate and thus split their vote. [31] These two results showed the value of the coalition as an electoral tool and guaranteed the continued existence of the arrangement at least until after the next provincial election.

By-elections are quite commonly regarded as barometers for measuring the mood of the electorate prior to a general election. Therefore, both the government and the C.C.F. tested what would become their provincial election platforms during the 1943 by-elections. The C.C.F. attacked the coalition government on its record of social services and social spending. It urged the government to adopt a social service system based on the one that existed in New Zealand. [32] The Labour party government of New Zealand had, in 1938, introduced a comprehensive social security act which increased the rates of the country’s various pensions and placed them on a universal basis irrespective of income received or property owned. At the same time the act initiated an extensive system of health and medical benefits. The coalition government and Premier Garson attacked this C.C.F. position with a vengeance. The New Zealand social security system had resulted in substantial tax increases in that country. If a single Canadian province attempted to establish such a system and the corresponding taxation it would be at the risk of “driving business to more favourably situated provinces, in which the rates of taxation were lower.” [33] While New Zealand was a unitary state, Manitoba as a province in a federal state had neither the financial base nor the constitutional power to introduce such an extensive social security system.

The post-war programme that the coalition articulated was the same one that Premier Garson had proposed to the Parliamentary Committee on Reconstruction earlier that year. Premier Garson had urged the committee to convene a full Dominion-Provincial Conference with the object of drafting new constitutional and financial arrangements which the Manitoba government believed to be essential for the assurance of post-war prosperity. The logic of this argument contended that the most important provision of any post-war reconstruction programme would have to be full employment. It was only by reaching full employment that the national income could be maintained at a level sufficient enough to support a comprehensive social security package of the kind that the C.C.F. had visualized. [34]

It may be argued that the policies developed during the by-election campaigns by the government and the C.C.F. opposition differed greatly in method but little in goals. Both sides were in agreement on the issues of post-war employment and the need for some sort of social welfare system, and the difference was one of degree and method. While the C.C.F developed a proposal that called for the nationalization of the banking industry to finance social spending, [35] the government coalition insisted that a comprehensive social security programme could only be developed by the federal government. It asked the voters to “appraise the issues on a basis of logic and intelligence” [36] and the reality of the situation was that the types of policies and programmes which were being proposed were outside of the constitutional or financial jurisdiction of the province. By stating that the role of the province was not in initiating the programs but in applying pressure on the federal government to establish them, the government appeared to be side stepping the issue. This was in marked contrast to the bold proposals of the C.C.F. Even if these proposals were impossible to implement they were attractive to voters who feared the return of depression conditions after the end of the war. Thus in Brandon, the constituency where the argument over social policy was most intense, the coalition candidate went down to defeat despite the deluge of facts and figures repudiating C.C.F. claims.

The final results of the 1943 by-elections were indecisive in that two government candidates and two C.C.F. candidates were elected to the legislature. But while the by-elections were indecisive the general election almost two years later was an outstanding triumph for the government coalition. On 15 October 1945 Premier Garson led the coalition to its second test at the polls. The final results confirmed a reduced but still overwhelming majority for the coalition of Liberal-Progressives, Conservatives, and Social Crediters. With 55.7 percent of the popular vote the government captured 43 seats. The C.C.F. won 10, and two seats were won by independents. [37] The magnitude of the victory became increasingly apparent as the returns from the outlaying country polls came in and the perceived C.C.F threat in the agricultural constituencies of northwestern Manitoba failed to materialize. The C.C.F., as the only serious opposition to the coalition, had expected to return to the legislature with a substantially increased representation. Hoping for 15 to 20 seats the C.C.F., except in Winnipeg, lost almost as much ground as it gained. [38] Even the intervention of Saskatchewan Premier Thomas C. Douglas did little to aid the C.C.F. in Manitoba. The final results of the election were as follows:















Other Coalition










Other Opposition





The overwhelming victory of the coalition was in part the result of a lopsided electoral system. The coalition with almost 56 percent of the popular vote won 78 percent of the seats. The Liberal-Progressives alone captured 26 seats with 74,054 votes, while the C.C.F., with 73,853 votes, returned only 10 members. [39] Most of the C.C.F. vote was concentrated within the Greater Winnipeg area. Here, in a marked contrast to the general provincial trend, 3 of the 4 candidates elected on the first count of Winnipeg’s complicated proportional electoral system were opposition candidates. [40]

Since the 1920s Winnipeg had been organized as a single ten-member seat. Instead of marking their ballots with a simple “X” Winnipeg voters were asked to number their choices in order of preference on the ballot. In 1945 there were twenty-two candidates. [41] This system created confusion among voters which often worked to the advantage of the coalition. Furthermore, with only ten seats, Winnipeg was grossly under-represented in the legislature. While roughly one half of the population of Manitoba was concentrated within the greater Winnipeg area, it elected less than one quarter of the members of the legislature. [42] The last redistribution in 1920 had established a ratio which made each rural voter the equivalent of two urban voters. This system assured the over-representation of precisely that segment of voters on which the coalition depended.

The Liberal-Progressives and the coalition maintained the support of these rural voters by emphasizing programmes and policies like rural electrification and the reduction of provincial debt. The simple, almost unpolitical style of the government campaign also appealed to rural voters. The government did not issue promise after promise but sought support, as Garson said, “solely on the basis of its achievements of the past” and did not “deck out” its campaign “with the tinsel of emotional or class appeal.” [43] Nevertheless, ideology did exist within the coalition campaign. The belief that government should be operated in a “businesslike” manner, following a policy of thrift and efficiency, extolled the values of business and thus was a class appeal to both the business and farming community who liked to overlook the existence of class. C.C.F. ties with organized labour hurt that party in Manitoba. The heavy vote for S. J. Farmer, who finished first among the twenty-two candidates that ran in Winnipeg, was in part due to union support. [44] Key among these were Winnipeg’s powerful meat packing unions and as Lewis St. George Stubbs, an Independent member of the Legislature concluded, Manitoba farmers “certainly wouldn’t support a party so closely bound up with labour unions now threatening for a packing house strike” in Winnipeg. [45]

Once the Manitoba coalition had survived the transition of government from Bracken to Garson, the 1943 by-elections, and the 1945 provincial election, it had to face its most serious test. In June 1946 the Manitoba Progressive Conservative party held its first convention in almost eight years. This convention was held in the majestic surroundings of the Royal Alexandra Hotel. The delegates at the opening session of the two day convention heard Errick Willis, the provincial party leader, ask for continued support for the coalition. He argued that it was important to keep a united front until after the storms of the federal-provincial conferences had been weathered and a satisfactory new constitutional agreement made. “If we should withdraw from the coalition and the conference should fail,” Willis warned the delegates, “certainly we should have to bear criticism for withdrawal at such a critical period.” [46] As evidence of the coalition’s popularity Willis cited the election results of 1945. Not one Liberal-Progressive or Conservative who had opposed the coalition was elected. [47] Willis saw this as an indication of confidence in the coalition form of government.

However rumours had been circulating for several weeks that the drive to withdraw the Conservative party from the coalition was gaining momentum. The convention was seen as the climax to this drive. Premier Garson himself believed that an attempt would be made to withdraw. In a letter to Ralph Maybank, a Manitoba Liberal Member of Parliament, the Premier wrote that he felt “that some attempt will be made to have the Conservatives withdraw from the Coalition, but I would doubt that it will get very far.” [48] This doubt was based on the fact that there was impressive support within Conservative party circles for the continuation of the coalition.

Notwithstanding this support, dissatisfaction among the younger members of the Conservative party was rising. These malcontents had three main grievances. First there was resentment over what had been perceived as the failure of the Premier to adequately support national party leader John Bracken in the federal election of 11 June 1945. Although Garson regarded this accusation as “nothing if not comical” [49] the fact was that he was moving to support the economic management policies of the federal Liberal party. In a letter to John S. Sinnott, M.P. for Springfield, he wrote in regard to federal-provincial fiscal relations that:

It begins to look now as if our prospects for getting a settlement of this sort were fairly good, thanks to the wisdom and fairness of the Dominion Government in the face of the sectionalism of the certain provinces. [50]

Heading this “sectionalism” were the Premiers of Ontario and Quebec. It was Garson’s open criticism of Ontario Premier George Drew, a Progressive Conservative, that formed the second grievance of the young Conservatives. Premier Garson had declared Drew to be the person most responsible for the breakdown of the last Dominion-Provincial conference. [51] This did not sit well with the malcontents. Finally there was a dissatisfaction with the leadership of Errick Willis. This arose out of the belief that Progressive Conservative party was increasingly sacrificing its identity by remaining in the coalition. All of these considerations combined to form a fairly substantial anti-coalition movement. The question was whether or not this movement was strong enough to control the convention and thus smash the coalition government of Premier Stuart Garson.

On the morning of Thursday, 13 June, 1946 the malcontents attempted their coup. A resolution to conduct a leadership vote was presented to the convention. The motion, moved by an urban candidate from Winnipeg, was immediately declared out of order. The executive had no intention of holding a leadership votes; this was after all a policy and not a leadership convention. [52] After much wrangling on points of order and proper procedure it was agreed to hold a vote of confidence in the leadership of Errick Willis. The vote was set for late in the afternoon. This essentially ended the coup. The malcontents had intended to topple Willis and install a new leader in one swift move. By setting the vote of confidence for late on the final day of the convention the party executive ensured that, even if Willis lost, any new leader would be chosen at a later date. This would give the coalitionists time to organize and thus greatly reduce the chances of the anti-coalition movement in electing a sympathetic leader. This bit of extra insurance was not needed however, because Willis was sustained by a 2 to 1 margin. [53] The dissolution of the coalition had been averted, and the coalition was not to be seriously challenged again during the remainder of Stuart Garson’s premiership.

Stuart Garson with Premier John Bracken, 1942.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

During this political crisis rumours and speculation developed over whether Stuart Garson intended to resign the premiership and enter the federal cabinet. Garson consistently refused offers to join the cabinet as the province’s representative even though he seemed to be the logical successor to Thomas Crerar, Manitoba’s old representative, who left the cabinet the previous year. One of the factors leading to the pressure to get Garson into the federal cabinet was reported to be the ability that he displayed at the April 1946 Dominion-Provincial Conference in arguing the case for acceptance of the federal government’s financial proposals. This conference had resulted in a stubborn stand by some premiers, particularly George Drew of Ontario and Maurice Duplessis of Quebec, against the federal offer. The Finance Minister, James L. Ilsley, had followed a hard line policy with regard to negotiations, demanding that the entire federal package be adopted without change. The majority of cabinet would have preferred to implement the federal proposals in a modified form rather than risk a collapse of the negotiations, [54] and this situation led to reports that Garson might enter cabinet to take over the finance portfolio. As the Winnipeg Free Press speculated:

It would be possible by employing Mr. Garson’s well known persuasive and financial ability to renew the Dominion-Provincial proposals in such a way that it would make it virtually impossible for the Duplessis element in Quebec and Drew to refuse the offer without creating an election issue. [55]

This situation did not materialize and Garson again refused to leave Manitoba, stating that he would not leave until an agreement concerning the division of federal-provincial tax fields and financial burdens was reached. Nevertheless, when Prime Minister Mackenzie King resigned in November, 1948, and the new Prime Minister, Louis St. Laurent, offered Garson the position of Minister of Justice, he accepted it. [56] After his arrival in Ottawa Garson met with Mackenzie King in the last few days before the formal transition of power to St. Laurent. At this meeting Garson emphasized several times that he really would have liked to have entered the cabinet earlier but held back due to “fear of the consequences of his leaving the Government of Manitoba” at that time. This led Mackenzie King to confide to his diary that Garson probably had not entered the government sooner because of a personal dislike of him. [57]

Whatever Garson’s true reasons for delaying his entry into cabinet may have been, when he resigned as Premier on 13 November 1948 the continuation of the coalition was not in serious doubt. When the coalition was established in 1940 its purpose was to maintain a stable government for the duration of the war. Stuart Garson presided over the extension of this arrangement into the post-war era. This was not the result of a philosophical belief in non-partisan government, as had been the case with John Bracken, but was chiefly a tactical move to maintain the dominance of the Liberal-Progressive party.

Although Bracken seemed to have established non-partisan government in 1940 the treatment and subsequent withdrawal of the C.C.F. ended this experiment even before Garson became Premier. After that there was both a “government” and an “opposition” and partisan politics resumed as before. Garson never lamented this state of affairs and while in public he maintained the facade of non-partisanship, in private he saw the coalition as a matter of tactics and strategy. “I don’t know for the life of me how the coalition ever came to be formed,” Garson once told Prime Minister Mackenzie King, “we had a majority. We were getting along. Then suddenly it occurred!” [58] But once it did occur, Garson saw its value. In his correspondence with Thomas Crerar, Garson clearly realized this case. Later when members of his own party indicated a desire to abandon the arrangement he calmly pointed out that the system favoured incumbents. The Liberal-Progressives, with the largest number of members in the legislature, thus had the most to gain by the continuation of the agreement.

Although very pragmatic, Garson was not a cold and calculating realist who sought power for its own sake. He was committed to maintaining the dominance of the Liberal-Progressives because he saw in them the best hope for the future. While Bracken believed in non-partisanship, Garson placed his faith in liberalism. The liberal tradition alone provided the best means to meet the challenges of the rapidly changing twentieth century world. “To a Liberal,” Garson once said, “the reactionary repression of man’s struggle to improve himself under changing conditions is just as objectionable as the revolutionary’s refusal to hold fast to that which is good.” [59]

Liberal moderation in contrast to “the doctrinaire views of conservatives and socialists” was essential if Canada was to successfully overcome the sweeping social changes that had accompanied the shift from agrarian to industrial society. [60] This same moderation was also vital in provincial affairs if major programmes and policies such as rural electrification were to be successful.

All this provided formidable reasons for the Conservatives to withdraw from the arrangement and yet they did not. In election after election the party was slowly losing strength and yet the party executive continually endorsed the coalition agreement. Thus when Garson left for Ottawa in 1948 all seemed well with the Manitoba government, but the coalition system established by Bracken and maintained by Garson would not long outlast the departure of its pragmatic steward.


1. Frank H. Schofield, The Story of Manitoba, Vol. 2 (Winnipeg: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1913), p. 33.

2. Winnipeg Free Press (hereafter FP), 23 Dec., 1942.

3. Ibid.

4. Legislative Library of Manitoba, Reading Room, Biography Collection: Stuart S. Garson, Snyder to Meighen, 9 Feb., 1915.

5. Ibid.

6. John Kendle, John Bracken: A Political Biography (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979), p. 156.

7. FP, 22 Sept., 1936.

8. Kendle, p. 40.

9. Thomas Peterson, “Ethnic and Class Politics in Manitoba,” in Canadian Provincial Politics, ed. Martin Robin (Scarborough: Prentice-Hall, 1972), p. 88.

10. Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations: Report Book I (Ottawa: Dominion of Canada, 1940), p. 168.

11. See W. L. Morton, “The Bias of Prairie Politics,” in Contexts of Canada’s Past, ed. A.B. McKillop (Toronto: Macmillan Co., 1980), pp. 149-60.

12. FP, 4 Nov., 1940.

13. Nelson Wiseman, Social Democracy in Manitoba: A History of the CCFNDP (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1983), p. 32.

14. Ibid., p. 32.

15. Provincial Archives of Manitoba (hereafter PAM), Stuart S. Garson Papers, p. 2358, Crerar to Garson, 12 Dec., 1942.

16. Farmer to Bracken, 9 Dec., 1942. The text of this letter appears in FP, 10 Dec., 1942.

17. PAM, Garson Papers, p. 2358, Crerar to Garson, 12 Dec., 1942.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid., Garson to Crerar, 21 Dec., 1942. This letter, dictated only one day before the meeting of the Liberal-Progressive caucus, was never sent.

22. Ibid., Crerar to Garson, 31 Dec., 1942.

23. Ibid.

24. FP, 22 Dec., 1942.

25. Ibid.

26. The legislature had 57 seats but two vacancies, caused by death, had not yet been filled.

27. FP, 23 Dec., 1942.

28. PAM, Garson Papers, p. 2357, Garson to A. E. Foster, 30 April, 1943.

29. Ibid.

30. FP, 23 June, 1943.

31. This analysis of the results in The Pas was that of Stanley Knowles, then M.P. for Winnipeg North Centre, as quoted in FP, 18 Aug., 1943.

32. PAM, Garson Papers, p.2357,Notes Regarding a Speech by Dr. Dwight L. Johnson CCF Candidate in the Brandon By-Election, Nov., 1943.

33. Ibid., Speech Materials Used by Premier Garson in the Brandon By-Election, Nov., 1943.

34. Stuart Garson, Submission to the Special Committee on Reconstruction and Re-establishment, 2 June 1943.

35. PAM, Garson Papers, p. 2357, Speech Materials Used by Premier Garson in the Brandon By-Election, Nov., 1943.

36. Portage la Prairie Daily Graphic, 19 Oct., 1943.

37. A Socialist and a Communist were the two independents who were elected.

38. FP, 16 Oct., 1945.

39. PAM, Provincial Elections: 1870-1949, MG 14F, Summary of the 1945 Election Results.

40. FP, 16 Oct., 1945.

41. Peterson, p. 84, and Lloyd Stinson, Political Warriors: Recollections of a Social Democrat (Winnipeg: Queenston House Inc., 1975), p. 107.

42. James A. Jackson, The Centennial History of Manitoba (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd., 1970), pp. 244-45.

43. Premier Stuart Garson as quoted by FP, 16 Oct., 1945.

44. FP, 17 Oct., 1945.

45. Ibid.

46. Ibid., 12 June, 1946.

47. Ibid.

48. PAM, Garson Papers, p. 2358, Garson to Ralph Maybank,12 June,1946.

49. Ibid.

50. PAM, Garson Papers, p. 2358, Garson to John S. Sinnott, 2 July, 1946.

51. Ottawa Evening Journal, 8 June, 1946.

52. FP, 14 June, 1946.

53. Ibid.

54. Transcripts of the Mackenzie King Diaries (Microfilm) (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980), 6 May, 1946.

55. FP,12 June, 1946.

56. Ibid., 5 Nov., 1948.

57. Mackenzie King Diaries, 15 Nov., 1948.

58. PAM, Ralph Maybank Papers, MG 14 B35, Diary, 27 Jan., 1948.

59. Queen’s University Archives, Thomas A. Crerar Papers, Box 168, Series V, Remarks of Stuart Garson at the Annual Meeting of the Saskatchewan Liberal Council, 10 Feb., 1954.

60. Ibid.

Page revised: 11 April 2010