Extracts From the Political Memoirs of H. W. Winkler, Part 2
Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1972, Volume 17, Number 3
Part 1 ended at the point where Mr. Winkler suggested that the attitude of the Norris Government to the Old Colony Mennonite schools was a major factor in his defeat as a Liberal candidate in Morden-Rhineland in 1920.
My father urged the government to go slowly on the scohol question because of the promises the Mennonite delegates had received in 1873 from the Macdonald administration. The Winnipeg Free Press and the Provincial Government claimed no such promises could have been given, for education is the constitutional domain of the provinces. If such promises were made, where was the evidence? The Mennonites were sure there had been a written agreement and the district was thoroughly ransacked to find it. Nothing was found - then.
Almost twenty years later Order-In-Council P.C. 957 (a) and other documents, all marked secret, were released by the Clerk of the Privy Council. Evidently the government of the day wanted these colonists very badly as settlers on the hitherto open prairie and were willing to promise almost anything to get them.
Most of the articles of P.C. 957 (a) had to do with the extent of the land grant, homestead rights, and assistance of passage money and pro-visions. Other articles of particular significance are: 1. That an entire exemption from military service, as is provided by law and Order-in-Council, will be granted to the denomination of Christians called Mennonites. 10. That the Mennonites will have the fullest privilege of exercising their religious principles and educating their children in schools, as provided by law, without any kind of molestation or restriction whatsoever. 11. That they will have the privilege of affirming, instead of making affidavit, as is provided by law.
At the time P.C. 957 (a) was read to the Mennonite delegates from Russia, it was almost law but not quite. It lacked the approval and signature of the Governor General, Lord Dufferin. His approval was never given, apparently for what he considered good reason, and eventually the Mennonites received only a memo, or a letter from the Private Secretary of the Minister of Agriculture [28 July 1873], sounding very much like P.C. 957 (a), but not an Order-in-Council.
If one had been present at this meeting and had seen the Honourable J. H. Pope, Minister of Agriculture, sign the pseudo Order-in-Council, or more properly, memo, he might have seen Sir John A. wink slyly as the document was read to the delegates and as it was explained that an Order-in-Council had the force of law. The Mennonites were to have the privilege of teaching their children in their own way "as provided by law". Then, by labelling the document Secret, trouble and controversy, if any should arise, would be delayed and perhaps buried for a long time.
In 1917 most Mennonite children attended provincial schools just like other children, but in the heart of the district the Old Colony Sect clung to their old habits and customs. They did not vote, so they were not a factor in either provincial or federal elections, but the sympathy of most Mennonites outside the Old Colony Sect came to the fore when they were jailed for not sending their children to the new schools. The outcome of this was that the Old Colony Sect emigrated almost en masse to Mexico.
It was into this snarl that I had run in my first attempt to win a seat in the Morden-Rhineland constituency. I was surprised, nonetheless, when the votes were totalled to find that I had come within about fifty of winning.
My next few associations with politics were in 1921 when the Liberals did not enter a candidate in the federal field in Lisgar, but endorsed Mr. J. L. Brown, who received the Progressive nomination. I did very little in this election because the Progressives appeared to be running everything.
The next general election was held in 1925. At this time a growing feeling among official Liberals in Manitoba that the party had been virtu-ally handed over to the Progressive came to full bloom. The Bracken Government had displaced the Norris Liberals in the provincial field. The federal Progressives seemed inclined to go along with Bracken. Mr. Brown, our Lisgar M.P., had been President of the United Farmers of Manitoba, the instrument which brought about the downfall of Norris. He had campaigned vigorously for the Progressive candidates in the Provincial election of 1922. Inside the boundaries of the constituency of Lisgar, which he represented, he had strongly opposed two prominent provincial Liberals, the Honourable J. B. Baird, Speaker of the House, and George Armstrong, M.L.A. for Manitou. Baird had been defeated and blamed his defeat on Mr. Brown. Armstrong had not been pleased either; he happened to be President of the Lisgar Liberal Association.
So, when the federal election of 1925 came in sight, Mr. Brown found his forces divided. The Progressives, who had the fervor of evangelists but in whose eyes party organization was suspect, (because it was part and parcel of party government) were a mighty crusading force when under full steam. As one of the leaders of the Progressives said: "We are a movement - not a party!"
But their zeal was beginning to wear thin. The repetitive calls to meetings to pass resolutions was too time-consuming, and Mr. Brown complained to Mr. Dafoe that there appeared to be no organization left whatsoever. I became acutely aware of this one day when I received an official letterhead from the Lisgar Liberal Association, and printed squarely in the centre of the page were the words: "If you can't vote against Brown, stay home!" For my part, I thought that was carrying things too far. In Ottawa, Mr. Brown had been a faithful supporter of the King Government, even though he was officially a Progressive. As I held no office in the Liberal organization at this time, I felt free to vote as I wished.
I was surprised one day when Mr. Brown drove into my yard. He had attended a meeting of the Manitoba Liberal Executive and it had been suggested there that he should sound me out on where I stood in regard to federal politics. I was not enthusiastic about his anti-Liberal attitude in provincial politics, I explained, but I would support him on his record in Ottawa. That was all he wanted to know, he said. Shortly thereafter a man from Winnipeg, whom I won't identify, called and left a small sum of money, "To get out the vote," he said. In a rural constituency there is much travelling to be done to see the voters; very few of us had cars in those days, so after I called a group of six or seven together and disclosed the arrival of the money, they decided it should be spent on travel expenses - the hiring of limousines. That required practically all our limited resources. Mr. Brown scraped through by an eyelash, but I was the black sheep in official Liberal haunts locally. I hadn't "stayed home."
When the Liberals returned to power in Ottawa in 1925, they were entirely dependent as a government on securing sufficient support from the wavering Progressives to remain in power. From day to day it was never certain how all the Progressives would be aligned. They had their own troubles, one of the chief being lack of party solidarity. So for weeks the King government held on by a very slim margin. At one point their majority had dwindled to one.
Gradually, in our own constituency, the Liberals began to see Mr. Brown in a new and glowing light. He was that one vote. He was our representative. So, when the election of 1926 was called and the nominating convention gathered in Lisgar constituency, my shady past was for-gotten. I was elected vice-president of the Lisgar Liberal Association. I can never remember feeling so popular ...
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