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Extracts From the Political Memoirs of H. W. Winkler, Part 3

by Howard W. Winkler

Manitoba Pageant, Autumn 1972, Volume 18, Number 1

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

These extracts from his political memoirs are published by permission of Mrs. H. W. (Ruth) Winkler, Morden, Manitoba.

Part 2 ended with the election of J. L. Brown, (former president of the United Farmers of Manitoba), as Progressive M.P. for Lisgar in 1925 with the support of Mr. Winkler and some of his associates. In 1926 Mr. Winkler was elected vice-president of the Lisgar Liberal Association ...

With the earlier mistakes behind, we surged into the 1926 campaign and easily elected Mr. Brown as a Liberal-Progressive. George Armstrong, still president of the Lisgar Liberal Association, retained his personal pique with Mr. Brown, and while he made some good speeches at my request, practically all the work of organization was left to me.

When 1930 came around, I called upon the Hon. A. B. Hudson, an old friend and associate of my father, who encouraged me to bring my political problems to him. Everyone knew the tide was running against the Liberal government, but we didn't realize how seriously. I found Mr. Hudson behind his desk, smoking a cigar. He studied me for a moment, smiling and eyes half-closed. "We have our means of finding out things," he said. "The Conservatives regard Lisgar as their number one seat in Manitoba." I believe he intended to give me a jolt and he certainly succeeded. All I could reply was, "We will make them fight for it."

Looking back on it, that was the best fun and excitement I ever experienced in an election. Here we were, up against a confident foe who had a popular candidate. Since I was the new president of the Lisgar Liberal Association (Mr. Armstrong having been made a judge) I had a fairly free hand about the strategy. It simply was, "Let them think they are winning. Keep our forces as much out of sight as possible."

We were not aware of the Conservatives' trump card at first. It was Section 98 of the Criminal Code, which Mr. King had promised to repeal, if elected. This section had been placed in the Criminal Code by Order-in-Council after the scare of the Winnipeg general strike in 1919. It gave the R.C.M.P. almost unlimited powers in an emergency, but it had never been used. The official Conservative pronouncement was that Section 98 was "the last bulwark against Communism."

During the twenties, many Mennonite refugees from communism had migrated to Canada, a considerable number to our area. To remove a "bulwark against communism" terrified them. Somehow we had to convince them that Section 98 was not what the Conservatives claimed. It was not a suitable subject for large public meetings, so we gathered up about a dozen male Mennonite school teachers who were fortunately free on holiday. They were taken to Winnipeg, where they received a two-day course on Section 98. with all its implications. My job was to see that the Act was thoroughly explained in a house-to-house canvass. We had no idea whether we were winning, but we knew we had the Conservatives off-balance.

On the evening of the election, after three months of intense politicking, two of the active workers drove into my yard, and their exuberance was re-assuring. They informed me Brown had just squeaked in! In a few moments, four more arrived with the same air of jubilation, and then two more cars. My house was rapidly filling up, so it was elected to move outside, as more and more kept coming. Soon my yard was full of cars, and refreshments were ordered from downtown.

Since this unplanned gathering comprised the main body of active workers, everyone was called on to make a speech. The gist of it was that even if the country had gone Tory, we had done our part as Liberals and retained Lisgar. With oncoming darkness we were about to break up, when one of the group asked for the floor. "We can never win with Mr. Brown again," he said. "I move that our chairman" (pointing to me) "pass this information on to the powers that be." It carried by a standing vote, unanimously.

About a month later I reported this information to the Hon. T. A. Crerar, but received no reply. I did not realize that this concealed a latent hostility to my activities. It was to place the seal of disapproval, from which I was not to escape until after I had retired in 1953 — that is, more than 20 years later. I do not intend to imply that there was anything personal about it ... merely that my services were well received so long as they did not conflict with plans of "the establishment."

Certainly "the establishment" included the United Farmers of Manitoba, whose entry into the political field had caused the defeat of the Norris Liberals in 1922. I had been active in supporting the Progressive candidates in my home constituency of Morden-Rhineland in 1922 and in 1927, when we ran into the hostility of Judge H. A. Robson, the leader of the Manitoba Liberals, who for a brief term appeared to, advocate the elimination of the Progressives as the first chore of the party. In 1932, we were able to elect Dr. W. G. Wiebe, a Liberal, as our M.L.A.

"The establishment" certainly included T. A. Crerar; defeated cabinet minister in Brandon constituency, and his close ally, John Dafoe of the Winnipeg Free Press. These two men were credited with having steered the four-man delegation from the convention of the United Farmers gathered in the I.O.O.F. Hall in Winnipeg out to the Agricultural College, where they offered the leadership to the President, John Bracken.

It should be mentioned that as Premier, Mr. Bracken endeavored to institute the municipal-type of government in Manitoba by choosing half his cabinet from ex-Liberals and half from ex-Conservatives. Mr. Dafoe had often declared Manitoba to be too small for party government, and had so advocated. The plan ran into difficulties when Col. Fawcett Taylor, as leader of the Conservatives, gave the Bracken government such intensive opposition that they were forced to coalesce with the Liberals in the house, and thereupon became the Liberal-Progressive party.

"The establishment" certainly included the organization of the Manitoba Liberal Association. This from first to last provided all the organization for the Progressives, who professed to be opposed to organization on ethical grounds, although they did have an official organizer, who was more a distributor of pep talks than anything else. The Manitoba Liberal organization was behind the Bracken government from the first, even though some of its members at least were blissfully unaware of it.

As an example, as late as 1957, after the defeat of the St. Laurent government, Stuart Garson, the defeated minister of justice and earlier Mr. Bracken's successor as Premier of Manitoba, addressed a Liberal meeting in Winnipeg, declaring to the general amazement of his hearers that political organization had become an anachronism. This was the very organization that had roused a disconsolate John Bracken, shaken and discouraged by near-defeat, and put him on his feet so he could later be pointed out as having been premier longer than anyone else in the Commonwealth.

I should add that in the early thirties, the Liberal Association of Manitoba changed its name to the Liberal-Progressive Association of Manitoba, no doubt to soothe Mr. Bracken's finer sensibilities.

Part 4 here

Page revised: 11 January 2016

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