A look back through some of Manitoba’s past election history
Manitoba’s 43rd general election will take place on Oct. 3. The Progressive Conservatives are trying to form government for another term, while the Liberals and NDP are hoping to bounce the PCs from power and take the reins of Manitoba’s future.
While each party looks forward, CTV News Winnipeg is delving through the rabbit hole of past elections, finding facts that Manitobans may have not known.
Voter turnout has been hovering around the 50 per cent mark over the last number of provincial elections with the 2019 election sitting at 55.04 per cent.
But this wasn’t always the case. According to data from Elections Manitoba, the early 1900s had voter turnout sitting in the 80 per cent mark.
The highest turnout was in 1903 when 87 per cent of registered voters went to the polls and the Conservatives led by Rodmond Roblin were elected.
Not only was this the highest voter turnout, the former constituency of Cypress also saw nearly 100 per cent of its residents vote, with 1,611 of 1,628 registered voters casting their ballots.
ELECTION HISTORY FROM 1914 TO 1920
The election of 1914 also had a significant turnout of 85.7 per cent. That year was also the first time Winnipeggers could elect two candidates in each area of the city.
Candidates could be running in the same area but were divided between list A and list B. This way was scraped by the 1920 election.
Following the 1914 election, Roblin became premier again, but his party became entangled in controversy over the construction of the Manitoba Legislature, leading to another election in 1915.
Manitobans went to the polls and kicked the Conservatives out of power with a resounding win for the Tobias Norris led Liberals. The Liberals and their independent allies were able to win 41 of 48 seats, which is the largest margin of victory in Manitoba’s history.
With Norris in power, his government brought in alcohol prohibition which lasted until 1921. The government also gave women the right to vote and run for office in 1916, which paved the way for Edith Rogers.
She became the first woman elected in the Manitoba Legislature in 1920 and she held office until 1932.
While Rogers’ election was one of the most monumental moments in Manitoba’s history, there were other noteworthy moments from the 1920 election.
Gordon Goldsborough, the head researcher with the Manitoba Historical Society, said two things stick out to him from 1920.
The first is the province switched to proportional representation for the election instead of the current method of first-past-the-post.
Proportional voting allowed residents to rank candidates, which Goldsborough feels was a better system to operate with.
“Most people don’t realize when they talk about voting reform, they talk about we should have these systems and I say we did, not just for one year but we had them for decades,” said Goldsborough.
He said he isn't sure why the first-past-the-post system came back in 1958, but notes the technology at the time might have been a reason for it.
“In the pre-computer age to do the vote counting, it would take them days to do. We wouldn’t know the outcome right away and that may have been one of the motivations as people were chomping at the bit to know who won.”
Given the technology we have now, Goldsborough feels this is a voting system that would work now and would give a better result.
The second fact Goldsborough likes to talk about is the three “criminals” that were on the ballot in 1920.
Bill Ivens, John Queen and George Armstrong were all elected in 1920, but the year prior were each involved in the Winnipeg General Strike and convicted for their involvement.
“The nature of their crimes is that they were advocating on behalf of the rights of workers during the Winnipeg General Strike. So was that truly a crime?" Goldsborough asked. "I think that it’s debatable. But yes, by the strict definition, three people who were convicted and sent to the provincial jail were all subsequently elected in the 1920 election.”
ACCLAMATION INTO THE MANITOBA LEGISLATURE
Jumping to 1953, it was an election that saw a few situations happen that haven’t happened since.
One incident was the last-ever acclaimed MLA. Goldsborough said acclamation in politics is something that is seen mostly at the municipal level, but for multiple years in Manitoba there were MLAs that were acclaimed.
“If you look at the history of them going back, there was a spate of acclamations during the 1940s and I don’t know why that is,” said Goldsborough.
William Morton of the Liberals was that last acclaimed MLA as no one ran against him in his constituency that year.
The Liberals would win the election in 1953 with a majority government, but it would be the final time there was ever a Liberal government. The Conservatives would retake government in 1958 and a year later secure a majority government, holding on to power until 1969.
THE 1958 AND 1959 ELECTIONS
After years of having a proportional representation voting system, the province switched back to first-past-the-post in 1958.
The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation started to gain more traction in the province winning 11 seats, including Ed Schreyer in the constituency of Brokenhead. He became the youngest person to ever be elected at 22-years-old.
A year later in 1959, Manitobans were back at the polls and the Progressive Conservatives won their first majority government since 1914. The premier in 1959 was Duff Roblin, the grandson of Rodmond Roblin, who was in charge of the Conservatives in 1914.
After the 1959 election, two of the main parties went through overhauls and changed their names. The Liberal-Progressive party dropped the word progressive and have gone by Liberal ever since, while the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation changed to the New Democratic Party and is the NDP the province knows today.
While the Liberals started to fall as a party during these years, it’s leader and former premier Douglas Campbell continued to be a strong MLA and ended his political time as the longest serving MLA in Manitoba’s history – being in the Manitoba Legislature from 1922 to 1969.
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