Thursday, September 25, 2014

Riding History: Winnipeg South Centre

The riding of Winnipeg South Centre and its predecessors has a storied history, having been represented by the first Labour MP ever elected in Canada, the son of a prime minister, a few premiers, and a man whose remains were laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.

This is the third riding the history of which I am profiling as part of the 2013 Kickstarter campaign. This riding was requested by backer Owen Black, who generously contributed to the project that led to Tapping into the Pulse: Political public opinion polling in Canada, 2013. The ebook can be ordered here, or directly from Gumroad hereAmazon for your Kindle here, or from Kobo here.

The history of what would become Winnipeg South Centre starts with the riding of Selkirk, which was first contested in an election in 1871.

It was won by 'Independent Conservative' Donald Alexander Smith with 70% of the vote, or 239 ballots in all. He defeated John Taylor, who took 103 votes.

Smith began working with the Hudson's Bay Company in 1838, being stationed in Labrador before taking charge of the Montreal Department. He was sent as a negotiator during Louis Riel's Red River Rebellion, and later accompanied Sir Garnet Wolseley's famous expedition to the colony.

Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
Smith was re-elected in 1872 with 81% of the vote. As an independent Conservative, he supported Sir John A. Macdonald, but broke with him in a dispute over having his expenses related to his role in the Red River expedition reimbursed. He turned on Macdonald and voted the government down in 1873 over the Pacific Scandal.

He was re-elected in 1874, still as an independent Conservative, defeating A.G.B. Bannatyne, the Liberal candidate, who would go on to represent the riding of Provencher. In 1878, Smith won his closest election with 50.4% of the vote - defeating another Conservative candidate.

But the election was declared void, and in 1880 Smith fell short. Again, it was a contest between two Conservatives, as Thomas Scott took 56% of the vote to Smith's 44%.

Smith's story only gets more interesting here. After his departure from Manitoba politics, Smith was named President of the Bank of Montreal, a role he held from 1882 to 1887. He was knighted in 1886, and would become the MP for Montreal West from 1887 to 1896.

Strathcona's house in Scotland
While still an MP, he became the governor of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1889. In 1896, he was named Canadian High Commission to Great Britain, fulfilling that role until 1914. In 1897, he was given a peerage as Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal. He was the chairman of the Burmah Oil and Anglo-Persian Oil Company, as well as the chancellor of McGill University from 1889 to 1914.

He was a philanthropist and empire builder, giving away millions of dollars during his lifetime. He and his cousin paid for the construction of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, and he personally funded Lord Strathcona's Horse, a unit that fought in the Boer War. When he passed, his funeral was held at Westminster Abbey.

Already in 1880, these were big shoes to fill. Scott, born in Upper Canada, was a journalist who had served as MLA for Winnipeg and also as mayor of the fledgling city.

He was re-elected in 1882, when the ridings in Manitoba were re-formed and Winnipeg received its own seat. Scott was a former military man, commanding the Ontario Rifles as a colonel during the Red River Expedition, and raising the 95th Manitoba Grenadiers for service during the North-West Rebellion.

Scott did not seek re-election and in 1887 his place was taken by William Scarth, a Conservative and a Scot. The election was decided by just eight votes.

Hugh J. Macdonald
Perhaps his nerves could not take it, and Scarth did not run for re-election in 1891. Instead, Hugh J. Macdonald stood as the Liberal-Conservative candidate. He also happened to be the son of the prime minister.

Macdonald won more easily, with 57% of the vote against the lone Liberal candidate. But after the death of his father, Macdonald lost his appetite for politics and resigned. Joseph Martin, a former Liberal MLA and Attorney General of Manitoba, was acclaimed in his place in 1893. Martin was a Liberal, the first from that party to represent the riding.

Martin was defeated in 1896, and would later be the Premier of British Columbia in 1900. Macdonald made a return to politics, defeating Martin with 51% of the vote. He was back in the game as he had been named Minister of the Interior and Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs, despite not sitting in the House of Commons. But the Conservatives lost the 1896 election to Wilfrid Laurier, and Macdonald was out of cabinet.

Winnipeg riding, 1895
To make matters worse, the results of the election were declared void and a by-election was held in 1897. That was enough for Macdonald, who thrust himself instead into provincial politics. He would become leader of the province's Conservative Party and then the Premier of Manitoba for much of 1900.

The 1897 by-election was won by R.W. Jamieson, a South African and former mayor of Winnipeg. It was the first time the Liberals won an election in the riding, and they did so with 66% of the vote. But Jamieson passed in 1899, and a by-election was held in 1900.

Arthur Puttee
In an election decided by nine votes, Arthur W. Puttee won as the Labour candidate. He was the first Labour MP to be elected to the House of Commons in Canada. Active in local unions and founder of The Voice, a left-wing newspaper, Puttee benefited from a split in the local Liberal organization and the Conservative decision not to field their own candidate, instead supporting the Liberals.

In the general election held later that year, Puttee again faced off against E.D. Martin, but this time Martin ran as an independent with Conservative support. A faction of the Liberals supported Puttee, and he won with 60% of the vote.

Puttee's luck ran out in 1904, however, when the Liberals united and named their own candidate - one the Conservatives could not support. Puttee took just 13% of the vote in that election, as the Conservatives took 42% and D.W. Bole, a local alderman and pharmacist, won with 45% of the vote for the Liberals. The experiment with the Labour Party was over.

Bole did not last long, declining to run again in 1908. The Liberals named Douglas Cameron, a former MPP from Ontario and future Lt. Governor of Manitoba, as his replacement. But Alexander Haggart of the Conservatives prevailed with 50% of the vote. Puttee did not run again either, and instead a Socialist candidate captured 11% of the vote.

In 1911, Haggart was re-elected with 55% but resigned to give a seat to Robert Rogers, who had been named to cabinet. Rogers was acclaimed later that year.

A former MLA and Minister of Public Works in the provincial government, Rogers had run unsuccessfully for the Conservatives in the riding of Lisgar in 1896. He was named Minister of the Interior and for Indian Affairs, and was briefly the Minister of Mines in 1912. He finally took over the federal Ministry of Public Works in 1912, holding the job until 1917.

But Rogers did not want to form a coalition with Liberals in that election, when the party split between Unionists and those loyal to Laurier. George William Allen instead ran and won with 88% of the vote, smashing the Liberal candidate in the new riding of Winnipeg South.

In 1921, the Liberals under Albert Blellock made a comeback, winning the riding with 54% of the vote. It reverted to the Conservatives in 1925, as Rogers returned to the Conservative fold.

(Note that from 1924 to 1976, another riding named Winnipeg South Centre did exist.  But it lay north of the Assiniboine River.)

Robert Rogers
In 1926, Rogers was defeated by Liberal candidate and former alderman John McDiarmid, another Scot. Rogers would then make an unsuccessful bid for the party leadership in 1927, finishing fifth out of six candidates in the race that saw R.B. Bennett become leader. A re-match with McDiarmid in 1930 went Rogers's way by a slim margin, however. McDiarmid would go on to be a Liberal Progressive MLA and cabinet minister until 1953, when he was named Lt. Governor.

Rogers declined to run again in 1935. An advertising executive and veteran of the First World War, Leslie Mutch, won the riding for the Liberals as Mackenzie King was returned to power. He took 44% of the vote in an election that saw Winnipeg South have its first CCF candidate. The party captured 15%. A Reconstruction candidate took 9% of the vote.

Mutch would be re-elected three more times, serving in the Liberal government throughout the Second World War. In 1945, Mutch won by his closest margin with 39% of the vote to 31% for the Progressive Conservatives and 30% for the CCF. That would be the best performance for the CCF or even the NDP in this riding.

He was a backbencher until 1948, when he was named Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Veterans Affairs. In his last campaign of 1949, Mutch defeated former Conservative MLA Gunnar Thorvaldson, who would find himself named to the Senate by John Diefenbaker in 1958.

Leslie Mutch
In 1953, Owen Trainor, a physician, narrowly won the riding back for the Tories but he died in office three years later. A barrister, alderman, and captain with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, Gordon Chown retained the riding for the party in 1957 with 52% of the vote. He was re-elected in 1958 with an increased majority, and became the Deputy Speaker in 1962. In the election held that year, he defeated Margaret Konantz by a slim margin: 41% to 40%. Konantz was the first female candidate the riding had seen. Her listed profession was 'housewife'.

Konantz would become Manitoba's first female MP in 1963, when she won with 44% to Chown's 40%. She was following in the footsteps of her mother, who had been the province's first MLA.

But Konantz did not remain in the House of Commons for long, being defeated in 1965 by Bud Sherman of the Progressive Conservatives. A journalist, future MLA and cabinet minister, Sherman himself was in for only one term when James Richardson won the riding back for the Liberals in 1968 in the whirldwind of Trudeaumania.

Richardson was a business man and decorated WWII pilot. He was named Minister of Supply and Services in 1969, and would start a long reign of Liberal dominance in the riding. From 1968 until 2011, the riding would only vote-in Liberals.

Re-elected in 1972 and 1974 with declining support, Richardson was named Minister of National Defence after the 1972 election. In 1974, he defeated Sterling Lyon of the Progressive Conservatives. At the time, Lyon was a former provincial cabinet minister smarting from a failed bid to take over the Manitoba PCs. But he would later return to provincial politics and be premier from 1977 to 1981.

Richardson did not remain in the Liberal caucus for much longer. He resigned from it in 1978 to sit as an independent, as he opposed "the entrenchment of language rights in the constitution and generally disagree[d] with the government's official languages policy."

By 1979, the riding was now known as Winnipeg-Fort Garry and the Liberals put up Lloyd Axworthy as their candidate. He had been an unsuccessful candidate in Winnipeg North Centre in 1968, and had since served as a Liberal MLA. Provincial politics did not entirely leave him in 1979, as he narrowly defeated former PC leader Sidney Spivak.

Axworthy would win the riding five more times, with his vote share increasing to 46% in 1980 and 1984 and increasing again to between 56% and 61% in the 1988, 1993, and 1997 elections. He was named Minister of Employment and Immigration in Trudeau's government of 1980, and Minister of Transport in 1983. He held off a Bud Sherman comeback in 1984 when the Liberals were otherwise drummed out of power.

In 1988, the riding became Winnipeg South Centre and saw its first indication of the coming split on the right. A Reform candidate took 2% of the vote in that election. That increased to 13% in 1993, when the Tories were reduced to just 9% support in Winnipeg South Centre. Axworthy's margin of victory in that election was almost 50 points.

Results since 2000
Axworthy did not run again in 2000, and school board trustee and former chair Anita Neville took his place. She won with 41% of the vote in that election, as the PCs made a decent showing of 28%. 

In 2004, the merger of the right helped Neville as she increased her share to 47%, the Conservatives taking just 27% of the vote (together, the PCs and Alliance had captured 37% in 2000). Neville was named Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage and the Status of Women in Paul Martin's government, but lost the job when the Conservatives took power in 2006.

Neville was re-elected, however, this time with just 39% of the vote (then the lowest share the party had captured since 1965). She was re-elected again in 2008 with 42%, while the Conservatives still failed to better their divided showing of 2000.

But in 2011, the positive trend for the Conservatives overcame Neville, and chartered accountant and former Liberal Party member Joyce Bateman was elected with 39% of the vote. Neville took 37%.

As Winnipeg South Centre was one of the better ridings for the Liberals in a very bad election, with the margin being less than two percentage points, one would expect the riding to flip back to the Liberals in 2015.

That would certainly fit with the riding's profile. Since 1988, the Liberals have averaged 48% support, against just 31% for the Conservatives and its predecessor parties. The NDP has averaged 17% support since then, and 13 of the last 14 elections in the riding have gone the Liberals' way. But Bateman can count on an incumbency bonus. It will be a riding to watch in the next campaign.