The Manitoba Liberal Party is a political party in Manitoba, Canada. Its roots can be traced to the late 19th-century, in the period following the province's creation in 1870.
Originally, there were no official political parties in Manitoba, although many leading politicians were affiliated with parties that existed at the national level. In Manitoba's first parliament, the leader of the opposition was Edward Hay, a Liberal who represented the interests of recent anglophone immigrants from Ontario. Not a party leader as such, he was still a leading voice for the newly-transplanted "Ontario Grit" tradition. In 1874, Hay served as Minister of Public Works in the government of Marc-Amable Girard, which included both Conservatives and Liberals.
During the 1870s, a Liberal network began to emerge in the city of Winnipeg. One of the key figures in this network was William Luxton, owner of the Manitoba Free Press newspaper and himself a member of the Manitoba legislature on two occasions. Luxton was not initially supportive of Premier Robert A. Davis (1874-1878), but endorsed the Davis ministry after brought John Norquay into cabinet (Davis's early supporters were primarily from the francophone community, and Norquay's presence gave the ministry greater credibility among the anglophone population). Luxton subsequently supported Davis and Norquay against Conservative Orangeman Thomas Scott, a leader of the local opposition (not to be confused with the figure executed by Louis Riel in 1870).
Although the Davis administration was on favourable terms with federal Liberal Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie (1873-1878), his successor Norquay was more closely aligned with the federal Conservatives. This was partly a matter of necessity. As a small province, Manitoba needed to be on favourable terms with whatever party was in power at the federal level. As such, when John A. Macdonald's Conservatives were returned to power in 1878, the local balance of power began to shift. Luxton's Liberal network supported Norquay against Scott in 1878 and 1879, but was subsequently marginalized by the Norquay government. In 1882, Norquay forged a new alliance with the province's Conservatives.
Also in 1882, Thomas Greenway formed a new organization known as the Provincial Rights Party. Based in the province's rural areas, this group soon surpassed the Winnipeg Liberals as the dominant opposition to Norquay. After the election of 1883, Greenway united the opposition MLAs into the Manitoba Liberals (which were soon recognized as a de-facto political party). For the next 21 years, Greenway's control over the party would be unchallenged.
Greenway's Liberals took power in 1888 and ended the Canadian Pacific Railway's monopoly in the province. The Greenway government's most notable feat in office was curtailing the rights of Manitoba's French Canadians population. Manitoba had been founded as a bilingual province, but Greenway's government provoked the Manitoba Schools Question, ending the educational rights of (predominantly French) Catholics, and making the public school system entirely English and Protestant. English became the province's sole official language.
Greenway was able to win large majorities in 1892 and 1896, based largely on single-issue populism relating to the schools question. After this was resolved in 1897, his government became increasingly directionless. The Liberals were defeated by the Manitoba Conservative Party in 1899.
The Liberals were unable to regain their previous support base in the decade that followed. Greenway continued to lead the party through a disastrous 1903 campaign, winning only 9 seats. He resigned in 1904 to run for federal office.
Charles Mickle was chosen parliamentary leader on December 5, 1904, and led the party until a provincial convention was held in late March 1906. That convention acclaimed Edward Brown as the party's new leader. Brown was unable to win a seat in the 1907 election, however, and resigned shortly thereafter. Mickle again became the party's parliamentary leader, and served as leader of the opposition until leaving politics in 1909.
Tobias C. Norris became Liberal leader in 1910. When the Tories under Rodmond P. Roblin resigned amid scandal in 1915, he became the province's Premier, retaining the position until 1922. The Norris Liberals introduced temperance laws, votes for women, workers compensation, and the minimum wage. Despite its progressive orientation, the government was also involved in the suppression of the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919. Its essentially rural support base was not friendly towards labour radicalism, nor towards labour activism generally.
During the Norris government, the Manitoba Liberals frequently acted in opposition to Wilfrid Laurier's Liberal Party of Canada. The Norris government withdrew funding for French-language education in 1916, at a time when the federal Liberals were attempting to regain the support of Quebec nationalists. The Manitoba Liberal government also supported Robert Borden's Union government in the election of 1917 (see Conscription Crisis of 1917), and was not formally reconciled with the "Laurier Liberals" until 1922. Even then, they did not officially re-align with the federal party.
The Liberals were swept from power in 1922 by the United Farmers of Manitoba, who were also known as the Progressive Party. Norris continued to lead the party through most of the 1920s, but was replaced by Hugh Robson before the 1927 election (which was again won by the Progressives). Robson, in turn, resigned on January 3, 1930. He was replaced as parliamentary leader by James Breakey; in 1931, Murdoch Mackay was selected as the party's official leader.
Pressured from William Lyon Mackenzie King, Mackay brought the Liberals into a coalition with Premier John Bracken's Progressives before the 1932 election. The national Progressive Party had been largely absorbed into the Liberal Party of Canada by this time, and King believed that it was foolish to divide the resources of the parties within Manitoba. He was especially concerned that the Conservatives could recapture the provincial government if the Liberals and Progressives were not united.
For the election of 1932, the provincial government referred to itself as "Liberal-Progressive" (effectively a fusion of the parties, albeit one dominated by Progressives). A small group of Liberals, led by St. Boniface mayor David Campbell, opposed the merger and ran as "Continuing Liberals". They were resoundingly defeated. After the election, the Liberals of Manitoba were absorbed into the Progressive Party. Two non-coalition Liberals were elected in 1936, but they were not intended to represent a rival party.
Despite being dominated by Progressives, the merged party soon became popularly known as the "Liberal Party of Manitoba". The federal Progressive Party had long since disappeared, and the "Progressive" name had little continued meaning in Manitoba politics. The party formally changed its name to the "Liberal Party of Manitoba" in 1961, over only scattered objections from Progressive diehards.
In 1940, Bracken's Liberal-Progressives forged an even broader coalition, bringing the Conservatives, Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and Social Credit in a "non-partisan" government. This coalition governed the province until 1950, although the CCF left in 1943.
The Liberal-Progressive governments were cautious and moderate. Bracken's government undertook few major initiatives, and was unfriendly to labour issues even during its alliance with the CCF. Following World War II, the government of Stuart Sinclair Garson (who replaced Bracken as Premier in January 1943) led a program of rapid rural electification, but was also otherwise conservative. Garson left provincial politics in 1948 to join the federal Liberal Cabinet of Louis St. Laurent.
The government of Garson's successor, Douglas Lloyd Campbell, was socially conservative and generally opposed to state intervention of any sort. The educational system remained primitive (it was dominated in the 1950s by one room schools), and no significant steps were taken on language or labour issues. The province did reform its liquor laws during this period, however.
The Liberal-Progressives were swept out of office in 1958 by the Progressive Conservatives under Dufferin Roblin. Dominated by Red Tories, this party was actually to the left of Campbell's government.
Gildas Molgat, a protege of Campbell, became party leader in 1961. Molgat prevented the Liberals from falling to third-party status during the 1960s, but never posed a serious threat to Roblin's government.
The Liberal Party subsequently declined as politics in the province became polarized between the Tories and the New Democratic Party of Manitoba. Robert Bend, chosen as party leader in 1969, led the party to only five seats in the election which followed. A succession of leaders, including Israel Asper (1970-1975), Charles Huband (1975-1978) and Doug Lauchlan (1980-1982) were unable to prevent the party's decline. It reached its nadir in 1981, being swept from the assembly entirely.
In 1984, the party chose Sharon Carstairs as its new leader. She was elected to the assembly in 1986, and in 1988 led the party to 20 seats and official opposition status. This was precipitated by the unpopularity of Howard Pawley's New Democratic government, which allowed the Liberals to win the support of many centre-left voters (the Liberals had largely abandoned their right-wing origins in the mid-1970s, particularly after Asper stepped down as party leader.)
This proved to be a temporary recovery. The NDP revived under Gary Doer, and the Liberals slipped back into third place in the 1990 election with only seven seats, against 20 for the NDP and 30 for the Conservatives.
Carstairs was replaced as leader by Paul Edwards in 1993. By the time the 1995 election was called, the party had managed to recover to a strong second-place position in the polls. They ran a poor campaign, however, and were again overtaken by the NDP well before election day. The Liberals won only three seats, and lost official party status. Edwards, who was defeated in his own riding, stepped down as party leader in 1996.
The leadership convention of 1996 exposed deep divisions in the party, as Ginny Hasselfield defeated maverick MLA Kevin Lamoureux by only 21 votes. Two of the party's three MLAs (Lamoureux and Gary Kowalski) subsequently sat as "Independent Liberals", and there were threats of legal action between Hasselfield and Lamoureux. The party was only reunited when Hasselfield resigned in 1998, replaced by former federal MP Jon Gerrard.
Liberal Party support fell by 10% in the election of 1999, which allowed Gary Doer's New Democrats to regain centre-left support and win government. Gerrard became the party's only MLA, winning election in the upscale riding of River Heights. The party failed to recover much of its support base in 2003, although Lamoureux was able to regain his seat in north Winnipeg to become the party's second MLA.
Liberal Party Leaders
Continuing Liberal Leaders
Liberal-Progressive Party Leaders
Liberal Party Leaders (renewal)
- 1. Gildas Molgat April 20, 1961-May 10, 1969
- 2. Robert Bend May 10, 1969-October 31, 1970
- 3. Israel Asper October 31, 1970-February 22, 1975
- 4. Charles Huband February 22, 1975-1978
- 5. Doug Lauchlan November 30, 1980-1982
- 6. Sharon Carstairs March 4, 1984-June 4, 1993
- 7. Paul Edwards June 4, 1993-1996
- 8. Ginny Hasselfield October 19, 1996-1998
- 9. Jon Gerrard October 17, 1998-
(Note: Stan Roberts served as the party's acting leader from 1969 to 1970, after Robert Bend was defeated in the province's 1969 election. Although Lloyd Axworthy was the party's only MLA from 1977 to 1979, he was never party leader.)
- Manitoba Liberal Party (http://www.manitobaliberals.ca/)