Sterling Rufus Lyon (born January 30, 1927) was Premier of Manitoba from 1977 to 1981. His government introduced several fiscally-conservative measures, and was often compared to the government of Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain.
Born in Windsor, Ontario, Lyon moved with his family to Manitoba at a young age. He graduated from the University of Winnipeg in 1948, and received an LL.B. from the Manitoba Law School in 1953. For the next four years, he worked as a crown attorney.
Lyon was first elected to the Manitoba legislature in 1958, in the south-central Winnipeg riding of Fort Garry (famous as the site of Louis Riel's Red River Rebellion in 1870). A Progressive Conservative, Lyon defeated incumbent Liberal-Progressive MLA Raymond Fennell, and was subsequently named as Attorney General in Dufferin Roblin's minority government.
Roblin's Tories won a majority in 1959, and Lyon was easily re-elected in his own riding. He continued to serve as Attorney General, and also served as Minister of Municipal Affairs (September 30, 1960 to October 25, 1961) and Minister of Public Utilities (October 31, 1961 to June 12, 1963).
On December 9, 1963, Lyon was shifted from the Attorney General's position to the Ministry of Mines and Natural Resources. He held this position until June 22, 1966, and briefly served as Public Utilities minister again in mid-1964. Lyon became Attorney General again after the 1966 election, and also held the Tourism portfolio from 1968 to 1969. He had no difficulties being re-elected in 1962 and 1966.
When Roblin moved to federal politics in 1967, Lyon was one of four candidates who sought to replace him. He was defeated by Walter Weir on the third ballot, and did not seek re-election in 1969. Although Weir and Lyon were both politically to the right of Roblin, they represented different constituencies in the party: Weir was a rural populist, Lyon a supporter of urban business development.
Lyon ran for the Canadian House of Commons in 1974, narrowly losing the riding of Winnipeg South to Liberal James Richardson.
The following year, Lyon returned to provincial politics to challenge Sidney Spivak for the Progressive Conservative Party's leadership. Spivak, who had been elected party leader in 1971, was a Red Tory opposed by many of the more conservative figures within his caucus. The conservative wing of the party consolidated around Lyon's challenge, and he defeated Spivak by 57 votes at a very divisive leadership convention in December 1975. Lyon returned to the legislature for the rural riding of Souris-Killarney in a 1976 by-election.
In 1977, Lyon led the Progressive Conservative Party to an upset victory of Edward Schreyer's New Democrats (Lyon was personally elected in the west Winnipeg riding of Charleswood). Lyon's government cut spending in several departments, and de-invested in a number of social programs sponsored by the NDP. In other respects, the Lyon government's commitment to 'small government' was ambivalent -- it was, for instance, highly supportive of large-scale energy development projects. Dufferin Roblin has argued that the Lyon governments's right-wing reputation was undeserved, but few others have as yet agreed with this assessment.
Lyon was also an initial opponent of Pierre Trudeau's constitutional plans, and subsequently became a leading supporter of the notwithstanding clause provision. He also fought, unsuccessfully, to have property rights entrenched in the constitution.
Lyon's government was defeated by the New Democratic Party in 1981, after only one term in office. Lyon acted as Leader of the Opposition for two years and fought Howard Pawley's proposals to entrench the rights of Franco-Manitobans in the constitution. In 1983, Lyon stepped down as Tory leader and was replaced by Gary Filmon. He retired from politics in 1986 and was appointed to the Manitoba Court of Appeal.
In 2004, Lyon was chosen as the University of Winnipeg's annual receipt of the "Distinguished Alumnus Award".