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Labour in Brandon Civic Politics: A Long View

by Errol Black
Economics Department, Brandon University
and Tom Black

Manitoba History, Number 23, Spring 1992

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

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

Laying tracks for streetcars, Brandon, circa 1902.
Source: Daly House Museum

From their beginnings in the locus, the politics and institutions of prairie cities were dominated by commercial, business and professional interests. [1] This dominance did not go uncontested, however; on the contrary, trade union organizations and political parties rooted in the working class challenged the hegemony of the ruling elites. Such challenges were episodic rather than sustained, arising usually in situations which seemed especially propitious for an assault on the power of entrenched interests. Invariably the challenges failed, leaving city elites firmly in control and with their agendas essentially intact.

There is a rich literature on the history of labour involvement in the politics of prairie cities. There are, however, some lacunae in the work done to date. Most studies have focused on large cities—Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton. The experience of small cities has been neglected. As well, the bulk of this work deals with particular eras in civic politics, most notably, the rise—and fall— of labourism in the first two decades of this century. Much less work has been done on other eras. Moreover, there are few studies which have analyzed the participation of labour over a long period of time. [2]

The present paper reviews the history of labour’s involvement in Brandon civic politics over the long term. Its aims are modest. They are to clarify the reasons for, the form, the content, and the results of labour’s involvement in civic politics. The analysis confirms that events in Brandon paralleled developments in Winnipeg and across the prairies. This is especially true of events before the Second World War. But the analysis also reveals that there are unique aspects in the Brandon experience (as there are in every city’s experience) which originated in the peculiarities of local class relations and local politics.

Brandon was incorporated as a city in 1882. The city’s early development were driven by business, commercial and professional interests. These interests acquired the land, made the investments, and opened up the places of business. As well, they took control of the city’s political institutions. Of the 48 individuals elected to city council from 1901 to 1913, 25 were businessmen (i.e., owners of dry goods stores, grocery stores, breweries, livery stables, hardware stores, construction firms, fuel dealerships, etc.), six were managers of businesses, seven were in professional occupations (lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc.), four were insurance and/or real estate agents, and one was clerk of the land titles office. [3]

Both the size and the composition of the local working class were reflections of the volume and content of investment spending. Growth was relatively slow before 1900. Nevertheless, as revealed in Table 1, the character of the class was already evident by 1891. In that year, 70 per cent of the gainfully occupied were classified as wage earners, mostly in general labour, construction and railways, though important and often forgotten fractions were engaged in local transportation (teamsters), and in hotels, restaurants, offices and hospitals. In the boom years between 1900 and 1912, there was a significant expansion in most working class occupations.

Table 1.
Main occupations of wage earners in Brandon, 1891 and 1911.


Occupation

1891

1911


Labourers

209

215

Carpenters

86

185

Other skilled tradesmen

121

173

Railway workers

80

690

Clothing trade workers *

77

125

Store clerks

45

244


* Including women who worked as dressmakers, milliners, and tailoresses.

Sources: The data for 1891 were compiled from the raw census data from the 1891 Census of Canada [4]; the data for 1911, from information in the 1911 Brandon Henderson’s Directory. [5]

Trade unions were formed initially on the railways and subsequently in the crafts. In 1902, there were but two entrenched union locals—locals of trainmen and locomotive firemen on the C.P.R. By 1906 a Brandon Trades and Labour Council had been formed. At that time there were 12 locals; by 1913, there were 26. [6] While the growth of the labour movement was rapid, its base within the working class was extremely narrow. It was confined, for the most part, to workers of British origin, and concentrated amongst workers in the running and skilled trades on the railways, craft workers in the construction industry; and a few skilled tradesmen—musicians, cigar-makers, typographical workers and barbers. All locals were aligned, both organizationally and philosophically, with international unions based in the United States. [7]

As was the case elsewhere in Canada, the creation of a Trades and Labour Council provided an impetus for labour involvement in civic politics. [8] In Brandon this occurred in July 1906. The dominant political current in the Trades and Labour Council was what has been called “labourism,” which had at its core a belief that labour could advance the interests of working people through reforms to existing political and economic institutions. A minority of delegates, mainly from the carpenters’ union, believed in revolutionary socialism. They made little headway against the reformist tendency of the Council, however, and in 1909 established a Brandon Chapter of the Socialist Party of Canada as a vehicle for promoting revolutionary ideas. [9]

In 1906, the Trades and Labour Council debated the possibility of forming a labour party. The idea was rejected. Then in 1911 and 1913 proposals to nominate candidates for civic elections were considered. These proposals were also defeated. [10] As a consequence, the politics of labour before the First World War represented essentially a politics of accommodation, which found its practical expression in petitions to civic authorities for action on projects aimed at improving the conditions of the working class—projects to improve the city’s infrastructure, to improve the material conditions of working people, and to stabilize employment and wages in the local labour market:

(The Trades and Labour Council) lobbied the city’s politicians in support of municipal ownership of public utilities including the city’s street railway, a hospital, a public library, public baths and a municipal employment bureau. The city’s skilled workers also lobbied assiduously for a fair wage clause in all municipal contracts, home postal delivery, compulsory education, Sunday street car service, paid Saturday half-holidays, garden allotments and public works for the unemployed. [11]

Apparently this form of politics was compatible with the expectations and aspirations of the unionized segment of the working class. In the context of the boom conditions prior to 1913, of what Edmund Fulcher of the Brandon Socialist Party termed “an acute attack of prosperity,” [12] bread and butter unionism along with the politics of accommodation were delivering the goods.

Conditions changed abruptly and dramatically with the onset of depression in 1913 and the advent of World War One in August 1914. The construction industry collapsed, dragging down the entire economy and driving up unemployment. [13] Mobilization for the war eventually depleted the pool of surplus labour but the diversion of resources to war production also generated inflation in the prices of food, fuel and shelter. Moreover, the War, and the conditions created by the War, exacerbated tensions and divisions within the trade union movement—especially in Western Canada where there was widespread opposition to Canada’s participation in an Imperialist War and growing opposition to international craft unions. [14]

The combination of inflation and the passionate rhetoric of opposition which developed out of the antagonisms to governments, to business, and to business unionism transformed the character and the politics of the Brandon labour movement. [15] By 1915, eight local unions which had been formed in 1913 or earlier had either dissolved or were dormant. Six of these locals were formed by workers in construction trades. The seventh was formed by cigar-makers and the eighth by street railway employees. [16] The Trades and Labour Council and the Brandon Socialist Party also ceased to function by 1915. However, new labour institutions were created to replace them, notably, a local of the Social Democratic Party in October 1915. In March 1917, a resurgence of union activities resulted in the revival of the Trades and Labour Council. [17]

Inflation was the central issue for workers. The Labour Council demanded action from city council to deal with rising fuel (coal and wood) prices and short-weighting by coal dealers, as well as action to end local speculation in food stuffs. City council rejected these demands. [18]

The failure of civic authorities to address issues of concern to labour, combined with labour’s inability to defend worker interests through traditional trade union activities, convinced members of the Trades and Labour Council that defence of working class interests required intervention in electoral politics. Labour people should be elected on labour slates. On July 1, 1917 the Trades and Labour Council convened a special meeting to define a political role for labour; the outcome was the creation of a Labour Representation League. The League subsequently intervened in both the federal and municipal elections of 1917. Both campaigns were ultimately bungled. At the local level, the League issued a reform agenda which addressed the needs of Brandon’s working people. In part, the agenda called for

... (a) municipal fuel depot, municipal fire insurance, a progressive system of education, an advanced policy in regard to outdoor amusement and physical development, the establishment of a ... public library, an eight hour day, a fair wage for all civic employees, a non-exemption property tax, abolition of plural voting in favor of one man one vote, and abolition of property qualifications for municipal elections. [19]

As well, the League nominated candidates to contest aldermanic elections in three wards. The League’s election campaign fell apart before the November 30 election, however, when two of its candidates, who were in favour of conscription, bolted the slate to run as independents after an anti-conscription candidate was nominated at a November 18 meeting convened by the Trades and Labour Council. The Council subsequently pulled its candidate, but the damage had already been done. All three “labour” candidates were defeated. [20]

In 1918, a Brandon branch of the Dominion Labour Party was formed to pick up and extend the political work begun by the Labour Representation League. The new organization was broadly-based, involving not only union activists but also workers from non-unionized workplaces. Members of the clergy, academics, and a few professionals were also instrumental in forming the party. [21] The D.L.P.’s platform called for a society based on “... production for use instead of profit.” [22] This objective was to be promoted through the public ownership of railways and utilities, democratic reforms, and major changes in the regulation of labour markets, including the abolition of child labour and the establishment of equal pay for men and women. [23] In the civic elections of 1918, the “Reconstruction Election” [24] the Party nominated aldermanic candidates in wards one, two and four, to go up against a Board of Trade Slate committed to entrenching “Boosterism” in city hall. [25] The D.L.P. was severely handicapped in its campaign, partly by the restrictions on public meetings and other activities imposed in response to the influenza epidemic of 1918-19, and partly by an extremely hostile press personified by the Brandon Sun and its vehement propaganda against labour and its candidates. [26] J. A. G. Grantham, who had been elected first in 1916, retained his seat in ward one, but the other labour candidates were defeated by substantial margins. [27]

Labour’s intervention in the municipal elections of 1917 and 1918 was a manifestation of intensified class antagonisms. Prior to the War, labour had rejected the idea of direct participation, opting instead to concentrate on extracting concessions from a city council dominated by representatives of Brandon’s ruling elites. This strategy worked while the labour movement was advancing. It ceased to work, however, when the economic boom collapsed and labour was forced on the defensive during the War. In these circumstances, labour opted for direct intervention in civic politics. Labour’s intervention was met with extreme hostility and a coalition of ruling class opposition. This response exacerbated local class antagonisms and increased labour’s animosity toward civic authorities.

With the end of the War in 1918, labour across Canada went on the offensive in an effort both to expand the trade union movement and to recoup losses in real income. This offensive escalated in 1919, culminating in what Gregory S. Kealey has called the “Canadian Labour Revolt” [28] In Brandon the revolt of labour began with a strike of civic workers and teamsters which lasted from 23 April to 26 April and ended with a victory for the civic workers. Then, on 20 May, workers in Brandon called a general sympathetic strike in support of strikers in Winnipeg. This strike lasted until 25 June. There was a further call for general strike action on 26 June in response to reprisals taken against striking civic workers, but the call went largely unheeded. [29] In response to the sympathetic strike, Brandon’s elites organized a Citizen’s Committee of 100 to coordinate efforts to smash the strike and put labour in its place. Labour had neither the resources nor the organizational capacity to sustain the strike in the face of the combined power of employers and civic authorities. In the end, labour was routed. The implications were far-reaching. Radical labour organizations, including the One Big Union, were discredited. So was the tactic of the general strike. Labour in Brandon was utterly demoralized.

In his assessment of the significance of the general strike in Winnipeg, J. E. Rea has argued that it marked a sea-change in the municipal politics of Winnipeg in that the general strike in that city led to a class polarization which suggests, moreover, that, while the overt participation of labour parties in municipal politics is a thing of the past, the “basic cleavage in Winnipeg politics” is still class orientation. [31] Tom Mitchell, whose research has demonstrated that developments in Brandon were strongly influenced by events in Winnipeg, has indicated that he believes Rea’s “... general thesis regarding Winnipeg civic politics may be applied to Brandon post-1919 as well.” [32] There is a problem with this argument. It does not recognize that class was already an important factor in civic politics in both Brandon and Winnipeg before the War and before the confrontations of 1919. It was the intensification of class antagonisms that produced the events of 1919, not the events of 1919 that produced the intensification of class antagonisms. The significance of 1919 was that in the aftermath of the strike, politics was the sole option open to labour. [33]

The hostilities engendered in the strikes of 1919 were carried over into the 1919 civic elections. However, labour’s weakness following its defeat in the general strike was reflected in its inability to organize an effective campaign in these elections. All labour could manage were endorsations through the Trades and Labour Council of aldermanic candidates in wards one and five and mayoralty candidate Henry Cater. F. E. Carey, a dispatcher on the C.N.R., ran as an “independent” labour candidate in ward three. Carey won, but the “official” candidates were defeated. [34]

Labour suffered the same fate in the civic elections of 1920. Labour had not recovered from the defeats it suffered in 1919 and workplace action was at a standstill. Indeed, it would take until the Second World War before labour organizations would again challenge employers at the point of production. [35] Therefore, politics was the main sphere left for labour leaders to seek to advance the interests of working people. Labour achieved a breakthrough in the provincial election of 29 June 1920, when Reverend A. E. Smith, candidate of the Brandon Labour Party, won the Brandon seat in a campaign planned and organized under the leadership of local unions. [36] This victory provided a boost in confidence but labour was still unable to mount an effective campaign in the fall civic elections. The Dominion Labour Party nominated three aldermanic candidates (J. A. G. Grantham, incumbent in ward one; Jas. Skene, long-time labour activist, in ward two, and A. Zlicz, “a storekeeper on the Flats” in ward three) and endorsed incumbent H. L. Patmore, a businessman, in ward five. [37] As well, the party approved a platform which included demands for municipal ownership of light and power, an eight-hour day, supervised playgrounds, a free public library, and support for reform of the civic election system. The inclusion of this latter item in labour’s platform was significant as Brandon voters were being asked to vote on a bylaw instigated by labour aldermen Grantham and Carey which called for the replacement of the city’s ward system with elections at large. [38]

Abolition of the ward system was part of a coherent electoral reform initiative advanced by labour since its first entry into civic politics in 1917, an initiative which called for the abolition of plural voting, the abolition of property qualifications and election deposits for candidates, universal suffrage for individuals (both men and women) over 21 years of age, and proportional representation. This platform was inspired, in part, by a belief that such reforms would pave the way for labour success at the polls. As an isolated reform, however, abolition of the ward system was a threat to labour’s political aspirations, because labour’s electoral support was concentrated in working class neighbour-hoods in the east and north ends of the city. Elections at large would dilute this working class support.

In the 1920 elections, Grantham and Patmore were acclaimed while Skene and Zylicz lost by margins of 219 and 262 votes respectively. Abolition of the ward system was approved by “an overwhelming majority.” [39]

Labour had not done well in the four civic elections it had contested under the ward system. Labour had never been able to mount a concerted challenge for power at city hall by fielding candidates for all positions. Moreover, apart from ward one where J. A. G. Grantham won as a labour candidate, and ward 3 where F. E. Carey won as an “independent” labour candidate in 1919, official labour candidates had never received the electoral support needed for victory. The deficiencies in the electoral system were a factor in labour’s failure, but the main problem was that labour’s platform failed to generate the mass support needed to succeed in wards where worker identification with the labour movement was tenuous.

Tom Mitchell ends his study of this era with the conclusion that “... by 1920 the institutional power of Brandon labour was everywhere evident. The election of a labourite to the provincial legislature that year was the product of the growing sophistication and popularity of the labourite messages.” [40] By the end of 1920, however, the labour solidarity Mitchell detects in the events of 1917-1920 was already beginning to unravel. The Dominion Labour Party fielded three candidates in civic elections in 1921, the Workers’ Campaign Committee five—the most ever by labour—in 1922. All were defeated. Moreover, in the provincial elections of 1922, A. E. Smith was defeated easily by a Conservative-Liberal coalition candidate (a “fusion” candidate), 3,249 to 2,026. [41] Following these defeats, labour abandoned direct participation in civic elections. The hiatus lasted until 1927 when the Independent Labour Party (ILP) fielded three candidates in the civic elections.

Labour’s weakness after 1919 was exacerbated by the post-war economic stagnation which took hold in Western Canada in 1920 and persisted through to the Second World War. [42] The loss of economic vitality in the region and in the city eroded the strength of the labour movement. In Brandon, the number of locals declined from a peak of 27 in 1918 to 24 by 1924. The number of locals stabilized at about 25 for the rest of the 1920s but declined again during the Depression, reaching a low of 21 in 1936. [43]

The reasons for the 1927 re-entry of labour into Civic politics in the form of the Brandon branch of the ILP are obscure. Lee Clark suggests that it was a result both of an improvement in economic conditions in the mid-1920s, and an amendment to the electoral rules in 1926 which allowed labour supporters to engage in strategic voting. [44]

Another reason was that the ILP defined the class struggle as a struggle for control of government including, presumably, civic government. Since the ILP was not a revolutionary party, the objective of gaining control of government could only be achieved through elections. [45]

The ILP achieved some success in 1927, electing two candidates in the regular elections, and a third candidate in a subsequent by-election. In 1928, the ILP won another by-election, bringing its representation on city council to four. This was the party’s high-point. After 1928 the party was marginalized and it was never able to mount a full-blown challenge for control of council.

Table 2 summarizes the main features of labour’s participation in civic politics for the period 1921-1942. Three main points can be noted. First, the only time labour came close to fielding a full slate of candidates was in 1922 when the Workers’ Campaign Committee nominated candidates for all five aldermanic positions. Second, after 1928 the ILP could not increase its representation beyond two seats, even during the depression years of the 1930s. And third, in those years when it seemed that conditions were favourable for gains by labour candidates, labour was countered by elite organizations running under the guise of citizens’ committees (although in some cases, notably 1926 and 1931-33, the formation of these committees was a manifestation of divisions within the city’s business class on the policies and role of city council). [46]

Table 2.
Participation of labour parties in Brandon civic elections, 1921-1942.


Number of vacancies

Labour organizations
contesting elections

No. labour candidates

Labour candidates elected

Opposing
organizations

Year

Aldermen

Mayor

Aldermen

Mayor

Aldermen

Mayor


1921

5

1

Dominion Labour Party

3

0

0

0

-

1922

5

1

Worker's Campaign Cmte.

5

0

0

0

C.C.

1923

51

1

(All vacancies filled by acclamation / no labour candidates)

1924

62

11

-

0

0

0

-

1925

5

11

-

0

0

0

0

-

1926

5

1

-

0

0

0

0

C.C.C.O.H.

1927

1

0

Independent Labour Party

2

0

2

0

-

19283

1

0

Independent Labour Party

1

0

1

0

Y.C.L.

1929

5

11

Independent Labour Party

3

0

2

0

Y.C.L.

1930

5

11

Independent Labour Party

1

0

1

0

-

1931

5

1

Independent Labour Party

4

0

1

0

B.P.A.

19324

51

11

Independent Labour Party

1

-

1

0

B.P.A.

1933

62

1

Independent Labour Party

3

0

1

0

B.P.A.

1934

5

11

Independent Labour Party

2

0

1

0

-

1935

5

1

Independent Labour Party

2

0

1

0

-

1936

5

-

Independent Labour Party

1

0

1

0

-

19375

6

1

Independent Labour Party

2

0

1

0

-

1938

5

-

Independent Labour Party

2

0

1

0

C.E.C.

1939

5

1

Independent Labour Party

3

0

1

0

-

1940

5

-

(Acclamation for all candidates including W. R. Webb of the I.L.P.)

1941

5

11

Independent Labour Party

1

0

1

0

-

1942

62

-

(Acclamation for all candidates including W. R. Webb of the I.L.P.)


1 Office filled by acclamation.

2 One of the aldermanic seats for one-year term.

3 By-election

4 In 1932 nine candidates for aldermanic positions and two for the office of mayor filed to seek office. Subsequently, however, the new candidates withdrew and allowed the incumbents to return by acclamation. This was done to save the costs of an election.

5 Local elections were complicated in 1937 and 1938 by the participation of the Civic Unity Committee (a front for the Communist Party) in civic (and school board) elections. The Committee endorsed a number of candidates, some of whom were bona fide Communist Party members, other who were candidates running under the auspices of either the Independent Labour Party or, as in 1938, the Citizen's Election Committee.

6 The full titles of the organizations for which abbreviations are used in the Table are as follows: C.C. Citizen's Committee; C.C.C.O.H. Citizen's Campaign Committee of One Hundred; Y.C.L. Young Citizen's League; B.P.A. Brandon Progress Association; C.E.C. Citizen's Election Committee.

Sources: Brandon Daily Sun, various issues; Leland Clark, Brandon's Politics and Politicians (Brandon: Brandon Sun, 1981); and G. F. Barker, Brandon: A City - 1881-1961 (Altona, Manitoba: G. F. Barker, 1977).

Why did labour parties fare so poorly in civic elections after 1920? The simple answer is that Brandon’s working people were not sufficiently politicized to concentrate their vote behind labour candidates. Indeed, the evidence suggests that, apart from the east and north ends of the city where the city’s manual workers were concentrated and labour candidates did consistently well, workers in service and white-collar occupations believed candidates from the business and professional elites were better able to provide the leadership and good government necessary for growth and prosperity than candidates from the working class. Moreover, after the successes of the ILP in 1927 and 1928—successes which gave the party four of the ten seats on council—the Young Citizens’ League, a body formed by prominent Conservatives in 1927, fragmented the working class vote by running its own “working-class” candidates to oppose ILP candidates. The League was successful in getting two “philosophically conservative railwaymen” from the C.P.R. elected to council in 1928 and 1929. [47]

Raising the last girder for the First Street Bridge, Brandon, circa 1908.
Source: Daly House Museum

In the 1930s, other factors became important. The collapse of local revenues—a result of both the rise in unemployment and the desperate state of the farm economy—ushered in an era of retrenchment and consolidation. [48] The ILP could offer no alternative to this agenda except to argue for more humane relief programs. The formation of the C.C.F. in Manitoba and in Brandon through an affiliation with the ILP in 1933 also undermined the ILP’s role in civic politics. The C.C.F. was pre-occupied with building support in provincial and federal elections and, as a party, was not much interested in local politics. Nor did the C.C.F. have the same identification with labour as the ILP; the C.C.F. was a party of all classes except industrial and finance capitalists. As well, the Communist Party, through organizations such as the Brandon Unemployed Council, replaced the ILP as the defender of the interest of the unemployed and the poor. The ILP was a spent force in Brandon civic politics by the beginning of the 1930s, [49] and the Depression and the formation of the C.C.F. prevented its rejuvenation. ILP candidates continued to be elected until 1942, but this was attributable primarily to the personal popularity of its candidates, in particular of Harry Spafford, a locomotive engineer on the C.N.R., who held a Council seat from 1927 to 1945. [50]

With the advent of War in 1939, conditions in Brandon’s economy improved dramatically. Unemployment declined, as did the civic burden of relief payments. Census data for the years 1931, 1936, and 1941 do not report the number of unemployed; these data do, however, reveal the improvement in the local economy in the early 1940s relative to the 1930s.

The improvement in 1941 which is indicated in Table 3 was a result both of the absorption of people into the armed forces (705 men and 5 women were reported on active service in the 1941 census) and of an increase in jobs. There was little change in the underlying structure of the Brandon work force.

Table 3.
Number of wage-earners not at work in specific age-groups, 1931, 1936 and 1941.


Age
group

No. wage earners

No. not at work

No. not at work as percent of total

Year

Male

Female

Male

Female

Male

Female


1931

20 years & over

3571

973

869

71

24.3

7.3

1936

14 years & over

3360

1167

818

106

24.3

9.1

1941

14 years & over

3610

1417

147

56

4.1

4.0


Source: Census of Canada, 1931, 1936 and 1941.

Across the country, the economic effects of World War Two contributed to a resurgence in trade union organization and a rapid growth in support for the C.C.F. at both the provincial and federal levels. In 1941, the C.C.F. became the official opposition in British Columbia. In 1943, the party not only increased its popular vote four-fold in Ontario and elected 34 members to the legislature, but also topped the national polls for a brief spell. Moreover, in 1944 the C.C.F. formed a government in Saskatchewan. [51]

Not surprisingly, in many Canadian cities including Brandon, developments at the national and regional levels spilled over into local politics. In the fall of 1943, two elections were held in Brandon; they were an 18 November by-election to fill a seat in the provincial legislature, and a 30 November civic election. Table 4 reveals that leftist candidates had not fared well in provincial or federal elections in Brandon since the provincial victory of A.E. Smith in 1920. Despite this record, the C.C.F. was confident that it could win the 1943 by-election. The Party nominated Dr. Dwight L. Johnson to contest the seat against coalition candidate and Brandon Mayor F. H. Young. Following his nomination Johnson told delegates to the C.C.F. Party Convention in Winnipeg that: ‘I don’t like to appear over-confident but as far as the city of Brandon is concerned, the by-election is in the bag.’ [52]

Table 4.
Record of left-party candidates in provincial and federal elections, 1920-1942


Year

Election

No. candidates

Left party

Candidate

Percent of placing

Popular vote1


1920

provincial

3

DLP

A. E. Smith

1st

43.1

1921

federal

3

no left party candidate

1922

provincial

2

DLP

A. E. Smith

2nd

38.5

1925

federal

2

no left party candidate

1926

federal

2

no left party candidate

1927

provincial

3

ILP

W. Hill

2nd

24.3

1930

federal by-election

1

no left party candidate

1930

federal

3

ILP

B. Brigden

3rd

8.1

1932

provincial

4

ILP

H. Spafford

2nd

24.1

1935

federal

4

CCF

H. Wood

3rd

20.1

1936

provincial

3

CCF

H. Spafford

3rd

21.7

1938

federal by-election

3

CCF

H. Wood

3rd

22.7

1940

federal

3

CCF

H. Wood

3rd

14.2

1941

provincial

2

no left party candidate


1 In the provincial elections of 1932 and 1936 the system of preferential voting was used. The calculation of the popular vote for these years is based on first place votes only.

Source: W. Leland Clark, Brandon's Politics and Politicians (Brandon: Brandon Sun, 1981), pp. 246-250.

The C.C.F. campaign was aimed at drawing a clear demarcation line between itself and the entrenched political parties. To this end the C.C.F. invoked the spectre of a return to depression at the end of the War. [53] For its part, the Coalition Committee attempted to counter C.C.F. popularity by invoking its own spectre, namely, the spectre of Bolshevism. [54] The coalition was aided in its efforts by the Brandon Sun, which as usual used its editorial columns to vilify the C.C.F. and to promote the Committee’s candidate. For example, on November 11, 1943, a Sun editorial charged that

... (should the C.C.F.) ever attain the right to totalitarian dictatorship ... (it) would as the state, ‘run everything.’ Practically all private enterprise would be killed, ... including, of course, farming. [55]

The C.C.F. prevailed on election day. Johnson piled up decisive margins in working class polls in the East, South and North ends of the city, and won the election by an overall margin of 3,722 to 3,204. [56]

While the C.C.F. had already made the decision to con-test civic elections prior to 18 November, the victory in the provincial by-election gave the local campaign a decided impetus. Brandon’s C.C.F. membership doubled during the provincial election campaign. As well, the vote had shown a clear-cut surge in support for the party in some polls outside the traditional labour party strongholds in the city’s east and north ends. Now the machines that were put into place for the by-election could be used in civic elections. There was some confidence, therefore, that the provincial victory could be translated into major gains at the local level. Nevertheless, the objectives in the civic elections were modest—namely, to gain enough seats on council to become an effective opposition force and therefore break the virtual monopolization of council seats by candidates who had Conservative and Liberal ties and the backing of the Board of Trade.

In the civic elections of 1943, five two-year aldermanic seats, two one-year aldermanic seats, and the Office of Mayor were up for grabs. The C.C.F. could not field a full slate, but it nominated three candidates for the two-year aldermanic terms, and two candidates for the one-year terms. [57]

In response to the formal entry of the C.C.F. into municipal elections, the old-line parties created a Brandon Citizen’s Committee to promote their candidates. The Committee described itself as consisting of “Every citizen of Brandon who is interested in the progress and prosperity of Brandon.” As well it claimed it was ‘Absolutely Non-Partisan (with) No Membership Fees or Pledges:’ [58] The Brandon Citizen’s Committee endorsed a full slate of candidates, most of whom were drawn from the managerial and commercial classes. [59] The Brandon Women’s Civic Association, which was formed for the express purpose of influencing the outcome of the elections, endorsed the Citizens’ Committee slate. [60]

In contrast to the 1943 provincial by-election campaign, the C.C.E’s campaign in the civic election was subdued. The party had a platform, but it was modest in both its scope and implications. The platform rather meekly called for the establishment of a public library, the creation of public housing, better housing and accommodation for the aged, and an end to contracting out by the Civic Works Department. [61] This platform was presented at public meetings, but it was not vigorously promoted either in these forums or in the party’s election advertising. Advertisements in the Sun emphasized the campaign slogan “Vote C.C.F. for Progress” [62] and stressed the quality of the party’s candidates. [63]

The character of the C.C.F.’s local campaign was, in part, a result of the fact that C.C.F.ers were sensitive to the accusation that they were bringing partisan party politics into civic affairs. In one editorial, under the caption “Politics and Civics,” the Brandon Sun spelled out its views on the consequences of party politics in civic elections:

In some parts of Canada, ... in the present temporary spasm of socialism, the C.C.F. are attempting to get control in municipal elections ... Political leanings can have nothing to do with the fitness for office in a town or city in municipal issues. Any community is the better for local government without partisan prejudices ... The influence and strength of municipal government has always rested on its complete detachment from party politics. The people need to be free to choose the best men available in the primary field of government. This condition cannot continue if the C.C.F. persists in bringing socialism as such into municipal affairs. [64]

The C.C.F. could have met the challenge head-on and argued the benefits of partisan politics at the local level. Instead, the party’s response to such criticism was defensive, half-hearted and ineffective. At a City Hall meeting on 26 November, D. L. Johnson, M.L.A., told the audience that the C.C.F. owed no apologies for contesting civic elections. According to the Sun report, Johnson justified his position on the grounds that

... the C.C.F. attitude in the municipal election is not one of a political nature, but rather to secure council representation ‘for the majority of the citizens. [65]

This uninspired defence may have allayed the concerns of some voters, but it most certainly did not shift the momentum of the campaign in favour of the C.C.E. [66]

The C.C.F. won two seats in the election: Harry Spafford won a two-year seat and William Smith a one-year seat. Citizens’ Committee candidates won the mayoralty and the other three aldermanic seats. [67]

Following the elections the C.C.F. reviewed the results. In general, the members felt that the party had done alright. They were especially pleased with the victory of Smith. However, there was no consensus on how the party should approach future civic elections. Some members argued that they should concentrate on fielding candidates for one-year terms in by-elections. Others argued that the party should back off from municipal politics because it was apparent that voters in Brandon were not ready for party politics at the civic level. A minority—a small minority—insisted that involvement be sustained with a view to building toward power. The matter was left hanging. When elections rolled around again in 1944, the party decided to restrict its efforts to finding people who were sympathetic to C.C.F. philosophy and policies to run as “independent” candidates. [68] W. R. Webb, long-time incumbent, and Fred Darvill, who was originally on the slate in 1943, were candidates for two of the five aldermanic positions. Webb finished fifth, Darvill seventh, out of eight candidates. [69]

The election of 1943 was an important turning point in Brandon civic politics, because after it the C.C.E decided to abandon municipal politics. This was a triumph for both the ideology and the practice of the politics of Brandon’s ruling elites. Moreover, the C.C.E’s abandonment of civic politics marked a return to the situation that prevailed prior to World War One, namely, monopolization of civic politics by the ruling elites. There was, however, an important difference between the pre-World War One situation and the post-1943 situation. The monopoly prior to World War One was a result of the fact that labour had never contested civic politics as well as of the biased electoral procedures which hindered participation. The monopoly after 1943 stemmed from the fact that the C.C.F. had allowed itself to be chased out of municipal politics by the ruling elites.

With its decision to retreat from direct involvement in civic politics in 1944, the C.C.F. left the field to the very forces whose control of city life had been the rationale for intervention in 1943. These groups—the city’s ruling elites—monopolized power at city hall for the entire period 1944 to 1970. Along with monopoly control came civic apathy, an outcome anticipated in a Brandon Sun editorial prior to the 1945 elections. This editorial, under the caption “Civic Apathy,” warned the electorate that

Public apathy at civic elections invites all the subservient and selfish groups to invade the councils for their own ends and against the welfare of all the citizens ... A small vote and a clique vote lowers the dignity and prestige of a city and keeps the community at a low level ... [70]

As well as being prophetic, the editorial was also somewhat ironic, since the result that the Sun was concerned about was precisely the result it had promoted for decades through its editorial pages. Be that as it may, the most noteworthy outcome of the 1945 elections was the defeat of Harry Spafford for the first time since 1928. [71]

In the immediate post-war period a number of candidates from labour organizations contested local elections. They had little success. In the 1950 election, for example, three activists in the labour movement sought election to a two-year term on council. [72] All three went down to defeat. After these elections, letter carrier Walter Green was the only labour person on council. [73] Similarly, in 1960, the Brandon Labour Council intervened in civic elections as a result of actions taken by city hall during a bitter six-month strike at the Brandon Packers in 1960, and because city council seemed deliberately to be ignoring the plight of working people in Brandon. Herb Baker, secretary-treasurer of the Council, and Neil McGugan, a delegate to the Council, were nominated to contest the 1960 aldermanic elections. Like most of their predecessors, however, they were unsuccessful, Baker finishing eighth and McGugan tenth in a field of eleven. [74]

The extent of the control exercised over city council by business and professional interests during this era is indicated by the data in Table 5.

Table 5.
Brandon City Council members by occupation 1950-70


Occupation

Number

Percent


Owners and/or managers

18

32.1

Realtors

5

8.9

Salesmen (insurance & heavy equipment)

4

7.1

Own-account professionals

3

5.4

Salaried professionals

2

3.6

Corporation executives

1

1.8

Teachers

3

5.4

Employees (CPR, Assiniboine Hospital, and government)

7

12.5

Farmers

1

1.8

Housewives

1

1.8

Other (Dean of Women, Brandon University; President, Canadian Red Cross)

2

3.6

Retired persons1

9

16.1

TOTALS2

56

100.0


1 Three of the nine were clearly aligned with business and property interests, and a further three - a former brigadier-general, a former chief of police and a former business manager - had an idealogical affinity with the ruling elites in Brandon.

2 Four of the 56 people elected over this period were women.

Source: Calculated from data provided by the office City Clerk, City of Brandon.

The demise of labour in civic politics can be explained as a consequence of changes in the objective conditions confronting both the working class and other Brandonites during-war period. First, in contrast to the period 1917 to 1943, attempts by workers to make gains through traditional trade union activities were more successful after 1943. At the tail end of the Second World War, trade union activity in Brandon revived as a reult of federal Order-in-Council P.C. 1003 (1944), an order which eliminated some of the impediments to trade union organization. Improved conditions in the local labour market also strengthened the position of labour. Labour’s regeneration had tangible results; by 1945, Brandon had two labour councils affiliated with the two main trade union centrals in Canada—the Trades Union Congress and the Canadian Congress of Labour. As well, new unions were organized in local firms which had historically resisted unionization. Brandon’s McKenzie Seeds was one such enterprise to be unionized. Moreover, workers were more militant and more combative. The “girls” at McKenzie Seeds organized a “spontaneous” strike in 1944, and, after unionization, struck again in 1947 and 1948. There were, as well, strikes at the Rumford Laundry in 1945, at the Brandon Woolen Mills in 1947, and at Western Motors in 1950. [75]

Second, rising standards of living in the post-war period created the basis for workers to improve their personal situation through the acquisition of goods and services. The emphasis shifted away from the acquisition of collective goods and services, for example public transit, to private goods and services, for example automobiles. Moreover, in those situations where there was still a desire to have services provided on a collective rather than a private basis, for example health care, it was clear that action to achieve this result would have to come from a senior level of government. This accentuated the shift in focus from the local level of government to the provincial and federal levels which had been underway since the 1930s.

Third, dramatic shifts in the composition of the workforce in the post-war period left the working class less monolithic and more fragmented than was the case through the Second World War. Employment in service industries and the public sector increased in comparison to traditional industries—manufacturing, transportation and construction—and employment in white-collar occupations increased relative to blue-collar occupations. [76] As well, there were persistent and pervasive increases in the participation in paid labour market activities by women from all segments of the female population. [77] Combined with the suburbanization of the city—the creation of new neighbourhoods on the city’s periphery— these shifts served to undermine the cohesiveness of working class neighborhoods.

Fourth, in the pre-1945 era, the intervention of working class organizations into civic politics was a response either to serious defects in services and the conditions of working class life, or to widespread social problems. Thus, during the First World War and for much of the 1920s the issues at the local level centered on the provision of adequate civic services, among them streetlighting, public transit, libraries, water and sewer, and public health. In the 1930s, the preoccupation was with relief services and the needs of the unemployed and the destitute. During the 1940s, the central issue was housing. In the post-war era, however, civic issues changed. The city had created a basic infrastructure which provided for public needs; the problem of poverty was alleviated by economic growth; and deficiencies in the housing stock were partially corrected by federal government programs. There were new demands on city council, but these demands were for services which benefitted specific groups as distinct from the general public.

Moreover, with the growth in population and incomes, the city was able to generate revenues to pay for both an improvement in existing services and the addition of new ones. Some indication of the growth of the city in the post-war era is provided by the population data in Table 6. Clearly, growth in the city’s population all but stopped from 1931 to 1946; indeed, the growth over this entire 15 year period was a mere 2.7 percent. In the 1940s and 1950s, in contrast, the population grew substantially—by 60 percent between 1946 and 1961. Moreover, the people were better off than ever before. [78]

Table 6.
Population of the City of Brandon 1931-1971


Year

Population

Percent change


1931

17,082

-

1936

16,461

-3.6

1941

17,383

5.6

1946

17,551

1.0

1951

20,598

17.4

1956

24,796

20.4

1961

28,166

13.6

1966

29,981

6.4

1971

31,150

3.9


Source: Census of Canada, specified years

It was not just the working class which was transformed in the post-war era. There were also a number of developments in the 1960s which arguably eroded the power of the local elites. Many of the new industrial and retail trade firms established in the city were branches of national and international firms. The managers of these establishments did not always fit readily into the local elites. Moreover, there were conflicts in objectives and values over such things as peripheral development versus the preservation of the city centre. Similarly, the growth in the public sector, and, in particular, health care and education, including the conversion of Brandon College to a university in 1967 and the addition of Assiniboine Community College in 1969, brought in professionals, academics and intellectuals from outside who sometimes opposed the values and objectives of the traditional elites. Nevertheless, on most issues, and particularly on the question of the role of business and civic government in the local economy, the views of these groups coincided. [79]

The significance of these changes became evident in June 1969 when Manitoba elected an N.D.P. government for the first time. In that election, the N.D.P. captured Brandon East, the first time a left candidate had won in Brandon since D. Johnson’s win for the C.C.F. in 1943, and almost won Brandon West. [80] With the election of an N.D.P. government many of the positions on boards of public-sector institutions, which had been the exclusive preserve of Conservative and Liberal members of the city’s elites, were opened up to members of the working classes, to members of ethnic groups who had previously been locked out of positions of power and influence, and to women. [81] The 1969 election results, combined with the sudden accessibility to positions of power, provided a significant boost to the confidence and assertiveness of Brandon’s N.D.P. constituency associations. [82]

In December, 1970, the Manitoba government appointed a one-man Royal Commission, in the person of A. L. Dulmage, president of Brandon University, to prepare recommendations for the government “... concerning the future boundaries and municipal structure of the City of Brandon and (surrounding] rural municipalities ...” During the course of his hearings Dr. Dulmage received a written brief from N.D.P. members John Stonehouse and Jim McAllister presenting evidence that city council was dominated by people from a comparatively small socio-economic group who lived in a relatively small area of the city. The authors of the brief, who were influenced by discussions which had taken place amongst N.D.P. members, proposed that the city be divided into wards for civic elections. Dulmage was persuaded by the arguments in the brief, and included in his recommendations a proposal “... that for electoral purposes a ward system with approximately equal numbers of people in each ward be introduced in the city of Brandon” Dulmage claimed that a ward system would both enhance “communication between the electorate and its representatives,” and produce a council more representative of all “sectors of the community.” [83] The government implemented most of Dulmage’s recommendations, including the creation of a new electoral system based on the election of a mayor at large and the election of ten aldermen on the basis of wards. [84]

With the reintroduction of the ward system Brandon’s N.D.P. constituency associations concluded that they could win those wards which had gone heavily N.D.P. in the 1969 provincial elections. Therefore, they decided to field a slate of candidates in the October 27, 1971 civic elections.

The rationale for N.D.P. involvement in local elections was set out by Jim McAllister, a political science lecturer and N.D.P. activist, in an article published in the Brandon Sun on September 11. [85] McAllister identified as key considerations the need for coherent policies to guide local government activities, the need for greater accountability on the part of council members, and the need for a progressive alternative in local politics. A convention was held on September 16 to debate and approve policy resolutions. An indication of the content of this debate was provided in a discussion paper authored by Ken Hanly, a philosophy professor at Brandon University, which was published in the September 22, 1971 Brandon Sun under the title, “The Socialist Development of Brandon.” Hanly characterized the existing philosophy underlying local politics as “welfare capitalism.” According to Hanly, the main tenet of this view was the idea that the state should provide necessary but unprofitable services; whereas if profit can be made in a given area it should be left to private capital.

Hanly argued that this philosophy produced contradictory consequences which generated fiscal crises at all levels of the state, including the local level. Governments responded to such crises by cutting back on services that served social needs, and by holding down the wages of state-sector workers. As an alternative Hanly proposed a process of “democratic socialist development” based on the social ownership of services under public and democratic control. He cited natural gas distribution, taxi services, radio and t.v., and the recreational facilities operated by organizations such as the Y.M.C.A., as activities or entities which could be brought under city ownership and control. [86]

The forty people attending the policy convention debated some forty policy resolutions. The resulting platform covered virtually every aspect of city life: the take-over of the local gas utility, the creation of a corporation to apply for a radio and T.V. license, the abolition of elections for the office of mayor, the establishment of a Brandon Housing Corporation to oversee housing development in the city, hostels for native people moving into the city, and much more. [87]

Then, at a nominating convention on September 27, some 250 supporters nominated Murray Tufford, a stationary engineer at the Simplot Plant, to run for mayor, and nominated six aldermanic candidates as well. [88]

As soon as the N.D.P. announced its intentions to intervene in the election, opposition forces mobilized. On September 8, the day after the N.D.P. announcement, Bill Wilton, the incumbent mayor and influential member of the Conservative party, said he was disappointed

that the time has come in the city of Brandon when politics becomes a part of municipal government. I believe, over the past years, the mayor and aldermen have done their very best to keep party politics out of municipal affairs.

Wilton’s views were echoed by other incumbents. In addition, spokesmen for the local Conservative and Liberal organizations expressed opposition to “party involvement in local politics;” and said it was unlikely their parties would follow suit. [89]

Then, on September 17, two former aldermen (C. E. Webb, a chiropractor, and Arnold Cook, owner of Cook Lumber and Supply) and James Peter Jones, minister of the First Presbyterian Church, called a public meeting “to provide a forum for those who are concerned at the entry of party politics in Brandon’s civic affairs.” A Sun reporter, Haroon Siddiqui, reported that Webb, Cook and Jones had met the previous morning with a group that included William Pearson, lawyer and first vice-president of the provincial Conservative party, A. A. Hirschfield, lawyer and president of the Brandon West Conservative Association, and Terry Penton, insurance agent and first vice-president of the provincial Liberal party. The next day Pearson confirmed his involvement with the group and explained his opposition to the N.D.P. intervention.

Aldermen are accountable to the electors, and that’s fine. That’s a good system. But when you bring party politics into it, they are accountable to their party as well. The party can remove them at the next election whether the people want it or not. If aldermanic candidates have to enjoy the confidence of the electors and a party, then there may be a conflict of interest.

Pearson predicted that party politics would lead to one of two extremes: either a minority government--”and our system never works under minority government”—or a “rubber-stamp council.” [90] At the public meeting on the 22nd, 350 people endorsed the creation of a Citizen’s Independent Voters Election Committee (CIVEC) and elected a seven-member executive to “seek out, encourage and support candidates for mayor, aldermen and school trustees—independent of party politics.” All seven of the people elected to the executive were active in the Conservative or Liberal parties. [91]

In a news release issued in anticipation of the formation of CIVEC, Joe Slomiamy, President of the Brandon East N.D.P., stated that:

the city has been and is governed by a Liberal- Conservative coalition ... which is representative of only the professional and business members of these two parties.

What Mr. Pearson and others dislike (about N.D.P. involvement) is the fact that people in every walk of life, and not just from the upper socio-economic strata, will now be able to exercise some decision-making power ... membership in the business community or a willingness to look after its needs above all else is not an implicit requirement of potential N.D.P. candidates as it is of Liberal and Conservative supporters in Brandon municipal elections. [92]

A total of 28 individuals sought election in 1971. CIVEC had eleven aldermanic candidates in the 10 wards, the N.D.P. seven. There were also seven “independent” candidates. One ward, Victoria, went by acclamation to CIVEC candidate Jack Brockest. In addition, three candidates contested the mayoralty election: one N.D.P., one CIVEC, and an independent.

Approximately 55 percent of the electorate turned out to vote on 27 October, the largest turnout since the Second World War. The results of the election are summarized in Table 7. The N.D.P. suffered a significant defeat. The ideology of the ruling elites, and, in particular, the notion that there was no place for partisan politics in civic affairs, prevailed once again. The CIVEC victory meant that it would be business as usual at Brandon city hall.

Table 7.
Results of 1971 municipal election in Brandon


Total
vote1

Proportion of vote received by

Election

CIVEC

N.D.P.

Independent


Assiniboine

594

44.3

32.0

23.7

Rosser

1,169

41.7

21.9

36.4

University

1,274

76.1

23.9

-

West Centre

1,297

52.1

14.6

23.2

East Centre

1,362

73.0

12.8

14.2

Linden Lanes

1,068

67.0

14.0

19.0

Richmond

1,000

64.4

-

36.62

Riverview

1,321

76.7

23.3

-

Green Acres

1,053

100.03

-

-

Mayoralty

11,540

69.3

8.3

22.4


1 Excludes rejected ballots.

2 There were two independent candidates in Richmond Ward.

3 CIVEC endorsed both candidates in Green Acres Ward. The winning candidate obtained 70.5 percent of the vote. Paradoxically, the losing candidate was a member of the CIVEC executive.

Source: Election results provided by City of Brandon

For the N.D.P., the overwhelming defeat was totally unexpected and utterly demoralizing. In the soul-searching that took place after the election, party members identified a number of factors which contributed to the defeat: the haste with which preparations were made for entry into the election; the overly detailed and comprehensive nature of the election platform (a platform which a Sun editorial noted contained “something to anger or impress just about everyone in town”) [93] the failure of the election platform to address issues of immediate concern in a detailed and coherent manner; the failure to attract candidates with “credibility;” and, above all, the effectiveness of CIVEC’s campaign to keep party politics out of city hall. The latter factor was decisive. N.D.P. canvassers were consistently confronted on this issue by voters, some of them N.D.P. members, who were suspicious of the party’s motives in entering civic politics. Candidates and workers alike were shocked at the animosity and resentment unleashed by the N.D.P.s intervention. After this experience, they had no desire to engage in the kind of personalized, confrontational and sustained politics required to alter the perception of the electorate.

Little has changed at city hall since 1971. The city’s elites have continued to control the activities of Council, although this control has become more problematic under the ward system, which has enhanced possibilities for individuals from groups and organizations other than the dominant ones to gain seats on city council. [94] In general, however, representatives to council have continued to be drawn from the local elites, or from segments of the population who accept the idea that the main role of council is to serve the interests of these groups. Moreover, candidates elected from the working class who have been elected as “independents” actually have functioned as “independents” because they have not been accountable to any organization. This is especially true of individuals from the working class who have not been active in the city’s labour movement.

The N.D.P. has considered the possibility of fielding candidates since 1971. However, the loss in 1971 has had a profound and lasting effect on the psyches of most activists in the N.D.P., and the loss is invariably invoked to justify the more “pragmatic” course of seeking to sneak progressive people into council without direct party involvement. The last major debate on this issue within the N.D.P. took place in June 1983. The main opponents to the idea of fielding a slate were Ross Martin and Arnold Grambo. They had managed to get elected as “independents;” and they argued that if they were part of a slate they would lose and the N.D.P. would again have no representation on council.

The history of labour and social democratic party involvement in civic elections in Brandon suggests that the political culture of the working class in Brandon was never sufficiently developed to generate the sustained efforts required to wrest control of city hall away from the city’s ruling elites. The early labour parties were not able to field a full slate of candidates, and, after 1928, the ILP was reduced to supporting incumbent ILP council members. The social democratic challenges of 1943 and 1971 were decidedly opportunistic, motivated by the expectation that the party would be able to capitalize on the victory of Dr. Johnson in 1943 and the Manitoba N.D.P. in 1969, to establish a significant presence on city council. When these efforts were defeated at the polls, party activists immediately abandoned formal involvement in municipal politics.

Future intervention by either social democratic or labour parties in civic elections seem unlikely in the present circumstances. However, history is replete with developments and events which create direct threats to the material conditions of working people both in their places of work and in the neighborhoods where they live. Current concerns about health, safety, and the environment, or the notion of sustainable cities with a greater sharing of income, wealth and power could create new, organized challenges for control of city hall. The N.D.P. might be the vehicle through which such efforts are channeled. Alternatively, it is possible that we will see new party formations that recognize and reflect the diversity and complex interests of the contemporary working class. If political challenges materialize, however, they will be successful only if they are able to develop an ideology which convinces working people that their interests would best be served by the election of candidates committed to a common platform.

Notes

The research for this paper was supported by grants from the Brandon University Research Fund and financial assistance for the employment of students provided to both ourselves and the Brandon District Labour Council under the Manitoba CareerStart Program. We are indebted to Tracy Young, Bud Cook, Glen Joynt, Drew Caldwell, Richard Groen and Ruth Pryzner for their invaluable research assistance; Guy Landry for his comments on an initial draft of this paper; Drew Caldwell and Tom Mitchell for detailed criticisms and helpful suggestions on subsequent drafts; and Ross Martin and other representatives to the Brandon and District Labour Council for their sustained encouragement of our efforts to understand the role of labour in Brandon. As well, we would thank Morris Mott for showing us how to make the paper both more rigorous and more readable.

1. The main elements in these groups are the owners and/or managers of businesses; self-employed professionals; and real estate and insurance agents. In what follows, we shall refer to these groups as the ruling elites of Brandon.

2. There is a substantial body of literature on labour’s involvement in civic politics in the first two decades of this century. For a useful summary of this work, see Bryan D. Palmer, Working-Class Experience: The Rise and Reconstitution of Canadian Labour, 1800-1980, (Toronto: Butterworth, 1983), in particular, pp. 157-166. See also Craig Heron’s fine paper on the political culture of Canada’s working class in this era: “Labourism and the Canadian Working Class,” Labour/Le Travail, 13 (Spring, 1984). In contrast, much less work has been done on this issue for subsequent decades. This is part of a more general neglect of urban history noted by Alan Artibise in “City-Building in the Canadian West: From Boosterism to Corporatism,” Journal of Canadian Studies, 17, 3 (Fall, 1982). For material on cities in Manitoba, see J. E. Rea’s “Political Parties in Civic Power, Winnipeg, 1919-1975,” in Gilbert A. Stelter and Alan F.J. Artibise (eds.), The Usable Urban Past: Planning and Politics in the Modern Canadian City, (Toronto: MacMillan, 1979); and Tom Mitchell, “A Square Deal for All and No Railroading’: Labour and Politics in Brandon, 1900-1920;’ Prairie Forum, 15, 1 (Spring, 1990).

3. These data were compiled from information provided by Ian Ford, City Clerk and the staff of his office, and the occupations cited for individuals in the Henderson’s Directory. We could not identify occupations for five of the forty-eight members of council.

4. The raw data for the 1891 Census of Canada are available in the Provincial Archives of Manitoba.

5. It should be noted that the Henderson’s Directory for 1911 reports that there were 167 civic workers, 136 metal trades workers, 130 teamsters, 199 workers iii hotels and restaurants and 167 hospital workers.

6. These observations are based on information in Mitchell, “A Square Deal for All’,” and Canada, The Labour Gazette, various issues.

7. The Labour Gazette, various issues.

8. Heron, “Labourism.”

9. Mitchell, “A Square Deal for all’.”

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid., p. 47.

12. Ibid.

13. The Labour Gazette for July 1913 (p. 32) reported that in June conditions in Brandon were such that: “The prevailing note in ... all lines of industry was one of quietness.... The supply of labour in almost all branches of the building trades exceeded demand; the situation is even more acute than last month’s, and a great difference from last year’s conditions are noted.”

14. For a discussion of the impact of the War on material conditions and real wages of workers in Canada and Manitoba, see Palmer, Working-Class Experience, in particular chapter 4.

15. Ibid.

16. The Labour Gazette, various issues.

17. These data come from Mitchell, “A Square Deal for All...’.”

18. The “cost of living” protests were the main manifestation of working class discontent, but there were other manifestations as well, including a brief three-hour strike over wages of 20 outdoor employees of the Manitoba Telephone System (Brandon Daily Sun, May 1917); agitation from a number of employee groups for a weekly half-holiday to be moved ahead to May from July (Brandon Daily Sun, hereafter Sun, May,4, 1917); and a threatened strike of police officers in opposition to a proposed amalgamation of the police and fire departments (Brandon Daily Sun, June 1, 1917).

19. Mitchell, “A Square Deal for All’,” pp. 53-54.

20. Sun, March 23, 1917, November 19, 1917 and December 1, 1917.

21. Mitchell, “A Square Deal for All” provides a list of the individuals on the original executive of the D.L.P. in Brandon in n.56.

22. Ibid., p. 55.

23. Ibid., p. 55.

24. This term was coined by the Sun.

25. For a discussion of the phenomenon of “Boosterism”; see John C. Weaver, “Elitism and the Corporate Ideal,” in Michael S. Cross and Gregory S. Kealey (eds.), The Consolidation of Capitalism, 1896-1929, (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1983), pp. 141-166.

26. The Sun editorial of November 23, 1918 is typical of its coverage of this election. The Sun asserted that “It is inconceivable that the electors of Wards One and Four should choose as their representatives such men as Grantham and Morris who continued to splutter about their pet socialistic theories when the nation was struggling for its very life. Their very presence in the Council Chamber would disgrace the electors of their respective wards when the boys come home.”

27. Ibid., November 30, 1918. Crawford and Morris were defeated by margins of 322 to 168 and 233 to 66, respectively.

28. Gregory S. Kealey, “1919: The Canadian Labour Revolt,” Labour/Le Travail 13 (Spring, 1984).

29. See Tom Mitchell, “Brandon 1919: Labour and Industrial Relations in the Wheat City in the Year of the General Strike,” Manitoba History (Spring, 1989).

30. J. E. Rea, “The Politics of Class: Winnipeg City Council, 1919-1945,” in Carl Berger and Ramsey Cook (eds.), The West and The Nation, (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd., 1976), pp. 232-33.

31. J. E. Rea, “The Politics of Conscience: Winnipeg After the Strike,” Canadian Historical Association, Historical Papers, 1971, p. 276.

32. Personal correspondence from Tom Mitchell, December, 1989.

33. This is an issue that merits much fuller discussion than we are able to give it here. We would point out, however, that labour in Winnipeg established Canada’s first Independent Labour Party in 1895. (See Nelson Wiseman, Social Democracy in Manitoba, (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1983), p. 5.) The process was slower in Brandon because the working class did not have the organizational capacity to establish a Trades and Labour Council until 1906. Quite apart from these considerations, we would argue that the very nature of civic government and, in particular, the fact that local resources could be used either for projects that would enhance accumulation or for projects that would improve the material conditions of the working class, gave local politics a class orientation.

34. For a fuller discussion of these elections see Mitchell, “A Square Deal for All”‘

35. This is an era for which we need much more research to clarify what was happening in relations between workers and employers at the point of production both in Brandon and elsewhere in Canada.

36. This election is discussed in detail in W. Leland Clark, Brandon’s Politics and Politicians (Brandon: Brandon Sun, 1981), and in Tom Mitchell, “A Square Deal for All:”

37. Sun, November 12, 1920. “Flats” was the name given to the city’s north end, i.e., that part of the city bounded by the C.P.R. tracks on the south and the Assiniboine River on the north.

38. Ibid., November 24, 1920.

39. Ibid., November 27, 1920.

40. Mitchell, “A Square Deal for All” p. 61.

41. G. F. Barker, Brandon: A City — 1881-1961, (Brandon: G. F. Barker, 1977), p. 224.

42. This point is made by Paul Phillips in “Spinning A Web of Rules: Labour Legislation in Manitoba,” mimeo, 1989.

43. These data are from: Canada, Labour Gazette; and Labour Organizations in Canada, various issues.

44. Clark, Brandon Politics, p. 111. Prior to 1926 voters were required to cast votes for five candidates in aldermanic elections. Ballots that did not designate five candidates were declared spoiled. In 1926, the rule was changed to allow voters to vote for up to five aldermanic candidates.

45. See Wiseman, Social Democracy in Manitoba, p. 12.

46. For additional detail on this era, see Clark, Brandon Politics, pp. 111-120. In both 1926 and 1931 the objective of the citizens’ committees (fronts for the Board of Trade) were to displace incumbent mayor Harry Cater, owner of the Brandon Pump and Windmill Works. Their platforms were similar. Thus, in 1926, the Citizens’ Campaign Committee called for “co-operative effort, business-like government, and progressive policies.” (Sun, November 19, 1926). In 1931, at the bottom of the Depression, the platform of the Brandon Progress Association included “Effective co-operation with the provincial government, efficient and business-like methods of conducting municipal affairs, and securing of new industries to create more employment...;” (Sun, October 23, 1931).

47. Namely, B. L. Patterson, a ticket agent with the C.P.R., and A. B. Patterson a locomotive engineer with the C.P.R.

48. There is a useful discussion of the general state of the local economy in Clark, Brandon Politics. See also, Donald I. MacDonald, A Study of the Financial Problems of An Urban Municipality in Manitoba—The City of Brandon (Toronto: University of Toronto, M. A. Thesis, 1938).

49. After its spate of victories in 1927 and 1928, the I.L.P. was unable to sustain its challenge, because of the failure to develop a coherent policy platform and its inability to recruit sufficient first-rate candidates from the ranks of labour for civic elections.

50. Harry Spafford was widely recognized as a competent and compassionate member of city council. This reputation even gained him a spot on the slate of the Citizen’s Election Committee in 1938, when proper-tied interests organized to prevent the election of Communist candidates.

51. For a discussion of these developments and their implications, see Palmer, Working-Class Experience, pp. 285-288.

52. Sun, “Brandon Byelection in Bag, he says,” October 23, 1943.

53. Ibid., ad published by the C.C.F., November 17, 1943.

54. Ibid., ad published by the Coalition Committee, November 11, 1943.

55. Ibid., “Continued Bureaucracy,” November 11, 1943.

56. Ibid, November 19, 1943.

57. One of the candidates, Fred J. Darvill, a cartage operator, was forced to withdraw because he didn’t satisfy the property qualifications. He was replaced at the last minute by Thomas Black, a carman with the C.N.R. The other C.C.F. candidates were Harry Spafford, an ILP council member since 1928, William Patrick Kearns, switchman on the C.N.R., William Marsh Smith, electrician, and William Stibbons, cereal plotsman at the Brandon Experimental Farm. Sun, various issues, November 12-20, 1943, and notes compiled by Tom Black.

58. Ibid., “Who is the Brandon Citizen’s Committee?” ad published by the B.C.C., November 24, 1943.

59. For mayor, Leslie H. McDorman, manufacturer; for two-year terms, William H. Boreskie, secretary to the locomotive foreman, C.P.R., Norman A. McDowell, partner in a tinsmith firm, Lenton James Rust, manager, John Popkin, manager, and Dr. Stuart Schultz, physician; and, for one-year terms, Robert B. Alexander, manager, and Anthony D. Burneskie, proprietor. Sun, various issues, November 12-20, 1943.

60. Barker, Brandon, p. 317.

61. From notes compiled by Tom Black.

62. This was the central slogan adopted by the C.C.F. for the 1943 Civic elections.

63. For example, in one ad the C.C.F. described its candidates as follows: W. P. Kearns, “has been a resident of the city for many years and is a keen student of social affairs;” Thomas A. Black, “C.N.R. employee, a young man making his first bid for public office, is well versed in Labour and Municipal affairs;” W. M. Smith, “Electrician ... of high integrity and progressive thought;” William Stibbon, “Devoted to the cause of humanity ... and with a wide knowledge of progressive and social legislation;” and H. Spafford, “has now completed 16 years as alderman, and needs no further introduction” Sun, November 27, 1943.

64. Ibid., November 16, 1943.

65. Ibid., November 27, 1943.

66. Individual candidates attempted to make this point in public forums and in their own campaigning, but their views on this issue were ignored by the local media. (From notes compiled by Tom Black.)

67. Ibid., December 1, 1943.

68. In fact, there was little effort to find candidates and the few people who were approached declined. (From notes compiled by Tom Black.)

69. Sun, November 29, 1944.

70. Ibid., November 6, 1945.

71. Ibid., November 28, 1945.

72. W. R. Webb, incumbent, first elected to council under the ILP banner in 1934, and secretary of the C.P.R. local of the Boilermakers Union; Bryce Constable, president of the Brandon Labour Council (CCL) and former president of a C.P.R. Local of the Brotherhood of Express Employees; and John Shorten, secretary of the Brandon Labour Council (CCL), and secretary of the Canadian Bakery Workers Union, McGavin’s Bakery local. Sun, October 23, 1950.

73. Walter Green was a letter carrier and president of the Brandon local of the Amalgamated Civil Servants of Canada. He was also a member of the C.C.F. but his involvement in the party was relatively passive and, therefore, publicly inconspicuous.

74. Sun, October 26, 1960. For a discussion of the Brandon Packers strike and city council’s role in it, see George F. MacDowell, The Brandon Packers Strike: A Tragedy of Errors (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1971). See also, Gene Jamieson, “The Brandon Packer’s Strike of 1960: A Study in the Changing Nature of Class Relations,” mimeo, 1980. Some important information on 1960 has been obtained from notes kept by Tom Black, who was a delegate to the Labour Council at this time.

75. The McKenzie Seed strike in 1944 was the first strike by Brandon workers since 1919. Teachers were locked out and replaced in Brandon in 1922 when they refused to accept a pay cut. See Margaret Mann, The Strike That Wasn’t (Winnipeg: Chalk Talk Publishing, 1972). As well, there were at least five strikes by relief workers in the 1930s — September 1933, June 1934, September 1934, May 1936 and July 1937. For details on these strikes see Sun, specified years and months. The strikes at McKenzie Seeds in 1944 and the Rumford Laundry in 1945 were spontaneous (or wildcat) strikes by unorganized women workers. They subsequently unionized. Data on these strikes were provided by John Smart of the Public Archives of Canada from the files on strikes and lockouts compiled by the Canada Department of Labour.

76. Some indication of the extent of the changes in the structure of the working classes in Brandon is provided by the trend in jobs in the railway industry. In 1941, the railways in Brandon absorbed 12.5 percent of the gainfully occupied. By 1971, the proportion of total jobs provided by railway transportation in Brandon was down to 3.0 percent. See Census of Canada, 1941 and 1971.

77. Women represented 27.9 percent of the gainfully occupied population in Brandon in 1941. In 1951, women accounted for 26.8 percent of the labour force. This proportion had increased to 38.9 percent by 1971. (These proportions are calculated from data in Census of Canada, 1941, 1951 and 1971.) The influx of women into the workforce in Brandon—as elsewhere—was a direct response to the expansion of jobs traditionally filled by women in the retail trade and service (both private and public) industries.

78. Average weekly wages in Manitoba increased from $48.37 in 1951 to $123.84 in 1971, an increase of 156 per cent. For the same period, the Consumer Price Index (Winnipeg) increased from 69.8 to 100.0, an increase of 43 per cent. The net result was a substantial increase in real wages. Comparable data are not available for Brandon, but the evidence available indicates that wage and price movements in Bran-don parallel those for the province as a whole. These data are from F. H. Leacy, M. C. Urquhart, and K. A. H. Buckley (eds.), Historical Statistics of Canada (2nd ed.), Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 1982).

79. We had long discussions with the late George MacDowell on the changes taking place in Brandon. Macdowell provided a brief outline of these changes in a letter to the Sun published December 30, 1981 under the caption, “City’s business elite lost power in ‘60s.” These issues are also discussed in some detail in Alan Artibise, “City-Building...”.

80. Len Evans, a Professor of Economics at Brandon University, was elected in Brandon East. The candidate in Brandon West was Jim Skinner, a Professor of History at Brandon University.

81. The key boards were those of Brandon University, McKenzie Seeds, and the Centennial Auditorium.

82. This section of the paper is based, in part, on material previously published in Errol Black, “Small City Politics: The Brandon Experience,” City Magazine, Vol. VI, No. 4, Summer 1984.

83. Royal Commission on Brandon Boundaries, Report, April, 1971, pp. x, 78, 79. Dr. Dulmage told Errol Black in private conversations prior to the preparation of his report that he believed that city councils should be representative of the entire population if they were to address problems in a fair and equitable manner. The evidence submitted by John Stonehouse and Jim McAllister in their brief convinced him that representative councils could not be achieved with elections-at-large, because such elections were biased in favour of high-profile members of the community, specifically, businessmen and professionals.

84. The original legislation stipulated that candidates for council had to be resident in the wards where they were seeking election. The residence requirement was dropped prior to the 1980 elections as a result of a request by city council to the Manitoba Conservative government.

85. Jim McAllister in Sun, September 11, 1971. The title of the paper which McAllister subsequently presented to the policy convention was: “The New Democratic Party in Municipal Politics.” See also the report of the N.D.P. news conference in Sun, September 8, 1971.

86. Ken Hanly, “The Development of Brandon: Free Enterprise, Welfare Capitalism or Socialism?” September 22, 1971. Paper in possession of Ken Hanly.

87. Andy Moir, “N.D.P. adopts most city government resolutions,” Sun, September 17, 1971. The document which served as the basis for this policy convention (“Brandon N.D.P. Policy Convention Papers”) included, in addition to the pieces by McAllister and Hardy, detailed papers on Transportation, Finance, Urban Development, Housing and Native People. The paper on native people dealt with problems which have still not been adequately addressed by city councils in Brandon.

88. Candidates for council positions were Ron Hlady, a part-time university student and an employee in the university print shop; Kathleen Morrison, a part-time nurse and university student; Joan Weiner, a homemaker; Peter Martin, a Simplot employee; Steni Snydal, a trade union activist; and Bill Moore, production manager at McKenzie Seeds. Sun, September 28, 1971. Mike Dechka, an employee of a drive-in theatre, joined the slate on October 4. Ibid., October 5, 1971.

89. “Mayor, aldermen, disappointed NDP to run candidates,” Ibid., September 8, 1971.

90. M. Haroon Siddiqui, “Group opposes NDP participation in civic election,” Ibid., September 17, 1971; Dave Campbell, “Local NDP asked to oppose city party politics,” Ibid., September 18, 1971.

91. The seven picked for the executive were Lois Osudar, a homemaker and activist in the Conservative Party; Harvey Tolton, retired farmer; A. C. Hamilton, lawyer and former Liberal Party first vice-president; Don Martin, realtor and Brandon East Liberal candidate in 1969 provincial election; George Murray, Brandon Chamber of Commerce secretary manager; Herman Nikkei, former alderman; and Glenn Murray, manager of Northern Auto Parts.

92. “NDP to run candidates for council,” Sun, September 7, 1971.

93. “Excess baggage,” Ibid., September 4, 1971.

94. It is for this reason that the city’s elites have been campaigning for a return to elections at large ever since the ward system was introduced in 1971. Thus, since 1971, three labour activists have been elected to council: the late Pat Eagan, a former President of the Brandon and District Labour Council for Richmond Ward in 1977; Ross Martin, current president of the Brandon and District Labour Council, for Riverview Ward in 1980, 1983, 1986 and 1989; and Wayne Smith, union representative for CUPE, for Richmond Ward in 1986. As well, N.D.P. activist Arnold Grambo was elected for Green Acres Ward in 1983, 1986 and 1989. Moreover, other candidates, mainly women, have been elected who have no immediate connection with the establishment. The 1986-89 council was probably the most representative council in Brandon since the Second World War. In addition to Arnold Grambo, Wayne Smith and Ross Martin, it included Mike Melnyk, a convenience store owner who also owns a rug-cleaning business and works part-time at the Brandon General Hospital; Dan Munroe, a supervisory employee with a provincial work activities project; Jeff Harwood, a teacher; Ron Cayer, manager of the local Greyhound terminal; Jim Reid, a psychologist with the Brandon School system; and Lynne Little, general manager of a local Ford dealership. Ken Burgess, owner of a Solo Store, was mayor.

Page revised: 16 June 2014

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