Extracts From the Political Memoirs of H. W. Winkler, Part 4
Manitoba Pageant, Autumn 1972, Volume 18, Number 2
Following the re-election of J. L. Brown in 1930 as Liberal-Progressive M.P. for Lisgar, a delegation of Liberal supporters told Mr. Winkler the party could never win another election with Mr. Brown, and Mr. Winkler was asked to pass on this information to party officials.
The early spring of 1931 brought a message from the Hon. T. A. Crerar. I was invited to bring H. R. Veals, the energetic secretary of the Lisgar Liberal Association, to meet the returning members (M.P.$) in the office of Walter J. Lindal in Winnipeg.
There were only four, one being our member, Mr. Brown, often still spoken of as head of the U.F.M., and three other designated Liberal-Progressives who had forsaken the Conservative party to join the Progressives. Ultimately, they became as Liberal as anybody else. As soon as I arrived at the gathering, Mr. Crerar singled me out. Two of the members were in one of the offices and I was requested to go in, for they had a message for me.
One of them didn't beat around the bush. "You wrote that the Liberals of Lisgar couldn't elect Brown again. Who've you got?" My assurances that no other candidate was in sight didn't satisfy him. He kept repeating, "Who've you got?" The other was more diplomatic. Just before leaving Ottawa, Mr. King had called him into his office, he said, and had given him a message for "Winkler." Whether he could be elected or not, King wanted Brown nominated again. I assured him as far as I personally was concerned that was all right.
I was still president of the Lisgar Liberal Association, and from time to time had visits from John C. Davis, president of the Manitoba Liberal Association, and from Walter J. Lindal, the secretary. They had a variety of suggestions which I attempted to carry out.
One interesting event upon which I cannot quite make up my mind occurred in Morden one evening. I usually had my meals at the hotel and on this particular evening, the manager met me at the door. Someone was anxious to see me. In fact he was eating supper in the dining room at the moment. Walter Lindal greeted me. "Hurry up with your supper. I am taking you to Roland." He explained that he couldn't wait to give me all the details as he had to go on to Winnipeg where he had an appointment, but he could tell me them as we drove to Roland, where I would board the evening train back to Morden.
"There isn't time," I said. Yes, he had checked with the CPR agent, and there was plenty of time. As we drove along and the discussions didn't seem to be of much importance, I urged him to hurry. He was so certain there was ample time that he continued to drive in a leisurely way. A few miles from Roland we could see the lights of the coach at the Roland station. Again I urged him to hurry, but he was sure of his mathematics. However, about half a mile from the station we saw the locomotive puffing to a start, and since pursuit was out of the question, we drove back to the highway.
"You will have to take me home," I said. "I can't do that. I must hurry now to keep my appointment in Winnipeg." So I was deposited on the road at Jordan Siding. There was no residence or garage in those days at that point. Number 3 Highway was a single-lane gravel road, and in the depression wasn't much travelled. After walking a mile, a trucker picked me up for a stretch of three miles, and then I was walking once more. No more cars came and close to midnight I went to the home of a friend. "Hello," I said. "Who is it?" was the reply. After a few words of explanation, he said, "The key is in my car. Just bring it back in the morning."
The reader may wonder what this narrative would have to do with my political memoirs, but he would be no more mystified than I was at the time, as to what my escort was trying to impart. His questions were readily answered, but I could see no occasion to have me taken on such a trip when his comment was neither important nor urgent. But over the years, little fragments of conversation from here and there seemed to fit into the mosaic, and now I believe the federal executive had been alerted to the theory that my activities were directed mainly toward the fulfilment of personal ambition, and they threatened the security of our federal member. Since I had no such thoughts at the time, I failed to follow Walter Lindal's leads. And furthermore, no one had suggested to me that I should prepare myself for political office, much less displace our M.P. However, more was soon to follow.
Another event stands out in my mind. I was busy with the construction of a cistern when I got a phone call from Norman Lambert, then secretary of the National Liberal Federation. He was in Winnipeg and wanted me to come in at once, if possible. I explained my difficulty and he suggested I have lunch with him at Carman. There he informed me that as a tribute for having looked after Mr. Brown's election, I was to receive the honor of planning a tour of southern Manitoba by Mr. King, and the privilege of driving him myself. Naturally I felt very honored, and in due course in 1933 the plan was carried out. I could not resist asking Mr. Lambert a question. I told him Mr. King wanted me to do what I could to insure Mr. Brown's nomination for the next election. I had canvassed the situation and most of the workers were very lukewarm. What did he think I should do? He asked me the circumstances of Mr. King's message. Pausing a moment, he said, "I am sure Mr. King does not interfere in any nomination." As I drove home, I pondered the matter and when I reached the four-mile corner near Morden, I met John J. Enns, our vice-president. "Do you know what that means?" he asked, and then added, "Now you have to get ready to run."
That news must have spread very rapidly, for soon I was receiving unsolicited offers of support. Still, I was not ready, for I knew it would encounter the hostility of the official Liberals, the Liberal leaders such as Mr. Crerar and Mr. Dafoe, the Manitoba government and the United Farmers of Manitoba, the province's only farm organization at the time, more or less fostered by the United Grain Growers Ltd. That was more opposition than most beginners would care to face, and I wasn't anxious anyway.
However, I had Progressive visitors shortly afterward, who brought strong reasons. They were men 30 or 35 years my senior and very much respected in their home communities: W. C. White (an ex-Liberal), J. C. Smith (an ex-Tory) and R. A. Laing (an ex-Liberal). They assured me they had the utmost respect for Mr. Brown, our member, both for his ability and his character, but Prime Minister Bennett was grooming a young man to take on Mr. Brown at the next election and this man, W. C. Miller, might prove too much for Mr. Brown. Since over the years, and especially in the last election I had been largely responsible for his winning, they thought I had demonstrated my ability to conduct an election campaign. They wanted me to let my name stand if proposed at the next convention and if so, I would have their support.
I am not sure, but I believe Mr. Miller received his nomination first. In any case, it was soon well known that he would get it. So more and more came forward to encourage me to let my name stand. To my surprise many of them were older men, personal friends of Mr. Brown. Mr. Miller felt certain of winning, and fairly exuded confidence. This brought a number to my support who otherwise would have favoured Mr. Brown. I shall never forget the encouragement given by one man. "You have all the qualifications," he said. When I asked what they were, he said, "You have the time."
There had been considerable dissatisfaction with the method of nomination as worked out in the past. In 1921, the Progressives nominated their condidate, whom the Liberals in a separate convention endorsed afterwards, of course. In 1925, under instructions of the Manitoba Liberal Association, the Liberals met in one hall where delegates for the various polls were chosen. Likewise the Progressives met in another hall. Then all the delegates, equal in number from both groups, met in still another hall, with the centre aisle between them. This was repeated in 1926. The dissatisfaction arose over the representation in the large Mennonite area, almost if not quite free of Progressives. The Progressives took full advantage of this to see that every poll was represented to their satisfaction, thus potentially nullifying the Mennonite vote. So in 1935 it was arranged that there would be a Liberal convention only, and Progressives would have to take their chances at the poll meetings, if they wished to become delegates. As a result, there was some unfairness but it was about equal on both sides, as some poll chairmen were either militantly pro-Brown or anti-Brown. Nevertheless, no matter which view prevailed, there would have been, as there was, ground for complaint.
At the nomination in Morden in May, 1935, which occurred during the recess in the session at Ottawa, I would say the active Liberals and Progressives were all present. When the votes were counted, I had about two votes for every one for Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown, as I had anticipated, was deeply grieved, as were several of his supporters. He refused to make the nomination unanimous. He ended his brief speech of disappointment with the statement, "There is going to be trouble." There was.
More than a month later, when I was deep into the campaign, Ralph A. Wilson, a leader, if not the head of the Progressives of Lisgar, was standing in the middle of the street in front of Morden post office, handing out bills to passing motorists. With a face as cold and expressionless as a cigar-store Indian, he handed me one, calling a "Progressive Nomination Convention" etc. It was to be held in Manitou in about three weeks' time. Incidentally, within a few months, Ralph Wilson was to receive an appointment from the Liberal government as supervisor of the P.F.A., a lucrative post which he held until his retirement.
Any novice would know that he had a job on his hands on such an occasion. It was, however, no surprise to me. I had been aware that the president and the secretary of the Manitoba Liberal Association were canvassing Lisgar on a "fact-finding" mission. They must have found the facts they were looking for, because it was soon evident it was nothing less than inciting to rebellion. The bare facts were these: The president of the U.F.M. had been deposed by a novice. This was unthinkable, since the U.F.M. was Manitoba's sole farm organization. Manitoba's government was a farmer government, and it was right and proper that the organization should be represented in the House of Commons. I had to agree that was a pretty good case but as many pointed out to me, it would simply mean the election of Mr. Miller.
So as president Davis and secretary Lindal travelled about the constituency meeting groups, exhorting them to correct the mistake, there was always somebody willing to leak the story to me. In one case, I was told, Mr. Lindal said it would greatly weaken the Liberal party to have Mr. Brown cast out. There was a way of correcting it. The Progressives should nominate. Then he is reported to have said, "We will bring their nominee and Winkler together and say, 'Fellows, you are just cutting one another's throats. Let us have a joint Liberal-Progressive convention.'" Somebody spoke up. "What's the use? Winkler will win it anyway." Lindal is reported as saying, "We'll see that he doesn't."
Page revised: 26 December 2009