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Spicing up an election
Sep 30, 2011
Liberal Party Leader Jon Gerrard has accused his two opponents in the provincial election — NDP Leader 
Greg Selinger and PC Leader Hugh 
McFadyen — of making campaign promises that will cost Manitoba taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. A tally of the election spending promises shows the PCs leading the pack at 
$744 million, followed by the NDP at $420 and the Liberals bringing up the rear with $192 million in spending promises.
In an election campaign marked by the failure of any leader to surge above the pack, spending promises are a tried-and-true method of attracting attention, although it’s not always a sure vote-getter. That the Liberals are promising less than the other parties comes as little surprise, as the highly-intelligent, but fatally uncharismatic Gerrard, has his party in the polls caught somewhere among the brambles of obscurity. It’s basically one of the few ways he can differentiate his party from the front-runners.
On the other hand, the race between the Conservatives and NDP is close, although recent polls have predicted divergent outcomes. In a Viewpoints Research poll commissioned by CJOB and the Manitoba Real Estate Association, the NDP would come out on top, while an Environomics Research Group poll commissioned by the Canadian Press has the Tories atop the standings, followed by the NDP.
In the end, despite the contradictory findings of the polls, it’s Manitoba voters who will decide the outcome of the provincial election on October 4. 
The promises of “goodies” for voters is reminiscent of an alleged bygone era in Manitoba politics. In a comical commentary, the Emerson Journal in March 1914 remarked: “Three weeks ago the (Sir Rodmond) Roblin (Conservative) government kindly donated or inflicted on us a party of surveyors and this week they sent a party of twelve telephone men. The telephone service has been on the hummer for at least two years that we know of and it’s as if the powers that be have just found out about it.”
Another way to finally add a little motivation to this election campaign is an example from the 1913 Gimli riding byelection. Liberal MLA Hart Green reported that a shed near Chatfield contained two barrels of beer and a number of whiskey bottles brought from Winnipeg by Conservative “heelers” to sway voters.
But perhaps the most desperate method used to ensure election victory was undertaken by Francis Evans Cornish, Winnipeg’s first mayor, when he ran for a seat in the legislature. In 1878, Cornish arranged to have his opponent kidnapped on the eve of the provincial election and then brought charges of corruption against him. When his opponent failed to appear in court and answer to the charges — he was otherwise detained — Cornish claimed that it amounted to a confession of guilt. Cornish was subsequently charged with kidnapping, but his death from stomach cancer, prevented him from appearing in court.
A tactic used in another provincial election should also be avoided at all costs. The case of “the burning of the Gimli ballots” was a cause célèbre during the 1886 Manitoba election. Rockwood was then believed to be a “swing riding.” On election night, scrutineers Charles Sibbald for Liberal candidate Samuel  Jackson of Stonewall and Colin McLean for Conservative candidate Nathaniel Hagel, a famous Winnipeg criminal lawyer, set off from Gimli in a horse-drawn sleigh with the locked ballot box, which was to be delivered to 
the district polling headquarters in Stonewall. 
The box was first taken on a circuitous route, first to Selkirk, where Sibbald obtained another wagon and a driver named Wilson, and then cross-country toward Stonewall. En route to Stonewall, the driver lost his way and the sleigh occupants wandered about the prairie for hours before coming upon the Neary farm where they went inside to warm up. Sometime later, Wilson went outside and found the ballot box in a fire some distance from the wagon, according to a report in the Manitoban, “there being not the slightest doubt that it had been intentionally burned.” The ballots from Gimli had been reduced to cinders.
Meanwhile, with the Gimli ballots unable to be counted, Hagel had a 21-vote majority. In lieu of further ballots, he declared himself the winner in Rockwood. 
Later, sworn testimony by the Gimli polling clerk and three witnesses from the community told a government-appointed commission that 30 votes had been cast — seven were  spoiled ballots, three were cast for Hagel, while the remaining ballots were marked in favour of Jackson. Sibbald contradicted the Gimli witnesses, saying only six were cast for Jackson and three for Hagel, all the rest being spoiled. If Sibbald was believed, Hagel would have won the election, but the commission sided with the witnesses and declared Jackson the victor in Rockwood.
A Brandon Sun editorial claimed the “Norquayites” (Conservatives under Premier John Norquay) “resorted to all sorts of wretched conduct ... Their wicked ingenuity has discovered a great invention in the burning and losing of ballot boxes.”
No one was ever arrested for “the burning of the Gimli ballot box,” which is considered among the most scandalous examples of election tampering in Manitoba history.
Although early Manitoba elections were plagued by irregularities, no one could accuse them of not being highly-contested affairs. Voting in the early days was considered an obligation, which is far from the case today, when an over 60-per-cent voter turn-out is considered exceptional.
Although you may not be moved by the messages from the candidates, your vote on October 4 can make a difference.