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Gimli 1913 byelection — Woodsworth proposed a motion at Methodist convention to investigate Taylor’s alleged corruption
May 30, 2013

 

by Bruce Cherney (part 4)
The Voice, a Winnipeg-based labour newspaper, contained a column on June 30, 1913, that defended James Shaver Woodsworth and attacked the Winnipeg Telegram for casting “calumnious aspersions” on the future Labour MP and Methodist minister in charge of the All People’s Mission in Winnipeg’s North End. 
The Telegram alleged that there was collusion between Woodsworth and the Manitoba Free Press to sully the name of Edmund Taylor, the Conservative victor in the 1913 Gimli byelection, through accusations of corrupt election practices.
Woodsworth had a motion adopted at the June 17, 1913, meeting of the Manitoba Methodist Conference held in Brandon that would have had Taylor, a leading member of the Methodist congregation in Winnipeg, censured, if the charges of widespread bribery of electors with liquor and money in Gimli constistuency were proven.
In its own highly-partisan manner, The Voice column accused the city’s “daily press” (specifically the Telegram, but the Free Press was also singled out) of “opening wide the sluice gates of the stream of political venom,” and “vomiting forth its putrid torrent of calumny and abuse with the total disregard of any sense of decency.”
It further alleged that the presence of political corruption in Canada should come as no surprise. “So flagrant and widespread is this evil that it is difficult for those who have watched the game closely to believe that there is ever an election in which either of the two old parties (Conservative and Liberal) preserve clean hands.”
The Free Press called upon Manitoba  Attorney-General James Henry Howden as the “proper authority” to investigate the alleged byelection wrongdoings in Gimli. But the newspaper also claimed this was unlikely to occur, since the MLA for Beautiful Plains constituency had won the 1910 election by acclamation after a technicality overturned the candidacy of a Liberal. 
“He does not himself sit in the Legislature by virtue of the voice of the electors of Beautiful Plains (Neepawa area) ...,” the newspaper declared. “We do not think there would be much good done by advising Mr. Howden of the achievements of the Conservative workers in Gimli, not a few of whom were employees of his own department.”
Yet, Woodsworth had more faith in the attorney-general, believing he would uphold the law and investigate the accusations made against Taylor’s byelection campaign.
The Free Press continued to press the government to declare the Gimli byelection invalid through editorials and correspondence published from constituency residents claiming widespread wrongdoing.
Orest Zerebko, the “Rutherian” (Ukrainian) school teacher at Plum Ridge School in Pleasant Home, 10 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg Beach, wrote that he saw many instances of liquor being given to voters, and government employees soliciting votes.
The case in Gimli gained widespread attention in newspapers across Canada, even into the U.S. The Lethbridge Daily Herald of July 7, 1913, favoured protesting the vote in order to clear up the matter once and for all. “Let the light be turned on Gimli ...,” read an editorial. “Manitoba has an unenviable reputation for crooked political tactics, and the Gimli bye-election is said to have gone the limit.”
A Liberal protest was filed in the courts to have the Gimli byelection declared void, but before Taylor could be served with a notice, he had left the province for the Kenora area. The Free Press alleged that Taylor was seen at the CPR station on Higgins Avenue boarding a train by a back entrance an hour after the case was filed and while a court official was at the main gate to serve the notice to appear in court.
Whatever the truth behind the accusation, Taylor avoided receiving the notice for 15 days, the length of time that it remained legally valid.
Court of King’s Bench Chief Justice Thomas Mathers on August 20 ruled that he could not extend the original court order beyond 15 days under the terms of the Manitoba Elections Act. The chief justice regretted that the case would not be tried on its “merits,” but the existing law prevented him from issuing a second order.
The case was sent to the Manitoba Court of Appeals, but Taylor’s lawyer made a farce of the proceedings by protesting minute details, such as whether $750 filed as the Liberal deposit for the case to appear in court was the “current money of Canada.” A.J. Andrews, Taylor’s attorney, wanted to cross-examine H.H. Drummond, the Manitoba receiver general, about the nation’s legal currency.
On December 4, Judge John Philpot Curran refused to hear more evidence of this type, since it was making a “burlesque of the court of justice.” The judge adjourned the case indefinitely, which was the outcome Taylor’s lawyer strove to obtain through his delaying tactics.
The Liberals, led by T.C. Norris and Winnipeg MLAs Thomas Johnson and S. Hart Green, on January 30, tried to get the legislature to launch an investigation into the Gimli byelection, but Premier Rodmond Roblin’s Conservative government refused to take such action.
By this time, the political landscape of the province was being changed through redistribution, which included the division of Gimli into two ridings. The new riding of St. George was carved out of the west side of Gimli constituency, which kept its name but was much diminished in size. In the July 10, 1914, provincial general election, Taylor ran in St. George rather than Gimli.
According to newspaper reports, the Conservatives in Gimli informed the premier that they didn’t want Taylor as their candidate, which is understandable given the controversy surrounding his brief tenure in the riding.
In the New Year, the Free Press began to publish articles showing what the Conservatives had spent in Gimli riding to secure Taylor’s election. Using the government’s own Public Accounts, the newspaper revealed that $12,788 had been spent in Gimli in 1912 on drains, roads and bridges. In the fiscal year that ended on November 30, 1913, the government spent $93,534.92 for the same purposes in the constituency. Across the province, a total of $130,000 was spent on the government construction projects, indicating that three-quarters of all public funds for drains, roads and bridges had been channeled into Gimli.
Furthermore, there were few details about how the money had actually been alloted in Gimli, with many of the 362 items simply called “pay lists.”
On February 6, 1914,  Johnson stood up in the legislature and charged the Roblin government with corruption in the Gimli byelection.
Johnson said: “I have tabled my charges (in the legislature) and I say to the members of the government, ‘The next move is up to you. What are you going to do about it?’”
But he received no reply and the government simply proceeded with other business.
When introducing his charges, Johnson said promising government money for projects in a riding wasn’t a new tactic, and people didn’t regard it as particularly wrong as long as it was kept within “reasonable limits.” It was only when the money promised and spent vastly exceeded “reasonable limits” that public sentiment was aroused, he added.
Johnson said it was shocking that the government was willing to spend nearly $100,000 to win the Gimli byelection.
He read into the record nine specific charges dealing with items such as the improper and corrupt use of public funds, bribery, the free distribution of liquor to buy votes, intimidation of voters, and employing government workers who were personally guilty of intimidation, bribery, corruption and the distribution of liquor to secure votes.
Johnson further alleged that prominent among the campaign workers for Taylor were the “owners, managers, employees and habitues of notorious drinking resorts in Winnipeg and ‘clubs of that class.’”
He then named culprits and provided over 100 specific incidents to defend his accusations. Many of the examples involved government workers promising road work contracts to local voters as well as promising employment in road crews to constituency residents.
Johnson said Ross J. Adam, a Manitoba Provincial Police constable stationed in the town of Gimli, promised road work for those who were willing to support Taylor, and produced handcuffs while treating voters to drinks in the Gimli Hotel, threatening to arrest anyone who refused to vote for Taylor.
Alexander Campbell, a “machine agent of Ashern,” offered an elector $10 to vote for Taylor and said no road work would be done in the area unless Taylor was elected.
Johnson also accused E.U. Fisher, a Conservative organizer in Winnipeg, of giving party workers the money handed out to voters in Ashern. 
Among the many other examples provided by Johnson, J.B. Lauzon was said to be responsible for 24 instances of distributing liquor and vote buying in the Fisher Branch area.
Eventually, Taylor had to reply to the charges and did so in the legislature on February 10, 1914. He accused Liberal Party workers with election corruption during the Gimli campaign, producing affidavits to that effect. Other affidavits were from civil servants and party workers who denied involvement in any illegal acts.
He also singled out W. Molloy, the Liberal MLA for La Verendrye, as one of those guilty of election irregularities. After Taylor’s speech, Molloy rose and denied the accusations, saying that the affidavits produced by Taylor were paid for by the Conservatives, which as the evidence suggests was probably the case.
“I have been engaged in seven campaigns in Manitoba, one in Alberta and one in Saskatchewan, and if there is any man in this province who can say, notwithstanding these affidavits, which have been bought and paid for and are perjured, that I ever did anything like what is claimed, I will never offer myself for election again. Never in my experience have I used a dollar of money or a drop of whiskey in the interests of my candidacy.”
Taylor said the $93,000 spent in Gimli was primarily after the byelection and he was proud to have secured grants for the constituency, which had previously been neglected and needed a great deal of road work. None of the money had been spent to obtain his election, he added.
What arose from Taylor’s accusations could aptly be termed the “Battle of the Affidavits,” as Johnson would later produce his own to refute the claims made in the legislature by the Conservative MLA. 
But the biggest difference in this “battle” was that Johnson had handed over his affidavits for the public record, but Taylor had not done the same. The new Gimli MLA merely read out the contents of his affidavits, which made it impossible to verify signatures and otherwise prove their validity. This left an opening that Johnson exploited to great effect.
The embarrassment to Taylor was that the affidavits supplied to him by the Conservative political machine were likely obtained under false pretexts, and Johnson showed that this was the case in the affidavits he presented to the legislature.
In just one example among many, Johnson produced an affidavit from William Sutherland of Ashern, an individual purported to have been the author of a Taylor affidavit that accused Alexander McCurdy, a Winnipeg worker for the Eggertsson election campaign, of corrupt election practices, including the distribution of liquor to Ashern voters. According to Taylor, McCurdy sent Sutherland to Winnipeg, supplying him with money, tickets and liquor to buy voters in the city. While in Ashern, the voters were instructed on how to cast their ballots by McCurdy.
Sutherland said he made no such declaration and the affidavit in question had dealt with an entirely different matter.
 
(Next week: part 5)
by Bruce Cherney (part 4)
The Voice, a Winnipeg-based labour newspaper, contained a column on June 30, 1913, that defended James Shaver Woodsworth and attacked the Winnipeg Telegram for casting “calumnious aspersions” on the future Labour MP and Methodist minister in charge of the All People’s Mission in Winnipeg’s North End. 
The Telegram alleged that there was collusion between Woodsworth and the Manitoba Free Press to sully the name of Edmund Taylor, the Conservative victor in the 1913 Gimli byelection, through accusations of corrupt election practices.
Woodsworth had a motion adopted at the June 17, 1913, meeting of the Manitoba Methodist Conference held in Brandon that would have had Taylor, a leading member of the Methodist congregation in Winnipeg, censured, if the charges of widespread bribery of electors with liquor and money in Gimli constistuency were proven.
In its own highly-partisan manner, The Voice column accused the city’s “daily press” (specifically the Telegram, but the Free Press was also singled out) of “opening wide the sluice gates of the stream of political venom,” and “vomiting forth its putrid torrent of calumny and abuse with the total disregard of any sense of decency.”
It further alleged that the presence of political corruption in Canada should come as no surprise. “So flagrant and widespread is this evil that it is difficult for those who have watched the game closely to believe that there is ever an election in which either of the two old parties (Conservative and Liberal) preserve clean hands.”
The Free Press called upon Manitoba  Attorney-General James Henry Howden as the “proper authority” to investigate the alleged byelection wrongdoings in Gimli. But the newspaper also claimed this was unlikely to occur, since the MLA for Beautiful Plains constituency had won the 1910 election by acclamation after a technicality overturned the candidacy of a Liberal. 
“He does not himself sit in the Legislature by virtue of the voice of the electors of Beautiful Plains (Neepawa area) ...,” the newspaper declared. “We do not think there would be much good done by advising Mr. Howden of the achievements of the Conservative workers in Gimli, not a few of whom were employees of his own department.”
Yet, Woodsworth had more faith in the attorney-general, believing he would uphold the law and investigate the accusations made against Taylor’s byelection campaign.
The Free Press continued to press the government to declare the Gimli byelection invalid through editorials and correspondence published from constituency residents claiming widespread wrongdoing.
Orest Zerebko, the “Rutherian” (Ukrainian) school teacher at Plum Ridge School in Pleasant Home, 10 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg Beach, wrote that he saw many instances of liquor being given to voters, and government employees soliciting votes.
The case in Gimli gained widespread attention in newspapers across Canada, even into the U.S. The Lethbridge Daily Herald of July 7, 1913, favoured protesting the vote in order to clear up the matter once and for all. “Let the light be turned on Gimli ...,” read an editorial. “Manitoba has an unenviable reputation for crooked political tactics, and the Gimli bye-election is said to have gone the limit.”
A Liberal protest was filed in the courts to have the Gimli byelection declared void, but before Taylor could be served with a notice, he had left the province for the Kenora area. The Free Press alleged that Taylor was seen at the CPR station on Higgins Avenue boarding a train by a back entrance an hour after the case was filed and while a court official was at the main gate to serve the notice to appear in court.
Whatever the truth behind the accusation, Taylor avoided receiving the notice for 15 days, the length of time that it remained legally valid.
Court of King’s Bench Chief Justice Thomas Mathers on August 20 ruled that he could not extend the original court order beyond 15 days under the terms of the Manitoba Elections Act. The chief justice regretted that the case would not be tried on its “merits,” but the existing law prevented him from issuing a second order.
The case was sent to the Manitoba Court of Appeals, but Taylor’s lawyer made a farce of the proceedings by protesting minute details, such as whether $750 filed as the Liberal deposit for the case to appear in court was the “current money of Canada.” A.J. Andrews, Taylor’s attorney, wanted to cross-examine H.H. Drummond, the Manitoba receiver general, about the nation’s legal currency.
On December 4, Judge John Philpot Curran refused to hear more evidence of this type, since it was making a “burlesque of the court of justice.” The judge adjourned the case indefinitely, which was the outcome Taylor’s lawyer strove to obtain through his delaying tactics.
The Liberals, led by T.C. Norris and Winnipeg MLAs Thomas Johnson and S. Hart Green, on January 30, tried to get the legislature to launch an investigation into the Gimli byelection, but Premier Rodmond Roblin’s Conservative government refused to take such action.
By this time, the political landscape of the province was being changed through redistribution, which included the division of Gimli into two ridings. The new riding of St. George was carved out of the west side of Gimli constituency, which kept its name but was much diminished in size. In the July 10, 1914, provincial general election, Taylor ran in St. George rather than Gimli.
According to newspaper reports, the Conservatives in Gimli informed the premier that they didn’t want Taylor as their candidate, which is understandable given the controversy surrounding his brief tenure in the riding.
In the New Year, the Free Press began to publish articles showing what the Conservatives had spent in Gimli riding to secure Taylor’s election. Using the government’s own Public Accounts, the newspaper revealed that $12,788 had been spent in Gimli in 1912 on drains, roads and bridges. In the fiscal year that ended on November 30, 1913, the government spent $93,534.92 for the same purposes in the constituency. Across the province, a total of $130,000 was spent on the government construction projects, indicating that three-quarters of all public funds for drains, roads and bridges had been channeled into Gimli.
Furthermore, there were few details about how the money had actually been alloted in Gimli, with many of the 362 items simply called “pay lists.”
On February 6, 1914,  Johnson stood up in the legislature and charged the Roblin government with corruption in the Gimli byelection.
Johnson said: “I have tabled my charges (in the legislature) and I say to the members of the government, ‘The next move is up to you. What are you going to do about it?’”
But he received no reply and the government simply proceeded with other business.
When introducing his charges, Johnson said promising government money for projects in a riding wasn’t a new tactic, and people didn’t regard it as particularly wrong as long as it was kept within “reasonable limits.” It was only when the money promised and spent vastly exceeded “reasonable limits” that public sentiment was aroused, he added.
Johnson said it was shocking that the government was willing to spend nearly $100,000 to win the Gimli byelection.
He read into the record nine specific charges dealing with items such as the improper and corrupt use of public funds, bribery, the free distribution of liquor to buy votes, intimidation of voters, and employing government workers who were personally guilty of intimidation, bribery, corruption and the distribution of liquor to secure votes.
Johnson further alleged that prominent among the campaign workers for Taylor were the “owners, managers, employees and habitues of notorious drinking resorts in Winnipeg and ‘clubs of that class.’”
He then named culprits and provided over 100 specific incidents to defend his accusations. Many of the examples involved government workers promising road work contracts to local voters as well as promising employment in road crews to constituency residents.
Johnson said Ross J. Adam, a Manitoba Provincial Police constable stationed in the town of Gimli, promised road work for those who were willing to support Taylor, and produced handcuffs while treating voters to drinks in the Gimli Hotel, threatening to arrest anyone who refused to vote for Taylor.
Alexander Campbell, a “machine agent of Ashern,” offered an elector $10 to vote for Taylor and said no road work would be done in the area unless Taylor was elected.
Johnson also accused E.U. Fisher, a Conservative organizer in Winnipeg, of giving party workers the money handed out to voters in Ashern. 
Among the many other examples provided by Johnson, J.B. Lauzon was said to be responsible for 24 instances of distributing liquor and vote buying in the Fisher Branch area.
Eventually, Taylor had to reply to the charges and did so in the legislature on February 10, 1914. He accused Liberal Party workers with election corruption during the Gimli campaign, producing affidavits to that effect. Other affidavits were from civil servants and party workers who denied involvement in any illegal acts.
He also singled out W. Molloy, the Liberal MLA for La Verendrye, as one of those guilty of election irregularities. After Taylor’s speech, Molloy rose and denied the accusations, saying that the affidavits produced by Taylor were paid for by the Conservatives, which as the evidence suggests was probably the case.
“I have been engaged in seven campaigns in Manitoba, one in Alberta and one in Saskatchewan, and if there is any man in this province who can say, notwithstanding these affidavits, which have been bought and paid for and are perjured, that I ever did anything like what is claimed, I will never offer myself for election again. Never in my experience have I used a dollar of money or a drop of whiskey in the interests of my candidacy.”
Taylor said the $93,000 spent in Gimli was primarily after the byelection and he was proud to have secured grants for the constituency, which had previously been neglected and needed a great deal of road work. None of the money had been spent to obtain his election, he added.
What arose from Taylor’s accusations could aptly be termed the “Battle of the Affidavits,” as Johnson would later produce his own to refute the claims made in the legislature by the Conservative MLA. 
But the biggest difference in this “battle” was that Johnson had handed over his affidavits for the public record, but Taylor had not done the same. The new Gimli MLA merely read out the contents of his affidavits, which made it impossible to verify signatures and otherwise prove their validity. This left an opening that Johnson exploited to great effect.
The embarrassment to Taylor was that the affidavits supplied to him by the Conservative political machine were likely obtained under false pretexts, and Johnson showed that this was the case in the affidavits he presented to the legislature.
In just one example among many, Johnson produced an affidavit from William Sutherland of Ashern, an individual purported to have been the author of a Taylor affidavit that accused Alexander McCurdy, a Winnipeg worker for the Eggertsson election campaign, of corrupt election practices, including the distribution of liquor to Ashern voters. According to Taylor, McCurdy sent Sutherland to Winnipeg, supplying him with money, tickets and liquor to buy voters in the city. While in Ashern, the voters were instructed on how to cast their ballots by McCurdy.
Sutherland said he made no such declaration and the affidavit in question had dealt with an entirely different matter.
 
(Next week: part 5)