by Bruce Cherney (part 5 of 5)
During the “Battle of the Affidavits,” Winnipeg Liberal MLA Thomas Johnson produced an affidavit on February 19, 1914, from William Sutherland of Ashern, an individual purported to have been the author of an affidavit read out days earlier in the Manitoba Legislature by Gimli MLA Edmund Taylor. The document read by Taylor on February 10, accused Alexander McCurdy, a Winnipeg worker for the Arni Eggertsson 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 who were to be sent to the polls in Ashern. While in Ashern, Taylor said 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.
Johnson told MLAs in the legislature “that the original document has not been produced. Will the honorable member for Gimli produce it?”
Taylor avoided the request, instead saying, “Who started the attacks?”
“I admit that the honorable gentleman read the first (Sutherland) affidavit,” answered Johnson.
He did make charges of corrupt election practices, said Johnson, and defied Taylor and the Conservate members to disprove them. “Their only reply has been to read concocted stuff and false evidence,” Johnson declared.
Johnson then read the affidavit supplied to him by Sutherland. According to Sutherland, the first time he heard of being mentioned as making charges of corrupt practices came when reading the February 11, 1914, Daily Telegram. In the Winnipegbased newspaper, he was said to have on Monday, May 12, 1913, signed an affidavit before an administrator of oaths accusing McCurdy of election improprieties.
“I further state and declare that the alleged affidavit is a fabrication and false; and that I placed my signature to no such statement.
“That to the best of my belief and knowledge Alex McCurdy did not distribute liquor to the electors in and about Ashern, either on the day of the election, or at any other time.”
Sutherland further stated he wasn’t sent to Winnipeg by McCurdy and that he wasn’t given money or tickets to enlist voters. Instead, he went to Winnipeg in the company of Joseph Richardson of Ashern on May 10 in connection with repairs for a J.I. Case tractor engine owned by Richardson, who paid his fare and expenses to and from the city.
In July 1913, he met Dan Hunter, the hotelkeeper in Oak Point, on the train to Winnipeg. When they arrived in the city, they went to the Moose Club, where Hunter asked Sutherland if he had seen him with liquor on the day of the election.
Sutherland replied,”No.” Hunter then asked Sutherland if he would accompany him to the Conservative Party room in the Moose Club on Pacific Avenue, a drinking establishment referred to as a social club, to sign an affidavit confirming his statement. Hunter offered Sutherland $25 for his trouble.
He then signed an affidavit stating that Dan Hunter had not handed out liquor. Sutherland was paid $20 by Hunter and received the remaining $5 from the bartender at the Moose Club.
“Note please,” said Johnson in the legislature, “where it was that this man went to make this affidavit, which he admits having made — an affidavit having nothing to do with McCurdy. It was to the Moose Club he went. And when the full price stipulated for the affidavit was not at hand, the balance was made up by the bartender of the Moose Club.”
“Well, what about it?” asked R.F. Lyons, the Conservative MLA for Norfolk (Carberry area).
“What about it?” replied Johnson. “How far shall we have to go before we can bring the blush of shame to the faces of the honorable gentlemen opposite?”
Johnson then accused Taylor of reading a false affidavit in the legislature. Taylor rose and said he was satisfied that the charges made by Johnson were false, and he would produce the original document signed by Sutherland.
But Taylor admitted that McCurdy may be innocent of the charges made against him, although no matter where the liquor came from, the Liberals were still guilty of distributing intoxicating spirits in the interest of their candidate during the Gimli byelection.
Liberal Leader T.C. Norris said the new revelations confirmed his belief that a royal commission had to be appointed to look into the Gimli byelection.
After an adjournment, the legislature reconvened and Roblin walked in carrying a stack of papers. “We have the documents here now,” he said, after placing the papers in a desk drawer. Roblin then asked the Liberal MLAs to tell him how much they had paid Sutherland for the affidavit read by Johnson.
“That is a matter for the attorney-general’s department to find out,” Norris replied, attempting to goad Roblin into calling an investigation into the Gimli byelection.
Roblin informed MLAs that the Conservative affidavits had been obtained a few days after the byelection.
“You foresaw that there would be trouble over Gimli, then?” Johnson asked.
“There was so much Liberal corruption that we knew there must be an explosion of public opinion,” answered Roblin, “and that you would take steps to cover it up. The Liberal corruption was shocking, absolutely shocking.”
“I suppose that is the reason why you refused an investigation,” challenged Johnson.
William Molloy, the Liberal MLA for La Verendrye, had been accused of suppling liquor, cigars and other refreshments during a dance held in a Gimli house two days before the election in another affidavit allegedly signed by Joseph de Laronde, a resident of Oak Point, which is located on the east shore of Lake Manitoba. The affidavit read by Taylor in the legislature further accused Molloy of paying a Free Press representative $7 to bring the beer and whiskey to the house, and also promised him another $5 if he cast his vote for Eggertsson.
In the legislature, Molly rose and said: “I have been engaged in seven campaigns ... and if there is any man in this house or in this province that can say, notwithstanding these affidavits, which have been bought and paid for and are perjured, that I did anything like what is charged, 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 candidature.”
The dance was shaded in further controversy since it ended in a brawl.
Premier Roblin asked Molloy if he had been at the dance. The MLA replied yes. And when asked if there had been a fight, Molloy also replied in the affirmative after which peals of laughter broke out in the legislature.
Roblin was implying that Molloy had precipitated the fight by supplying liquor to the patrons of the dance.
“I want to say,” said Molloy, “I had absolutely nothing to do with the origin or conclusion of the dance. I hardly knew anybody there. I shall be more than pleased to go into the proposed investigation and get this matter cleared up.”
On February 18, Molloy told the legislature that if the government could produce the affidavit from Laronde, he would not be a candidate in another Manitoba election.
“All right, we’ll do that,” replied Roblin. “That is an easy way to get rid of the member for la Verendrye.”
Molloy then produced his own affidavit from Laronde to discredit the one read by Taylor days earlier.
Roblin then brought the Laronde document into the legislature and laid it down on the clerk’s table.
The la Verendrye MLA studied it, and then noted: “The J was clear enough, also the capital D; the remainder a mere erratic line. Now, I know Laronde can’t write. The affidavit I got was signed by him with a cross and witnessed by his wife. So I’m pretty sure that there was some monkey work over that signature on Taylor’s affidavit.”
Later, Molloy asked a reporter to examine the document produced by Roblin once it was retrieved by legislative clerk, A.H. Correlli. The exchange that followed was reported in the February 20, 1914, Free Press.
“Certainly,” Correlli replied and began to search his files, but he couldn’t find the document.
“Some member must have taken it off the table,” said the clerk. “Whoever did it had no right to do so.”
As a result, there was then no way to compare the document with the Molloy affidavit to judge its authenticity.
A Free Press editorial that appeared the same day that the document was reported missing claimed Taylor had not made any charges as a result of a personal investigation, as had been done by Johnson. “He got behind the affidavits produced by the System’s affidavit-factory; and he went through them, as if they disposed of Mr. Johnson’s charges. On the contrary, of course, they only made all the more evident the necessity for a searching investigation ... But the System does not dare to face an investigation.”
The only way to clear up the controversy was for the government to allow a full investigation to be launched, but the Conservatives, fearing the outcome, steadfastly refused to take this step, according to the editorial.
Before anything further could be determined about the irregularities in the 1913 Gimli byelection, a province-wide election was held on July 10, 1914. Taylor didn’t run in Gimli riding, but the newly-created riding of St. George, which had been carved out of the west side of Gimli constituency.
Taylor won in St. George, and Conservative candidate Sveinn Thorvaldson won in Gimli. The Conservative’s seat count in the legislature didn’t change and stood at 28, but the Liberals gained seven new seats, taking 20 ridings in total, while one seat was won by an independent. All the gains made by the Liberals were the result of redistribution, as the number of ridings had been increased to 49 for the 1914 election from the 41 that had been contested in the 1910 provincial election.
With a majority in place, the Conservatives continued to suppress any calls for investigations on election practices. But when the evidence began to mount that the party received kickbacks from padded contracts involving the construction of the Manitoba Legislative Building, the Roblin government could no longer keep the scandal under control. Sir Douglas Cameron, the Manitoba lieutenant-governor, intervened and initiated a Royal commission to investigate the kickbacks, which resulted in the resignation of the Roblin Conservatives and the formation of a new government under Liberal Leader T.C. Norris.
In the subsequent August 6, 1915, provincial general election, the ranks of the scandal-plagued Tories were decimated, as the party won just five seats, while the Liberals claimed 40 seats. In Gimli, Taras Ferley, an Independent Liberal, was elected and became the first Ukrainian-Canadian to serve as an MLA. Meanwhile, Taylor didn’t bother to contest St. George, which was won by Liberal candidate Skuli Sigfusson.
Once in power, the Liberal government began its own investigation into the use of road work funds by the Conservatives to fill their election war chest, concentrating initially on the 1914 election campaign and Roblin constituency. The Conservative Party’s Frederic Newtown had successfully held off challengers for the Roblin seat in the legislature in 1914 and 1915.
The public accounts committee of the legislature compiled a report that included suspicious road work spending in individual ridings during the months of June and July leading up to the 1914 election. According to the report, the spending was as follows: $20,000 in Dauphin, $10,000 in Dufferin, $18,000 in Elmwood, $20,000 in Old Gimli, $80,000 in New Gimli (the riding had diminished in size following redistribution), $20,000 for Kildonan and St. Andrews, $20,000 in Roblin, $30,000 in Rockwood, $10,000 in Russell, $16,000 in St. Clements, $100,000 in St. George (the new riding carved out of Gimli), and $17,000 in Swan River.”
Witnesses subpoenaed by the committee testified to the use of kickbacks from padded road work contracts. The committee also accused Roblin MLA Newton of hindering their investigation by inducing subpoenaed witnesses not to testify.
Newton issued a statement to the committee to the effect that he didn’t receive “any money improperly and do not know how the pay-sheets became padded ...”
The committee recommendation to appoint a Royal commission to probe further into road spending in Manitoba during the 1914 election was adopted. Judge George Paterson of the County Court was appointed by Manitoba Lieutenant-Governor Sir James Aikens, who ironically was the leader of the Conservative Party in Manitoba following the resignation of Roblin, to head of the commission.
Aikens led the Conservatives during their defeat in the 1915 provincial election (he was soundly beaten in Brandon riding). He was appointed to his new post of lieutenant-governor by Manitoba Liberal Premier Norris upon the recommendation of Prime Minister Robert Borden, who was the leader of the Conservative government in Ottawa. Aikens turned out to be a popular and well-respected choice for the position.
Under the terms of commission, the probe could only investigate road spending in the constituencies of Roblin, Rockwood, Emerson, Russell and Gimli during the 1914 election.
Testimony from witnesses showed how funds for road work were funnelled to the Conservative Party. In 1914, Dr. Walter Montague, the minister of public works, was in charge of all road work. MLAs applied to him for a share of money for their constituencies and arranged for the hiring of crews and foremen to do the work (Manitoba Premiers of the 19th and 20th Centuries, edited by Barry Glen Ferguson and Robert Vardhaugh, 2010).
“What is clear from the Paterson commission is that much more road work was paid for than was ever completed. This was because the men listed in the pay sheets, and who received cheques and cash payments, were frequently not doing road work at all; they were party workers who spent their time going to political meetings, driving voters to be registered or to vote and buying drinks and paying bribes.”
In the case of Gimli constituency in 1914, the commissioner’s report, released on February 20, 1917, found: “There were 115 pieces of work supposed to have been undertaken ... costing $78,660, of which $62,107.20 was paid over in cash. (Donat) Baribault’s (a civil engineer hired by the commission to investigate the actual work done) evidence (in one instance) as to work costing $16,620 was worth $7,683.”
The implication was that for every dollar that was supposed to be spent on roads, 50-cents went into the Conservatives’ election fund.
Baribault found evidence of such practices being common in the other ridings under investigation.
Paterson wrote that in the 1914 election, Conservative candidate, Sveinn Thorvaldson, was an active participant in the “orgy of dispoilation,” and encouraged and prompted the “frauds.”
The judge uncovered that pay sheets had been altered by other party workers on behalf of Thorvaldson’s election campaign under the instructions of the candidate. But it was Dr. Montague who ordered the use of road funds for election financing in the ridings that were investigated, “and all along the line officials did their part,” according to Paterson.
Although the Paterson probe dealt specifically with the 1914 provincial election, the pattern of widespread corrupt election practices involving road work was first brought to public attention as a result of the 1913 Gimli byelection. When introducing his charges of corruption in the legislature involving the 1913 Gimli byelection, 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 then spent vastly exceeded “reasonable limits” that public sentiment could be aroused against the practice, Johnson warned the Roblin government. The Conservatives should have heeded his advice, but chose to ignore Johnson and proceeded to use the same fraudulent tactics in the 1914 general election, which contributed to their eventual political collapse.