by Bruce Cherney (part 4)
Nellie McClung told the audience prior to the beginning of the mock parliament at the Walker Theatre: “Remember, life on the stage here is reversed. Women have the vote while men do not” (Manitoba Free Press, January 29, 1914).
When Anne Perry presented a bill during the Political Equality League’s (PEL) all-women mock parliament on January 28 to confirm dower rights on men, opposition members taunted the speaker with remarks such as, “You’re just trying to get in right with the men.” Laughter erupted in the audience when this was heard.
Kennethe Haig, another member of the PEL, who wrote for the Free Press, replied for the mock parliament government, and a vote was called with the reply, “No.”
Then appearing on stage was Robert C. Skinner with a wheelbarrow full of petitions asking for the vote for men. The slogan of the petition was: “We have the brains. Why not let us vote?”
Skinner made an eloquent plea for men’s right to vote at the 1914 event, but McClung, in the role of the parliament’s premier, stood and mimicking the gestures of Premier Rodmond Roblin told the audience at the Walker (now Burton Cummings Theatre) that men were being misled: “If men were all so intelligent as these representatives of the downtrodden sex seem to be it might not do any harm to give them the vote. But all men are not intelligent.
“There is no use giving men votes,” she said, turning the tables on the arguments made by Roblin to the accompanying laughter of the audience. In fact, McClung used many of the words and phrases offered by Roblin when the PEL delegates met a day earlier with the premier.
“They would not use them (votes),” said McClung. “They would let them spoil and go to waste. Then again, men would vote too much. Politics unsettles men, and unsettled men mean unsettled bills — broken furniture, broken vows, and divorce.
“Good men shrink from the polls as from a pestilence,” she commented.
Quoting a statistic that revealed men comprised most of the land’s lawbreakers, McClung scolded the mock parliament delegation: “Surely you do not ask me to enfranchise an army of lawbreakers? Giving men the vote would unsettle the home ...
“In administrating the government we have studied economy. We have studied every dollar — to see if we could make better use of ourselves. We have been very generous, we are paying fourteen women for every government job ... Perhaps the time will come when men and women legislate together. I don’t know. In the meantime I ask your delegation to be of good cheer. We will try to the best of our ability to conduct the affairs of the province, and prove worthy standard-bearers of the good old flag of our grand old party, which has often gone down to disgrace but never to defeat.”
McClung, recalling Roblin’s treatment of the women who visited his office to assert their cause a day earlier, said: “We like delegations. We have seen a great many, and we pride ourselves on treating these delegations with the greatest courtesy and candor. We assure you that we are just as pleased to see you today as we shall be to see you at any future day. We wish to compliment this delegation on their splendid gentlemanly appearance. If without exercising the vote, such splendid specimens of manhood can be produced, such a system of affairs should not be interfered with. Any system of civilization that can produce such splendid specimens of manhood as Mr. Skinner is good enough for me, and if it is good enough for me it is good enough for anybody.”
When McClung finished her oration, Skinner, resurrecting McClung’s threat to Roblin during her earlier one-on-one meeting with the premier, said, “I venture to say that we will get you yet.”
Newspapers of the day reported that the audience rocked with gales of laughter, and that “storms of applause punctuated every point and paragraph of what is unanimously conceded to be the best burlesque ever staged in Winnipeg.”
This program had been so successful that it was repeated in Winnipeg and moved on for a showing in Brandon. As a financial success, the mock parliament funded the suffragette campaign.
The Winnipeg Telegram editorialized that the program was so well received by the audience that “the cause of women may not be so hopeless after all and the vote may not be so far away as one might be inclined to fear.”
But Roblin remained unmoved, despite the mockery made of his government’s battle against the suffragette movement. While Roblin maintained his unwavering opposition, around him there was a ground swell of support for the women’s cause from virtually all segments of the Manitoba population.
“He (Roblin) was decidedly on the wrong side of the issue, as my mother reported, both for herself and her mother-in-law,” wrote former Manitoba Premier Duff Roblin, the grandson of Rodmond Roblin, in his book, Speaking for Myself: Politics and Other Pursuits (1999).
(Next week: part 5)