Liberals in Manitoba : provincial decline and resurgence

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Lang, Timothy O. E.
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When Manitoba joined the Canadian Confederation in 1870, it did not have clearly defined political parties, and in the legislature many members had only a vague or obscure party affiliation if indeed they had any at all. Twenty years later, however, the province had changed dramatically as new settlers arrived, mostly from Europe or Ontario, which it increasingly resembled. As it developed, the province adopted the political parties that were present in Ontario and at the national level in Ottawa. Although party politics was still not as clearly defined as in the rest of the nation, it was beginning to take shape. The Liberal party in Manitoba first took office in 1888, and by the end of the First World War it appeared to dominate provincial politics. Well after the Second World War it continued to dominate Manitoba potitics in one form or another. The Liberals had established themselves as a political force that appeared unbeatable. By 1970, one hundred years after the birth of Manitoba, the fortunes of the once powerful Liberal party were in serious decline. The party that once had enjoyed such glorious success now seemed on the verge of extinction. Within a decade of Manitoba's centennial, the party that at one time could't "do no wrong" could now "do no right", and was practically eliminated from provincial politics by the mid-1980's. In the context of this decline, the 1988 provincial election results were astounding, as the resurgent Liberals won so many seats that they came close to forming the provincial government. In considering the major factors that evidently contributed to the slow decline and sudden recovery of Manitoba's Liberal party, this study identifies the federal Liberal party's influence, the capacity of local leadership, and the increased competition from the NDP. While the purpose of this study is not to give advice, it must be noted, in conclusion, that the Manitoba Liberals have recently fared somewhat better in meeting the NDP challenge when their emphasis on policy has been relatively progressive in proposing social reform.