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John Bracken: A Political Biography

John Bracken: A Political Biography

Copyright Date: 1979
  • Book Info
    John Bracken: A Political Biography
    Book Description:

    Premier of Manitoba for more than twenty years and, later, leader of the federal Progressive Conservative party, John Bracken became the recognized voice of the west during the difficult years of the depression. This book examines Bracken's political career, focusing on his years in Manitoba and his role in the political development of the Canadian west.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6474-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. 2-2)
  7. 1 Early years
    (pp. 3-14)

    John Bracken was born at Ellisville, Leeds County, Ontario, on Friday, 22 June 1883, the first child of Ephraim and Alberta (Gilbert) Bracken. The area is a beautiful part of Canada, a pocket of fertile lowland surrounded by ragged granite outcroppings lying just thirteen miles north of Gananoque, where the St Lawrence widens to embrace the Thousand Islands, and some twenty miles north-east of Kingston. Nearby, about three miles to the north and west, lies Seeley’s Bay – a small village and farming community nestling beside a tranquil sheet of water that forms a part of the Rideau Canal system connecting...

  8. 2 The West and scientific agriculture
    (pp. 15-25)

    A few days after his return to Seeley’s Bay, Bracken packed his bag once more, said good-bye to his family, and walked down to the wharf where he caught theRideau Queenfor Ottawa. He had been offered a job at $75 a month with the Dominion Seed Branch of the Department of Agriculture and was on his way to find out more about it.¹

    A dominion seed division had existed since 1899 and had been raised to the status of a branch in December 1904 on the reorganization of the office of the commissioner of agriculture and dairying. Since...

  9. 3 Premier of Manitoba
    (pp. 26-36)

    Shortly after midnight on Friday, 21 July 1922, the phone rang in Bracken’s house on the Fort Garry campus. Groggy, and annoyed at being awakened from a deep sleep, Bracken stumbled to the phone wondering who could be calling at such an hour. It turned out to be W.R. ‘Billy’ Clubb who in the provincial election three days earlier had won the Morris seat for the United Farmers of Manitoba. Clubb apologized for the lateness of the call and explained that he and the other twenty-three UFM members had been meeting all evening in an effort to decide who should...

  10. 4 Brackenism
    (pp. 37-51)

    Bracken and his farm colleagues fully appreciated that the rejection of the Norris government by the electorate was a request for honest, efficient, businesslike administration and a departure from partisan political warfare.¹ Above all it was a demand for economic government. By the time Bracken turned his attention to financial problems in mid-October, the province was losing money at the rate of $3500 a day, a figure which the government later claimed had risen to $5000 a day by the end of the fiscal year. These were staggering sums, and drastic measures were essential if Manitoba was again to pay...

  11. 5 Wood, minerals, and Liberals
    (pp. 52-67)

    By the mid-twenties Bracken’s ‘pay as you go’ policies, combined with the gradual return of prosperity to the West, were stabilizing the Manitoba economy. His cautious, pragmatic approach to government was meeting with general public approval and his party’s command of the legislature was no longer seriously threatened. Increasingly, his attention was drawn away from the day-to-day concerns finance, liquor, and education to the problems associated with the development of Manitoba’s natural resources of wood, water, and minerals.

    Bracken had been committed to diversifying Manitoba’s economy and opening up the undeveloped regions east of Lake Winnipeg and north of The...

  12. 6 The Seven Sisters site
    (pp. 68-84)

    In the months following the election the Liberals re-examined their position. Some of the younger members now thought it had been a mistake ‘to join with the old crowd’ in the campaign against Bracken,² and wished they had stayed with the policy of gradual penetration and control. Although Robson began to realize that the sensible attitude to adopt was one of ‘benevolent neutrality,’ he, Norris, and Edith Rogers really wanted to lambaste Bracken whom they disliked and considered ‘a Tory.’³ As for Bracken he was still prepared to co-operate with the Liberals and he made that clear to both Crerar...

  13. 7 Scandal
    (pp. 85-103)

    By the time the Seven Sisters lease was granted in mid-September and the Turgeon Commission met for the first time in mid-October, Bracken was engrossed in the complexities of the Manitoba political scene. Shortly after his return from California in April he had asked Donald McKenzie to contest the Lansdowne seat, soon to be vacated by Norris, with a view to joining the cabinet as minister of natural resources. When the controversy developed over the contract with the WEC Bracken asked Norris to delay his resignation and the seat was not vacated until September. The by-election was then scheduled for...

  14. 8 ‘Work, Economy, Patience’
    (pp. 104-126)

    Bracken walked briskly up the steps of the Legislative Building on Monday morning, 25 November, refreshed from his two months overseas and eager to tackle the accumulated backlog of correspondence and administrative detail. Minutes after entering his office his euphoria dissipated and he was abruptly reminded of the stresses and difficulties that he had managed, for a time, to shut from his mind. On his desk he found a note from Robson, dated 23 November, curtly breaking off relations between the Liberals and the Progressives.¹

    Robson had never liked Bracken, and had only agreed to co-operate with him in order...

  15. 9 Hanging on
    (pp. 127-146)

    Unemployment relief expenditures and maturing obligations in the United States and eastern Canada continued to be the main concern of the Bracken government during the middle thirties. The province continued to be hit by a series of crop failures and by 1936 had suffered from six consecutive years in which its net value of production was little more than half that of the late twenties. The strain on municipal and provincial finances was considerable. Although most of the rural municipalities were able to maintain their solvency this had only been achieved by repealing the major portion of the land taxes...

  16. 10 Manitoba’s case
    (pp. 147-171)

    During the winter of 1936-7 there was considerable speculation in the province about the future of the Bracken government. Much was heard about the possibility of a new coalition administration under a different leader. Despite the rumours these manœuvrings never came to anything, and it is doubtful if Bracken was ever seriously challenged as leader. There was, however, more legitimate doubt about his administration’s capacity to survive a meeting of the legislature, especially if it made no effort to cancel the 2 per cent income tax. Bracken’s problem was cancellation of the tax, and the resultant loss of revenue, was...

  17. 11 War
    (pp. 172-182)

    Manitoba political and administrative affairs were not overly demanding in the summer of 1939. Apart from the Royal Visit to Winnipeg in May and the accompanying formalities, life continued much as ever for Bracken. He usually spent every weekend on his farms at Great Falls and Marchand and often stayed a week or more at his place near Hudson Bay Junction. The only issues that continued to attract his time and attention were those related to agriculture.

    But with the outbreak of war that autumn Bracken was soon urging a conference of provincial treasurers at Ottawa to determine how the...

  18. 12 Leader of the Progressive Conservative party
    (pp. 183-195)

    By 1941 Bracken was a figure of national prominence. He had taken a leading role in the discussion over federal-provincial relations and had established himself as a politician with a deep commitment to Canadian unity. He was also recognized as the voice of western Canada, the one man who best represented the needs, interests, and ambitions of the prairie provinces. The formation of his non-partisan administration in November 1940 and the overwhelming electoral victory of April 1941 had seemingly confirmed his hold on the western public. He was a man who publicly opposed partisanship in politics, who favoured a national...

  19. 13 Out of the House
    (pp. 196-222)

    Bracken left Manitoba for Ottawa with mixed feelings. Never a man to look back with nostalgia or to regret a decision already made, he nevertheless recognized the security he was leaving and the enormity of the task facing him. He knew little about the intricacies of national politics or international affairs and had little sympathy for party infighting. He went to Ottawa hoping that he could reduce inter-party friction, bring rationality back into the discussion of problems, and make use of the expert advice that was so rarely tapped by politicians. He therefore arrived in Ottawa optimistic that he could...

  20. 14 In the House
    (pp. 223-237)

    One of Bracken’s and Dick Bell’s first concerns after the election was party organization.¹ Bell had resigned as national director on 12 June, the day after the election, pleading a desire to get back to his law career, but Bracken prevailed upon him to stay. It was unthinkable that Bell, a strength within the party, should be lost at this crucial juncture. Bell had been understandably frustrated by the divided leadership that had bedevilled the party since 1943 and, having done his duty through the election of 1945, he wanted out. Bracken persuaded Bell to outline his concerns in a...

  21. 15 Retirement
    (pp. 238-247)

    One afternoon in the autumn of 1943 John and Alice decided to get out of their apartment in the Chateau and go for a drive. It was a beautiful day and as they along the Prescott Highway the land looked soft and inviting in the golden September haze. After half-an-hour they reached Manotick about fourteen miles south of Ottawa where Bracken turned the car off the highway over the swing bridge and down the road that hugged the bank of the Rideau River. They had hardly made the turn when they suddenly came upon the abandoned remains of an old...

  22. Epilogue
    (pp. 248-250)

    John Bracken was not by nature a politician. He had no deep ideological conviction and no deep respect for the narrow exactitudes of party politics. He had no compelling vision and no commitment to a restructuring or remodelling of society. He saw the role of the politician as primarily administrative. Problems had to be handled with care and caution and advice sought from experts before a solution could be tried. He thought that party politics wasted energy and emotion and often distracted attention into frivolous and egotistical pathways. He believed one should draw on the talent and wisdom available in...

  23. Notes
    (pp. 251-296)
  24. A note on sources
    (pp. 297-304)
  25. Index
    (pp. 305-318)