Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan

History

Oct 12, 2015 | Content

The influence of the Conservative Party in Sask begins with the arrival of Sir Frederich Haultain, a barrister from Ft. McLeod, NWT., who in 1887 won the right to represent his community in Regina which was the Territorial Capital. He continued to represent his constituency until the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta were formed in 1905.

The 25 member Territorial Assembly at this time was composed of a loose federation of liberal and conservative minded members united by the belief that control of the territorial finances should rest with the Assembly and not the Lieutenant-Governor, as this denied responsible government to the territories. Haultain became the leader of the movement and in 1897 was successful in having the Lt-Gov. excluded from the executive committee [cabinet], and in recognition of his efforts, he became the first premier of the NWT.

Nominally a Conservative, Haultain selected both Liberals and Conservatives for his cabinet, believing that non-partisanship was of benefit to the governing of the Territories as it would be an effective tool to lobby the federal Government. Because of immigration, the need for more amenities, especially roads and schools, increased the pressure for the establishment of provinces as this would give them the privilege of taxation rather than relying on annual federal grants.

In 1903 Haultain accepted an honorary position with the Territorial Conservative Association, and campaigned for the Party in the federal election the next year. He believed that Robert Borden and the Conservative Party were the best vehicles to achieve a One Province status for his territory, which he envisioned as stretching from an extension of the Manitoba boundary to British Columbia and from the 49thparallel to the 57th. This he would call ‘Buffalo’.

The Laurier Liberal won government, and recognizing both the threat of a large powerful western province, and the popularity of its Premier, they split the Territories into the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1905, and Haultain was ignored in the choice for Premiership. Instead they plucked Walter Scott, an MP of the Liberal persuasion from the back benches of the Commons, and had him run for the leadership of the Sask. Liberals party. The Lt. Gov. A.E. Forget, himself a Liberal then appointed Scott and the Liberals as the governing party in the new Provincial Legislature.

The legislation creating two provinces also made provision for the federal government to retain ownership of the provinces’ resources, and granted educational rights to Roman Catholics. Believing this to be an intrusion of provincial rights guaranteed by the BNA Act, Haultain transformed the Conservative Party into the Provincial Rights Party and with a coalition of liberal and conservatives who also believed the Federal Government was intruding where they had no right, challenged Liberal Walter Scott in the 1905 election. Catholics feeling their stand was anti-Catholic did not support the Party, and the National Rights Party lost by a slim margin. Sir Frederick became the first Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. He contested the 1908 election as the leader of the P. R. P. and in 1912 as the leader of the Conservative Party but again was unsuccessful in beating the Liberals.

In 1912, Sir Frederick [knighted in 1916] retired from politics and accepted the Chief Justice of Sask. appointment, from which he retired in 1937. He also served as Chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan from 1917 to 1939. He amassed a numberof Honorary Degrees including that of an honorary Cree Chief. He died in Montreal in Jan. 1942

The position of Leader of the Conservative Party was assumed by Bellington Bartley Willoughby from Moose Jaw in1912.

Haultain was the first ‘premier’ of the new territorial government, the first leader of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and the first leader of the fledgling Conservative Party- truly an unrecognized Father of Confederation.

The right wing had little success as the Provincial Rights Party winning only 8 of the 54 seats in the 1912 election. Members decided to revert to their Party’s original Conservative name.

William Bartley Willoughby, LLB. a MLA from Moose Jaw assumed the leadership of both the Party and His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. He spent a good deal of his time uniting his caucus and establishing riding associations throughout the province, ensuring fundraising and membership recruitment was done on a local level.

Saskatchewan suffered growing pains due to an influx of immigrants, many from what during WW1 were enemy nations, rudimentary infrastructure [roads, schools, hospitals], and the war itself. Unemployment added to suspicions, dislike became both hatred, and rabid nationalism. Internment and work camps were established. Male members of immigrant families were arbitrarily interred, prohibition was legislated and schools were expected to Canadianize students by eradicating ethnic languages and customs.

Premier Scott’s amendment to the School Act [1913] requiring families belonging to minority religions to support separate schools through taxation created a backlash in the predominately Protestant, Anglo-Canadian citizens. They saw the Roman Catholic Church as gaining too much sway. Life became very unpleasant.

One piece of legislation that was momentous was the enfranchisement of women in 1916, a move led by the Conservative member John Ernest Bradshaw, former mayor from Prince Albert.

The Party lost favor due to the federal Conservative’s support of conscription. They won only 7 seats in the 1917 election. This in spite of J.E. Bradshaw’s success at proving two charges of corruption against the Liberal government of W. Scott [diverting highway monies to pay for Liberal organizers, and MLA’s accepting bribes from the pro-liquor interests]. Bradshaw himself lost his P.A seat.

Willoughby was appointed to the Canadian Senate where he assumed leadership of the Conservative senators, and Donald Maclean, LLB, from Saskatoon, became leader of the Party and the Opposition. The Conservatives continued the battle against multilingualism and multiculturalism and the government responded by amending the School Act in both 1917 and 1918. This made schooling compulsory for ages 7-14 and limited the use of ‘ethnic’ languages in schools.

When Premier Martin amended the School Act of 1918 he appointed Dr. James Milton Anderson, superintendent of Yorkton Schools, as Director of Education in Regina with the “special responsibility to ensure that school boards and teachers in ‘ethnic’ districts obeyed the law with respect to educating their children in English”.1

Farm activists became political and entered the arena under the Progressive banner at both the provincial [Alta. and Man.], and the federal level. Donald Maclean resigned his leadership to accept a position on the Bench just 2 months before the1921 election, leaving the Conservatives bereft of both a leader and the role of Opposition, and with only 3 members in the House. The Liberals under Wm Martin, won with a majority. He however had lost the respect of the farm vote by supporting W.R. Motherwell rather than a Progressive for M.P., and Charles Dunning became Saskatchewan’s third Premier in 1922.

Dr. Anderson, bitterly disappointed at being removed as Director of Education, succumbed to the pleas of the Conservative Party to assume the mantle of leadership of the decimated Party in 1924.

The Liberals, with the backing of the farm vote, again won handily in the 1925 election. The government was besieged by the problems of prohibition, heavy immigration, the arrival of the KluKlux Klan, and the fear expressed by the Protestant, largely British population that they were being inundated by Catholics and non-British peasants. . Dunning was seconded to the Federal Liberal government of McKenzie King and James Gardiner succeeded as Premier in Feb. 1926.

1 pp 2, Saskatchewan Politicians, Lives Past and Present Canadian Plains Research Center, U. of R. 2004 Eds. Mlazgar & Quiring