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  • Politics in Manitoba: Parties, Leaders, and Voters
  • Nelson Wiseman
Christopher Adams . Politics in Manitoba: Parties, Leaders, and Voters. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2008. 233 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $24.95 sc.

Compared to studies of politics in other provinces, there is a dearth of material on Manitoba. This good, accessible book is a remedy. For our purposes in this journal, we might ask, "What does it tell us of ethnicity?" Christopher Adams retreads some established material on the cleavages between the province's charter group of Ontario-origin Anglo-Saxons and the early "have-less" immigrant groups from continental Europe, but he barely touches on the newer waves of immigrants from the Philippines, south Asia, and China. He gives attention, too, to aboriginals of which Manitoba, along with Saskatchewan, have the country's highest percentage.

Organized around individual chapters for each of the political parties, the book begins with a chapter on the provincial party system and concludes with an excellent synopsis. It deals briefly, clearly, and efficiently with the electoral system, external influences such as the international political economy, leadership, party organization, and the influence of federal and provincial parties on each other. Adams also offers a schema that incorporates long- and short-term factors that drive voter choice. Two appendixes follow. One recapitulates provincial election results since 1870; the other draws on the author's work as Research Director for Probe, Manitoba's leading public opinion surveyor of things political.

The chapter on the Conservatives refers repeatedly to their "WASPish" (35, 41) and "rural British base" (42) of support, although we learn the party had a Franco Manitoban leader during the First World War who fought the then Liberal government's opposition to French language rights. The Conservatives, however, behaved reprehensibly in the 1980s in opposing such rights. In the 1970s, the Conservatives had an urban Jewish leader, but animosity in his largely rural caucus, perhaps partly fed by anti-Semitic sentiments, did him in. In the 1980s, the Conservatives succeeded under a leader, Gary Filmon, who "played up" (47) his eastern-European heritage. The Liberal chapter is virtually bereft of references to ethnicity save for glancing allusions to the language controversies, a Franco-Manitoban leader in the 1960s, and the party's weakness among First Nations and new Canadians. Filipinos and Sikhs are fleetingly mentioned as playing a role in the 1996 Liberal leadership race. More significantly, the Liberals are bit players who matter little as a weak party in a polarized party system. An endnote (209 n.14) informs us of the Liberals' "WASPish roots." [End Page 189]

Ethnicity gets more attention, and deservedly so, in the NDP chapter. Ed Schreyer, a Catholic of East European descent, broke the older mould of provincial politics in 1969 by becoming the first non-Anglo, non-Ontario-descended premier since the 1880s. That watershed election is interpreted as both an "ethnic revolt" and "a decline in ethnic consciousness" (116) as traditional ethnic appeals and identification with ancestral countries faded. Replacing them were "class-based interests" that, actually, had historically overlapped ethnic distinctions; the race-proud Anglos had long been on top in an ethnic pecking order that had aboriginals at the bottom. The first Asian Canadian, Filipino, and First Nations MLAs appeared in Howard Pawley's 1981 NDP caucus, and Schreyer had a Metis cabinet minister (although this goes unmentioned).

Adams posits three cleavages: geography, ethnicity and political culture, and the decline of agriculture with the concomitant rise of the service sector and a "new middle class," particularly in the public service. Geographically, the political configuration is "N" plus "N" (North End Winnipeg and the North) versus "S plus s" (South end Winnipeg and the southern rural regions). Ethnically, the configuration has those of British Ontario origins in the "S plus s" versus the Slavs, Germans, and Scandinavians in the "N plus N" marginal farmlands. The European-origin minorities once practised the politics of deference or "clientelistic politics" – voting for the party deemed to have the best chance of winning in exchange for favours and tolerance. British-born labour-socialists, who were the backbone of the CCF, the NDP's predecessor, get a passing reference, as...


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