Manitoba's Tainted Premier

by George Siamandas


On October 29 1900 Rodmond Roblin became the premier of Manitoba. He was born in Ontario in 1853 from Dutch Ontario loyalists. His family had come to Winnipeg in 1877. Roblin became a successful businessman in the grain industry in both Carman and in Winnipeg. Roblin had also worked as a farmer and on the railways. Sir Rodmond Roblin was Duff Roblin's grandfather.

WL Morton described him as a man of great energy, simplicity and directness of mind, and one of the most qualified to be premier. But Rodmond Roblin was also noted for a kind of pompousness and arrogance. Especially on women's issues. He showed an incredible obtuseness in relation to demands by women for the vote. Roblin had ignored other issues that were popular like prohibition, the right of women to vote, and English language education.


Roblin succeeded Hugh John Mcdonald in 1900 when Hugh John retired to run for a federal seat. Roblin's first political office saw him serving as a Liberal in the Manitoba legislature in 1888. He jumped to the Conservative party while disagreeing with the Liberals on railway policy.


We forget how much Roblin did for Manitoba. He ran the province for 15 years from 1900 to 1915. He introduced workmen's compensation and with his influence with federal conservatives, Manitoba's provincial boundaries were substantially expanded opening up possibilities for northern development. The Canadian Northern Railway was strengthened through Manitoba with Roblin's efforts. Roblin's government under pressure from the United grain Growers built 170 grain elevators between 1909 and 1912.


By 1914 Roblin was in trouble. WW1 was on. Manitoba was in a recession. And the Legislative Building was becoming his waterloo. A far cry from 1912 when Winnipeg architect William Bruce developed an ambitious plan for a new city of 500,000 to called Roblin City and to be located at Churchill.

Shortly after he was knighted Roblin came under investigation on the Legislative building scandal. Roblin was forced to call either a Royal Commission or resign. He resigned within weeks. Ironically Roblin was brought before magistrate Hugh John McDonald who refused to consider charges against his former colleague. Charges hanged over Roblin's head for two years and finally in 1917 the charges were not proceeded with on the grounds of ill health. He died in 1937 at Hot Springs Arkansas.


He does not seem to be well remembered in Manitoba. His contributions have been overshadowed by the Legislative Building scandal. A lot of his problems had to do with his staunch loyalty to his party. Party politics in the 1910's were very vicious and partisan. Had he been equipped with a communications consultant and a pollster he might have been more popular.


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