How Manitoba's New Democrats Won the 1969 Election
By George Siamandas
HOW THE NEW DEMOCRATS CAME TO POWER
In 1969, the Premier was Progressive Conservative Walter Weir. Weir and previous Premier Duff Roblin had run the province for 11 years. In the June 25 1969 election, the public could chose more old men with old ideas; (Walter Weir or Liberal Bobby Bend), or the young charismatic new leader of the New Democrats. Manitobans elected 28 NDP, 22 Conservatives, 5 Liberals, 1 Social Credit and 1 Independent. After taking two weeks to ponder the results Walter Weir resigned saying "the people of Manitoba were asleep and had made a grievous unintentional mistake." Many observers did not think Schreyer was a socialist but more likely a liberal. And it may have been that that is why the province felt comfortable electing him. In a time of emerging complexity they chose the man with new but pragmatic ideas.
Schreyer was a farm boy born Dec 21, 1935, in Beausejour Manitoba. He attended United College, and by age 22 had earned 4 degrees. In 1958 he became the youngest MLA at age 23. Between 1962 and 1965 he became a University professor teaching Political Science at St Paul's College. In 1965 he was elected to Parliament. Early in 1969 two old time New Democrats, Sid Green and Russ Paulley fought for the leadership. But some Winnipeg New Democrats wanted a fresh face and a committee of 100 drafted Ed Schreyer, in a nominating convention 17 days before the election.
Schreyer was initially unpopular with old guard New Democrats because they thought he was too conservative. But he turned out to be a winner with the public. He was popular with both urban and rural voters. He spoke German and French and also enough Ukrainian and Polish to make him very popular with ethnic voters. He was in fact the first ethnic premier to be elected. Walter Weir had said that the premier of Manitoba should be able to kick manure off the wheels of a tractor. Schreyer could.
Schreyer was Premier between 1969 and 1977. His govt introduced progressive legislation. They eliminated Medicare premiums, set up Legal Aid, the Human Rights Commission, and the Ombudsman's Office. They also increased minimum wages, reduced the voting age to 18 and set up public auto insurance, and introduced public housing projects, all popular with the public.
In 1979 he became the Gov General of Canada. He also served as a diplomat to Australia. After his stint as Governor General he continued on an academic career teaching at various universities across Canada. He is also a member of many Boards. He and wife Lily have four children. It was said that that although not many voters like the NDP, they all liked Schreyer. The quality his own party found difficult to accept, was what made Schreyer palatable to voters. He got the job done while not exceeding the Manitoba public's tolerance for radicalism. He wasn't a socialist, or a social engineer. Perhaps because he could read the lessons of history.