Politics and corruptionThe suffrage campaigners said that women were needed to clean up politics in Manitoba. To support this argument they could point to the rough-and-tumble manner in which political parties conducted themselves in Manitoba in the early twentieth century.
Each election was marred with accusations of corruptionat one point one party hired a private detective to spy on the leaders of the other parties. From 1900 to 1915, the master of the political scene in Manitoba was Conservative Premier Rodmond Roblin. A shrewd and capable leader, Roblin presided over one of the most successful, if at times corrupt, political machines in Manitoba's history. He fashioned an electoral coalition that included both the staunchly anti-Catholic Orange Order and the province's Roman Catholic voters. Rural voters were grateful to Roblin for his government's fight for improved rail service and the government-owned telephone and grain elevator system.
Roblin's decision to end voting restrictions on the voting rights of East Europeans, and to create a school to train Ukrainian-speaking public school teachers, won him the support of many recent immigrants. His demand that schools fly the Union Jack flag earned him the support of those Manitobans who traced their roots back to Great Britain.
These policies were accompanied by a brass-knuckle approach to political campaigns. In the 1910 provincial election it was reported that only seven of the nearly 90 candidates had not been called liars or crooks by their opponents. In an attempt to buy votes, alcohol was freely distributed on election dayanother of the reasons why temperance campaigners wished to see alcohol banned. Civil servants were expected to help the Conservatives get out the vote on election days, and constituencies that did not vote for the winning party would be forced to do without new roads or improved government services until the next election.
Roblin resisted the temperance movement, pointing out that individual communities had the right to vote on whether they would allow the local sale of liquor. These local votes on whether to go wet or dry were often as fiercely fought as provincial elections. He was equally dismissive of proposals to grant women the vote.
Not surprisingly, a wide-ranging reform movement arose to challenge the Roblin government. Inspired by recent teachings of the Protestant churches, the reformers advocated temperance, women's suffrage, tax reform, an end to bilingual education, direct democracy through the use of referendums, and improved labour legislation. Through these political measures, the reformers sought to bring about a moral transformation of society.