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John Bracken

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John Bracken
Leader of the Opposition
In office
11 June 1945 – 20 July 1948
Preceded byGordon Graydon (acting)
Succeeded byGeorge A. Drew
Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada
In office
11 December 1942 – 20 July 1948
Preceded byArthur Meighen
Succeeded byGeorge A. Drew
Member of Parliament
for Neepawa
In office
11 June 1945 – 27 June 1949
Preceded byFrederick Donald Mackenzie
Succeeded byRiding abolished
11th Premier of Manitoba
In office
8 August 1922 – 14 January 1943
MonarchsGeorge V
Edward VIII
George VI
Lieutenant GovernorJames A. M. Aikins
Theodore A. Burrows
James D. McGregor
William J. Tupper
Roland F. McWilliams
Preceded byTobias Norris
Succeeded byStuart Garson
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba for The Pas
In office
5 October 1922 – 14 January 1943
Preceded byEdward Brown
Succeeded byBeresford Richards
Personal details
Born(1883-06-22)22 June 1883
Ellisville, Ontario, Canada
Died18 March 1969(1969-03-18) (aged 85)
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Political partyProgressive Conservative (federal)
Progressive Party of Manitoba (provincial)
Alice Wylie Bruce
(m. 1909)
Alma mater
  • Professor
  • Farmer
  • Author
CabinetPresident of the Council (1922–1943)
Minister of Education (1922–1923)
Provincial Lands Commissioner (1922–1923)
Railway Commissioner (1922–1923, 1935–1940)
Minister of Agriculture (1923–1925, 1936)
Provincial Treasurer (1925–1932)
Minister of Public Utilities (1927–1928)
Minister of Mines & Natural Resources (1928–1930)
Provincial Secretary (1935–1939)
Minister Manitoba Power Commission (1936–1940)
Minister, Dom. Prov. Relations (1939–1940, 1941–1943)

John Bracken PC (22 June 1883 – 18 March 1969) was a Canadian agronomist and politician who was the 11th and longest-serving premier of Manitoba (1922–1943) and later the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada (1942–1948).[1]

Bracken was born in Ontario, and was a professor of animal husbandry at the University of Saskatchewan before moving to Manitoba in 1920. A political outsider, he was named leader of the Progressive Party of Manitoba following its upset victory in the 1922 Manitoba general election. During his tenure as premier of Manitoba, he implemented independent, non-partisan policies dominated by rural interests and opposed organized labour. He oversaw the creation of a universal pension, the provincial income tax, and reductions in spending on health, education and welfare as well as the replacement of the first past the post voting system with alternative voting. He pursued development by promoting staple industries such as mining, timber and fishing. After leading the Progressive Party to a second consecutive majority in the 1927 election, he merged the Progressive Party with the Liberal Party of Manitoba to form the Liberal-Progressive Party in 1932. He led the Liberal-Progressive Party to consecutive victories in elections in 1932, 1936 and 1941, winning majority governments in all but the 1936 election.

In 1942, he agreed to run for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party of Canada at the condition that the party be renamed the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. After being elected leader of the newly renamed party, he resigned as premier of Manitoba and led the PCs to a second-place finish during the 1945 Canadian federal election against the incumbent Liberal Party government led by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. He resigned as leader of the party in 1948 and was succeeded by George A. Drew. After being defeated while running for reelection to the House of Commons in the 1949 federal election, he retired from politics and died in 1969.

Early life[edit]

Bracken was born in Ellisville, Ontario, the son of Ephriam Michael Bracken and Alberta Gilbert, and was educated at Brockville Collegiate, the Ontario Agricultural College and at the University of Illinois. In 1909, he married Alice Wylie Bruce. He was professor of animal husbandry at the University of Saskatchewan from 1910 to 1920,[2] when he became president of the Manitoba Agricultural College.

Premier of Manitoba[edit]

In 1922, the United Farmers of Manitoba unexpectedly won the provincial election. The UFM's expectations had been so low going into the election that they had not even named a leader and ran candidates in only two thirds of the seats.

With their upset victory, the UFM faced the task of naming a leader who would become the province's new premier. After federal MPs Thomas Crerar and Robert Hoey turned down the UFM's offer, they turned to Bracken, who accepted, and he was sworn in as premier on August 8. He entered the legislature a few months later after winning a deferred election in the northern riding of The Pas. (A similar situation had occurred with Ernest C. Drury when the United Farmers of Ontario won the 1919 election in that province.)

Bracken was a political outsider and gave the UFM the professional grounding it needed. The United Farmers generally rejected the partisanship of the Liberal and Conservative parties and favoured government policies based on independence and principles of business management. The UFM governed as the Progressive Party of Manitoba, and Bracken served as Manitoba's premier for over 20 years.

Bracken's government was, in most respects, conservative and cautious. It was dominated by rural interests, who controlled the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. The first past the post voting system used in rural single-member districts was replaced by alternative voting during his government's reign. Labour did not fare well under Bracken's leadership; he had little sympathy for the leaders of the Winnipeg General Strike and once fired a number of government workers to show his independence from organized labour.

In the 1920s, Bracken oversaw an increase in taxation and created the provincial income tax. He lowered expenditures in health, education, and welfare but introduced a pension for all citizens over seventy years old in 1928. Under his administration, the province created a censorship board that regulated motion pictures. In 1923, Manitoba voted to end the prohibition of alcohol. The restrictive Liquor Control Act, passed that same year, sold liquor at provincially controlled outlets, resulting in the generation of a substantial new income.

Bracken worked to promote staple industries such as mining, timber cutting, and fishing, while also promoting hydroelectric power. He successfully had the Hudson Bay Railway create a branch line to Flin Flon, resulting in the opening of a copper and zinc mine there in 1926. Bracken was a vocal proponent of the provincial control of natural resources and influenced Mackenzie King's 1930 decision to give Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan control over crown lands.[3]

In keeping with the UFM's "anti-party" philosophy, Bracken favoured non-partisan government. In 1931, his Progressives formed an alliance with the Manitoba Liberal Party, and the two parties eventually merged into one. In 1940, Bracken formed a wartime coalition government that included the Conservative, Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and Social Credit parties.

Bracken at a young age

When Bracken left provincial politics in 1943, there were only 5 opposition Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in a 57-member parliament. His coalition remained intact until 1950 although the CCF left in 1943.

Federal politics[edit]

Bracken (left) shaking hands with George Henry Stokes in 1945.

Despite having co-operated with the Liberals at the provincial level, Bracken was asked by a number of senior federal Conservatives (including Arthur Meighen) to take over the leadership of the weak national Conservative Party in 1942. He agreed to seek the party's leadership on the condition that it change its name to the Progressive Conservative Party. He was elected leader at the party's 1942 leadership convention. Bracken stepped down as Manitoba premier shortly thereafter, and was succeeded by Stuart S. Garson.

Bracken did not seek a seat in the House of Commons until the 1945 Canadian election. While Bracken won the rural seat of Neepawa, the Tories were defeated nationally. The Tories picked up 29 seats, but were still well behind the governing Liberals; most of the seats that they did pick up were in Ontario, which was credited more to the popular provincial government of George A. Drew than Bracken's leadership of the national party. Bracken became Leader of the Opposition and remained leader of the Tories until he was pushed to resign in favour of Drew in 1948.

It has been argued, with some credibility, that Bracken never succeeded in impressing his personal authority over the national PC organization. As a western populist, he was distrusted by the party's eastern establishment. There are reports that some senior Tories wanted him removed as leader as early as 1944. More importantly, during the 1945 election, Bracken had promised conscription for the planned invasion of Japan.[4] The Liberal Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, by contrast had promised that one division of volunteers would take part in the invasion of Japan.[4] Operation Downfall, the code-name for the invasion of Japan, was widely expected to be bloody campaign as the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa were the "dress rehearsals" for the invasion of the Japanese home islands. Canadian public opinion was not keen on conscription for what was expected to be a campaign that would last several years.[4]

Bracken's riding was merged into the seat of Brandon before the 1949 federal election. He was soundly defeated by Liberal incumbent James Matthews, and did not return to political life thereafter. Though his leadership of the Tories was generally viewed as a failure, he would gain some small degree of vindication in his later years as his western populist policies would be employed more successfully by John Diefenbaker, who succeeded Drew as leader in 1956, gaining the party a power base in the western provinces that would reliably support them from the late 1950s until their fall as a party of government in 1993.

Bracken died on March 18, 1969, and is buried in Rideauvale Cemetery at Kars, Ontario.

Electoral record[edit]


1949 Canadian federal election: Brandon
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal James Ewen Matthews 11,263 55.27
Progressive Conservative John Bracken 7,150 35.09
Independent Dwight Lyman Johnson 1,964 9.64
Total valid votes 20,377 100.00
Total rejected ballots 142
Turnout 20,519 74.64
Electors on the lists 27,489


1945 Canadian federal election: Neepawa
Party Candidate Votes %
Progressive Conservative John Bracken 6,497 46.51
Liberal Frederick Donald MacKenzie 4,624 33.10
Co-operative Commonwealth James Henry Wood 2,848 20.39
Total valid votes 13,969
Total rejected ballots 93
Turnout 14,062 82.64
Electors on the lists 17,015



There are John Bracken fonds at the Archives of Manitoba and Library and Archives Canada.[7]


  1. ^ John Bracken – Parliament of Canada biography
  2. ^ Normandin, A L (1940). Canadian Parliamentary Guide.
  3. ^ Lower, J. Arthur (1983). Western Canada: An Outline History. pp. 196–97.
  4. ^ a b c Morton, Desmond A Military History of Canada, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1999 page 224
  5. ^ "Brandon, Manitoba (1892 - 1952)". History of Federal Ridings since 1867. Library of Parliament.
  6. ^ "Neepawa, Manitoba (1914 - 1947)". History of Federal Ridings since 1867. Library of Parliament.
  7. ^ "John Bracken fonds Finding Aid, Library and Archives Canada" (PDF).

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Manitoba Minister of Education
Succeeded by
Preceded by Premier of Manitoba
Succeeded by
Manitoba President of the Council
Preceded by
Manitoba Provincial Lands Commissioner
Succeeded by
Preceded by Manitoba Railway Commissioner
Preceded by Manitoba Minister of Agriculture
Preceded by Manitoba Provincial Treasurer
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Manitoba Minister of Public Utilities
Succeeded by
Preceded by Manitoba Provincial Secretary
Succeeded by
Manitoba Railway Commissioner
Preceded by Manitoba Minister of Agriculture
Succeeded by
Manitoba Minister for the
Manitoba Power Commission

Succeeded by
Preceded by
Manitoba Minister of
Dominion–Provincial Relations

Succeeded by
Preceded by Manitoba Minister of
Dominion–Provincial Relations

Succeeded by
Preceded by Leader of the Official Opposition
Title next held by
George A. Drew
Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Progressive
Conservative Party of Canada

Succeeded by