Sterling Lyon

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The Honourable
Sterling Rufus Lyon
Sterling Lyon (Manitoba).jpg
17th Premier of Manitoba
In office
November 24, 1977 – November 17, 1981
MonarchElizabeth II
Lieutenant GovernorFrancis L. Jobin
Pearl McGonigal
Preceded byEdward Schreyer
Succeeded byHoward Pawley
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba for Charleswood
In office
October 11, 1977 – March 18, 1986
Preceded byArthur Moug
Succeeded byJim Ernst
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba for Souris-Killarney
In office
November 7, 1976 – October 11, 1977
Preceded byEarl McKellar
Succeeded byBrian Ransom
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba for Fort Garry
In office
June 16, 1958 – June 25, 1969
Preceded byL. Raymond Fennell
Succeeded byBud Sherman
Personal details
Born(1927-01-30)January 30, 1927
Windsor, Ontario
DiedDecember 16, 2010(2010-12-16) (aged 83)
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Political partyProgressive Conservative
Barbara Jean Mayers (m. 1953)
Alma materUnited College
CabinetAttorney-General (1958–1963)
Minister of Municipal Affairs (1960–1961)
Minister of Public Utilities (1961–1963)
Minister of Mines and Natural Resources (1963–1966)
Minister of Public Utilities (1964)
Attorney General (1966–1969)
Minister of Tourism and Recreation Commission, Northern Affairs (1966–1968)
Leader of the Opposition (1981–1983)

Sterling Rufus Lyon, PC OC OM QC (January 30, 1927 – December 16, 2010)[1] was a Canadian lawyer, cabinet minister, and the 17th Premier of Manitoba from 1977 to 1981. His government introduced several fiscally-conservative measures, and was sometimes seen as a local version of the government of Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom. He also successfully fought for the inclusion of the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Early life[edit]

Born in Windsor, Ontario, the son of David Rufus Lyon and Ella Mae Cuthbert,[2] he moved with his family to Manitoba at a young age and grew up in Portage la Prairie.[1]

Education and law career[edit]

Lyon graduated from United College (now the University of Winnipeg) in 1948, and received an LL.B from the Manitoba Law School in 1953.[1] Following the completion of his legal education he worked as a crown attorney for the next four years. In 1953, he married Barbara Jean Mayers.[2]

Political career[edit]

Lyon was first elected to the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba in 1958, in the south-central Winnipeg riding of Fort Garry. A Progressive Conservative, Lyon defeated incumbent Liberal-Progressive MLA L. Raymond Fennell, and was subsequently named as Attorney General in Dufferin Roblin's minority government.

Roblin's Tories won a majority in 1959, and Lyon was easily re-elected in his own riding. He continued to serve as Attorney General, and also served as Minister of Municipal Affairs (September 30, 1960 – October 25, 1961) and Minister of Public Utilities (October 31, 1961 – June 12, 1963).

On December 9, 1963, Lyon was shifted from the Attorney General's position to the Ministry of Mines and Natural Resources. He held this position until June 22, 1966, and briefly served as Public Utilities minister again in mid-1964. Lyon became Attorney General again after the 1966 election, and also served as Minister of Tourism and Recreation from 1968 to 1969. He had no difficulties being re-elected in 1962 and 1966. He served a total of nine years as Attorney General.

When Roblin moved to federal politics in 1967, Lyon was one of four candidates who sought to replace him. He was defeated by Walter Weir on the third ballot, and did not seek re-election in 1969. Although Weir and Lyon were both politically to the right of Roblin, they represented different constituencies in the party: Weir was a rural populist, Lyon a supporter of urban business development.

In February 1969, Lyon expressed skepticism about the wisdom of codifying common law rights in a written constitution.[3]

Lyon ran for the House of Commons of Canada in 1974, narrowly losing the riding of Winnipeg South to Liberal James Richardson.

The following year, Lyon returned to provincial politics to challenge Sidney Spivak for the Progressive Conservative Party's leadership. Spivak, who had been elected party leader in 1971, was a Red Tory opposed by many of the more conservative figures within his caucus. The conservative wing of the party consolidated around Lyon's challenge, and he defeated Spivak by 57 votes at a very divisive leadership convention in December 1975. Lyon returned to the legislature for the rural riding of Souris-Killarney in a 1976 by-election.

In 1977, Lyon led the Progressive Conservative Party to an upset victory of Edward Schreyer's New Democrats (Lyon was personally elected in the west Winnipeg riding of Charleswood). Lyon's government cut spending in several departments, and de-invested in a number of social programs sponsored by the NDP. In other respects, the Lyon government's commitment to 'small government' was ambivalent — it was, for instance, highly supportive of large-scale energy development projects. Duff Roblin has argued that the Lyon government's right-wing reputation was undeserved, but few others have as yet agreed with this assessment.

Lyon was also an initial opponent of Pierre Trudeau's constitutional plans, and subsequently became a leading supporter of the notwithstanding clause provision.[4] He also fought, unsuccessfully, to have property rights entrenched in the constitution.

Lyon's government was defeated by the NDP under Howard Pawley in 1981, after only one term in office. Lyon acted as Leader of the Opposition for two years and fought Pawley's proposals to entrench the rights of Franco-Manitobans in the constitution. In 1983, Lyon stepped down as Tory leader and was replaced by Gary Filmon. He retired from politics in 1986.

Post-political career[edit]

He was appointed to the Manitoba Court of Appeal in 1986. He served there until retiring in 2002. Sterling Lyon died after a brief illness on December 16, 2010.

Distinctions and awards[edit]

He was sworn into the Privy Council on April 17, 1982 by Edward Schreyer on the advice of Pierre Trudeau.

In 2004, Lyon was chosen as the University of Winnipeg's annual receipt of the "Distinguished Alumnus Award". In 2009, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada "for his contributions as a judge and long-time politician in Manitoba, where, as premier, he led the expansion of community-based health and social services, and modernized governmental financial procedures".[5]

The Sterling Lyon Parkway in Winnipeg was completed and opened to traffic in November 2005. The route was added during the construction of the Kenaston Underpass. The Sterling Lyon Parkway, a new east-west road, has replaced a section of Wilkes Avenue near the underpass.


Though his premiership was short, it's been argued that those years left an enduring legacy. An unsigned editorial in the Winnipeg Free Press argued:

The other major pillar of Mr. Lyon's legacy – the inclusion of the notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a defence of the supremacy of elected parliaments over unelected courts – was controversial when he first supported it and remains so today. He feared that provincial and federal parliaments would themselves cede their power to the courts to avoid controversial issues, a fear that has proved well founded.[6]


  1. ^ a b c "Former Manitoba premier Sterling Lyon dies". CBC News. Archived from the original on December 19, 2010.
  2. ^ a b Normandin, Pierre G (1965). Canadian Parliamentary Guide.
  3. ^ Winnipeg Free Press, 12 February 1969, p. 33.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-11-07. Retrieved 2014-11-07.
  5. ^ "Governor General announces 60 new appointments to the Order of Canada". July 1, 2009. Archived from the original on July 5, 2009.
  6. ^ A rare Canadian politician. Dec 17, 2010.