His love for Manitoba marked the province


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A politician moves into the rarified ranks of a statesman when his political opponents gladly rise above partisanship and acknowledge the depth of his legacy and achievements for his province or country.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/06/2010 (4754 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A politician moves into the rarified ranks of a statesman when his political opponents gladly rise above partisanship and acknowledge the depth of his legacy and achievements for his province or country.

Duff Roblin, alone to date among Manitoba premiers, is such a statesman. Premier Greg Selinger articulated it Monday when he defined Roblin’s statesmanship and the reason for his greatness. “He believed in the ability of government to improve the lives of its citizens,” Selinger told CBC Radio.

Roblin revolutionized Manitoba, wrenching it out of the mean, penny-pinching and stagnant 30 years of coalition government whose guiding principle was to know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Roblin was a Progressive Conservative in the full meaning of that term. He embraced British Red Toryism, not the libertarian conservatism Canada recently imported from the U.S.

Today’s Canadian Conservatives represent free market forces, rampant individualism and punitive intolerance towards what they regard as social and moral misbehaviour. Society is a jungle where the fittest survive; government merely sets the rules and gets out of the way. Too bad for those who can’t make it. They’re on their own.

Red Toryism, Roblin’s conservatism, is the polar opposite, anchored in the belief that society is an organic entity. Government is the means for society to achieve the best outcome for all by working to achieve the best outcome for each one. The whole can’t prosper if the many are in want and deprivation. All for one and one for all.

Roblin, after he retired from politics, was never one to declaim in public. But his whole political career is testament to the fact he would not have agreed with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when she opined that there was no such thing as society, only individuals.

Roblin’s belief that Manitoba was not just a province, but a society where everybody sits in the same lifeboat, literally, was nowhere more manifest than his dogged determination to build the Red River Floodway against the doubts of Ottawa and the derision of his Liberal opponents in the Manitoba legislature.

Roblin was voted Canada’s Greatest Manitoban in a Winnipeg Free Press/CBC poll last year. The floodway, now fondly bearing the name of the public scorn and ridicule the Liberals once heaped upon it — Duff’s Ditch — is only one jewel in Roblin’s crown.

It took a lot of pulling, but a lot of pulling was necessary to finally drag Manitoba into the 20th century when that century was already nearing its sixth decade.

Here’s University of Manitoba political scientist Tom Peterson writing about the Roblin era in Canadian Provincial Politics:

“The Roblin period was a transitional one, with the government containing both conservative and reform elements. Its progressive enterprise was substantially the achievement of the premier himself, assisted by representatives from poorer northern districts… Provincial expenditures on health, welfare and education over the decade from 1956 to 1966 increased from $27.5 million to $136.7 million. After overriding rural opposition, schools were consolidated and dramatically improved. The government established a Metropolitan Corporation to co-ordinate the municipal services in greater Winnipeg, a Manitoba Development Fund and various advisory agencies to promote economic development and a Housing and Urban Renewal Corporation. A major highway construction program was instituted… In the north… a new mining community was established at Thompson.”

Roblin’s predecessor Liberal Progressive government of Douglas Campbell founded Manitoba Hydro and built the dams on the Winnipeg River. But it was Roblin who had the vision to inspire development of Manitoba’s mighty northern rivers, the Churchill and the Nelson, endowing this province with a secure and expanding energy future.

Presiding over the province’s celebration of Canada’s Centennial Year and recognizing the need for urban renewal, he spearheaded the building of the new city hall, Centennial Concert Hall, Museum and Planetarium in the city’s inner core. The city’s first public housing projects were created during his tenure, as were the province’s first parks.

Acutely aware of Manitoba’s checkered record in French-English relations, he sought to heal the near-century-old festering wounds of the 1890 Manitoba Schools Question and the unconstitutional repeal of Manitoba’s status as an officially bilingual province. As premier, he initiated “shared services” between parochial and public schools. Then, in 1983, as a Manitoba Conservative senator, he seconded the resolution introduced in the Senate by the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau asking Manitoba to take action “as expeditiously as possible” to entrench French language services. It passed in 20 minutes.

Modest and self-effacing, he was unfailingly charming in both public and private. He never stopped expressing and reinforcing his deep passion for Canada and most particularly, for Manitoba.

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