When the Oct. 26, 1908 election rolled around, Canada looked a bit different. Two new provinces had been born out of the Northwest Territories. Three years prior to the election, Alberta and Saskatchewan joined Confederation, but to start there would be little change in the overall dynamic of the Prairies with the riding boundaries still existing from the Northwest Territories. The Northwest Territories would also lose all representation, which at the time including all of the current Canadian Arctic except for the Yukon which was represented, half of Manitoba and Ontario, and half of Quebec. It was a huge area that no longer had any one representing it in Parliament.
The previous session of Parliament before the election would bring in some changes to the election law. One of the biggest was that bribery was made a serious offense. It was also enacted that no company or association other than one incorporated for political purposes could put money to aid a candidate in an election for political purposes. In terms of bribery, the new act stated quote:
“The briber found guilty shall be disqualified for a term of eight years thereafter from voting at any election or holding any office in the nomination of the Crown or the Governor General in Canada.”
The individual found guilty would also be sentenced to six years in prison, with or without hard labour, and required to pay $200 in fines.
Anyone who took a ballot out of the polling station or fraudulently delivered a ballot to the returning officer would be banned from voting for eight years. Newspapers could no longer slander a candidate or party and only those who were termed as Canadians could canvas.
Robert Borden traveled the country for a year leading up to the election, promoting the new platform of the Conservative Party. This platform, called the Halifax Platform, was put forward on Aug. 20, 1907. It called for a reform of the Senate and the civil service, an immigration policy that was more selective, free rural mail delivery and government regulation of telegraphs, telephones and railways, with the goal of having government ownership of telegraphs and telephones.
Borden would state that this new policy was, quote:
“the most advanced and progressive policy ever put forward in federal affairs.”
The Conservatives also attacked the Liberals in a campaign that cited gross corruption of ministers and their departments. They pushed the phrase of “wine, women and influence peddling” to sway voters from the Liberals.
Laurier did not like this offensive of the Conservatives but he would act on it to court public opinion. He would tell two of his ministers to resign, and he would appoint commissions of inquiry to identify irregularities.
By this point the Liberals had been in power for 12 years, and their slogan reflected this. Rather than have a rallying cry, their slogan was “Let Laurier finish his work.”
That’s not to say that Laurier wasn’t celebrated everywhere he went during the campaign. One story, possibly untrue, printed in Macleans in 1911 stated, quote:
Both sides were confident of winning the election, and the Windsor Star would report, quote:
“A bright October day dawned for the election contest and the politicians were happy. Both sides want a big vote polled, the bigger the better, they say and hence the weather proved welcome.”
One odd incident occurred in Winnipeg when W.A. Carson, a Liberal committee member, was suddenly arrested and thrown into the provincial jail without any charge being provided. Bail was also refused and he was given no telephone communication. The following day it would be printed that five cases of bribery were being brought forward against five men in the Winnipeg area. The men were charged with paying between $3 and $5 per vote. The entire incident would get even more bizarre when on Oct. 29, Edmund Howell, the son of the Chief Justice of Appeal, represented Carson and after the Attorney General refused to release Carson. Howell then went down to the court the next day and punched the Attorney General in the face. Carson, and the other men, would plead not guilty, despite papers being found on them that outlined where the money was utilized. The charge of bribery had actually come from an employee of Carson, Samuel Calvert, who claimed that he was given money in order to vote for the Liberal candidate.
In St. John, New Brunswick, Herbert McKinnon, a tugboat man, was arrested and charged with tampering with the voters in Kings County after he approached several voters and offered them money to absent themselves from the polls.
The Ottawa Citizen once again went on the side of the Conservatives, printing in large bold letters on election day, quote:
“This is a fight of the people, for the people, under the leadership of Robert Laird Borden against a group of office-holders under Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who have been untrue to their trust as leaders of a great country and a great party.”
The Montreal Gazette would print a story stating that Laurier supporters had printed and circulated orange sentinel articles in an effort to fool Catholic voters in Ontario.
After years of increasing their seat count, the Liberals had their first setback with the loss of four seats in the election, falling to 133 but still having a strong majority. The Conservatives would gain 10 seats, to finish with 85, and increased their share of the popular vote by .3 per cent. The election was also notable as it was the year Arthur Meighen entered the House of Commons. He would eventually serve as Prime Minister, albeit briefly, twice in the 1920s.
For Robert Borden, who had lost the previous election, as well as his own seat in the Liberal landside, it was vindication for his decision to stay on as leader of the Conservatives. The Conservatives also won the majority of seats in British Columbia, after being swept in the last election. They also picked up five seats in Nova Scotia, another province the Liberals swept them in.
In Ontario, the great battleground, the Conservatives still had dominance with 47 seats, while the Liberals finished with 37 seats. Many newspapers stated that if Borden had of won Ontario with more seats, he likely would have won the election. The Vancouver Province would report, quote:
In Quebec, the share of seats controlled by the Liberals actually fell, but only to 52, while the Conservatives picked up 12 seats. The Labour Party earned its first seat in the House of Commons as well, with one seat in Quebec.
The Regina Leader, which supported the Liberals, printed in a large headline, quote:
“Sir Wilfrid Laurier Will Finish His Work. Sweeping Victory for Liberalism and Good Government.”
While Laurier won the election, he was exhausted and ill from the campaign effort that was unlike any he had dealt with since his early years in politics. He would almost choose to resign but stayed on. He would say after the election, quote:
“I carry my advancing years lightly but I no longer have the same zest for battle. I undertake today from a sense of duty, because I must, what used to be the joy of strife.”
While he was tired from the campaign, he was seen at Chateau Frontenac after the election and was reported to be, quote:
“Bubbling over with good humour and was particularly interested in the returns from Ontario, which seemed to give him great pleasure.”
Borden on the other hand, was galvanized and while he would face some dissention within his own party for the second election loss, he would stay on and in three short years, his work would be rewarded.
Information from Dynasties and Interludes, Biographi, Wikipedia, Macleans, Winnipeg Tribune, Regina Leader-Post, Windsor Star, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Lethbridge Herald,