INVESTIGATING THE LEGISLATIVE

BUILDING SCANDAL

By George Siamandas

 

ORIGIN OF THE SCANDAL

The Roblin Conservative govt had just been narrowly re-elected. But Manitoba was near economic paralysis. In 1914 because of the growing scandal over the cost overruns, Premier Roblin was considering abandoning the entire capital budget for the year. Roblin's govt tried to muddle through till the Lieut. Gov compelled him to either resign or agree to an enquiry. The Winnipeg Tribune promptly lauded Lieut. Gov Douglas Cameron for his backbone. Roblin chose not to resign from govt and instead decided to take his chances with the Royal Commission's report. The three judges appointed to investigate were Chief Justice Thomas Mather, Justice Donald Alexander Macdonald and Justice Hugh John Macdonald.

Missing Witnesses

Several crucial witnesses were not available to the Commission. Provincial Architect Victor Horwood went to the United States to be treated for a serious illness. William Salt who had kept records of construction had also disappeared.

The Salt story sees the man who had been responsible for documenting the foundation work disappearing just before the Enquiry being appointed. He flees to Minneapolis where he stayed at the Radisson Hotel. Over the next two months, Salt will move to Chicago, back to Minneapolis, then Denver. All at the behest of the govt which did not want him to return to testify.

Over the course of two months Salt would be offered $2,000 which became $10,000. His new name was William Malcolm and an agent was sent to deliver the hush money to him in Denver. Staying overnight in Omaha, the courier claimed he was robbed of the $10,000. New money was found for Salt and the entire affair cost the govt $24,030. In the end Salt gave his testimony to the Commission in Minneapolis.

VICTOR HORWOOD

Horwood the provincial architect of the day became embroiled in a series of efforts to hide facts, dissuade witnesses, much out of character for the respected architectural designer. Horwood offered to take the full blame and go to jail.

THE ROYAL COMMISSION DISCOVERED

  1. The commission found that the bidding process was not followed. Contractor Thomas Kelly missed the tender due date. He saw the only bid for the Legislature Building construction contract presented by Contractor Peter Lyall in a meeting with Roblin. Kelly got a day's extension on the tender and resubmitted his original bid of $3.2M bid with one for $2.86M just undercutting Lyall's bid.
  2. Dr Simpson who was the party's fundraiser had been siphoning funds for the 1914 election by asking Kelly to inflate costs of elements of the legislative building. The commission found overcharges amounting $822,963.84.
  3. Victor Horwood's testimony was found to be truthful. The legislative building's construction was found to be sound.

THOMAS MATHERS

Mathers would later present a major paper to the law Society's 1920 meeting on what else: Ethics and the Law. Mathers was considered a solid man. Previously a journalist, Mathers studied law in Manitoba in 1884 and became a successful lawyer and served as an alderman in the 1890s. Hugh John Macdonald was a Tory but he was one known to be fair.

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