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BRADSHAW, JOHN ERNEST, businessman, politician, and army officer; b. 13 Dec. 1866 in Newport, Isle of Wight, England, son of Robert Bradshaw and Margaret ; m. 2 May 1894 Agnes Thompson in Prince Albert (Sask.), and they had four daughters and two sons; d. there 25 Dec. 1917.

The Bradshaw family is thought to have immigrated to Canada in 1880. John E. Bradshaw worked in his father’s general store in Toronto and as a clerk for commission merchants there; later he moved west, obtaining employment in a bank in Duluth, Minn., and then joining the Hudson’s Bay Company at Winnipeg in 1891. Transferred as manager to the company’s Prince Albert branch, he subsequently established his own general store and, in 1900, organized an insurance business, the Bradshaw Agencies. Alderman of the city of Prince Albert from 1895 to 1905, mayor in 1906, Bradshaw was the unsuccessful candidate of the Provincial Rights party in a by-election for the Legislative Assembly in 1907. He was the victor, however, in the general election of 1908 and again in 1912, by which time the party was using the name Conservative. During World War I he organized and recruited the 243rd Infantry Battalion which, once in England, was merged with another Prince Albert battalion, the 188th, in the 15th Reserve Battalion.

Bradshaw’s signal contribution to Saskatchewan politics, and the one for which he is remembered, rests in the charges of malfeasance he brought against the ruling Liberal party led by Thomas Walter Scott*. Made in the legislature, the accusations were extravagant, sometimes vague, and supported by minimal evidence, but they aroused a complacent government accustomed to torpid opposition and excited a public unused to scandal since the province’s founding in 1905. Although on investigation a number of them proved well founded, the affair ironically gave a boost to Liberal fortunes – because the government acted quickly to clean its Augean stables – and caused electoral damage to the Tories, whose reputation for excess was confirmed.

On four occasions between 10 February and 9 March 1916, Bradshaw told the Legislative Assembly he was “credibly informed and verily believed” that during the previous year Liberal mlas had accepted bribes, Liberal cabinet ministers had interfered in the administration of justice, and government officials had succumbed to graft. At the same time he accused the government and its servants of incompetence in the management of public institutions such as the provincial asylum and jail and the departments in charge of highways and telephones. The malign force behind the corruption, he declared, was the liquor and hotel trades, which sought to thwart a growing campaign, even within Liberal ranks, to ban the bar.

Initially the charges were referred to legislative committees, which because of party standings in the house were dominated by Liberals. As the number and variety of accusations multiplied, and pressure from Liberals outside the legislature for a thorough investigation increased, the government soon acquiesced in demands for a royal commission of inquiry. In fact three commissions were named: for bribery and liquor charges, highway frauds, and maladministration of building and telephones. They were chaired by current or former high court justices, including Sir Frederick William Gordon Haultain*, chief justice of the province and former Conservative party leader. The last commission did not report until 1917, but before the end of 1916 the bribery and liquor inquiry had found four mlas (including the speaker) guilty of receiving money in return for considerations involving, among others, influence in the award of liquor licences. (Originally Bradshaw had made 27 charges against 13 men.) The other inquiries also found evidence of fraud by civil servants, improper behaviour by at least one more Liberal mla, and questionable administrative practices in the matter of tenders. By 1917, however, developments associated with the prosecution of World War I, and particularly the prospect of military conscription, diverted attention from these events. In the provincial election of June 1917, the Liberals actually increased their hold on an expanded legislature, winning 51 seats, while the Conservative victories fell from 8 in 1912 to 7.

For the Liberals the scandal had been a near thing. In the opinion of the attorney general, William Ferdinand Alphonse Turgeon*, only tactical ineptness on the part of Bradshaw and the Conservative leader, Wellington Bartley Willoughby, had kept the Tories from “land[ing] us ‘outside’ [the legislature] in a h--l of a mess.” The weeks of March 1916 had been, he said, “like a nightmare,” principally because, in the words of James Alexander Calder, the minister at the head of the party organization, the charges had come as “a complete surprise.” More than that, the Liberals believed then and ever after that Bradshaw was a pawn of the Conservative-appointed lieutenant governor, Richard Stuart Lake, who himself they were certain took orders from Robert Rogers*, the master Tory strategist in Ottawa. Thus in Liberal eyes, the Bradshaw charges were but the local tip of a grand scheme to unseat the prairies’ most successful Liberal regime.

The charges were not fictitious, however; and it was testimony to the Liberals’ intelligence as well as their sense of self-preservation that the party reorganized both in and out of the legislature before the 1917 election: “The organization must,” said one of its key men, “be entirely broken and a new one formed.” Young Liberals, among them James Garfield Gardiner*, then in the second year of a political career that would span four decades in provincial and federal Liberal cabinets, learned another party lesson – to stay clear of the liquor interests, whom Gardiner would always believe to be predators.

The Conservatives failed to topple the Scott Liberals, although the premier, whose health had been in decline for several years, retired in October 1916. Bradshaw had to content himself with compiling a list of administrative reforms that followed upon his charges, among them revised accounting practices. Taken together, they constituted a significant improvement in the conduct of government business. The beneficiary of public gratitude, however, was the Liberal party, which remained in power another 13 years. Bradshaw, the instrument of change, lost his seat to a Liberal in 1917, becoming the last Conservative to represent Prince Albert in the assembly until 1982. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack on Christmas Day 1917.

David E. Smith

Saskatchewan Arch. Board (Saskatoon), S-A35 (J. E. Bradshaw papers); S-M1 (T. W. Scott papers), 13819–22, 14343–47, 14395–403; S-M12 (W. R. Motherwell papers), 12803–10. J. A. Calder, “Reminiscences of the Hon. J. A. Calder,” ed. A. R. Turner, Sask. Hist., 25 (1972): 68–70. Canadian annual rev. (Hopkins), 1916–17. Sask., Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1916. Norman Ward and D. [E.] ith, Jimmy Gardiner: relentless Liberal (Toronto, 1990).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

David E. Smith, “BRADSHAW, JOHN ERNEST,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 17, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bradshaw_john_ernest_14E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bradshaw_john_ernest_14E.html
Author of Article: David E. Smith
Title of Article: BRADSHAW, JOHN ERNEST
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1998
Year of revision: 1998
Access Date: December 17, 2014