After the split, Mr. Coyne and his family moved back to Winnipeg in 1965. The next year, Westbank obtained a federal charter, with Mr. Coyne as president and Mr. Stevens as chairman, although later Mr. Stevens insists the roles were reversed. Other disputed areas included Mr. Stevens’s contention that the bank was always national in scope (despite its name), versus Mr. Coyne’s view that it was going to be based in the west with its head office in Winnipeg, and Mr. Stevens’s desire to operate as a wide-ranging investment bank while Mr. Coyne wanted to service smaller accounts. Newspaper reports from the time suggest the two men fell out after Mr. Stevens ran into liquidity problems and attempted to solve them by bringing in new investors who didn’t share the original vision, and then tried to have Westbank operate under different terms from the provisions set out in the charter.
Mr. Coyne accused his chairman of trying to obtain credit for his own investment company from Westbank, contrary to assurances that had been given to Parliament when the bank’s charter was granted. At least five western directors of the bank lined up behind Mr. Coyne, but the fuss ended up in Parliament when the House of Commons Finance Committee opened an investigation in Feb. 1967. A furious Mr. Coyne, who had some experience with finance committees, appeared before the committee to outline his charges that Mr. Sinclair and his eastern backers had “forsaken principle for expediency.”
Mr. Stevens denied the charges and then Liberal finance minister, Mitchell Sharp, tried to dampen the furor by saying that the conflict was an internal matter to be settled in the bank’s boardroom. But Mr. Coyne’s allegations had the desired effect – Mr. Stevens resigned as chairman on Feb. 17, 1967, saying Mr. Coyne was “irresponsible” for making the dispute public. He remained a member of the board, but agreed to sell enough of his eastern group’s holdings to reduce their share of voting stock from 51 per cent to 30. The western directors were given 30 days to come up with the money to buy control of the bank, but the negative publicity had dried up investment money.
In May, 1967, The Globe and Mail reported that Mr. Coyne had refused to resign as president, despite a demand that he do so by the new majority shareholder, Marc Masson Bienvenu. In July, Mr. Coyne was ousted by the board of directors. As for Westbank, it earned a place in Canadian history as the only bank to close before it opened.
After that, Mr. Coyne lived a very private life in Winnipeg actively following the stock market, collecting paintings by Emily Carr and David Milne, spending summers at the family cottage in Lake of the Woods and devoting himself to his family.
“My father’s life divides into two parts,” said his daughter Susan, pointing out that Mr. Coyne was a bachelor until he was 47 and then spent the next 50 years as a father and grandfather. She asked her father once: “Who was Diefenbaker?” and he replied: “He was a kook dear.” And that was the last time they discussed the Coyne affair until she was grown up and her father went over the whole business one day while they were driving home from the cottage.
As a child, her father was omnipresent. “I always had the sense that it [family] was at least as important as anything else he did in life,” Ms. Coyne said. She remembers her father being home when she got back from school – her mother had gone back to university to take a fine-arts degree and then a teaching qualification and is now an artist and a teacher – and always being able to answer even the most arcane philosophical and scientific questions. “He really valued being a parent,” she said, and that included his three stepchildren. “He was an advocate for all of us.”
A man with a dry sense of humour, he announced at his 90th birthday that he wanted it written on his tombstone that “I raised five children and none of them smoked.” An avid nutritionist, a fiendish bridge player, a voracious reader and a fanatical follower of economic and political affairs, he lived his life with discipline, anticipation and curiosity. His family all expected him to live to be a hundred. And he exceeded that goal by two years.
James Elliott Coyne is survived by his wife, Meribeth, five children and several grandchildren.