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From Champlain to Lord:
A political history of New
by Campbell Morrison Ever since Samuel de
Champlain made an aborted landing in 1604 on an island in the St. Croix River,
New Brunswick politics has featured a fractious parade of aristocrats, rogues,
Globe staff writer
Almost 200 years later, 1784, is a
convenient point to begin. It was the year the British carved New Brunswick out
of Nova Scotia and created a new colony demanded by the thousands of Loyalists
pouring over the border. For the first lieutenant-governor, the British chose
an aristocratic military man who was no friend of
Colonel Thomas Carleton put his military
ideals ahead of local interests when he chose St. Anne as the capital. Renaming
the remote village Fredericton, Carleton chose the site because it was the
furthest navigable spot on the St. John River. He also was obliged to create an
elected legislature, but that did not mean he had to listen to it, or so he
The first election was held in 1785, a
topsy-turvy affair that lacked the order imposed by a party system. Among the
elected was James Glenie, a crusty Scottish-born lumberman who had already
crossed swords with Col. Carleton. The colony was not yet a year old, and
already confrontation loomed.
After Glenie accused his
commanding officer of incompetence - which was true - Col. Carleton, presiding
over a court martial, found Glenie guilty of the vague crime of "having behaved
unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman. " In disgrace, Glenie
left the military service, but he never forgot.
Brunswick, he became an early advocate of responsible government, confronting
Colonel Carleton's government repeatedly.
The War of 1812
with the United States served to remind New Brunswickers of their ties with
Upper and Lower Canada, and the rebellions of 1837 in Upper and Lower Canada,
with their ideas of greater responsible government, reverberated in New
The 1843 election featured fixed bayonets in
Fredericton, great enthusiastic mobs in Saint John, and riots in
In 1848, Sir Edmund Walker Head, a lawyer and
administrator, arrived, the first civilian to serve as lieutenant-governor. The
cabinet was still appointed by the lieutenant-governor largely of unelected
members from wealthy families, and the legislature was still a rowdy place.
Head changed it. He appointed members of the legislature to his cabinet, which
sparked the beginnings of the party system.
government arrived for good when Head appointed the leader of the opposition,
Charles Fisher, to cabinet after Fisher had forced the previous cabinet to
resign in 1851. Fisher was the leader of a group of young radicals who were out
to end privileged rule. One of his supporters was Samuel Leonard Tilley, who
would later become New Brunswick's most influential
A pharmacist from Gagetown, the teetotaler
Tilley, son of a Loyalist, rode the temperance movement to power. In 1855,
Tilley introduced a bill to prohibit liquor, upon which he blamed all social
evils. To everyone's surprise, it passed the legislature, no one having the
courage to oppose it.
After the bill passed, members of
the Sons of Temperance began to apply the law, filling the colony with spies
and informers. "The country was almost in a state of civil war," remarked an
Prohibition sharply divided New Brunswick, and the
legislature was dissolved in 1856 making way for an election that featured the
"smashers" under Tilley and Fisher, who supported prohibition, against the
"rummies," who opposed it. The rummies won, and prohibition was
Meanwhile, in 1862, civil war broke out in
the United States. It threatened to swamp British North America, and, with
British encouragement, re-invigorated consideration of a formal union of the
Tilley was an early advocate of Maritime
union as a means for New Brunswick to construct the Intercolonial Railway, and
link the Maritimes with Upper and Lower Canada. In Nova Scotia, Premier Charles
Tupper was like-minded, and they collaborated to establish a meeting in 1864 in
Charlottetown to explore Maritime union. The meeting, however, included a large
delegation from Upper and Lower Canada, and they suggested an even larger
union. A month later, after a subsequent meeting in Quebec City, the 72 terms
of union of Canada were announced.
In New Brunswick, MLA Albert Smith led a
strong opposition to the scheme and in the 1866 election, fought on
Confederation, Tilley's government suffered heavy losses. But the bid for union
was kept alive by Britain's support and by the unlikely threat from the oddball
Fenians in Maine.
It was rumored that 3,000 Fenians had gathered, planning
an attack on New Brunswick as a means to avenge the Irish nationalists by
attacking the British. Bonfires and gun shots kept the government, not to
mention the citizens, on edge.
New Brunswick marched into
Confederation in 1867 along with Ontario Quebec and Nova Scotia. Rewarded for
his service, Tilley was appointed finance minister. In that post, he created
the high-tariff National Policy to foster industrial growth. He remained New
Brunswick's man in Ottawa until he retired from elected politics for health
reasons in 1885.
For a time, New Brunswick flourished
behind tariffs. But a recession in the 1890s soured the economy. The failure of
the Intercolonial Railway to link the region with the central markets on an
equal footing kept it depressed. The iron foundries, textile companies and
sugar factories all began to disappear.
grievances found real expression in the Maritime Rights movement of the 1920s.
It contributed to the political confusion that reigned in Ottawa during the
In the 1925 election, Maritimers suddenly turned
on the Liberals. In the 1921 election, Maritimers had elected 25 of them; in
1925 they returned six Liberals and 23 Tories. Prime Minister Mackenzie King
blamed his New Brunswick minister A.B. Copp.
Prime Minister Arthur Meighan held office for one short year. King won again in
1926. Still, the block of like-minded Tories from the Maritimes forced Ottawa
to address their concerns.
King established a Royal
commission to investigate Maritime claims chaired by Sir Andrew Rae Duncan. It
found that the Intercolonial Railway had been mismanaged under federal control,
and the government passed the Maritime Freight Rates Act to help regional
manufacturers compete for markets in Canada. (The Act was revoked in
The report also recommended port commissions for
Saint John and Halifax.
P.J. Veniot, the New Brunswick
Liberal premier closely linked with the Maritime Rights movement, eventually
was its beneficiary. In 1926, after he was elected the MP for Bathurst, he was
appointed to King's cabinet where he pushed for the Duncan commission
R.B. Bennett defeated King in 1930,
becoming the only native New Brunswicker to serve as prime minister. An MP from
Calgary where he had established a successful law practice, Bennett had the
unfortunate distinction of governing during a worldwide recession. A
millionaire bachelor, he reduced government spending, worsening the recession.
When defeated, he left Canada for his beloved England, where he
Meanwhile in New Brunswick a succession of premiers
held the tiller. Liberal Albert Allison Dysart was elected in 1935. It was said
he could deliver a speech in mid-July in a three-piece wool suit and never
break a sweat. His principal contribution was to expand road building to create
jobs. Liberal John McNair succeeded him in 1940 and served until 1952 when the
revitalized Tories came back under Hugh John Flemming, who delivered eight
consecutive budget surpluses.
Liberal Louis J. Robichaud
was elected premier in 1960 and changed the province
Mr. Robichaud was the first Acadian elected
premier, and he set about cleaning house. He restructured the municipal tax
regime, ending the corporate practice of playing one municipality against
another in order to extract the lowest tax rates. He expanded the government
and sought, through Equal Opportunity, to ensure that the quality of health
care and education was the same across the province.
Seeking a third term in 1970, New Brunswickers turned against him, and Richard
Hatfield started his remarkable 17-year reign.
to survive the Bricklin fiasco and a charge for possession of marijuana, but
eventually wore out his welcome. In 1987, Frank McKenna's Liberals swept him
from office, winning all the seats in the legislature and ushering in a Liberal
era that ended only this past spring, when Camille Thériault was
defeated by Bernard Lord.
Campbell Morrison is the
Times Globe's Ottawa correspondent.
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