HOME · HISTORY · AROUND TOWN · INFO BOOTH · FUN STUFF · NEW BRUNSWICK

Saint John, New Brunswick
From Champlain to Lord:
A political history of New Brunswick

by Campbell Morrison
Times Globe staff writer

   Samuel Leonard TilleyEver 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, and teetotalers.
    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 democracy.
    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 thought.
    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.
    In New 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 Brunswick.
    The 1843 election featured fixed bayonets in Fredericton, great enthusiastic mobs in Saint John, and riots in Miramichi.
    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.
    Responsible 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 politician.
    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 MLA.
    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 overturned.
    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 loyal colonies.
    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.
    Regional grievances found real expression in the Maritime Rights movement of the 1920s. It contributed to the political confusion that reigned in Ottawa during the period.
    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.
    Conservative 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 1995.)
    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 recommendations.
    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 died.
    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 forever.
    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.
    He managed 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.

BACK

HOME · HISTORY · AROUND TOWN · INFO BOOTH · FUN STUFF · NEW BRUNSWICK