Some Local Electoral History: How Westmorland Has Voted

A century ago last month, Canada was in the midst of a federal election. First elected in 1896, the Liberal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier was seeking a second term. Election day was Nov. 4, 1900. The Conservatives were led by Sir Charles Tupper, the last living Father of Confederation. Now that the 2000 campaign is over, lets take a brief look at the electoral history of this area.

Canada in 1900 was a very different country from today. There were but seven provinces with a population of about 5,300,000. New Brunswickers accounted for 330,000 of the total and sent 14 MPs to Ottawa. One of the contrasts with 2000, was the presence of only two political parties; Liberal and Conservative. Both were contesting the 213 seats in the House of Commons. Public opinion polls were then unknown. Nor were there any photo-ops, sound bites or focus groups!

The Tantramar region formed part of the constituency of Westmorland, which was defined by the county boundaries. From the early 1970s onward it was renamed Westmorland-Kent and covered the two counties. Moncton was not to become a separate riding until later. Presently known as Beausejour-Petitcodiac it now includes Westmorland County, (excluding Moncton, Riverview and Dieppe) along with Kent and Albert Counties.

The lifestyle of 1900 provides another stark contrast. Electricity, mainly for lighting, had arrived in the 1890s, likewise the telephone; however, both were still in their infancy. Local transportation was provided by horse and buggy. Radio, television and the Internet along with present day labor saving devices were uheard of. On the positive side, the Intercolonial Railway could be counted on for longer trips to, lets say Saint John or Boston. A two cent stamp would carry a post card from Sackville to Amherst and see it delivered the same day. Try that in 2000!

Obviously, any means of mass communication was limited in 1900. Newspapers provided the main source of information. The best that could be expected was a story printed one day after the event. Most towns and cities had two newspapers; for example, the Moncton Times and its competitor the Moncton Transcript. This carried over to weeklies which also tended to come in pairs, as witness the Sackville Tribune and its arch rival the Sackville Post.

Negative advertising, so characteristic of the 2000 campaign was unheard of; but partisan newspapers compensated for their absence. Modern political advertising pales in comparison with the impassioned reporting, fiery editorials and brutally frank cartoons of 1900. Another major difference was the limited franchise; women were not to receive the vote until well into the new century.

The best description of early 20th century Canadian politics was written by humorist Stephen Leacock. By profession a mild and mellow Professor of Economics at McGill, he was, at the same time a satirist of all things Canadian. One of his best sketches dissected a federal election campaign in his mythical Missinaba County.

Heres how Leacock portrayed the setting: The division between the Liberals and Conservatives was intense. Yet you might live for a long time in Mariposa, [capital of the county] between elections, and not know it. There were two dentists, one for each party You soon realized that the two newspapers supported opposite parties. There was a Liberal drugstore and a Conservative one.

He went on: Around election time, the Mariposa House was the Liberal hotel, and the Continental was Conservative. Even Mr. Golgatha Gingham, the sole undertaker was, as the natural effect of his calling Liberal, but at election time he always employed a special assistant for embalming Conservatives.

To return to Westmorland in 1900. The decision of Prime Minister Laurier to call a federal election was no surprise. All summer long, local newspapers attempted to place their political party in the best possible light. Seemingly no hint of gossip or possible sign of scandal was left uncovered. In particular, there were whispered rumours concerning two political appointments. There was a New Brunswick vacancy in the Senate and another on the Supreme Court. Would these be filled before the election? Speculation was rife.

The name that surfaced most often was that of Hon. Henry R. Emmerson, Premier of New Brunswick and MLA for Albert County. A Dorchester lawyer with strong ties in Westmorland, could he be lured to federal politics? If so where would he run? Would he be named to the Senate? Would he accept a judgeship? His possible move to federal politics was supported strongly by the Liberal press and questioned by Conservative newspapers. By July, 1900 the latter had reached a firm conclusion that Emmerson would soon accept an appointment to the Supreme Court. How wrong they were.

In order to understand this political speculation, its necessary to sketch the voting history of the riding. Since the defeat of Liberal Sir Albert Smith in 1878, Westmorland had become a federal Conservative stronghold. From 1882 until 1895 it was represented by Sackvilles Josiah Wood. A wealthy lawyer and merchant, he won three consecutive elections, but resigned from the House of Commons in 1895 to accept a seat in the Senate. Later, in 1912 Wood was named lieutenant governor of New Brunswick. In the by-election held Aug. 24, 1895 the Conservative hold continued with the election of Henry Powell. Also a lawyer, he had practiced in both Sackville and Saint John. Re-elected in the general election of 1896, Powell would soon be nominated as the Conservative candidate.

All was quiet in the Liberal camp until Aug. 31, 1900, when the dramatic announcement came that Premier Emmerson had tendered his resignation. He also declared his intent to seek the Liberal nomination in Westmorland. One consideration in this decision was the possibility that the provinces representative in the federal cabinet, Hon. Andrew G. Blair, might soon retire. Blair, by coincidence, had also been Premier before entering federal politics. In the election of 1900 the results in Westmorland were as follows: Emmerson 4,420; Powell 3,734. Westmorland returned to the Liberal fold where it would remain until 1925.

Eventually, Emmerson succeeded Blair as Minister of Railways and Canals in the Laurier cabinet, resigning from this post in 1907. He was re-elected in the federal elections of 1904, 1908 and 1911 and died July 9, 1914 at Dorchester.

In the years since then, the constituency has been represented by 14 MPs. Of these, a number have had strong roots in the Tantramar region. Emmersons immediate successor was Hon. Arthur B. Copp a native of Jolicure. A lawyer, he was a graduate of Mount Allison and Dalhousie Universities and had established a law practice in Sackville. Elected to the House of Commons in a by-election Feb. 1, 1915, he was returned in 1917 and 1921. From 1921 until 1925 Copp served as Secretary of State in the administration of Prime Minister Mackenzie King. Named a Senator in 1925, Copp died Dec. 5, 1949.

The Conservatives held the constituency for a decade after 1925, when MP Dr. O. B. Price of Moncton, was defeated by H. R. Emmerson Jr., son of Hon. Henry Emmerson Sr. The latter was born in Dorchester, and had served overseas in World War I. Westmorland was his from 1935 to 1949. He did not reoffer in the federal election of that year, in order to accept a seat in the Senate. Emmersons successor was Major E. W. George, a farmer from Upper Sackville. During World War II George saw service on the battlefields of North Africa, Italy and Northwest Europe. He retired from politics in 1953.

More recently, from 1972 to 1984 the newly named constituency of Westmorland-Kent elected as its MP, Rt. Hon. Romeo LeBlanc. A native of LAnse-aux-Cormier near Memramcook, he served in a number of federal cabinet posts including Fisheries and Public Works. In 1984 he became a Senator and was named Speaker of the Senate in 1993. From 1995 to 1999 LeBlanc was Governor General of Canada, the first Atlantic Canadian to hold this office.

Fernand Robichaud followed LeBlanc as member for Westmorland-Kent. Re-elected in 1988, he stepped aside for the period 199093 to enable Rt. Hon. Jean Chretien, federal Liberal leader, to enter the House of Commons. Robichaud was re-elected in 1993 and became a member of the Senate in 1997. In the general election of that year Angela Vatour took the seat for the NDP. By this time it was known as Beausejour-Petitcodiac. She later joined the Progressive Conservative caucus.

Since this Flashback is being written well in advance of the federal election of Nov. 27, 2000, readers will have to fill in the most recent results for themselves. There is only one certain conclusion to be drawn from the electoral history of Westmorland. Being an MP for this constituency, greatly increases the odds of being named a Senator!