Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

New Brunswick's Legislative Assembly

Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

New Brunswick's Legislative Assembly

Article excerpt

New Brunswick entered Confederation in 1867 with the rudiments of the Westminster model of legislative democracy--representative and responsible government--already in place. These particular institutions were typical of those in other British colonies at the time, which were characterized by a relatively small electorate, a limited scope for governmental activity, and elitist decision-making practices. But while the parliamentary institutions and political culture in other former British colonies developed and matured over the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, New Brunswick seemed caught in a time trap. Until the 1960s which were characterised by sweeping changes in governance, social services, education and income redistribution, all under the visionary programme known as Equal Opportunity shepherded by Liberal Premier Louis Robichaud. Since then, a parade of premiers and party leaders have tried to put their own stamp on the province. When the Liberals were defeated in 2010, it marked the first time a New Brunswick Government had been defeated after just one term. This paper portrays legislative democracy in New Brunswick as it has evolved from its 18th-century origins into the early years of the 21st century.

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Representative government in Canada first took root with the establishment of the legislature in Nova Scotia in 1758, and was well established by the time of the great influx of Loyalists who began arriving in the 1780s following the American Revolution. Nova Scotia once encompassed much of today's Maritime Provinces, including the territory north of the Bay of Fundy then known as the (Nova Scotian) county of Sunbury. This territory became the home for many of the Loyalist newcomers, with most of them settling in Saint John (incorporated as a city in 1784) and further up the St. John River.

Given their physical distance from the seat of government in Halifax, the new settlers soon demanded their own representative assembly. There was little opposition from authorities in Halifax: Nova Scotia had been "neutral" during the Revolution, but many Nova Scotians had been quite sympathetic with the revolutionary rather than the Loyalist cause, and did not always agree with the politics expressed by the Loyalist newcomers, who in turn wondered about Nova Scotia's loyalty to the Empire. In any case, as both R. MacGregor Dawson (1) and J.R. Mallory (2) have observed, the new settlers had British common law on their side because as a "settled" colony (that is, not conquered), they had the right to have such a representative assembly. Exercising his royal prerogative, King George III granted the settlers' request in 1784 by granting Sunbury County status as a separate colony, naming it New Brunswick after his ancestral home, and sending Thomas Carleton to be its first governor. The first elections were held in November 1785, with the first meeting of the legislature taking place in Saint John the following January.

New Brunswick's new government followed the model used by the other colonies. The legislature was bicameral with an upper assembly known as the Legislative Council, and a lower house called the Legislative Assembly. The Governor appointed the Legislative Council and, as was the case across British North America before the advent of "responsible government," the council commanded more power than did the elected assembly. But the Governor, who was appointed by the King through the British Colonial Office, wielded most of the power, or at least he did if he chose to. As well, all members of the Legislative Council were also members of the Governor's privy council--known as his Executive Council--and in this capacity (in addition to their legislative functions) they assisted the Governor in the administration and governance of the colony. Most of the time, the councillors met as the Executive Council; when the legislature was in session, however, they met as the Legislative Council. …

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