Ok, after some of the comments, I think that it would be best to include Leonard Tilley, however I have always viewed Charles Fisher as a more important pre-Confederation leader so I've included him too... so I have made a list of who I believe are the eight greatest premiers and written up bios of each of them. Let me know who you think is best in the comments section and if I am missing anyone...
Quick links: Fisher (1854-56, 1856-61); Tilley (1861-65); Emmerson (1897-1900); Baxter (1925-31); Flemming (1952-60); Robichaud (1960-70); Hatfield (1970-87); McKenna (1987-97)
Charles Fisher (Pre-Confederation Conservative)
Premier from 1854-1856 and 1857-1861 (5 years, 4 months)
Father of Responsible Government in New Brunswick
A lawyer, Fisher was first elected to the legislature in 1837 after an unsuccessful attempt in 1834. Always a reformer, he tabled a motion in 1848 calling for responsible government. The motion passed and the Lieutenant Governor called on Fisher to join the Executive Council without portfolio. The government of which he was a member was not truly responsible; though made of members of the legislature, it was made of members who met the Crown's fancy and did not hold the confidence of the House of Assembly. In disgust, his electors threw him out in the 1850 election; making matters worse, he remained a member of the Executive Council but after he failed in his attempt to regain office in an 1851 by-election he resigned.
Re-elected in 1854 as leader of the pro-responsible government "Smasher Party", he won a majority of seats in the legislature. After six months of constant demands, the at-first-reluctant Lieutenant Governor called on Fisher to form a government and New Brunswick has had true responsible government ever since. Fisher's first cabinet was made up of men of various idelogies who all supported responsible government and included future premiers Samuel Leonard Tilley and Albert J. Smith.
The first months of the government were impressive with bills passed to modernize public works and expand suffrage, however the government was defeated in 1856 when it tried to bring in prohibition. The administration that replaced Fisher's had only that one issue that united members of the legislature, however, and quickly lost power and Fisher returned to office in 1857.
His second term saw the creation of the University of New Brunswick in 1860 by expanding and increasing funding to its forerunner, King's College Fredericton, the oldest English university in Canada. He also provided funds for the construction of the Intercolonial Railway. Fisher focussed mainly on big projects and his dual role as Attorney General however and left much of the day-to-day administration of the government to Tilley, who served as Provincial Secretary and de facto Deputy Premier. A power struggle in 1861 led by Smith and Tilley caused Fisher in favour of Tilley.
Fisher became leader of the opposition to Tilley's government for some time but later joined Tilley's caucus over the matter of Confederation. In 1865, Fisher, along with Tilley and many other supporters of Confederation, lost their seats to the Anti-Confederation Party led by their former ally Smith. Fisher was able to return to the legislature in a by-election in late 1865 and became the leader of the Confederation movement in the House. In 1866, he forced the Smith government to call an election on the Confederation question and the Confederates won. A government was formed, nominally headed by the less controversial Peter Mitchell, while Fisher and Tilley took up their old posts of Attorney General and Provincial Secretary respectively.
Fisher was elected to the new Canadian House of Commons in 1867 and delivered the first speech in that new institution in moving the motion in address to the Spreech from the Throne. He was excluded from Sir John A. Macdonald's cabinet in favour of Tilley and was instead appointed a judge of the new New Brunswick Supreme Court making his tenure in federal politics brief.
Samuel Leonard Tilley (Pre-Confederation Liberal-Conservative)
Premier from 1861-1865 (4 years)
New Brunswick's Lead Father of Confederation
A pharmacist, Tilley became active in politics through the temperance movement and later in railway promotion. He was elected to the legislature in 1850 but resigned in 1851 over frustration with the lack of true responsible government. He joined the first responsible government in 1854 as Charles Fisher's provincial secretary, it was his Prohibition Bill that brought down the Fisher government in 1856 and Tilley lost his own seat in the election that followed. Though his political career seemed over, Tilley had a quick return to office in 1857 when the Anti-Probation government fell not being able to maintain confidence on that issue alone. Tilley stopped supporting prohibtion out of pragmatism much to the dismay of the temparance movement he had helped to found. He returned to the cabinet as Provincial Secretary and oversaw much of the day-to-day operations of the government.
In 1861, tired of running the government without the glory, Tilley called a meeting of all of the members of the Executive Council except for Premier Fisher. He collected a letter of resignation from each and took them to the Lieutenant Governor. Rather than see the adminstration fall, the Lieutenant Governor called on Tilley to head the governmnet, his administration was re-elected in an election three months later. He allied with Nova Scotia's Joseph Howe to convince Britain to fund the Intercolonial Railway and oppossed talks of Maritime Confederation at the Charlottetown Conference in 1864. Instead, he joined with the univited representatives of the Canadas to support a union of the whole of British North America. In order to get a broad base of support, Tilley invited Fisher to return to the government as well as several prominent Conservatives and they went off to the Quebec Conference. There he negotiated a sweetheart deal underwhich New Brunswick would receive $3 more per capita from the federal government than every other province. However, in his absense, the anti-confederation voices had campaigned unopposed against the idea and convinced many in the House and the public to oppose Confederation. Rather than see a bill supporting Confederation destroy the government as his Prohibition Bill had years before, he called an election. Tilley and every member of his cabinet lost their seats.
Tilley was re-elected in 1866 and joined the Pro-Confederation cabinet of Peter Mitchell as Provincial Secretary, it was said that Tilley was the true power in the government or at least shared power with Mitchell, but Mitchell was deemed head of government as he was a less controversial figure.
After Confederation was approved, he joined the Macdonald cabinet as Minister of Customs, a position underwhich he negotiated interprovincial tarrifs and reciprocity with the United States, the end results of which were to make him very unpopular in New Brunswick and the Maritimes as a whole. He was appointed Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick in the dying days of the first Macdonald Government to protect him from certain defeat when an election was called. He returned to parliament while the Alexander Mackenzie government lost its bid for re-election and became a senior minister carrying the Finance and Treasury Board portfolios and implemented Macdonald's new National Policy. As minister, he insisted the Canadian Pacific Railway have its terminus travel through Saint John and Halifax rather than through Maine to Bangor as originally proposed.
He retired from the House of Commons under ill health in 1885 and served a second term as Lieutenant Governor.
Henry R. Emmerson (Liberal)
Premier from 1897-1900 (2 years, 10 months)
A Man Ahead of His Times
Emmerson, an accountant and lawyer, was interested in the legal rights of women from an early age. Rather than apprenticing to become a lawyer, the standard route at the time, he earned an L.L.B. at Boston University and while doing so won top prize for his essay entitled "The Legal condition of married women". He joined the New Brunswick bar in 1878 and soon aquired part ownership of one of the leading Liberal papers of the day, the Moncton Transcript. An unsuccessful candidate for the House of Commons in 1887, he was elected to the New Brunswick House of Assembly in an 1888 by-election. He was unsuccessful in his attempt at re-election in the 1890 general election and was appointed to New Brunswick's Upper House, the Legislative Council, in 1891 and severed there until it was abolished in 1892. While in the Council, he sat in the cabinet as minister without portfolio and leader of the government for the upper chamber.
As a freshman member of the legislature, his first speech referred to the lack of suffrage for woman as "a relic of barbaric prejudice" and women's suffrage remained a key issue for him for much of his career. After the abolision of the Legislative Council, he won a seat in the House in the 1892 general election he was made Minister of Public Works rather than Attorney General because his interest in women's suffrage was thought too controversial for the chief legal office of the province. He continued in the Public Works portfolio after Premier A. G. Blair was named to Laurier's federal cabinet in 1896 under James Mitchell.
In late 1897 Mitchell resigned for health reasons and Emmerson succeeded him as premier. He continued as Minister of Public Works and promoted economic development and tourism. In 1899 he brought a bill to the legislature to give women the vote but it was defeated 39-7. In the election that followed, Emmerson was re-elected but a new Tory named Douglas Hazen entered the legislature and united the opposition forces giving the government its first true opposition in over a decade. Emmerson was accused of corruption and resigned in August 1900, though a Royal Commission later proved his innocence.
He was elected to the House of Commons in 1904 and joined Laurier's cabinet as Minister of Railways. He was dismissed in 1907 however when his alcoholism and womanizing became embarassing to the government. He remained an MP for 7 more years, until his death, and donated money to Acadia University to create a library in his father's name.
J.B.M. Baxter (Conservative)
Premier from 1925-1931 (5 years, 7 months)
Champion of Maritime Rights
A journalist and lawyer, Baxter came from humble beginnings, raised by his mother alone from the age of 2 with several sickly siblings, Baxter joined the work force as a labourer at the age of 14. His employer saw great potential in him and paid for him to attend law school at Windsor, Nova Scotia. He was elected to Saint John Common Council in 1892 and ran a successful law practice. In 1910, he was a star candidate for the conversatives in a by-election and in 1913 joined thed cabinet as Attorney General.
Following the defeat of the Conservative government in 1917, Baxter sat in opposition. Much of the rural base of the Conservative Party then split off to form the United Farmers Party. Facing certain defeat and possible loss of official opposition status in the coming election, the Conservatives turned to Baxter as the only willing person to lead. Rather than head into the 1921 election with two opponents, Baxter negotiated a non-compete agreement with the UF, fielding candidates only in urban ridings while the UF would only field candidates in rural ridings. This saved the Tories from destruction and also cost the Liberals several rural seats.
In 1921, Baxter was invited to join the federal cabinet of Arthur Meighen, but the Meighen government was defeated later that year. Baxter became a leading Tory voice in opposition to Mackenzie King's first government and some viewed him as the logical successor to Meighen, however Meighen pledged to stay on to fight another election and Baxter resigned to resume the leadership of the provincial Conservative Party and lead it to victory in the 1925 election taking 37 of 48 seats by turning all of English Protestant New Brunswick against the first Acadian and Catholic premier, Peter Venoit, in a divisive race.
Baxter sold off the Grand Falls hydro-electric dam to private investors in exchange for their promise to use the profits to create pulp and paper mills in the region which continue to be the primary employers in Victoria and Madawaska County to this day. Baxter, who had been an outspoken advocate of Martime Rights in Ottawa, used his position as Premier to convince the federal government to adopt the recommendations of the Duncan Commission which re-routed much of the Central Canadian east coast trade from New England ports to Maritime ones and increased federal transfer payments to the region in a program that would evolve to become equalization.
Re-elected in 1930, he resigned in 1931 to accept Prime Minister Bennett's offer of a seat on the New Brunswick Supreme Court. One of Bennett's last actions as prime minister was to promote Baxter to Chief Justice. Every judgement that Baxter made on the bench survied appeals. His son, J.B.M. Baxter, Jr. served as a senior minister in the cabinet of Richard Hatfield.
Hugh John Flemming (Progressive Conservatve)
Premier from 1952-1960 (7 years, 9 months)
The Father of Equalization
The teenaged son of Premier James Kidd Flemming when the elder Flemming was forced to resign from office in scandal, he gave up plans to become a doctor to work in the family lumber business to save it from failure.
He was elected to Carleton County Council in 1921 at the age of 22, and served there for 14 years until he unsuccessfully sought election to the House of Commons in 1935 in what was a bad year for Conservatives across the country. In 1944, he took a huge pay cut from his family and other business interests and was elected to the New Brunswick legislature. After the 1948 election, when the Tories were crushed and reduced to 5 seats in the 52 seat legislature, Flemming took over as interim leader and was finally confirmed as permanent leader in 1951. In the 1952 election, he ran on a platfrom of "cleaning house" and, after 17 years of Liberal government, the Tories, newly renamed the Progressive Conservative Party at Flemming's direction, won a majority of 36 to 16. Flemming and one other were the only incumbent Tories on the ballot in that election.
Despite undertaking massive projects such as the Beechwood hydro-electric dam, a project that had promised federal funding revoked in the midst of construction, Flemming brought in 8 consequtive balanced budgets through his term in office. As a result of the fiscal instability in the relationship with Ottawa, Flemming convened the first of what would become annual meetings of the Atlantic Premiers in an effort to present a united front to Ottawa, this group, led by Flemming, would convince the Diefenbaker government to bring in the equalization program.
In 1960, in order to keep the budget balanced and to begin a first step towards public health care, Flemming introduced a widely unpopular hospital tax. The Liberals derided this as a user fee and Flemming failed in his bid for a third term.
After only two months back in opposition, Prime Minister John George Diefenbaker called on him to join the federal cabinet and he entered the house through a by-election in Saint John and became Minister of Forestry. He was later promoted to Minister of National Revenue where he began the concept of regional economic development programs which would later evolve into the Department of Regional Industrial Expansion and later still to the economic development agencies for the regions such as ACOA. He was elected to represent Carleton County in 1962, 1963, 1965 and 1968 before retiring at the 1972 election.
Louis J. Robichaud (Liberal)
Premier from 1960-1970 (10 years, 4 months)
The Father of Equal Opportunity
After first studying to become a priest, Robichaud set his mind on becoming Premier of New Brunswick. In fact, on graduating from university he put into his class' time capsule a note signed "Louis J. Robichaud, Premier of New Brunswick". He was elected to the legislature in the 1952 election, that brought his predecessor as premier Hugh John Flemming to power, at the age of 27. By 1957, he rose to the position of opposition finance critic and in a tight race was elected Liberal leader in 1958.
In 1960, his youth (35) compared to Premier Flemming (61) was a major issue that helped him win on a message of change. Once in office, change was indeed quick and massive. Robichaud's term saw the end of temperance inspired liquor laws, the introduction civil service unions, universal free health care, the creation of 3 of New Brunswick's four public universities, a renewed exploration of natural resources, and most notably Equal Opportunity and Official Bilingualism.
In 1963, a Royal Commission appointed by Robichaud recommended turning the governance of the province upside down and Robichaud enthusiastically agreed. Before Equal Opportunity, New Brunswick had one of the most decentralized governments in the country with the cities and counties carrying responsibility for health and education among other areas now associated with the province. The result was dramatically better health and education for those living in rich cities compared to those living in poor rural counties. Robichaud abolished county governments altogether, taking administration of unicorporated areas directly to the provincial capital, the power of cities was reduced and concentrated rural areas were able to incorporate into towns and villages with similar powers to those of the reduced cities.
Acadians, who prodominately lived in the poor rural regions of the province, became equal players in their society for the first time since the Deportation of 1755. In addition to levelling the playing field for rural New Brunswickers with Equal Opporuntity, he directed initiatives to improve services for Francophones in particular with the establishment of l'Université du Moncton and Official Bilingualism.
K.C. Irving was particularly opposed to Robichaud's "thirst for power" in which many business and urban interests viewed Equal Opporunity as a mere power grab. Robichaud called a snap election in 1967 over the program and dared Irving to take the leadership of the Tories and oppose the program, he did not and Robichaud was re-elected though by a narrower margin.
Having accomplished all this, Robichaud looked around for a successor in 1970, finding no one able, he coasted into an early election campaign where he was obviously disinterested and the Tories returned to power narrowly.
Following his defeat the Liberals went through a rapid succession of leaders and were in the political wilderness for 17 years. Robichaud accepted an appointment as chair of the International Joint Commission until being named to the Senate in 1973 where he served until 2000.
Richard Bennett Hatfield (Progressive Conservative)
Premier from 1970-1987 (16 years, 11 months)
New Brunswick's longest serving Premier
The son of a politician and wealthy farmer, Hatfield was named after the Prime Minister of the day, New Brunswick native Richard Bennett when he was born in 1931. His childhood was a life of privilege attending the exclusive private school Rothesay Collegiate before attending Acadia and Dalhouise universities. Studying law at Dalhousie he met a number of notable future politicians including his roommate Alexander Campbell, who would serve as premier of PEI and John Crosbie who would be federal Finance Minister while Hatfield was premier. In 1952, his dying father warned him from entering politics but he did not listen.
After working as senior aide to a federal cabinet minister in Ottawa, he was elected to the legislature in a 1961 by-election to replace outgoing premier Hugh John Flemming and was re-elected six successive times to represent the people of Carelton County. He sought the leadership of the party in 1966 but was defeated by Charlie Van Horne. When Van Horne failed to win a seat in the 1967 election, Hatfield became leader of the opposition but did not formally become leader of the party until 1969.
He won the the 1970 election on a platform of change. Despite this he continued some of the most controversial of Robichaud's policies. He immediately enacted provisions of the Official Languages Act that Robichaud had intended to phase in over time, named every Francophone in his caucus to cabinet and began a long courtship with the Acadian community that made him incredibily popular among them despite his inability to speak French. He required minority language schools for Francophones outside of core French territories, constructed new French schools and took New Brunswick into Le Francophonie.
His interests were not limited to the advancement of Francophones, but also of other then marginalized groups. He created Premier's Councils on Women, Youth and Disabled Persons. He became a leader of national committees promoting good relations between Christians and Jews and Whites and Aboriginals. Hatfield was also a proponent of regional cooperation, first organizing the Council of Maritime Premiers and its successor the Council of Atlantic Premiers as well as the annual summits of Atlantic Premiers and New England Governors.
Hatfield was also a strong proponent of Canadian constitutional reform, as early as the Victoria Conference in 1971, he was one of the strongest voices for the repatriation of the constitution. Despite his party label, he was considered Trudeau's strongest ally in the 1981-82 constitutional talks. It was at Hatfield's insistance that equalization and minority education rights were included in the new constitution. When there was talk that the British Parliament and the Crown might not approve the repatriation agreement, he boldly stated that if the Crown would not consent, Canada should be rid of the Crown. He refused numerous calls for him to enter federal politics, saying that as Premier he could play a stronger role in national politics than he could as a federal minister.
Hatfield's adminstration was not perfect however. Notorious for his focus on the "big picture", many of the day-to-day operations of the province were neglected. Among these were the Bricklin boondoggle which cost the province an impressive $23 million in early 1970s dollars and a constuction kickback scandal that almost cost Hatfield his government in the 1978 election. Perhaps the best example of this was on one occassion when Hatfield named a complete cabinet without a Finance Minister, the mistake was realized minutes before the swearing-in and one of his ministers received a shock, last minute promotion. Hatfield rarely was in the office before 10 a.m. and often left before anyone else, but a textbook bachelor, he often held political functions in the forms of raucous parties at his home well into the night. He also travelled the world on the government plane, sometimes on official business and sometimes not. The Opposition was outraged when they discovered that one year he spent only 168 days in New Brunswick, in response to which he famously quipped "I was elected to govern New Brunswick, not be in New Brunswick."
After winning the largest conservative majority in New Brunswick history in 1982 and after 12 years in office, Hatfield's personal life began to catch up with him. In 1984, RCMP officials found marijuana in his luggage while he toured the province with the Queen in celebration of the province's bicentennial. In 1985, he hosted a late night party attended by a number of university students where many illegal drugs were used. In 1986, Hatfield survived a caucus revolt only thanks to his large majority and, in 1987, he called an election at the last possible minute; doomed to certain defeat, many of his caucus members ran as independents rather than face defeat as Tories. Ironically, this move helped maginify the defeat of the Progressive Conservatives when they lost every seat to Frank McKenna's Liberals.
In the short term, Hatfield's legacy was considered poor. He was blamed for the total collapse of the Tories, the rise of the anti-French conservative Confederation of Regions Party and three successive Liberal super majority governments each of which were bigger than Hatfield's then-record win in 1982. In recent years though, his many accomplishments, particularly on the federal stage have allowed him an improved reputation among Liberals and Tories alike and his is often cited by Liberals along side Robichaud and McKenna as the best premiers of recent years.
Frank McKenna (Liberal)
Premier from 1987-1997 (10 years)
A lawyer, McKenna grew up in his grandparents' home near Sussex, N.B. when the family farm house had become too large to house all of the children. First active in politics in supporting Robert Stanfield's provincial Tories while attending St. F. X. in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, he later became a Liberal working for several summers in Allan J. MacEachen's minister's office in Ottawa. It was MacEachen, on advising McKenna most successful politicians were lawyers, not academics like himself, that convinced the young man to not accept the offer of graduate studies from Queen's University but to instead attend UNB law school. There he became vice-president of both the campus Young Liberals and the local federal riding association. McKenna became involved in every party committee he could and in the divisive 1982 Liberal leadership race, avoided taking sides by securing the position of Chief Returning Officer for the convention.
After moving to Chatham after graduating law school, he was elected to the legislature in 1982, the only non-incumbent Liberal to win a seat in that disasterous campaign. Ray Frenette became the interim leader shortly thereafter and, by 1985, the party finally called a convention to crown Frenette leader unopposed. McKenna, ambitious, had already promised Frenette he would not oppose him but, upon urging of some friends, reversed his decision, with Frenette's blessing just five weeks before the convention. Both men saw it as a chance for McKenna to mature as a politician, not win. McKenna's positive and optomistic campagin overtook Frenette and he won the leadership by a 2-to-1 margin. For the next two and a half years, McKenna toured the province non-stop in election campaign mode and had all of his candidates nominated by the expected election year of 1986 but it would be another 15 months before New Brunswickers finally went to the polls.
On October 13, 1987, McKenna made history by winning every seat in the legislature. He took office with two objectives: halting out of control budget spending and creating jobs. His focus was distracted however by the Meech Lake Accord which he opposed as it marginalized Francophones outside of Quebec, most of whom were New Brunswick Acadians. He eventually succeeded in leading the charge to amend the Accord to bring the numerous newly elected premiers on board and to satisfy New Brunswick's needs but the Accord was not approved and some accused McKenna's early opposition for killing it.
McKenna took New Brunswick from the second worst economy and the second worst average income to the leader in job creation in the mid-1990s, ahead of every other province in job growth. He took New Brunswick's poorly maintained highways and brought them up to national standards in record time, using some controversial measures to raise funds, including a toll highway from Fredericton to Moncton.
Under McKenna, major investments were made in high technology and New Brunswick became the first jurisdiction in North America with province-wide fibre optic wiring and universal access to the internet (by dial up). This, coupled with New Brunswick's bilingual make up, allowed for the creation of many new jobs in high tech related fields including call centres. This job growth was deemed the "McKenna Miracle" at the time, though it was short lived as many of the jobs vanished after McKenna left office. McKenna himself said that he hoped his legacy was less tangible, that his optimistic attitude proved to New Brunswickers and Atlantic Canadians that they could stand on their own feet and did not need handouts and government cheques to get by.
He surprised many when, with 70% approval, kept a long forgotten promise to serve only 10 years and resigned on the 10th anniversary of his historic electoral victory.
Since retirement he has been urged by successive Liberal Prime Ministers to run in the 2000 and 2004 federal elections, served as Canadian Ambassador to the United States, was the prohibitive frontrunner for the Liberal leadership had he run in 2006 and has been very active in national business.
The following individual is not in my top eight, or even my top nine, but he is being included in the balloting of the final round so I am including his bio here for linking purposes.
Bernard Lord (Progressive Conservative)
Premier from 1999-2006 (7 years, 4 monhts)
The other Mr. Dithers
A lawyer, Bernard Lord was born in Quebec where his father was working on the railway. His family settled near Moncton when Lord was young and he was raised with perfect English and French owing to his Francophone Acadian mother and Anglophone farther who was a native of Charlotte County. As a youth, Lord joined and was active in the New Democratic Party before eventually settling on the Progressive Conservatives. He was active in politics successfully in university when he served successive terms as president of the Université du Moncton student union. Upon graduating from law school, Lord founded with several of his fellow students the law firm of Leblanc, Boudreau-Desjardins and Lord.
Lord quickly turned his eye to "real" politics. He ran for Dieppe City Council in 1995 and finishes fifth of six candidates in a ward that elected the top two vote getters. Lord received 548 votes (the winners received 1114 and 727 respectively). Later that year he was the PC candidate in Dieppe-Memramcook in the provincial election, he finished second, losing to incumbent Liberal Greg O'Donnell by a margin of 6639 to 2181 (or 22.6%). In 1997, he tried again in the spring seeking the federal PC nomination for the riding of Moncton but he was not successful.
Evidentally not believing in "three strikes, you're out". Lord sought the leadership of the PC Party of New Brunswick in the fall of 1997. Turning 32 in the middle of the campaign, Lord ran on youth and the fact that he was the only bilingual candidate in the race. None of the four candidates in the race were successful politicians (two others had run unsuccessfully for the House of Commons and the third, frontrunner Norm Betts, was the Assistant Dean of Business at UNB). Lord was considered a rising star but not a realistic candidate for leader and it was expected to go to Betts in a cakewalk. Lord gained momentum when Peter Mesheau, a Lord supporter, won a by-election a few weeks before the campaign and increased the PC presence in the legislature from 6 to 7. Finally many argue Lord got the edge he needed when in the week before balloting, the party agreed to open a satelite voting station on the campus of UdeM where Lord was well connected and had served as student union president just five years earlier. In the end Lord edged out Betts on the second ballot. A year later, Lord entered the legislature by narrowly winning a by-election in the former Liberal strong hold of Moncton East.
As the 1999 election campaign began, few gave Lord a chance to win and most polls showed he and the Tories more than 20 points behind. Lord was initially tepidly supportive of the toll highway from Fredericton to Moncton, however at the urging of the local candidate and faced by more protesters than supporters at a rally in Petitcodiac, Lord shocked his own staff by announcing a PC government would scrap the tolls. Although some thought this a major gaffe at first, as it was a costly initiative that would benefit a very small group in the province, it became a message greater than the specific promise. The toll issue became symbolic of a Liberal governmen that, after 12 years in office, had become arrogant and insensitive to New Brunswickers. Lord steadily edged up in the polls and coupled with a weak campaign run by new Liberal premier Camille Thériault, Lord shocked all watchers by winning 44 of 55 seats on election day.
After the toll promise, Lord had morphed his campaign into "100 days of change", under which he promised he would deliver on his top 20 promises in his first 100 days in office. On day 100, he announced he had delivered on 19, but the toll promise was more elusive. Eventually the deal he announced was to guarantee the same money for the road builders (replacing the tolls with shadow tolls) at a greater cost to New Brunswickers (we would now have to pay, indirectly, for every car on the road, including those from out of province, and also paid a massive penalty for changing the deal). I, and many others, argued at the time that a true leader would have broken his promise, apologized for making a promise without knowing the facts, and explained how honouring the province would have done far more damage than breaking it. However, in the 2003 election, Lord was able to portray himself as the rare honest politician because he had kept his word even under difficult circumstances.
Though the first 100 days saw a very active government, including a reorganization of departments. The balance of the 1500 days of the first term were study after study, reaction after reaction, with no plan or direction. When the 2003 election appeared on the horizon, there was no real issue to hold against Bernard Lord but there was a real sense that New Brunswick wasn't moving anymore and was starting to slip behind. In the campaign that followed, Lord expected to cruise to victory, as did the national media who had annointed Lord as the saviour of the conservative movement. Ironically, whenever New Brunswick conservatives were interviewed they were not quite so enthusiastic. In fact, I wish I had kept it, but the hype the national media was giving Lord in 2002-2003 was so eerily similar to that given to Stockwell Day in 2000 (bilingual, electorally successful, budget balancer) that one National Post piece was almost word-for-word with a previous one on Day.
Lord entered the campaign about even with the Liberals in polls, but with a huge edge over Shawn Graham in personal numbers, and the campaign was all Bernard Lord all the time. However, on the campaign trial, Lord, who normally outclassed Graham on the floor of the legislature, was cold with the people while Graham knew how to press the flesh. Graham's ability to connect with voters on the street and a nearly flawless campaign offset Lord. Lord's only strength outside of core conservative country was in Francophone New Brunswick. Lord had a natural edge there as a Francophone running against and Anglophone with uneasy French but was being weakened by the issue of rising auto insurance rates which had risen the most in these areas. Mirroring his 1999 campaign move on tolls, without notification, studies or plans, on the campaign bus, Lord huddles with a few advisors and between campaign stops designed a plan of "no frills" auto insurance as an option for people who could not afford the rates. It was never well explained, but it was enough to save 5 Francophone seats that were on the bubble and keep the government in Lord's hands.
A friend told me in the few days after the vote that they had voted Tory. I was surprised as I knew them not to be a fan of Bernard Lord. They said Lord had kept all of his promises, that was not often seen in politicians and we needed more honest people in office. The fact that shadow tolls had cost provincial coffers hundreds of millions of dollars and counting was irrelevant he said, at least Lord kept his word.
The following years were equally chaotic, many issues continued to be studied to death and shortly after Paul Martin was dubbed Mr. Dithers by The Economist, New Brusnwick journalist pegged the monicker onto Lord. The auditor general revealed that the 2003 budget, despite Lord's claims, had not been balanced and desperate to balance the 2004 budget, he went back on his pledge to never cut health care - he had often said Frank McKenna's greatest fault was health car cuts. Without any planning or studying, Lord launched massive cuts. When a member of his caucus threatened to bolt over cuts in his area, Lord rewrote the plan and moved the cuts elsewhere, proving to everyone who had already assumed the same: the cuts were not based on science or needs, but on politics.
The opposition discovered that Lord had lost New Brunswick $20 billion of savings over 10 years by failing to sign an Orimulsion supply contract for the Coleson Cove generation station. As a result, the Tories suspended the hearings of the Crown Corporations committee and hired a Tory riding president to prepare a committee report, rather than using legislative staff, and exhonerated the government.
In 2006, expecting his government to call, Lord introduced a budget with provided home heating rebates and regulated gas prices, two things he had always decried in the past as a dishonest means of lowering the price of a commodity and unnecessary government regulation respectively. These plans were again made up on the fly as the government did not even introduce the legislation to regulate gas prices until June 30, over three months after it was announced, and only one day before it was to take effect, and had to threaten the Liberals with using 40 year old legislation that was not intended for that purpose to regulate the market if the Liberals would not give consent to pass the bill through all stages in one day.
Throughout Lord's second term, despite having won only a 1-seat majority, Lord refused to cooperate with the opposition. When he had a minority government for a few months in early 2006, he insisted that New Brunswickers had elected him with a majority and that he should be allowed to govern as though he had one. Despite promising a fixed election date of October 2007, when a member of his caucus announced his intention to resign, and therfore another minority government, Lord said he refused to face a minority legislature and called a snap election.
During the campaign, the Liberals ran on a pledge of optimism and self-sufficiency by 2026. Lord laughed it off saying that he wanted to be a pro-golfer when he was a kid, but it wasn't realistic and neither was New Brunswick getting by without a federal handout. The Liberals beat him just barely, losing the popular vote and winning 29 seats to Lord's 26. Within months however, Lord's personal numbers trailed those of Graham's 48-25 and the Liberals enjoyed over 60% in the polls. The next day, Lord announced he would resign.
He has since joined the Montreal offices of law firm McCarthy Tetrault as a consultant.