Premier of New Brunswick
An intimate sketch of the one-time farm boy and school teacher who now heads the government of the Loyalist. Province
NEW BRUNSWICK’S new premier is an angler. He is other things besides, but Honorable Charles Dow Richards will feel it no reflection on his versatility that skill in bagging salmon should be singled out. Landing a twenty-pound Restigouche battler probably gives him as big a thrill as a 2,000 majority.
A native son of the loyalist province, he knows every yard of its majestic, beautifully wooded rivers and their tributary streams. What he did not learn through youth, inclination, and adventure he discovered officially during his six years as minister of lands and mines. There are few stretches of inland waters on which he has not cast a fly, and he has that canny instinct which tells him if the fish of Miramichi are in a mood for shining “silver dollars,” or whether their fickle taste at the moment is running to sombre “dusty millers.” As a diversion he has hunted moose along the lakes and forest trails and stalked bear in the back settlements, but angling is his abiding interest.
“I’ve fished since the earliest day I can remember,” he told me a few weeks ago, at the time he succeeded Honorable J. B. M. Baxter—now Mr. Justice Baxter—in the seat of authority at Fredericton.
Since Premier Richards is now fifty-two, it must have been about forty-five years ago when fishing tackle first aroused his boyish curiosity. The Pokiok River meets the River Saint John not far from Southampton, York County, where he was born. Both streams are alive with salmon, and trout always have been plentiful in the creeks.
In his youthful days the budding Maritime statesman had to work like a lot of other lads in order to eat and wear tidy clothes on Sunday. At thirteen, when he donned overalls on his uncle’s farm at Keswick Ridge not far away, and attended the superior school there, the college gates looked very vague and distant. Yet today he is a barrister, bachelor of arts and doctor of laws (honoris causa) of his Alma Mater, the University of New Brunswick. That, apart from his latest prize, the premiership of the province, whipped from the uncertain currents of politics, suggests fairly sound angling. The course of his life has followed the well-beaten track from the farm to the country schoolhouse, along the laborious path of teaching to win a higher education, and afterward through the door of a lawyer’s office to the wider arena of public service.
His Entrance into Politics
TT WAS his selection as one of the four Conservative candidates in the provincial riding of York in 1920—he then was forty-one—that gave his career momentum. Successful in his first bid for political honors he entered the legislature on the opposition side, and not more than a year later, when Mr. Baxter, then party chief, went to Ottawa as Minister of Customs in the Meighen government Mr. Richards was chosen house leader. This quick transition from the back reaches of the Fredericton chamber to the front bench is at least a Maritime record. More seasoned timber was available, but it seems new and vigorous blood was needed up by the speaker’s dais.
For four years Mr. Richards led the attack on the Foster Liberal government with credit to himself and enhanced prestige for his party. When the 1925 election rolled around, a hunch developed among Federal Conservative leaders that the time was ripe to swing New Brunswick out cf the Liberal column, and though confidence in Richards was undiminished, his inexperience as a leader on the hustings was cited in the summing up of the electoral outlook. Baxter, in opposition at Ottawa, returned to the provincial field and Richards voluntarily stepped aside. The returned warrior and his followers were carried into office on the wings of a smashing turnover and Richards became Minister of Lands and Mines.
On May 18 this year, Mr. Baxter was appointed to the New Brunswick court of appeals and it was the most fitting and natural thing in the world that he should advise the Lieutenant-Governor to call upon Mr. Richards to head the government. So, within eleven years of his first entry into the legislature, Charles Dow Richards found himself eighteenth prime minister of his native province.
Charles Dow Richards Continued on page 49
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In his boyhood days Premier Richards had the advantage of two factors which compensated to a large extent for the paucity of his material equipment. His father, William M. Richards, had as his partner in a small flour milling business the late James K. Pinder, who became a prominent political and industrial figure in the province. Under his influence the lad felt the first urge of ambition and shaped himself for the study of law. Mr. Pinder, a straightline Conservative, was really the youth’s political godfather, and it is a curious circumstance that in the 1920 election mentor and disciple were successful running mates on the York County ballot. The other factor was the quality of his early teaching. In the classroom he faced such latterly noted scholars as Dr. C. C. Jones, president of the University of New Brunswick, and Dr. A. S. MacFarlane, chief superintendent of education.
AT SEVENTEEN, his future course carefully mapped out, Charles Richards emerged from the provincial normal school with papers qualifying him to teach in both superior and grammar schools. Up to that time, for a bright boy, it had been fairly easy sledding. He had stood on even ground with competitors whatever the size of their parents’ bank roll. The tough time lay directly ahead. Aspiring to a university degree he found it necessary to shoot at his target with a double-barrelled gun, to teach and attend the Fredericton seat of learning at the same time. He squeezed in as many lectures as it was physically possible and spent most of his nights making up for the rest, cramming borrowed notes and quizzing fellowstudents. Sometimes he collared an amenable professor. To make matters more awkward, the schools at which he taught in turn—Fredericton Junction and Bass River —lay miles from the university campus.
The premier-to-be, who exulted in the strenuous tumble of football, gave what little time he could spare to college athletics and occasionally compromised with his set purpose and scholastic demands to indulge his favorite sport along the banks of the Saint John River. In summertime he got as far afield as the Miramichi and the upper reaches of the Restigouche, bringing back choice salmon steaks for student breakfasts. It might be that these communions with the spirit of Izaak Walton were the medium of his eventual high honors in philosophy. But in point of college activities he was especially attracted to the debating society and annual mock parliaments. He gained the university team in 1903 and was its leader in the year of his graduation, 1904.
“He was a couple of years older than the rest of the fellows of his class,” a friend of his college days told me, “and he became a sort of pivot around which most of the intellectual events and affairs revolved. We called him ‘Dick’ in those days. He was a very serious chap with an outer crust of reserve, not the kind you’d care to ‘rag.’ But once you broke that wall down—the easiest way was to talk fishing—you’d find there wasn’t a kindlier, more sympathetic soul in the world, nor a better sportsman. He was ‘sand’ all through. No one could touch him for energy or cover so much ground in so little time and with such small apparent effort.
“When I saw him recently he looked just about the same, not much older in fact than when he spoke at our last mock parliament. He led for the Conservative side and he was just as convincing and persuasive as any of the big guns. You would have thought the whole destiny of the province depended on what he was saying. Prophetic, wasn’t it?”
He might have added that Premier Richards is of medium height, squareshouldered and of sandy complexion. There is little to suggest past middle age; it seems he must have studied a subject not on the college curriculum, the secret of perennial youth. His face is round, and his expression, on first approach, impassive, a bit baffling. He gains an immediate advantage while an interviewer flounders in doubt as to the best way to break the ice; but that done, he reveals a nature warm-hearted, responsive and vibrant.
In his latter years at the university, Mr. Richards was articled to the Fredericton law firm of Phinney and Crocket, and for the time being gave up teaching. Savings coupled with casual earnings carried him along until graduation. He had won honors in economics as well as philosophy and had taken high marks also in mathematics and classics. His first objective had been attained. But the same situation that arose on leaving normal school was again before him; he couldn’t live on the proceeds of legal study. The fairly lucrative post of principal of the Woodstock grammar school presented itself, and on accepting, Mr. Richards obtained transfer as student-atlaw to the office in that city of D. MacLeod Vince, K.C.
From then until 1912, w.ien Mr. Richards donned his barrister’s gown—he had been a practising attorney for the year previous— were years of hard work and close application. They were broken only once, and happily, on New Year’s Day, 1907, by his marriage to Miss Grace Lillian Bolton, then superintendent of the Woodstock public hospital. Their only child, Miss Margaret Richards, a student of piano and organ at the Toronto Conservatory of Music, has already won honors in public performance.
The Law and the Political Platform
TJREMIER RICHARDS’ first active parL ticipation in politics might be said to date from an occasion in his junior year at the university when he appeared on a platform with Sir Douglas Hazen, now chief justice of New Brunswick, but it is a moot point whether that contribution was as striking a gesture of party allegiance as his abrupt closing of the school at Fredericton Junction on election day in order to journey into the city and cast a good Tory vote. It transpired that the candidate he thus honored, now Mr. Justice Crocket, was in 1912 to take him into partnership. The firm lasted only one year, however, the elevation of Mr. Crocket to the bench leaving Mr. Richards to practise alone. Having definitely hitched his wagon to the Conservative star, he was in 1917 appointed secretary of the party organization in York County and was district organizer for both the provincial and federal campaigns of that year. At the same time he took an active part in the board of trade, the United Church always could look to him for a helping hand, and for a period he served on the board of school trustees.
During the six years following the 1925 election, when Baxter led the party back to power with thirty-seven seats to the Liberals’ eleven, Mr. Richards, by his handling of the department of lands and mines, one that produces a large part of the government revenue, proved that any misgivings on the score of his administrative ability had been wasted. They were years of industrial expansion, large-scale hydro development, colonization activity, growing tourist traffic, and important reforms in the lumber industry and game fisheries. They were years also of steadily increasing income, with the exception of the universally discouraging 1930; but even then the return from Mr. Richards’ department was well above the average for the last decade. Against the $1,309,455 he handed the provincial treasurer for the peak year of 1928, the cheque for 1930 amounted to $943,020, the decline being accounted for largely by slackness in the lumber industry.
A Champion of Hydro Developmen'
THE new premier’s chief contribution to New Brunswick’s industrial growth has been his vigorous chaperonage of the Grand Falls hydro development and the nurturing of the coal area at Minto on the Bay of Fundy. On the credit side of his political dossier stands the construction of a pulverized fuel power plant at Newcastle Creek, which,when completed, will absorb all the slack coal in the Minto district. The annual consumption at first will be about 25,000 tons, increasing from year to year according to the demand for energy. Moderately priced power thus will be available for the mining industry itself.
Applying his own extensive experience as an angler, Mr. Richards was able to increase the revenue from fishing licenses and leases of salmon reserves to wealthy Canadian and American sportsmen within a few years from $16,000 to almost $100,000. In 1928, indeed, the proceeds exceeded that amount. This he accomplished by auctioning the choice sections of the Restigouche, Miramichi and other salmon-running streams; for a twomile stretch of the Restigouche the payment last year was $21,000. At the same time he managed to withdraw a number of previously leased sections and threw them open to the public on the basis of rod license.
Premier Richards probably would be the first to admit that Baxter’s return from Ottawa in 1925 was a fortuitous event, for the experience he gained as a departmental head has given him a thorough and practical insight into government administration which he would have missed had he stepped from opposition directly into the premier’s chair. Further, it provided ample scope to convince any sceptics of his capacity as a debater and defender of government policies. Through fopr by-elections and the general election last year, from which the government emerged in a practically unchanged position, he showed himself an adroit shockabsorber as well as an aggressive crusader. There were such explosive issues as government liquor control which had been established without the blessing of popular referendum, and the Grand Falls development, now New Brunswick’s favorite source of party recrimination. On the subject oi liquor, Premier Richards assures the people that the control system amounts to “sane temperance legislation.”
The legacy of policies and problems left him by his predecessor together with plans initiated by himself, the new premier told me, will be enough to go on with at present without thinking up anything new.
“But conditions never are stationary,” he observed, “and new features and new issues are bound to arise. But certainly under present circumstances we shall not spend any more money than is necessary for the maintenance of reasonably efficient public service. Governments, after all, are much like individuals; their expenditures must bear a sensible relation to revenues. Of course, a situation might arise on account of serious unemployment to make it necessary to carry on special undertakings.”
He defined the two chief problems of New Brunswick as those relating to agriculture and lumbering.
“This province,” he said, “should at least produce sufficient from the farms to supply its own people. It is necessary for us to repopulate the deserted lands and we are trying to attract a superior class of agricultural settlers from Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries. Those who have come to us from Denmark have made an especially fine impression. It is essential that those who come should have real practical farm experience. There is opportunity for further development particularly in horticulture, stock-raising and dairying, and there is no reason why we should not develop a fair-sized export trade in farm products, especially with South American countries.
“The lumber industry is second only to agriculture,” he went on, “and for some time past it has been suffering severe depression. This condition, however, is not a local one. But we are perhaps fortunate in this province in one respect. Last year more than 400,000 cords of pulpwood, which is about 200.000,000 feet, were consumed in our mills. This is a record for us. For this reason consideration must be given by the government to the completion of our pulp and paper development. Provision also must be made for the maintenance of the long lumber industry in those areas suitably adapted.”
Premier Richards said tnat a reduction of approximately one dollar per thousand in the various stumpage rates, effected in co-operation with the federal department of the interior, had resulted in increased employment in the woods by stimulating logging operations.