New Brunswick’s warm summer turned out to be just the right political cooling-off period for Progressive Conservative Premier Richard Hatfield. By last week, nobody could accuse him of unfairly calling an election too soon after provincial Liberals picked a new leader last May. He had also put himself a safe distance away from tax increases imposed last April. So Hatfield did the expected: he called a provincial vote for October 23.*
Other factors also made the timing propitious: the prospect of a hard winter when unemployment figures will undoubtedly soar; and the inescapable fact that, for all the furore at the time, the 1975 failures of such governmentsponsored industries as the Bricklin car (in which Hatfield played a key role) have begun to fade from public consciousness. Still, it may have taken some unintended co-operation from the federal government finally to tip the premier’s hand: first, Prime Minister Trudeau’s intention to delay a national vote until spring; second, Ottawa’s decision to cut equalization payments to the poorer provinces—which may have given Hatfield just the issue he needed in hard-pressed New Brunswick.
For Liberal leader Joseph Zenon Daigle, though, the campaign’s main theme will be the traditional one of jobs and the economy. A former judge and Opposition financial critic, Daigle, 44, has put 12,000 miles on his car since spring, crisscrossing the province to attend rallies, fairs and festivals. That has made him better known than he was a few months ago, but he will still have
* Standings at dissolution: PCs 33, Liberals 2k, with one vacancy. The NDP has never elected a member in New Brunswick.
his hands full against Hatfield, 47, whose vigorous political style has made him the dominant figure in New Brunswick politics since he was first elected
premier eight years ago.
The election could turn on the preferences of New Brunswick’s Acadian northeast, where Hatfield made significant inroads but which could return to the Liberal fold with Acadian Daigle running—unless the fringe Parti Acadien takes important votes away from him.
In bidding for the premiership, Daigle will be seeking to become only the third Acadian in the post (most recent: Senator Louis Robichaud, premier from 1960 to 1970). But Hatfield is also up against an onerous political tradition— the fact that no New Brunswick Conservative government has ever lasted more than two terms in office.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.