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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The political career of Sir Richard McBride Hunt, Peter Roberts

Abstract

During recent years the Canadian political scene has suffered from a dearth of colour. Indeed, it has almost been forgotten how politically influential and successful a colourful figure can be. This thesis constitutes in part a reminder of this fact. Here is the story of the most popular premier in the history of the province of British Columbia, Richard McBride, the man who came to his high office at the age of thirty-two (the youngest premier in our history), and stayed in power over twelve years (the longest term of office in our history). He was the man who introduced party government to the province and thereby headed the first Conservative government in B.C. history. At the head of this government he directed provincial affairs during the greatest boom, bar the present one, to ever hit this province. At his last election he accomplished the remarkable success of sweeping from the Legislature every representative of the hitherto chief Opposition party, the Liberals. Forty Conservatives faced two Socialists. In federal affairs McBride became one of the leading figures in the Conservative party and, in 1911, Robert Borden's closest rival for the right to lead the Conservatives to victory in the Reciprocity Election. He thus came closer than any other West Coast politician to becoming Prime Minister of Canada. In imperial affairs he also achieved considerable prominence. He cut a striking figure in London and became personally acquainted with many important imperial figures such as Winston Churchill. It was as ambassador for his province that he found his most effective role. This man from New Westminster does on the above record bulk larger than any other figure in the history of local politics. Another purpose of this thesis is to discover to what extent McBride's ability and achievement made him worthy of this prestige. In chapter one, McBride's rise to power is described; from the early days in law in New Westminster, through his first political plunge (a failure), his first political success (in 1898), his first cabinet position (with Premier Dunsmuir in 1900), his resignation from that cabinet and leadership of the Opposition to the Dunsmuir and Prior governments, to his call to the premiership in June, 1905. Chapter two deals with his difficulties in forming and carrying out the decision to form a government along strict party lines. This decision was put to the test in the election of October, 1905. Chapter three tells of the governmental success in combating financial insolvency, a success resulting from a strict retrenchment policy which was the work of McBride's first rate Finance Minister, R.G. Tatlow, and aided to at least some small extent by the Premier's attempt to get Better Terms out of Ottawa (in other words an increased financial subsidy). McBride became more widely known through his role in the Better Terms fight, the climax of which was reached at Ottawa in October, 1906. Chapter four attempts to explain those railway entanglements, which the McBride government found impossible to avoid in the period 1903 to 1906, and to estimate the results these entanglements in terms of the 1907 election. Chapter five records a change in government policy, with the Premier acting more boldly on the basis of better times and a larger majority. A discussion of his trip to England in the interests of Better Terms, is followed by an appreciation of the significance of the 1907 cabinet changes, and of some of the policies affected by these changes. The chapter concludes with an account of the government's decision to guarantee the bonds of the Canadian Northern Railway Company in order to persuade that Company to build to the Pacific, and an analysis of the results of this decision, results which included two resignations and another election, in November, 1909. Chapter six deals with the peak of the boom and concomitantly the peak of Conservative success and popularity. The second phase of McBride's railway policy is described as is his electoral triumph in 1912. The Premier's activities in the federal field and in England are also discussed. All these activities show him at the zenith of his personal success in this period, Chapter seven deals with the depression and the decline in popularity suffered by the McBride government from 1913 to 1915. This decline takes place in three stages as the outbreak of war provides an imperialistic interlude, a hesitation before the final collapse. At the end of this chapter is an analysis of Sir Richard's decision to resign. Chapter eight is a short appreciation of McBride as a colourful figure whose very virtues as a man constituted his worst failings as a statesman. Nevertheless it is concluded that as a man of vision he had an important role in the development of the province.

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