Friday, May 24, 2013

An Unappreciated Politician

As finance minister, Beaven added a poll tax but that didn't do much to help the province's financial state. In addition, He was criticised for increasing provincial debt while at land and works and was now held responsible for the escalating costs of projects such as the Esquimalt graving dock.

Many on the mainland resented the Esquimalt project, having lived under the dominance of Vancouver Island for too long while there were those on the island that were angered by the fact that the federal government had chosen Burrard Inlet as the terminus for the Pacific Railway. Many Islanders felt that they should have a railway that would be part of the transcontinental line.

Robert Beaven succeeded Walkem as premier and president of the council on June 13, 1882. Beaven retained his portfolio and re assumed responsibility for land and works.

When Walkem left office, it was just after the contractors finished work on the graving dock. Beaven took it over and had it carried on by day labour until he could straighten out the financial problems.

Beaven was successful in the election that occurred that July but his administration wasn't. He continued governing though and even hosted the governor general Marquess of Lorne and his wife, Princess Louise, during their three-month stay. He reportedly even suggested that the Princess become the queen of the independent Vancouver Island. (She declined this kind offer.)

The Marquess and Princess left in December of 1882 and Beaven continued to present his legislative program. However, this farce was soon ended when William Smithe called for a confidence vote and the government was defeated 16 to 8. Beaven resigned on January 29, 1883. (Got to admit that was one gutsy man! Continuing on a premier even though he wasn't really entitled to keep the position.)

For the next eleven years, Beaven served as leader of the opposition to the administration of Smithe and his successors - Alexander Edmund Batson Davie, John Robson and Theodore Davie. Beaven saw many of the projects he had fought so hard over get resolved, though not always to his liking.
In 1892, Beaven decided to try his hand at municipal politics and ran for the position of mayor of Victoria. He won in January of that year. He was re-elected in 1893.

Victoria was a rapidly growing city and that caused a bit of chaos with city finances and services. Add to that a small pox outbreak and the mayor had his hands full. The general downturn of life in the city caused dissatisfaction among voters with Beaven's mayoralty and he was soundly beaten in 1894 by John Teague.

So Beaven went back to provincial politics and didn't fare any better that year. He had become a spokesman for the working class people - advocating eight-hour work days and pushing for Chinese exclusion clauses required for companies incorporated under provincial law. Perhaps that was the reason he lost the seat he had held since 1871.

But you can't keep a man like Robert Beaven down. He rebounded by once again becoming the mayor of Victoria in 1896. This was also the year that the Point Ellice Bridge collapsed. The bridge collapse resulted in numerous lawsuits involving the civic government and Beaven lost the mayor seat in 1897.

One of Beaven's most bitter critics, the Daily Colonist, even commented that the reason for Beaven's defeat was more a feeling that it was time for a change rather than his leadership.

This wasn't the last of Beaven's political story though. In the 1898 provincial election, there wasn't a stable majority elected. So the Lieutenant Governor, Thomas Robert McInnes, dismissed John Herbert Turner and asked Beaven to form a government.

Unfortunately for Beaven, certain leaders in the house would not agree to a coalition and therefore a cabinet could not be formed.

Robert Beaven is one of British Columbia's 19th century political scene. He was the longest-serving member of the legislative assembly - the city of Victoria returned him there for 23 years and he was a three-term mayor of the city. He helped to shape British Columbia's place in the confederation and, for better or worse, our policies in a number of critical areas. He was a short-term premier and a long term leader of the opposition.

Beaven died in Victoria on September 18, 1820. His obituaries, even the one in the Daily Colonist, were laudatory. He was described as an architect of confederation, a financial expert and a man of integrity. Yet, there is not one prominent British Columbia landmark that bears his name. Hmmm.

Thank you Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online for the above information. I hope you find the beauty around you.

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