Friday, September 13, 2013

Prohibition Comes to B.C.!

During the general election campaign of the summer of 1916, Harlan Brewster did little to change his platform or his attacks on the provincial government. The people were tired of the Conservatives and, in a dramatic reversal, the Liberals 50 percent of the popular vote, winning 36 out of 45 seats. While waiting for the results of the soldiers' votes and the resignation of Premier Bowser, Brewster was busy. He consulted federal civil service commissioner, Adam Shortt, concerning the creation of a provincial commission; Brewster had an accounting firm review provincial finances; warned the public about reduced spending and increased taxes and even invited women to help purify political life.

When Harlan Carey Brewster became premier on November 23, he saw himself as the managing director of government and shunned departmental detail. He had a strong cabinet. In fact, three of those members - John Oliver, John Duncan MacLean, Thomas Dufferin Pattulo - went on to become premiers themselves. Brewster did make a bad choice though when he chose Malcolm Archibald Macdonald as attorney-general. Macdonald had been accused of taking funds from the Canadian Northern Railway during the February by-election. Macdonald denied the charge but resigned to help Brewster avoid any further embarrassment. Unfortunately, since it was a Liberal backbencher who had raised the accusation, the Vancouver Liberal Association remained fractured.
On February 12, 1907, finance minister Ralph Smith died and Premier Brewster took over his portfolio. He got right to work to balance the budget by cutting departmental allocations, raising existing taxes and implementing new taxes. Of course, the taxpayers complained but the press commended the businesslike plan of obtaining revenue from raising taxes not getting loans and putting the province in more debt.

Brewster was also true to his word and started fulfilling promised made while he was in the opposition. He passed legislation to promote agriculture and to tax speculators in the timberland. Brewster also created a department of labour to improve conditions between capital and labour and to improve conditions for workers. The Premier also sought to make administration more economical with such plans as replacing the auditor general with a controller general. (I have no idea on how that would work; I am relating the information from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography website.)

Once legislature enfranchised women on April 5, 1917, Brewster brought in the Equal Guardianship of Infants Act and named a few women to government posts. One of those women was Helen Emma Gregory MacGill who I wrote on in a previous entry. Due to an investigation into irregularities in the soldiers' vote, action on prohibition was delayed. But a special legislative session was held in August and a prohibition law was passed. It was repealed in 1921.

Somewhere around 80 bills were brought in by the fall and some of them were hastily drafted and debated. However, Brewster's government honoured many of the promises made in the throne speech. (The throne speech signifies the start of a new legislative session and outlines what the government plans to accomplish during that time.) Unfortunately, there were still a lot of problems.

Dissent in the caucus and cabinet took focus off what needed to be done; there were election scandals and continuing investigations into the previous government's dealings with the Pacific Great Eastern. The railway remained in poor condition even though Brewster was enthused over a northern extension.

Nothing had been done to develop the mining industry in the province. Patronage still reigned even though legislation had been passed regarding civil service. And the list goes on. It is no wonder that the public was unhappy. And they showed it in the polls. In four by-elections during January of 1918, the Liberals could only claim one victory.
A partial one at that. (The widow of Ralph Smith - Mary Ellen Smith - ran in a Vancouver riding as an Independent with Liberal endorsement.)

Monday, I will finish telling you about Harlan Carey Brewster. I hope you join me then.

Have a great weekend and I hope you find the beauty around you.

, , , , , , ,,


  1. I love your series on Premier's. Thanks for sharing your history.

    1. thank you. I have a lot more to write on.