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David Kilgour

Frederick Haultain, Grant MacEwen, Western Producer Prairie Books 1985, 198 pages.

Anyone interested in that part of Canada lying west and north of the Lake of the Woods will benefit from this absorbing biography of an extraordinary prairie statesman and jurist.

Haultain came from French Huguenot stock which had spent two centuries in Britain before migrating to Canada. His father became a George Brown Grit member of the provincial legislature from Peterborough in what is now Ontario. Haultain went west as a young lawyer in 1884, launching his practice in what is now Fort MacLeod, Alberta. Three years later, he was elected to the non partisan Assembly in Regina. He soon became an excellent parliamentary debater and leader of the movement for greater autonomy in the Northwest Territories. He also developed a reputation for incorruptibility.

From 1892 to 1905, as chairman of the Assembly executive committee, Haultain was in effect Premier of the Northwest Territories. He dealt with a host of administrative and policy matters facing the vast frontier region, including the schools and language issues which had gained national prominence in Manitoba, increasing immigration and the early days of the Yukon gold rush. These and numerous other matters were his daily bread for thirteen years. He also survived leadership challenges from two ambitious Assemblymen, including a brash R.B. Bennett from Calgary.

When circumstances seemed appropriate, Haultain led the drive for full provincial status against an intransigent federal government. In fairness to Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, however, the issue of separate schools for any new western province after the debacle experienced by Catholics in Manitoba at provincial legislators' hands was difficult indeed; his minister of the interior, Clifford Sifton, would resign when Laurier finally properly opted for public and separate school systems for both Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Delay after delay resulted in Ottawa. When the Conservative national leader, Robert Burden, pledged to grant full provincial status to the territories, Haultain became the honourary president of the Territorial Conservative Association at a widely publicized Moose Jaw meeting in 1903. This decision may have cost him both a premiership and an eventual prime ministership. Every available political device was thrown at him after the Moose Jaw meeting. Ottawa offered him a federal judgeship, not as a bona fide offer, but rather as a device to discredit him politically by later spreading the rumour that Haultain had asked for ail appointment. Laurier finally promised him full provincial status for Alberta and Saskatchewan, but only as the 1904 national election was called. Haultain, displaying the "solidarity of a Gibralter", campaigned for Borden's Conservatives regardless.

The Liberals were re-elected. Haultain went to Ottawa to argue for one large province (approximately the same size as Ontario or Quebec). In this he sought to avoid the costly duplication of government machinery. "The territories", he argued, "have for a number of years been under one government and legislature, performing most of the duties and exercised many of the more important powers of provincial governments and legislatures. There has never been any suggestion that the territorial machinery was in any way inadequate for the purposes for which it was created." Most of the members of the territorial assembly were of the same mind.

Alberta and Saskatchewan were, nonetheless, created in their present form; Haultain's unhappiness with this and other features of the federal legislation was further compounded. In 1905 Lieutenant Governors of the new provinces, selected by Ottawa, chose well-known Liberals Alexander Rutherford and Walter Scott as the acting Premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan respectively. Frederick Haultain, the most popular political figure in the west, was further snubbed when he was not invited to speak at the large and festive inauguration ceremonies held in Edmonton and Regina.

Haultain consistently maintained that political parties had no useful role in a provincial legislature. He led the provincial rights party into the first Saskatchewan election against the combined forces of both the provincial and federal Liberals. He won only nine seats to his opponents' sixteen. The author explains the loss by referring to a traditionally Liberal editor of the period who attributed the loss in part to the influence of Ottawa in respect of homestead lands and newcomers to the region, patronage by the provisional provincial government, and some thoroughly unscrupulous returning officers. The results were much the same in the election of 1908. After a decisive loss in 1912, Haultain resigned as leader of the Opposition and began a long and distinguished period as Chief Justice of Saskatchewan and Chancellor of its University. Author MacEwen clearly believes that Haultain had a good prospect of becoming Prime Minister of Canada in the 1920s but for the fact that Laurier failed to nominate him as provisional premier of Saskatchewan in 1905. If Haultain had been premier, he might well have gone to Ottawa as Borden's Minister of the Interior in 1911. "Then", MacEwen goes on, 1f his judgment and skills were still adequately recognised, he would in due course have been a candidate for the party leadership in the '20's and probably Prime Minister". As a onetime federal Liberal candidate in Manitoba and subsequently a Liberal MLA in Alberta, Grant MacEwen's undisguised .affection and admiration for his subject constitute the highest praise. They also illustrate why so many prairie Canadians respect MacEwen's integrity and scholarship and regard him as the reigning dean of letters in our region.

 

David Kilgour, MP, Edmonton-Strathcona


Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 9 no 1
1986






Last Updated: 2019-07-15