|Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick
Premiers Since Confederation
The Honourable Richard Bennett Hatfield was born in Woodstock, N.B., on April 9, 1931. He was named in honour of Richard Bedford Bennett, a New Brunswick native and friend of the Hatfield family and the only New Brunswick-born Canadian Prime Minister. Richard was the sixth child born to Heber and Dora Hatfield and he grew up in the town of Hartland, N.B., where his father was one of the leading potato merchants. Heber Hatfield served as mayor of Hartland and represented the riding of Victoria-Carleton in the House of Commons from 1940 until his death on January 3, 1952.
Richard Hatfield was educated at Hartland High School and Rothesay Collegiate School, where one of his roommates was Robin MacNeil, the former PBS NewsHour anchor. He attended Acadia University and graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He obtained his Bachelor of Law degree from Dalhousie University in 1956. His classmates at Dalhousie included Alex Campbell and Gerald Regan, future Premiers of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia respectively, and John Crosbie, who served as a Cabinet minister under two Conservative Prime Ministers. Admitted to the Bar of Nova Scotia in 1956, he practised law for six months in Truro, Nova Scotia.
During 1957-58 he served as executive assistant to Gordon Churchill, the federal Minister of Trade and Commerce in Ottawa. Disenchanted with Ottawa and federal politics, he returned to Hartland in 1958 to assume the position of sales manager for Hatfield Industries Ltd., the family potato chip business.
In 1961 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly in a Carleton County by-election held to fill the vacancy created when former Premier Hugh John Flemming resigned following his government's defeat to Louis Robichaud in 1960. He was re-elected in 1963 and 1967 to represent Carleton County.
On June 14, 1969, he was chosen Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick. In the general election held on October 26, 1970, he led his party to victory over Louis Robichaud's Liberal Party. On November 12, 1970, at the age of 39, he was sworn in as the 24th Premier of New Brunswick. His Progressive Conservative government was re-elected in 1974, 1978 and 1982, for a total of four consecutive terms spanning 17 years, which makes him the longest serving Premier in New Brunswick's history.
In the 1987 general election the reign of his Progressive Conservative government was curtailed by the Frank McKenna-led Liberals, losing every seat in the Legislature. Following the loss, he resigned as leader of his party. On September 7, 1990, he was appointed to the Senate of Canada by then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
During his terms as Premier, his accomplishments were many, both on the national stage and at home in New Brunswick. At the federal level, he was dedicated to the promotion of national unity, and he played an important role with his support of the patriation of the Canadian Constitution and the establishment of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. His efforts led to the inclusion of the right to minority language education in the Constitution Act, 1982. He strongly supported amendments to the Indian Act for the purpose of reinstating the right to equality of Aboriginal women in Canada. On April 17, 1982, following the proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982, he was sworn in as a member of the Queen's Privy Council.
His contributions to his home province are highlighted by his work towards equality among the French and English-speaking people of New Brunswick along with his efforts to promote the women's equality movement. He is credited with giving more political recognition to Acadians and he played a major part in solidifying the relationship between the Acadian people in Atlantic Canada and their English-speaking neighbours. His government consolidated the Liberal program of Equal Opportunity and implemented the Official Languages Act. He was responsible for New Brunswick's membership in the Organisation Internationale de La Francophonie, an Association of French speaking nations, which New Brunswick joined in 1977.
His political reforms include the Political Process Financing Act and the reorganization of the electoral map of New Brunswick into smaller single-member ridings. His search for innovative projects for New Brunswick led to the Bricklin automobile, an acrylic sports car with gull-wing doors, which was manufactured in New Brunswick until the project's termination. He was a founder of the Council of Maritime Premiers and in 1984 he commissioned a new coat of arms (armorial bearings) for New Brunswick to coincide with New Brunswick's bicentennial. He was responsible for the creation of the Youth Council of New Brunswick, the Premier's Advisory Committee on the Arts, the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, and the Premier's Council on the Status of Disabled Persons.
He was a director of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews and an honorary member of both the executive of the New Brunswick Division of the Canadian Red Cross Society and the Provincial Council of the Boy Scouts of Canada.
He received honorary Doctor of Law degrees from the four universities in New Brunswick and an honorary Doctor of Political Science from the UniversitÚ Sainte-Anne in Nova Scotia. He received the honorary title Chief Rolling Thunder from the Micmac-Maliseet Nations and was awarded the Canada-Israel Friendship Award.
His interests included travelling, throughout Canada and the world, and heritage preservation, as he was an active participant in the Carleton County Historical Society. This latter interest was revealed early in his career. In his very first speech in the Legislative Assembly as an MLA, he proposed the establishment of a committee to direct renovations to the decor and furniture of the Legislative Assembly Building. The 1980's restoration and refurbishing of the historic 1882 Legislative Assembly chamber was a testament to his commitment to heritage preservation.
He was an admirer and recipient of various works of art and a promoter of Canadian artists and their work. As a result of his wishes, the Senator Richard Hatfield Memorial Fund was established by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in New Brunswick. The fund supports both the acquisition of Canadian works of art by the Gallery and the outreach program, which enables the Gallery to share its collection with schools and with other galleries across the province.
The Honourable Richard Bennett Hatfield died in Ottawa on April 26, 1991, at 60 years of age. As one of New Brunswick's most prominent citizens, his funeral in Fredericton was attended by Premiers and Prime Ministers, friends and opponents, all of whom were there to celebrate the life of a man who had given so much to New Brunswick.