Canada’s Elections: 1882

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The elections of the 1870s had plenty going for them. Huge scandals that brought down a government, people announcing their votes rather than using a secret ballot and plenty of shady dealings.

In contrast, the election of 1882 was quite benign, and would see little in the way of change from the 1878 election that saw the Conservatives come back into power with a majority government.

By this point, Alexander Mackenzie was out as leader of the Liberal Party, and he was replaced by Edward Blake, the man who was nearly prime minister when the Conservative government fell amid the Pacific Scandal of 1873.

There was a slight increase in seats from 206 to 211, and Manitoba saw its borders grow slightly, to about half its current size.

The Conservatives ran on the platform of the National Policy again, and were aided by good economic times. This was turned into a campaign focus that the party and its policies were responsible to the good economic times that Canada was enjoying. In contrast, Blake and the Liberals focused on a call upon traditions, and reform resistance to special privilege and what they said was oppressive rule. He would state that the Liberals were the special guardians and the tone of the public morality.

Once again, Sir John A. Macdonald ran in multiple ridings. This time he chose Lennox and Carleton. The Herald would report, quote:

“Sir John Macdonald anticipating defeat in Lennox has obtained a nomination in Carleton. His prospects in the latter constituency may not be any better than the former. No not much better, just better enough.”

As it would turn out, Macdonald would win in Carleton and Lennox, and he would choose to represent Carleton. Of course, the Lennox win would be thrown out after irregularities were found in the vote.

In the leadup to the election, there was a great deal of anticipation, according to the newspapers. The Montreal Gazette would report in Toronto, quote:

“The excitement in reference to the elections tomorrow is intense here. Business seems completely at a standstill and on the public streets groups are congregated discussing the possibilities. Betting is also lively and canvassers on both sides are working vigorously.”

It may seem odd to hear of betting, but that was prevalent at the time when it came to elections. On June 19, the day before the election, it was reported that a bet of $100 was made on the result of the contest, although it doesn’t say who that bet was for. That is no small amount of money either, amounting to about $10,000 today. In Toronto, betting was reported as very active. Since it was the 19th century, there was of course still reports of bullying, but this should be taken with an open mind as the Montreal Gazette was very pro-Conservative, and it only reported the Liberals in a typically unfavorable fashion.

The Gazette would report, quote:

“One of the most cowardly acts of ruffianism and lawlessness ever perpetrated upon any community was the seizure of the Glengarry Times Office here this evening by a band of roughs, in the interest of Honorable D.A. Macdonald under a bogus warrant.”

According to the newspaper, the men stormed the office on the belief that an extra addition on Monday morning would be released with the purpose of influencing people to vote against the Liberals, as the Times was opposed to Macdonald. A Mr. McNeil, the editor of the paper, was reported to be seriously assaulted and both parties condemned the act according to the Gazette. It would state, quote:

“The affair is admitted to be one of the most lawless and disgraceful ever witnessed here or known any where since the same honorable gentlemen led a band of roughs to mob the Lafontaine party in the county of Terrebonne, Quebec in 1840.”

As with previous elections, the newspapers, such as the Gazette, provided helpful guides for voting. Of course, those guides put an X next to the candidate that the newspaper endorsed.

The Gazette would report in its final column before the election, quote:

“The campaign of the Liberal Party in this province has been a hollow farce. They have attempted neither to combat the policy of the government nor formulate one of their one. In the rural constituencies, the opposition candidates are mostly posing as supporters of the National Policy in its entirety, in the city they support the principle of the National Policy and favor the lopping of what they term its excesses.”

A total of 70.3 per cent of eligible voters casted a ballot and most of those did so for the Conservatives. While the Liberals under Blake fared well, picking up 73 seats, an increase of 10 from 1878, the Conservatives lost only one seat, falling to 133 and retaining their hold on power with a majority government. The number of independents had also fallen in this election, with only five total, three of which came from British Columbia. Every province also voted heavily for the Conservatives. Quebec once again went behind the Conservative banner electing 50 to the House of Commons, and only 12 Liberals. Ontario was much closer, with 52 Conservatives earning a seat, compared to 40 Liberals.

The Montreal Gazette hailed the victory as magnificent on June 21, the day after the election. The article would state, quote:

“Every one of the supporters of the Government have done creditable work and only Prince Edward Island will send a minority of Conservative representatives to the new House.”

Two days later, the Gazette would comment further on the election, stating quote:

“The brains have practically been taken out of the Liberal ranks…and in the new Parliament the Opposition will be miserably weak both in numbers and in ability.”

To celebrate the election, on June 22, a torchlight parade was held in Ottawa that included Sir John A. Macdonald in a front carriage with other prominent cabinet ministers. A total of 2,000 people joined the precession as it made its way through the city.

The Gazette would write, quote:

“Sir John and Lady Macdonald arrived in town this afternoon. The honourable chieftain looking whole and hearty, received the warm congratulations of hundreds as he passed enroute to Stadacona Hall.”

Information from Dynasties and Interludes, Biographi, Wikipedia, Montreal Gazette,

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