BC Premier #3 – G.A. Walkem, who somehow had majority governments despite there not being any political parties
Today’s installment of my Premiers of the Province of British Columbia series – G.A.W.
|Name||George Anthony Walkem|
|Born:||November 15, 1834 in Newry, Ireland|
|Died:||January 13, 1908 in Victoria, British Columbia|
|Held Office:||February 11, 1874 – February 1, 1876
June 25, 1878 – June 13, 1882
- 1847: family emigrated to Canada from the UK
- went to McGill and studied law under John Rose
- 1858: called to the bar in Lower Canada
- 1861: called to the bar in Upper Canada
- 1862: moved to the then Colony of BC
- at first they wouldn’t call him to the bar in BC because Judge Matthew Begbie (who apparently was the one who did the calling) only liked lawyers trained in Britain; however, Walkem appealed to Governor James Douglas (who you may remember as our buddy Amor‘s enemy) and Jimmy D proclaimed the Legal Professions Act, permitting “colonial” lawyers to plead in court”4
- 1864-1870: member of the Legislative Council of the Colony (the members of which were appointed) for the Cariboo East and Quesnel Forks District
- like Amor, he pushed for the union of the Colonies of BC & Vancouver Island, and then for the united Colony to join Confederation
- 1871: with BC now a part of Canada, Walkem was elected to the provincial legislature for the Riding of the Cariboo and was the chief commissioner of lands and works in John Foster McCreight‘s government;
- he was appointed as the Attorney General in the cabinet of our buddy, Amor, despite having described Amor as having “all the eccentricities of a comet without any of its brilliance”4
- 1874: upon the resignation of Amor as Premier of BC, Walkem was asked by Lieutenant Governer Joseph William Trutch to be the next Premier
- because BC loves a scandal, Walkem faced one when he took over as Premier – specifically, the “Texada scandal,” which consisted of allegations members of Amor‘s government, including Walkem, were going to “profit from public development of newly discovered iron ore on Texada Island”4. A royal commission later declared there was “insufficient evidence to charge anyone with an attempt to prejudice the public interest.”4 Because BC loves a good quotation, Walkem had said, “I did not take silver for iron.”4
- back then, the railway was kind of a big deal, and Walkem put pressure, unsuccessfully, on Ottawa to build a railway all the way to the Pacific Ocean like it had promised to do. People in BC were ticked off that Walkem couldn’t make this happen, as well as having increased the debt by taking on public works projects, but his government was still re-elected in 1875, “albeit with a reduced majority”4. I’m not sure how someone without a party can have a majority, now that I think of it, but I guess things worked a bit differently back then?”1
- 1876: his government was kicked out by a vote of non-confidence over its financial troubles. I have no idea how a government with a MAJORITY gets kicked on a vote of non-confidence, but, again, he didn’t have a party so I have no idea how he had a majority in the first place1
- 1876-1878: served as the Leader of the Opposition against Andrew Charles Elliot’s government. Again, no idea how this works since Walkem wasn’t in any political party and neither was Elliot.1
- 1878: re-elected as Premier with a majority2 after Elliot’s government falls apart
- it appears that Walkem was quite the racist, particularly against people of Chinese and First Nations descent – he passed a statute denying Chinese and First Nations people the vote; he opposed “cheap Chinese labour” and banned Chinese workers from being hired for any provincial government contract; he even tried to implement a tax solely on Chinese people, but the BC Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional; he also took a “comparatively hard line on the size of Indian reserves”4 and “may have stalled settlement of the Indian land question to retaliate against the Mackenzie government for its position on the railway”4
- still pissed off about Ottawa reneging on that railway thing, he appealed directly to London and, since Britian was still the boss of Canada back then, Britian put pressure on Ottawa to build that damn railway
- April 1882: nearly lost another vote of non-confidence over, among other things, financial problems (this time over a dock being built on Vancouver Island – probably referred to as “Dock-gate”3 at the time)
- May 1882: appointed to BC Supreme Court, possibly because it was felt that it would be easily to solve the whole railway thing without Walkem in the way, possibly because John A. MacDonald was returning a favour (specificially, Walkem helping MacD a seat in the House of Commons for Victoria after he was defeated in Kingston in 1878)
- July 1882: the government, now headed by Robert Beaven, who replaced Walkem when he was appointed to the Supremer Court, lost the election
- Despite the fact that he, as Premier, put forth legislation requiring BC Supreme Court Judges to reside in their judicial districts , Walkem himself, now a BC Supreme Court Judge, refused to move from Victoria to live in his judicial district. Hello, hypocrite. Apparently, though, he turned out to be well liked as a judge. More so than he was as a Premier.
In summary, George Anthony Walkem, 3rd Premier of BC, somehow had some majority governments even though there were no political parties in BC at the time, but people were pissed at him because Ottawa didn’t build the railway to the Pacific like they promised, so sometimes they kicked him out. Also, he was a racist.
1Doing a little digging (i.e., clicking through links on Wikipedia, I have discovered that, although there was no recognition of provincial political parties until 1903, candidates would declare themselves as in support of the “Government” or as not in support of the government (“Non-Government” or “Independent”). Then sometimes they’d change their mind later and, since there were no actually parties, one could go from having a “majority” to being kicked out by a vote of non-confidence if enough people who had called themselves “Government” decided they didn’t like you and were now “Non-Government.”
2Even the Canadian Biography Online entry about Walkem concedes “although in a sense there is no such thing [as a majority] in a system without political parties,”4 right after saying he won a “comfortable majority,”4 so wtf?