British Columbia general election, 1875

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This was the second election held after British Columbia became a province of Canada on July 20, 1871. Many of the politicians in the House had served with the Legislative Council or Assembly or the Executive Council, or had otherwise been stalwarts of the colonial era - some supporters of Confederation, others not. Some were ranchers or mining bosses from the Interior, others were colonial gentry from the Island and New Westminster, and others direct arrivals from Britain, Ireland or "Canada", which was still considered a different place not only in the minds of the politicians but in the language used in Hansard during this period.

Statistics[edit]

Votes 5,656 Candidates 55 Members 25

Vancouver Island 4,477 votes total in thirteen seats 344.38 voters per seat:

  • Upper Island
    • Comox: 83 votes (83 votes/seat)
    • Cowichan: 143 votes (2 seats 71.5 votes/seat)
    • Nanaimo: 770 (2 seats 385 votes/seat)
  • "Greater Victoria" total incl. Esquimalt is 3,481 eight seats 435.13 per seat)
    • Victoria: 389 votes (2 seats 194.5 votes/seat)
    • Victoria City: 2,811 (4 seats 702.75 votes/seat)
    • Esquimalt: 281 (2 seats 140.5 votes/seat)

Mainland:

  • Interior 1,748 votes (10 seats 174.8 votes/seat:
    • Cariboo: 852 votes (3 seats 284 votes/seat)
    • Kootenay: 63 votes (2 seats 31.5 votes/seat)
    • Lillooet: 201 votes (2 seats 100.5 votes/seat
    • Yale: 632 votes (3 seats 210.6 votes/seat)
  • Lower Mainland 686 votes (3 seats 228.67 votes/seat:
    • New Westminster: 589 votes (2 seats 294.5 votes/seat)
    • New Westminster City: 97 votes (97 votes/seat)

Note that these figures refer to votes actually cast, not the population per se nor the total of the potential voters' list.

Political context[edit]

Issues and debates[edit]

The issues of Chinese immigration and the unbuilt railway defined the politics of the period, and were the main topic of debate in the campaign as well as in the House. As ever since in British Columbia politics, a tough stand against the Dominion Government (Ottawa) upon these issues, and over better terms for BC, was a prerequisite for success at the polls. Politicians and newspapermen (often the same thing in the early Legislature) were alarmed that British Columbia appeared not to have a say in the route of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and that Ottawa had no plans to assist in immigration to the new province in order to build the railway and otherwise populate the former colony. The issue of a promised railway along the east coast of Vancouver Island to its southern tip at Victoria was also of major political importance, especially to voters in the Island ridings (Victoria City, Victoria, Nanaimo City, Comox, Alberni, Cowichan, Esquimalt).

Also occupying the House were capital proposals and expenditures on projects such as improvements to the Dewdney Trail, the Cariboo Road, the Grand Trunk Road (Old Yale Road), and the financing of the Lillooet Cattle Trail, even though its main proponent, Thomas Basil Humphreys, the first MLA for Lillooet, was now MLA for Victoria. Victoria City MLA Andrew Charles Elliott, soon to be Premier, had been a provincial Magistrate in Lillooet and also supported the project, then the largest capital expenditure in the new province to date, and larger than anything outlaid in the colonial period. The trail was finally built and used in its entirety and for its original purpose - bringing cattle from the West Fraser rangelands directly to the Coast - was a financial disaster (as were also the Dewdney, Cariboo and Grand Trunk projects, and as had been the Douglas Road originally.

Non-party system[edit]

There were to be no political parties in the new province. The designations "Government" and "Opposition" and "Independent" (and variations on these) functioned in place of parties, but they were very loose and do not represent formal coalitions, more alignments of support during the campaign. "Government" meant in support of the current Premier; "Opposition" meant campaigning against him, and often enough the Opposition would win and immediately become the Government. The Elections British Columbia notes for this election describe the designations as "Government (GOV.) candidates supported the administration of G.A.B. Walkem. Those opposed ran as Reform (REF.), Opposition (OPP.), Independent Reform (IND.REF.), or Independent Opposition (IND.OPP.) candidates. Those who ran as straight Independents (IND.) were sometimes described as Government supporters (IND./GOV.).

The Walkem Government[edit]

Actual governing coalitions were very shaky, and between 1871 and 1903, when parties were formalized in BC, there were sixteen governments (as defined by Premierships) but only ten elections. This was one of the few early elections that produced a stable regime, as the mandate was called for and won by the incumbent government of the popular George Anthony Boomer Walkem, who retired from the office of Premier a year later only to return in 1878 to serve again as Premier for a full four years further - a record in the period. In this election he had already been in office since the previous year, being voted to the position of Premier by the House after the retirement of Amor de Cosmos from the Legislature, as his serving in the provincial House simultaneously with his seat in the House of Commons in Ottawa had been disallowed. Walkem similarly returned in 1878 because of the retirement of Andrew Charles Elliott, who had assumed the reins of power when he retired from his seat in 1876 and had been offered an appointment as a judge. From Walkem's retirement in 1882 to the end of the Prior government and the non-party period in 1903 - eleven years - there were ten governments.

Byelections not shown[edit]

Any changes due to byelections are shown below the main table showing the theoretical composition of the House after the election. A final table showing the composition of the House at the dissolution of the Legislature at the end of this Parliament can be found below the byelections. The main table represents the immediate results of the election only, not changes in governing coalitions or eventual changes due to byelections.

List of ridings[edit]

The original ridings had remained twelve in number, electing 25 members of the first provincial legislature from 12 ridings (electoral districts), some with multiple members. There were no political parties were not acceptable in the House by convention, though some members were openly partisan at the federal level (usually Conservative, although both Liberal and Labour allegiance were on display by some candidates). In all there were 55 candidates in the election, competing for 5,656 votes cast.

These ridings were:

Polling conditions[edit]

The secret ballot had been instituted for the first time, unlike the open poll book and show of hands in the 1871 election. Nomination meetings for candidates, however, still retained the old show of hands method of voting. The election was called on August 30, with polling day on a varying schedule from September 11 to October 25 and the legislature meeting for the first time on January 10, 1876. The varying schedule meant that some returns were in on October 1, on the same day other ridings were voting and still others would vote long after new of the returns elsewhere had come in. Election days varied because of travel difficulties and local work and weather conditions, and even in New Westminster and Victoria the "city" ridings voted a week in advance of those for the surrounding more rural ridings, although no returns (count of votes) were in until after the interval elapsed.

Natives (First Nations) and Chinese were disallowed from voting, although naturalized Kanakas (Hawaiian colonists) and American and West Indian blacks and certain others participated. The requirement that knowledge of English be spoken for balloting was discussed but not applied.

Results by riding[edit]

Results of British Columbia general election, 1875
Government Opposition
Member Riding
& party
Riding
& party
Member
     George Anthony Boomer Walkem1 Cariboo
Government
          Cariboo
Independent Opposition
Alexander Edmund Batson Davie     
     John Ash Comox
Government
          John Evans     
     William James Armstrong New Westminster
Government
Independent/Government
          Kootenay
Reform Caucus
Charles Gallagher     
     Ebenezer Brown           Arthur Wellesley Vowell     
     Robert Beaven Victoria City
Government
Independent-Government
          Cowichan
Reform Caucus
Edwin Pimbury     
     James Trimble           William Smithe     
     Robert Smith Yale
Independent Government
          Esquimalt
Independent
Reform Caucus
William Fisher     
     Frederick W. Williams     
     Victoria
Reform Caucus
Thomas Basil Humphreys     
     William Fraser Tolmie     
     Victoria City
Independent
Opposition
James W. Douglas     
     Andrew Charles Elliott     
     Nanaimo John Bryden     
     Yale
Reform Caucus
John Andrew Mara     
     Forbes George Vernon     
1 Premier-Elect and Incumbent Premier
Source: Elections BC

Byelections[edit]

Two sets of byelections were held to confirm appointments to the Executive Council (cabinet), as was the custom in earlier times. Some ministerial candidates in this series of byelections were confirmed by acclamation, others were contested. These byelections were:

Other byelections were also held due to deaths and other appointments; all were contested:

Composition of House at dissolution[edit]

Note: Government/Opposition status applies to candidate at time of election in 1875, not at time of dissolution in 1878.

Composition of 2nd British Columbia Parliament at Dissolution, 1878
Government Opposition
Member Riding
& party
Riding
& party
Member
     George Anthony Boomer Walkem1 Cariboo
Government
          Cariboo
Independent Opposition
George Cowan     
     John Ash Comox
Government
          John Evans     
     William James Armstrong New Westminster
Government
Independent/Government
          Kootenay
Reform Caucus
Charles Gallagher     
     Ebenezer Brown           Robert Leslie Thomas Galbraith     
     Robert Beaven Victoria City
Government
Independent-Government
          Cowichan
Reform Caucus
Edwin Pimbury     
     James Trimble           William Smithe     
     Robert Smith Yale
Independent Government
          Esquimalt
Independent
Reform Caucus
William Fisher     
     David William Gordon Nanaimo           Frederick W. Williams     
     Victoria
Reform Caucus
Thomas Basil Humphreys     
     William Fraser Tolmie     
     Victoria City
Independent
Opposition
James W. Douglas     
     Andrew Charles Elliott     
     Yale
Reform Caucus
John Andrew Mara     
     Forbes George Vernon     
Source: Elections BC

Further reading & references[edit]

  • In the Sea of Sterile Mountains: The Chinese in British Columbia, Joseph Morton, J.J. Douglas, Vancouver (1974). Despite its title, a fairly thorough account of the politicians and electoral politics in early BC.

See also[edit]