Shawn Graham | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Shawn Graham

Graham's father, Alan, was a long-serving Liberal MLA (Kent) and cabinet minister in New Brunswick when he retired in 1998. His son Shawn, then just 30, ran in the resulting by-election, winning his seat by more than 2500 votes.

Shawn Graham

 Shawn Michael Graham, teacher, politician, 31st premier of NEW BRUNSWICK, from 2006 to 2010 (born at Rexton, NB 22 Feb 1968). Shawn Graham holds a bachelor of physical education from the UNIVERSITY OF NEW BRUNSWICK, and a bachelor of education from ST THOMAS UNIVERSITY.

Graham's father, Alan, was a long-serving Liberal MLA (Kent) and cabinet minister in New Brunswick when he retired in 1998. His son Shawn, then just 30, ran in the resulting by-election, winning his seat by more than 2500 votes. However, the Liberals' domination of New Brunswick politics was coming to an end, for joining Graham in the legislature was another young politician, the new leader of the Progressive Conservatives, Bernard LORD. In the provincial election held the next year, Lord badly defeated the Liberals, then led by Camille THERIAULT, reducing them to just 10 seats. Nevertheless, one of those seats belonged to Graham. Graham quickly became the face of Liberal Party renewal, and on 12 May 2002 he was chosen as the new leader of the Liberal Party of New Brunswick. He was just 34.

Although Graham did not win the 2003 provincial election, his Liberals increased their seat total from 7 (at dissolution) to 26. The PCs, who dropped from 47 to just 28 seats, found themselves now with a majority of just one (the NDP under Elizabeth Weir held one seat as well). Emboldened by their success, Graham and his Liberal opposition proved to be formidable opponents, managing to keep the Lord government off balance for most of the next 3 years.

In the 2006 provincial election, the Liberals gained enough seats to form a comfortable majority (29 out of 55 seats), and at the age of 38, Graham became New Brunswick's 31st premier.

Graham promised that his government would change the province in ways that it had not experienced since the Equal Opportunity Program of the 1960s. Such change would be "transformational," and would affect all the province's key sectors, such as education, energy, health, municipal governance and the economy.

One such proposal was to reorganize the province's post-secondary system, which included the merger of the Saint John campus of the University of New Brunswick with the local community college to form a "polytechnic institute." Similar changes would have affected the several colleges and UNIVERSITÉ DE MONCTON satellite campuses in northern New Brunswick. After months of protests, Graham eventually announced that many of the proposals for post-secondary reform had been put on hold.

Another initiative involved cancelling the province's early French immersion and core French programs, replacing both with an integrated program under which students would not learn French until grade five, but would have a late-immersion option beginning in grade six. A group of parents fought the decision in court. Justice H. H. McLellan of the Court of Queen's Bench found in their favour, ruling that the government was indeed remiss in not completing its promised consultations before implementing such changes.

The Graham government's most controversial policy was its intention to sell the province's power utility, NB Power, and its assets to Hydro Québec. New Brunswick premiers dating back to Richard HATFIELD in the 1970s have pondered how the province could deal with the utility's debt burden, and so Québec's offer to buy NB Power and absorb its debt (almost $5 billion in 2009) was attractive. The additional promise of a clean and reliable power supply from Québec, as well as the chance to shut down several of the province's inefficient thermo-generators, to reduce power rates for industrial customers, and to freeze rates for homeowners made the deal irresistible. However, much of the public regarded the sale as the take-over of a public good by another province, one which could not be expected to consider New Brunswick's interests ahead of its own. Those against the deal were soon mobilized and began staging a series of effective protests. Beginning almost the day the deal was announced (29 October 2009), they continued without abatement through to 24 March 2010. On that day, Premier Graham told the Legislative Assembly that the deal was now "dead." Debate continues in the province whether Québec or New Brunswick pulled out first.

Graham fought his first provincial election campaign as premier in September 2010, and although his party held a small lead in the opinion polls going into the campaign, few expected the Liberals to win. On the other hand, few expected the Liberals to fare quite so badly. The election was held 27 September 2010, and the Liberals won just 13 of New Brunswick's 55 seats, while the Progressive Conservatives, under David ALWARD, won 42. This was not the fewest seats the Liberals have ever won (10 seats in 1999 is their worst result), but in 2010 the party received just 34.4% of the popular vote, and that is its lowest vote share in history. The consequence was that Graham became the first premier in New Brunswick history to lose an election after just one term. Shawn Graham resigned as the leader of the Liberal Party of New Brunswick shortly after, on 9 November 2010, but continued to serve as the MLA for the Kent riding, a position he held since 1998.