Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald
rfmcdpei

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] New Brunswick and Northern Ireland, separated at birth?

The history of the province of New Brunswick in the second half of the 20th century is mainly the history of the relationship between the Acadians who make up a third of that province's population and the majority Anglophones. Without taking into account the history of conflict and collaboration in the province, there'd be little to distinguish New Brunswick from its neighbours.

Up to the mid-17th century, the main Acadian centres were in the fertile Annapolis Valley of the modern province of Nova Scotia, but le grand dérangement--the ethnic cleansing of the Acadians by the British in the Seven Years War, arguably the first act of ethnic cleansing in modern Western history--ended up scattering the Acadians around the North Atlantic basin. Of the three Maritime provinces, the Acadians had the strongest foothold in New Brunswick, living on the province's northern and eastern peripheries in isolated farming and fishing villages, separated from the mercantile towns of the St. John valley and elsewhere in southern New Brunswick. United by their language and Roman Catholic religion, the Acadians thrived, a high birth rate and relatively low rate of emigration pushing their share of New Brunswick's population up from one-fifth of New Brunswick's population at Confederation to almost two-fifths of the population by the 1950s.

New Brunswick's Acadians were a dynamic population. By the same measure, they were a relatively deprived population. Though New Brunswick was a poor province, the Francophone-majority areas in the north and east of the province were in worse shape.

At the time, New Brunswick had more than 1,000 taxing authorities. There were glaring inequities across the province in basic services, especially education, and health and welfare.

Richer areas (mainly English, in central and southern New Brunwick) had the money to hire good teachers and offer good programs. Poorer areas (mainly French, in the north and east) did not.

It was the same with welfare and municipal services. There were vast discrepancies in the rates welfare mothers received in different areas, and in the quality of other services such as streets and roads. It had been that way for generations.


The election of Louis-Joseph Robichaud to the position of premier of New Brunswick in 1960, representing the Liberal Party, changed things radically. Throughout his tenure in the 1960s, Robichaud began to unify the province, establishing uniform systems and centralized funding for social services across the province, enfranchising the language rights of the Francophone minority by (among other things) founding the Université de Moncton in 1963 and declaring the province officially bilingual in 1968. These reforms precipitated a counter-reaction, but Robichaud's Conservative Party successor Richard Hatfield refrained from rescinding the reforms, and so, despite the brief prominence of the separatist Parti acadien in the 1970s and the English-unilingual Confederation of Regions Party in the 1980s and early 1990s, New Brunswick has managed to avoid a complete breakdown in relations.

This has puzzled some Canadian political scientists. Consider: Like Northern Ireland, New Brunswick after the Second World War was home to a relatively disenfranchised minority group making up a third of the population, this group later organizing in the 1960s to demand full equality with the majority population despite the majority's often vehement reluctance. Northern Ireland went through its Troubles; New Brunswick managed to avoid civil chaos. Why?

Four reasons come to mind.

1. The two groups weren't hermetically separated. New Brunswick is, with Québec, the only Roman Catholic-majority province in Canada. While Acadians and Irish did fight for control of the Roman Catholic Church in the province (the Acadians won), the fact remained that the two groups did mix. Intermarriage, while still relatively rare, does seem to have happened more frequently and with less fuss than in Northern Ireland. To some extent, New Brunswick's groups knew each other.

2. The majority population was divided. Two-thirds of New Brunswick's population is Anglophone, but this population is divided on ethnohistorical grounds between Loyalists, Irish, Scots, and even some Danes. Language unifies, in a certain way; ancestry and religion divided in many more. There was no monolithic Anglo body in New Brunswick.

3. The wider environment was relatively relaxed. New Brunswick's shift towards a unified bilingual provincial society occurred in the context of a Canada that was moving towards some sort of nation-wide bilingualism. If, say, Québec had gained independence as an independent Republic of Laurentia in this time frame, relations would be far more fraught.

4. No side could blame the other for their historical traumas. The Acadians were deported at a time when there was no British settlement at all in New Brunswick; the Loyalists were driven from their homeland by their co-ethnics. It would be possible for Acadians to demonstrate a decided hostility towards Anglos in general, assuming a false homogeneity of Anglophones across space and time, possible but quite pointless.
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