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People

Charles Fisher

Photograph of the Honourable Charles Fisher, May 1868

Source

Hon. Charles Fisher, May 1868

(August 15 or September 16, 1808 - December 8, 1880)

Charles Fisher helped to bring momentous change to New Brunswick, first as a champion of responsible government, and then as a spokesperson for Confederation.

Charles Fisher was born and educated in Fredericton. He pursued a career in law and was admitted to the bar in 1831. Fisher practiced in Fredericton before entering the political arena in 1834, losing in the York County election. He had better results in 1837, when he was elected to the House of Assembly. By that time Fisher had also married Amelia Hatfield; together they had four sons and four daughters.

Among Fisher's efforts to advance responsible government was a bill introduced in 1842 that would require members of the Executive Council to hold office through election. Fisher also opposed any "compact" influence on government -- of the kind experienced in Upper Canada under the Family Compact -- though this opposition did not prevent him from collaborating with members of the exclusive ruling class, such as Edward Barron Chandler.

Fisher's collaboration with Chandler led to serious political difficulties for him. His constituents felt that he had betrayed his political beliefs when he agreed to participate in a coalition government under Chandler; as a result, Fisher lost his seat in 1850. Regardless of his earlier insistence on elections for office-holders, Fisher maintained his place on the Executive Council until early 1851, when he resigned to protest the Lieutenant-Governor's disregard for the council's authority.

Fisher's protest renewed his commitment to responsible government, which he now felt could only be achieved through a strong party system. With popular support, Fisher regained his seat in 1854, and soon formed a government with fellow Liberal party members including Samuel Leonard Tilley, John Mercer Johnson and William Henry Steeves. A number of major changes to New Brunswick governance were soon introduced, some of which were contained in the Reform Bill of 1855, which extended voting rights and established voting by ballot.

Not all of Fisher's reforms were welcome. In 1856, a law banning alcoholic beverages resulted in a widespread backlash and John Hamilton Gray and Robert Duncan Wilmot formed a new government. Fisher was back in power before long; however, a more personal problem involving questionable dealings with crown lands led to his removal from office in 1861. Despite the scandal, voters maintained their confidence in Fisher, and he was re-elected.

Fisher was a supporter of British North American union at the Québec Conference in 1864, though he tended to qualify his support according to the local political climate. When New Brunswick voters rejected the pro-Confederation government in 1865, Fisher's win in a by-election the following year provided the momentum desperately needed by Confederation's proponents. Tilley and Peter Mitchell returned to form a government in 1866, with Fisher as attorney general. Fisher then participated in the London Conference, was elected to the first Canadian Parliament in 1867 and was appointed to the Supreme Court of New Brunswick in 1868.

Source

Wallace, C.W. -- "Fisher, Charles". -- Dictionary of Canadian biography online [online]. -- [Cited December 13, 2004]. -- Access: www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=39106