John B. McNair : biography
John Babbitt McNair, CC (November 20, 1889 – June 14, 1968) was the 23rd premier of the Province of New Brunswick, Canada from 1940 to 1952. He worked as a lawyer, politician and judge.
Born in Andover, New Brunswick, he graduated from the University of New Brunswick in 1911 with a B.A. degree. Awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, at Oxford University he earned a B.A. in 1913 and a Bachelor of Civil Law degree in 1914, graduating with first-class honours.
At the onset of World War I he enlisted in the Canadian Army and served on the battlefields of France and Germany as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Captain McNair served again during World War II as a member of the Royal Canadian Artillery Reserves.
John McNair was first elected to the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick in 1935 New Brunswick general election and served as Attorney-General in the government of Premier Dysart and served as president of the Liberal Party of New Brunswick from 1932 to 1940. He lost his seat in the 1939 election but returned in 1940, succeeding Dysart as leader of the party and premier.
Despite province wide protests, on April 27, 1950 McNair’s government implemented a four percent provincial sales tax to help finance the public education system and social services.
In 1967 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.
The Honourable John Babbitt McNair was born to James McNair and Francis Anne Lewis on November 20, 1889, in Andover, Victoria County, New Brunswick. As a youth he attended Andover Grammar School and Florenceville Consolidated School before enrolling at the University of New Brunswick in 1907. He distinguished himself as a scholar before graduating with his B.A. in 1911, receiving numerous awards including the Lieutenant-Governors Award and served as his class valedictorian. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to attend Oxford University, where he further distinguished himself by earning first-class honours, and received a B.A. in 1913 and a B.C.L. in 1914.
Following the outbreak of the First World War, McNair enlisted with the Armed Forces and served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in France and Germany. By the war’s close he had attained the rank of Lieutenant. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, McNair volunteered once again and served as a Captain in the Royal Canadian Artillery Reserves.
Following his return to New Brunswick in 1919, McNair was admitted to the bar and entered into a law partnership with J.J.F. Winslow at Fredericton. Over the next 15 years he became a leading member of several fraternal, religious and other community organizations. He also became a barrister and solicitor of some note, eventually being appointed a King’s Counsel on July 16, 1935.
It was during this period that McNair became involved in public affairs. A rising-star in the Liberal Party, in October 1932 he became President of the New Brunswick Liberal Association. He held this position until 1940. During the election campaign of June 1935, McNair was instrumental in A. Alison Dysart’s successful election to the premier’s office. At the same election, the 46 year-old McNair was elected to the Legislative Assembly as a representative for York County.
McNair was appointed Attorney-General in Premier Dysart’s cabinet on July 16, 1935. He held this position for the next seventeen years, until his retirement from politics in 1952. In the Legislative Chambers, McNair distinguished himself as a gifted speaker and was widely regarded as the most able member of Dysart’s government. Dysart frequently suffered from ill-health and during his many absences from the Legislature McNair served as Acting Premier. Although defeated in York County at the general election of November 20, 1939, a by-election was created for McNair in Victoria County and on January 20, 1940 he was re-elected.
Shortly afterwards Dysart retired from political life, and on March 13, 1940 McNair was sworn in as premier. He also continued as Attorney-General and, with a reputation as a hands-on administrator, he also briefly added the portfolios of Labour, Health and Labour, and Lands and Mines to his responsibilities. Considered to have been New Brunswick’s most intellectually gifted premier, McNair was also a shrewd politician and excellent debater who regularly used his cutting wit to fend off criticism from the Opposition benches. He was perhaps the last premier to write all his own speeches, which he did by hand either at his home on Waterloo Row or at his cabin at Gordon Vale.