Elections, New Brunswick

Provincial elections are held by order of the lieutenant-governor in council and can occur at any point within a five year period. These elections are administered by the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer in conjunction with 49 returning officers appointed to oversee the process in their respective electoral districts.

There are approximately 1660 polling divisions in the province of New Brunswick.

Prior to 1784, the area which is now called the province of New Brunswick was known as Sunbury County, Nova Scotia. It did not exist as a separate province and held one seat in the Nova Scotia Assembly.

In 1782-83, 13,500 Loyalists fled the American colonies during the American Revolution to settle in the area that would come to be known as the province of New Brunswick. Since they wished to remain loyal to England, they chose what was then Nova Scotia as their new home. In 1784, due to the significant increase in population in Sunbury County, the province of New Brunswick was created. In 1785, elections were held for the first provincial assembly. All males of full age ( 21) who had been in New Brunswick more than 3 months had the right to vote.

For the first hundred years, political parties as they are known today did not exist. This may be difficult for us to understand today, since we are used to voting for a particular party, often regardless of the particular individual running in our riding. For many years, electors seemed to vote based on the candidates personal inclinations, such as religion, place of birth, social class, drinking habits and family ties. The only specific divisions that seemed to exist was between the "government' and the "opposition". It is not until 1935 that party lines and affiliations became stable. Announced platforms were not an integral part of the process. Candidates could run in more than one constituency during an election.

The secret ballot has also evolved over the years. For many years, one voted by voicing out a choice of candidate to the poll clerk who wrote the name down in a small book. It was not until 1855, with the introduction of the secret ballot, that voting become a confidential act.

The first law regulating provincial elections was adopted in 1795. From 1785 to 1795, although elections were held in the province they were not regulated by law. These were run by the sheriff who also acted as returning officer and who submitted the results to the clerk of the house of assembly. Since 1967, elections are run by the Chief Electoral Officer.

New Brunswick women won the right to vote provincially in 1919. Although women were not specifically excluded from voting at first, this seems to have been more of an omission than reflective of the intent to allow women's rights to vote. The Elections Act was amended in 1849, specifically disallowing women this privilege. As of 1966, age and residency become the only criteria for voting in New Brunswick municipal elections. This allowed homemakers, who could not vote up to this point since they were not taxpayers, to vote. In 1886, single women who were property owners could vote in New Brunswick municipal elections. In 1921,the right to vote during municipal elections was extended to all property owners regardless of sex and marital status.



Frances Fish


Brenda Robertson


Edna Steel

In 1934, women won the right to be elected to provincial office. The first woman to run was Frances Fish, in 1935, and the first woman to be elected to the Legislative Assembly was Brenda Robertson in 1967. The first woman to be elected to municipal office in New Brunswick was Edna Steel who was elected to Saint John City Council in 1948.The first female mayor of a municipality was Dorothy McLean, who was elected mayor of Port Elgin in 1959. 

First Nations members who choose to do so are able to vote and to run for office during municipal and provincial elections so long as they meet the age and residency requirements. In 1963, the section of the 1952 Elections Act which had disqualified from voting, "every Indian person ordinarily resident on an Indian reservation, except one who has served or is serving in Her Majesty's armed forces," was repealed. It had originally reflected the federal Indian Act through which native Indians living on reservation lost their native status if they chose to vote during elections other than for band council.

Until the reforms of 1967, it was necessary to be a land owner to vote municipally and provincially in the province of New Brunswick. People who did not own land could pay a poll tax and vote.

Up until 1830, Catholics could not vote in the province of New Brunswick. After this year, it was possible to vote after swearing allegiance to the King and his Protestant heirs. Catholics who were not willing to swear in allegiance to the King and his Protestant heirs were not allowed to vote. Since French Canadians were usually not land owners and were mostly Catholics, they were more often than not excluded from the voting process.