His giant portrait looks down on the floor of the Legislature. His statue presides outside.
We are celebrating Joseph Howe Day and it is fitting that we do so. But why does Joseph Howe loom so large as Nova Scotia’s greatest leader and, yes, rebel?
He was a journalist who made The Novascotian into ‘one of the most influential voices in the British North American colonies’. He served as our 3rd Lieutenant Governor and 5th Premier.
In 1835 he was charged with seditious libel for reporting on government corruption. He defended himself and even though the judge recommended conviction the jury found him not guilty in ten minutes; a tremendously symbolic victory in fighting the status-quo and establishing press freedom in critiquing political elites.
Howe led the Peaceable Revolution (despite fighting a duel in Point Pleasant Park) which evolved Nova Scotia’s government forward to responsible government; the idea government is responsible to an elected Legislature and not appointees of the elites. Ours was the first government in the Empire (outside of London) to establish the function of the Legislature to oversee and restrain government.
In the early 1860s he championed Maritime Union and led the anti-Canada movement correctly believing it a bad deal for Nova Scotia. When a weak Premier Tupper capitulated on terrible terms (which have subsequently impoverished Nova Scotia) in return for entry into Canada and rammed Confederation through the Legislature without debate or public support, Howe organized the Anti-Confederation Party and wiped out all (save Tupper) the pro-confederates in the first Federal Election. Finally in 1868 Howe lobbied London for Nova Scotia Secession but the battle and Nova Scotia were lost.
Howe said “When I sit down in solitude to the labours of my profession, the only question I ask myself are, What is right? What is just? What is for the public good?“
Joseph Howe. Leader. Rebel. Poet (!). Political Reformer. A man of moral and physical courage.
Imagine him looking down on his beloved province today. Mired in the status-quo, the political elites he rebuffed again controlling politics, Maritime Union he promoted denied, the irrelevance of the Legislature he helped to establish, the continued decline and irrelevancy of Nova Scotia within The Canada Project which he opposed.
In the coming months and years we need to remember his words, echoing from the past
What is right? What is just? What is for the public good?
He is buried in Camp Hill Cemetery. You should visit.