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Election of the first Halifax City Council

including the first mayor, Stephen Binney

See Stephen Binney.

This is taken from a History of Halifax City Hall, which was online but seems to have disappeared. It gives a version of the row between Stephen Binney, the mayor, and Lord Falkland.

There is another version here.

An Act to incorporate the town of Halifax

In March 1841, the government tabled its incorporation bill, which on passage would have eighty-five clauses. It defined the boundaries of the "City of Halifax" to the limits of the peninsula and divided the city into six wards. The bill provided for a City Council, consisting of a mayor, six aldermen and twelve common council men. Each ward could elect three persons to the Council. Once elected, the twelve common councillors chose from among themselves, first who was to be mayor, and then six to be styled aldermen. In a carryover from the previous mixing of administrative and judicial functions, the mayor and aldermen became justices of the peace. In that capacity they assumed the functions of police magistrates and presided daily at police court. Moreover, the mayor, and one alderman in rotation, held court once a month to try civil cases.

What, however, brought forth vehement opposition from Howe’s fellow Reformer and member for Halifax Township, Thomas Forrester, was the severely restricted franchise. Voters for Assembly elections had to meet a forty shilling property qualification, but the incorporation bill raised this to £20. It included other provisions clearly intended to exclude as voters most of the shopkeeper class and confine the vote to those who could be trusted not to display any democratic tendencies. Moreover, no one could be mayor unless he owned real estate to the value of £1,000 and for aldermen the figure was £500. As Howe admitted, the bill restricted the franchise to an electorate of 800. Although he preferred a lower property qualification, a restricted franchise had been demanded by those in the government who formerly had opposed incorporation, but now at the behest of Falkland would support it as an acceptable compromise. When Forrester tried to amend the bill to give the vote to all householders, which would have increased the voter number to near 3,000, Howe made it plain that such an amendment, if passed, would endanger the whole bill. Attempts to amend failed and the bill went through as drafted by the Executive Council.

First Civic Election

As well as a restrictive franchise, the bill further ensured against any democratic innovations by decreeing open voting, which required each voter openly to declare his vote to the presiding election officer. Such were the strongly-held feelings for the manly old practice of open voting that Nova Scotians would not have the secret ballot until 1870. Each voter in his ward could vote for three candidates to be elected as common councillors. Initially, the forthcoming election attracted little public attention, then as nominations were held, indifference turned to a realization of its importance to the community. Candidates published in newspapers their election cards. Polls opened early on 12 May and remained open until 7 o’clock that evening. In distinct contrast to Assembly elections, which were continually marred by rioting and drunkenness lasting days, Halifax’s first election went off comparatively quietly. After the polls closed, "the candidates... did the thing handsomely by their supporters and many were the bottles of champagne cracked in their respective houses, in honor of the City of Halifax—and many have been the prognostications since of improvements that are to be made within the municipal bounds."

Next morning the newspapers carried the results, heartily approving of the worthy men elected. With the exception of one lawyer, all the other eleven elected were merchants. Among them were such notable names as Alexander Keith, John Duffus, Edward Allison, James Tremain, Stephen Binney, and John Leander Starr and Hugh Bell, the last two members of the province’s Legislative Council. With a such a conservative Council, property owners had no fear that their rights would be threatened in any manner. Needless to say, Thomas Forrester, who had in the Assembly virtually single-handedly sought a broad franchise, went down to defeat, probably resigning well before the poll closed.

Electing a Mayor

The twelve newly elected common councillors met at the County Court House, which was to pass as Halifax’s city hall for next forty-nine years. A brick building, faced with granite, it had what contemporaries considered a pretentious entrance on George Street. On the Water Street side was the police station and to reach city offices you entered from Bedford Row. At new Council’s first meeting they chose Stephen Binney from among their number to be the mayor. A wealthy thirty-six old merchant, Binney was the scion of a long established family that went back to the very founding of Halifax. After his election Binney gave a "splendid dinner" at the new Halifax Hotel to the City Council, members of the Executive Council and other noteworthies. On the following morning, Binney presented himself at Government House, where Lord Falkland formally assented to City Council’s choice and Binney took the required oaths, the full Executive Council being present.

Relations between Falkland and Binney were soon, however, to deteriorate into an unholy row over protocol during the visit of Duc de Joinville, a prince of the House of Orleans, then ruling France. What caused the clash was when Binney and the Council learned smallpox was present abroad the vessels that brought the royal party to Halifax, they refused to allow any aboard to land. Such an enforcement of quarantine regulations would ruin Falkland’s plans for the visit. Although the city eventually agreed to allow the royal party to land, Falkland’s armour-propre caused him to insult Binney over an invitation to a grand ball held at Government House. Binney, who had been styling himself "Lord Mayor of Halifax" and held that in protocol he was next to Falkland as Lieutenant Governor, used municipal funds to stage a competing ball at the Halifax Hotel. A livid Falkland then dismissed Binney as his honorific aide-de-comte. The conflict between the two became highly political, with Binney travelling to London to present Queen Victoria with addresses, which should have gone through Falkland, congratulating her on the birth of a male heir. Binney, however, had become bankrupt and left Halifax for Moncton where he reestablished himself in business.