By Greg Marquis
In 1969, columnist Dalton Camp informed his readers that in a year he considered bleak, he had found a reason to be hopeful. In New Brunswick, whose politics were marked by “belligerence and bellicosity,” the provincial Progressive Conservatives had chosen “a quiet young man” as their leader. For Camp, the selection of Richard Hatfield augured well for not only the party, which needed to become less vindictive and partisan and “more responsible,” but also for the province, which was facing important issues in relation to the federal government, such as regional economic development.
Slightly more than a year later, Hatfield, a lawyer from Hartland, defeated the government of Louis Robichaud, who had transformed the province over the past ten years. Hatfield, who had crossed the province in a helicopter during the campaign, was portrayed as a new type of politician. Over the next few years, the “quiet young man,” who remained a bachelor, would morph into one of Canada’s hippest premiers, befriending or socializing with journalists, writers (Alden Nowlan, Antonine Maillet), artists (Molly Lamb Bobak) and musicians (Edith Butler, Stompin’ Tom Connors) and travelling regularly to major urban centres to enjoy the nightlife. He also emerged as a prominent player in Canada’s evolving constitutional process in the early 1980s and as a political commentator in the media, a novel situation for a serving politician. More national exposure came through his role in helping to entrench francophone rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Common adjectives to describe the New Brunswick leader in this era were flamboyant and eccentric. In 1987, Fredericton-based journalist Chris Wood wrote a retrospective piece on Hatfield’s “politics of fun.”
His attraction to the metropolitan nightclub scene earned Hatfield the nickname “Disco Dick.” In 1980, a Liberal MLA claimed that the premier had the travel habits of “an oil sheik” and been out of the province for 168 days in 1978. His expense records indicated that since early 1978 he had visited not only Paris, London, Boston and Vancouver, but also New York (35 times) and Quebec City (25 times). On Labour Day weekend in 1979 Hatfield stayed at New York’s prestigious Plaza Hotel and visited hip night spots such as Régine’s disco, La Folie, an upscale restaurant-disco in the Carlton House, and Randy Dandy’s. In the late 1970s these high-profile clubs attracted politicians like Henry Kissinger, writers such as Truman Capote, artists like Andy Warhol, musicians such as Mick Jagger, supermodels like Iman, actors such as Warren Beatty and other New York scenesters. This was a far cry from sedate Fredericton where the nightlife consisted of the bar in the Lady Beaverbrook hotel and the all-night restaurant in the Diplomat motel. The premier defended his trips by explaining that he was acting as a goodwill ambassador for the province and trying to secure investment.Continue reading