New Brunswick

Elsie Wayne: 'Last of the great political personalities'

From her outrageous sweaters, to outrageous comments, Elsie Wayne was one-of-a-kind in Canadian politics — a kind rarely seen today.

Former Saint John mayor, MP remembered for outspoken nature and flamboyance

Elsie Wayne: 1932-2016

6 years ago
Duration 2:12
CBC's Connell Smith looks back at the life, career, and controversies of former Saint John mayor Elsie Wayne who called it “the greatest little city in the east.”

From her outrageous sweaters to outrageous comments, Elsie Wayne was one-of-a-kind in Canadian politics — a kind rarely seen today.

Wayne died Tuesday in Saint John, the city she often trumpeted as "the Greatest Little City in the East". She was first elected as a Saint John city councillor in 1977 and swept into the mayor's office in 1983.

Former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna said Wayne was "the last … of the great political personalities on the Canadian stage and her presence will be missed."

Wayne was a straight shooter who spoke her mind on issues.

"In an age of political correctness, she would have a hard time," said McKenna. "But back then, there was much more candour in politics and she was very candid."

Gay marriage controversy

In 2003, Wayne rose in the House of Commons and said gay Canadians who want the right to marry should "shut up."

"Why do they have to be out here in the public, always debating that they want to call it marriage," she said. "Why are they in parade? Why are men dressed up as women on floats?"

Those comments still sting some. Kevin Bourassa, who co-founded Equal Marriage for Same-Sex Couples and married Joe Varnell in the first legal gay marriage in 2001, tweeted Tuesday that Wayne was "a bigoted politician who embraced prejudice and ignorance."

Still, Wayne's constituents embraced "Elsie," as she often referred to herself in the third-person.

'It was honest'

"I don't think it bothered her constituents," said McKenna. "She spoke her mind and wasn't politically correct often. And it could even border on the outrageous.

"But it was honest," said McKenna.

"We don't see much of that anymore where everything is so scripted and tele-prompted," said McKenna.

"You just don't get that honest expression of views. She was brutally honest and at times it rubbed people the wrong way."

"We need more people like that," said McKenna. "Things now just seem to be paralyzed.

"Everything that we try to do is paralyzed and she wouldn't put up with that. And good on her."

Like campaigning with Santa Claus

Lisa Keenan, a Saint John resident and former president of the New Brunswick Progressive Conservative party, said Saint John has "never been the same since she's gone."

"To this day I think of populism in politics," said Keenan. "Elsie Wayne was the epitome of populism."

Keenan recalls campaigning door-to-door with Wayne on one occasion.

"It was really like going door-to-door with Santa Claus," said Keenan. "It was just an unbelievable experience in the warmth that she gave off and the warmth that people extended to her at every turn."

Political scientist Don Desserud said people were frustrated with micro-managed politicians and admired Wayne for speaking her mind.

"They wanted someone who'd just get out there and just say something," said Desserud. "And she did.

"So people who wouldn't even agree with what she had to say supported her because they liked the fact that she's out there saying these things."

With files from Shift, Information Morning Fredericton