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Elsie Wayne: Loud, loved, always colourful

Before there was Donald Trump, before there was Sarah Palin, there was Elsie Wayne.

The silver-haired dynamo might not have invented right-wing populism, but she certainly helped refine the concept during her years in municipal and federal office.

While others veer into demagoguery or quackery in their pursuit of broader political appeal, Elsie remained doggedly true to her roots as a Saint John stalwart who knew her base as well as she knew herself.

Among Saint Johners, Elsie was loved and, it has to be said, occasionally loathed.

As a city councillor, she was a loud, sometimes abrasive presence who would not be silenced. Woe betide anyone who tried.

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Wayne went from city councillor to mayor to MP for Saint John, never losing an election.

Her longtime nemesis, Albert Vincent, once had a drink poured over his head during a council meeting by an exasperated Elsie.

Champion of the little guy

She rose to prominence as the vocal and tireless champion of the water-logged residents of flood-prone Glen Falls in East Saint John.

Where some might have dismissed their soggy pleas for help as the consequence of poor real estate judgment, Elsie waded into the fight to secure a holding pond to reduce the severity of the seasonal floods.

If, like King Canute, she couldn’t roll back the tide, she at least managed to abate its effects.

Her upbeat, can-do character carried her into the mayor’s office, where she led the city during a period of growth and prosperity in the 1980s.

Elsie Wayne

As defence critic, Wayne tries on a helmet prior to a meeting of the Commons standing committee on national defence in 2001. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The Canada Games, the construction of Market Square and waterfront development, and the shipyard frigate program brought jobs and optimism to the Port City.

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