Education, Family and Early Career
John Hamm was born on 8 April 1938 in the small town of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, the son of Gerald and Irene Hamm. He graduated from New Glasgow High School in 1955, earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of King's College in Halifax in 1958, and a medical degree from Dalhousie University in 1963.
Hamm returned to New Glasgow to practise medicine. He married Genesta Hartling in 1963, with whom he would have three children — John, Jeffrey and Jennifer.
For 30 years Hamm worked as a family doctor in Pictou County and remained actively involved in community service. At New Glasgow’s Aberdeen Hospital, Hamm was president of the medical staff and chair of the Aberdeen Hospital Foundation. He was also president of the New Glasgow Rangers hockey team and a warden of St. George's Church. Provincially, Hamm served as a member of the Provincial Medical Board and president of the Medical Society and the College of Family Physicians of Nova Scotia.
Hamm was first elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for the riding of Pictou Centre in 1993, one of only nine of 52 legislature seats won by the Progressive Conservatives that year. In 1995, Hamm was chosen to lead the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party (PC), which went on to win 14 seats in the 1998 election.
Sixteen months later, in June 1999, Hamm's PC’s voted with the opposition New Democrats to defeat Russell MacLellan's minority Liberal government, following its tabling of a deficit-heavy budget. In the ensuing summertime election campaign, Hamm promised a balanced budget, a tax cut and increased spending on health care and education. On 27 July, 1999, his Progressive Conservatives won a majority government, with 30 of the 52 seats in the Legislative Assembly.
Hamm danced in the streets of New Glasgow with party supporters to celebrate his election win. “In just six short years, I have gone, to my own surprise, from being a somewhat shy rookie MLA to standing before you as premier-elect,” Hamm told supporters. He was sworn in as Nova Scotia's 25th premier on 16 August 1999.
Hamm's government was responsible for a number of initiatives including selling Nova Scotia Resources Limited, a debt-ridden, offshore oil and gas development company. It also eliminated numerous agencies, boards and commissions, enacted Nova Scotia's first code of conduct for cabinet ministers, introduced a lobbyist registration act, ended the costly P3 (public-private partnership) method of school construction. In 2001, at a cost of about 800 jobs, Hamm’s government also closed Cape Breton's money-losing but job-sustaining Sydney Steel Corporation. Afterwards, when Hamm arrived in Sydney for a business luncheon, steelworkers booed and jeered him.
On 4 April 2002, Hamm’s government also tabled Nova Scotia's first balanced budget in 40 years.
His Progressive Conservatives lost popularity leading up to the 2003 election, thanks in part to the contentious issues of rising auto insurance costs, and Sunday shopping. Hamm opposed the government-owned, non-profit insurance system proposed by the opposition New Democrats. A traditionalist, Hamm also opposed demands by the province's tourist industry to allow Sunday shopping. However, when Hamm’s government was reduced to a legislative minority in 2003, he had to compromise on the insurance issue. Sunday shopping, meanwhile, was endorsed by the public in a provincial plebiscite.
Throughout his premiership, Hamm had lobbied fiercely for the fair implementation of the Atlantic Accord — an existing federal-provincial agreement that gave Nova Scotia the revenues from oil and gas resources off its shores. However, many of those revenues were being clawed back by Ottawa under funding calculations for the separate Equalization program. In 2005, after a lengthy public campaign, Hamm successfully struck a deal to exclude offshore revenues from Equalization calculations.
Hamm was expected to call an election in 2005 but decided not to amid criticism about rising gasoline prices, and a slump of his party’s fortunes in the polls. Instead, he announced on 29 September 2005 that he would retire from politics. Cabinet minister Rodney MacDonald succeeded Hamm as the party's leader and the new premier of Nova Scotia in 2006.
Hamm was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 2009 “for his contributions to the province of Nova Scotia as a former premier, family physician and community leader.”
In 2015, he wrote a newspaper column on education, on the heels of a report that found more than a quarter of new students entering school are not ready to learn. “The failure to provide adequate early childhood education is the most important public policy issue in our province today,” he wrote.
In 2016 during a speech in Pictou County, Hamm reflected on his career, saying: “Medicine was planned — politics happened. I grew up thinking I’d be a medical doctor, but it was an honour to serve the people of Pictou Centre.”