Guest Commentary

John Crosbie, In Memoriam

The Means & The End

(Editor’s note: John Crosbie died January 10 at 88. He started his political career as a St. John’s city councilor in 1965, and was elected a Liberal member of the legislature the following year. Crosbie served two years in cabinet with then-Premier Joey Smallwood — “The biggest dictator that ever skirted the island”, he said — before the two had a famous falling-out and he unsuccessfully challenged Smallwood for the Party leadership in 1968. Crosbie recounted those years in a July 9, 2008 interview with Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan. Following is a transcription of his remarks)

Mr. Smallwood was a superb politician, a man full of energy. He loved Newfoundland, I have to say that for him. I first met him when I was 17. He was small and dynamic.

He also liked to stay in power. He was reckless and very dangerous. It was madness. I made a mistake in agreeing to run with Mr. Smallwood in 1966, which I never should have done. My father warned me, but I was ambitious and wanted to get into politics.

Running for him in 1966 was one of the greatest mistakes I ever made. I was too independent-minded, and Smallwood was a one-man show. My first week in cabinet, I knew I wasn’t going to last. I knew I couldn’t take it.

At cabinet meetings, Mr. Smallwood would come in and talk for an hour and a half about whatever he wanted cabinet to approve. It was incredible. You went around the cabinet table, you had all these men – long-serving, able people – and they’d sit around and listen to Smallwood for an hour and a half. You just had to endure it. It was shocking, and this is the way the government was run.

The House of Assembly was totally in his control. The Liberal caucus only met when Smallwood had to give them instructions. The caucus didn’t even elect its chairman, Smallwood appointed him. He was a dictator who became a demagogue. He was completely paranoid, as are all people who get too much power in their hands.

I had my opinions and I expressed them, and I resigned. I was outraged. I wasn’t going to put up with it and decided I had an option. I could join the Progressive Conservative Party, or I could try to form a party of my own, or I could stay in the Liberal Party and challenge the leader. From then on it was civil war.

Smallwood hated and detested me with ferocious venom. I was stubborn and wasn’t going to back out. Smallwood had his slates of delegates, and you knew who was going to win.

The hatchet was never buried. It if were ever buried, it would have been buried in my head. No, we weren’t on very friendly terms whatsoever.

His greatest achievement was succeeding in bringing about Confederation. His tactics were deplorable. If your objectives are good and the means you use to achieve them are deplorable, that diminishes any good you’re attempting to achieve.

Smallwood had potential. But the power all had to be in his hands. It was the power that corrupted him. In the end he disappointed Newfoundland.

The man was redoubtable. There wasn’t a politician in Canada who could defeat him in debate or argument, and he did some admirable things. Unfortunately his defects destroyed his virtues.

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