Beaton Tulk Part 2: On Premiers Past and Present

Beaton Tulk has worn many hats in his lifetime. In part two of our sit down, this province’s seventh premier talks premiers past and present and lasting legacies


Beaton Tulk folds his hands on the table. He leans in. Make no mistake, this 74 year-old former premier still has lots to say. 

While much is covered in his book, A Man Of My Word: A Memoir, written with the help of author and friend Laurie Blackwood Pike, there’s some topics he didn’t touch on. One of those topics is this province’s current premier, Dwight Ball.

Inherited Mess

“Look at the mess he inherited. Dwight Ball inherited one of the biggest messes that’s ever been inherited in Newfoundland politics. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the deficit would be as high as it was; $2.7 billion, or something of that nature,” Tulk says gruffly. 

Not to mention “the mess” of Muskrat Falls, he adds. “For a person who had all that tossed in his lap so to speak, I think Premier Ball and his people have done well. They’ve reduced the deficit and they are trying to put us on solid footings again.”

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t see some fault in the man, he continues. 

“If I have one problem with Dwight Ball, it’s this; He’s the kind of fellow to do his work, somewhat like myself, and then believes that people will be happy with that and say; yes, sure. He’s doing a great job. So one fault I have with him is that he doesn’t blow his own horn. Other than that, I think he’s doing a great job of trying to put us back on even keel.”

There’s a fire in Tulk’s belly when he talks about the state this province is in. As a former premier, who led when we had nothing, seeing how far up we climbed, and how low we’ve gotten again, is difficult for him to fathom, he admits.

Ghost of Churchill Falls

“How did the situation get as bad as it did? When we were there we had nothing but people and determination. I find it ludicrous that the Williams’ PCs had so much money, yet they left office with nothing. Danny took the money and had a field day with it while he was in government. Muskrat Falls could have only been done for ego and to score a goal against Quebec, for the ghost of Churchill Falls.”

But none of that is in the book, though perhaps it should be, Tulk booms. 

Pike, who co-wrote the book for Flanker Press with Tulk, laughs. “It was hard enough getting what we got out of you,” he jokes. Tulk laughs.

 How did the book come about? The two old friends bumped into one another, where else, they joke, but at the hospital. 

“You know you are getting old when you start meeting people your own age in a hospital waiting room. But I said, I should write your story, and I sweet talked him into it,” says Pike.

Tulk smiles, admitting that putting his thoughts to paper was already on his mind. 

High Regard for Joey

“I had already written some. But we really started when we got together. It was a great adventure, but it was a lot of work. At the time you are doing something you don’t realize its importance,” Tulk admits. 

Speaking of importance, Tulk holds another former premier, Joey Smallwood, in high regard. “People come at Joey about what failed in Newfoundland. Well, Joey’s economic strategies primarily failed because of where we are. We are an island. If you don’t have the material here, then you’ve got to bring it in. So transportation issues, that’s the biggest hurdle.”

But there were wins, like Come By Chance. 

“Two people crossed the floor – John Crosbie and Clyde Wells – over Come By Chance. Still going. Still creating jobs.”

 But the big thing Joey Smallwood did for this province was education, says Tulk, and having the opportunity to attend university changed everything.

“There’s never been a bigger celebration held here than the one that man with the bow tie put on after he pushed, and got, education here. Before that, you were expected to go fishing or go in the woods. 

“Because of Joey, my mother could say – unlike any mothers here before her time – learn your lessons, my boy. Go on and get a good education. That came from Joey Smallwood. My mother could dream for me, because of education. She wanted me to get a government job, or be a teacher, or become a minister. I was all three, though I don’t think I was the kind of minister that she wanted,” he says with a laugh.

If he holds Joey up, where does he himself fit as a premier? He pauses. On the last day he was premier, an assistant came to him with a list of the things he’d accomplished, he says. 

“You’ve done more work around here than any premier I’ve seen in that length of time. That was a compliment, though I didn’t do that much. I wasn’t there long enough. We steered it through as best we could.” 

Battling theB ig ‘C’

What does a former premier do these days, we ask. Tulk looks at his hands and arms, bruised from treatments for cancer. “I used to do woodworking. A lot of time now is spent going to doctors because my prostate cancer has come back to haunt me and it’s metathesized to the bone. No known cure. That aside, I’m trying to put together another book, my journey with cancer, because I think it might help someone else. Whether I get it finished or not, that’s another story. I have to try to win this battle with the big C,” he says.

Any other thoughts on leaders he’s worked with?

Ed Roberts, he says, was the best premier we never had. Don Jamieson was a master in the House. When he made a speech, everyone was spellbound, says Tulk. 

Jean Chrétien was one of his heroes and he always admired John Crosbie for his frankness. 

Judy Foote, now this province’s Lieutenant Governor, always worked harder than anyone. 

On Justin Trudeau, Tulk takes a moment.

“I was never fond of Stephen Harper. Under Harper, Canada was not Canada. If Justin Trudeau never did another thing, he’s made Canada Canada again. We are a good neighbour, a place where we have freedom. We’re a kinder, gentler country.”

On new PC leader Ches Crosbie, he winks, saying; ‘‘I’m sure he’ll make a great opposition leader and I hope he enjoys that role for a long time to come.”

And on himself? What does he want to be known for?

“I want to be known as a good dad first, as someone who had a close relationship with family.”

Ladle Cove Lessons

Beyond that, Tulk says he’d like to be known for something he picked up growing up in his hometown of Ladle Cove; his work ethic and his good manners. 

“I’d like to be known for what I am; I love to work. I loved politics. If I had a choice, politically I’d like to be known as one of the best government house leaders we’ve ever had, though it’s hard to beat some of the guys who were there.”

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