Last week John Crosbie reflected on Confederation and his tumultuous relationship with this province’s first premier, Joey Smallwood. In part two, Crosbie gets personal, sharing everything from what he feels is the secret to his political success to his greatest longing …
John Crosbie has had quite the political career, provincially and federally speaking. He also served as the 12th Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, and now his son, lawyer Ches Crosbie, is running for the leadership of the provincial PC party. It’s no secret that Crosbie himself would have loved to be premier.How would he feel if his son achieved such distinction?
“I won’t be jealous, I’d be very pleased because he’s a fine young man, well qualified and I know, having gone through it all myself, what a dirty game the political game is. The kind of things you have to watch out for, and the things he will go through, and is going through now. I wish him nothing but the best. If he can come out on the good side of it all, I will be more than delighted. He’s certainly my boy and I’m certainly going to support my boy.”
Secret to My Success
Crosbie grasps his wife’s hand as she fixes his sweater collar for a picture together. “This here is the secret to my success, if I had any,” he says as he gazes fondly at Jane, his wife of 65 years.
September 8, 1952, was when the two were married, though their story began years prior. “We met in Grade 2, though he didn’t remember me from back then,” Jane says as she, once again, manually adjusts her husband’s attire.
“We met in Kindergarten in Bishop Spencer (College),” Crosbie says, correcting his wife. She doesn’t argue. She simply smiles as he continues to reminisce about his political life and how it impacted his family.
“How important is having a strong family when you’re in politics? It’s very important. Any man involved, or any woman involved for that matter, needs the willing support of husband or wife. I always said that in my political career my family were always a tremendous help to me. Without their help I couldn’t have accomplished much. If I accomplished anything it was because I had support. You’ve got to have a willing wife and a family that’s supportive if you are going to be a success at anything.”
Obviously looking for spousal brownie points, Crosbie continues, “The secret to every success for every man is a good woman.”
His wife smiles and Crosbie lets out a dramatic yahoo! for the camera. “Get a good one,” he says, arms raised.
Jane doesn’t seem phased one bit by her husband’s antics, not at that exact moment anyway, as she prepares to further accommodate her guests. A pose here, a smile there, adjusting knick-knacks and bits of furnishings for pictures. It’s not that she doesn’t admire the man who dedicated his life to politics, in fact she smiles and says how thrilled she is to hear him talking about “the old days” with such clarity.
Reminiscing gives her a thought that she generously, if comically, expresses; “I myself have one regret. I should have let him alone and let him stay in politics until he rotted. That was what made him the happiest.”
‘I Was Always Proud’
Beth looks at both her parents with admiration. A plaque recognizing the service of spouses of Lieutenant-Governors, of which Crosbie was one, was unveiled at Government House in February, and of course her mother is included.
“I was three when dad first ran politically, so I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t proud of him. I was always proud of him – proud of both my parents. Dad certainly got attacked for his opinion and there were nay-sayers to what he was doing, but under it all I think all us kids felt he was doing what he fully believed was the right thing and that helps you weather any of the negative side of things.”
Now, some of her earliest memories are of being told to shhhh in the kitchen because her father was going to be on television or radio; those memories aren’t the best, she jokes.
“I have a much longer perspective now, and I know; if you grow up being proud of what your parents are doing, that helps you deal with any of the negative.”
Her proudest political accomplishments of her father’s would probably be his contribution to Hibernia and to Free Trade.
What would his be? He pauses:
“All of it has been very interesting. I’ve enjoyed all my involvement in public affairs before and since Confederation. My whole life has been involved in the political side of things in Newfoundland and in Canada and I’ve enjoyed it all. It’s been an interesting experience.”
‘Almost’ Prime Minister
But if he had to pick just one thing?
He pauses. “My proudest thing would be that I survived through it all, that I managed to get elected and re-elected in various positions despite what attitude I was taking. That was a major accomplishment. I’d like to be remembered for being a person unafraid to express his opinion about public issues, either publicly or in cabinet. I’ve always expressed my opinion,” he says.
As to his highest achievement?
“Well, I was ‘almost’ Prime Minister. ‘Almost’. Almost is not sufficient. Almost is interesting, but it’s not what you want, you want to make it. You want to be in the final position of power and I was never in the final position of power, and I regret that, but I enjoyed the rest of my life in politics.”
He’s helped so many people in his life and that’s really what it’s all about in the end, he adds.
“The opportunities it gave me to do things to help the people that I felt were deserving of assistance, you never have regrets that way.”
If he could go back and change anything, would he?
“Well sure, there’s lots of things you’d like to change if you were in the position to accomplish it. There’s no way you can achieve everything you desire in politics, or in any other field. Sometimes I was successful in achieving what I wanted and sometimes I wasn’t, and if you are in politics you have to accept it. Most of my earlier years in public life had to do with issues regarding the fishery and what’s the best position we should take on the fishery. No use in going back on that.”
Do people still come up to him when he’s out and about? To either thank him or have a political debate?
“Most of the people that I come across are very friendly and supportive and I’m well recognized everywhere. People know who I am and I don’t get physically attacked very often by people, so I regard that as a plus,” he jokes.
‘I never lost sleep’
Crosbie says if he took every bit of criticism personally, he’d be in a sorry state. “No one took things in politics personally if they wanted to be successful. If someone wanted to defeat you, they would. If you could express your opinion on difficult issues and people could accept the fact that it was your opinion, then good. I never lost sleep over the fact that I had an opinion in politics.”
There’s one thing he was never blamed for in politics, he adds as he takes a sip of water.
“No one ever blamed me for drinking a simple cup of water, that’s about it,” he says smiling as he laid his glass down.
“I’m just glad someone is still interested in something I have to say, to be honest. It’s one of the pleasures of being an ex-politician. Normally they pay no attention to me at all around here,” he says to a round of laughter.
Thinking things through, Crosbie says he has something to add. “I’d like to be remembered for being an independent person who took independent positions and as someone who did his best to support those positions. I expressed my own views and tried to follow my own views. If I wasn’t successful I accepted that fact and carried on. I have no regrets having been involved in politics and being successful in some areas and having failed in others, but I made the attempt to achieve what I thought was the right position for the country and for the province.”