An Interview with John Crosbie

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Nov 30, -0001 12:00 AM
Over the last 20 years, Downhome has kept abreast of the important issues taking place on Newfoundland and Labrador's political scene. Often in the middle of the fray has been the forthright and frank Hon. John Crosbie. Downhome recently sat down with the former provincial and federal cabinet minister to get his views on the province's future, and look back with him at his own career in the shadow of his first 100 days as Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Q. You've always voiced your opinions very clearly and you've been very outspoken on public issues, so how much of an adjustment is your new role as Lieutenant Governor?

A. The Lieutenant Governor can't just freely give whatever opinions he might have on political issues because of the position that he's in that sense you have to be careful. But that doesn't mean to say I have no opinions. I have my own opinions, which I'll express privately or I might express them to the premier or ministers. You understand that when you take the job, so you have to observe those proprieties. Remaining impartial, that's not difficult - but not expressing your opinions? I'm used to expressing whatever opinions I have publicly; that's what I've been doing now for most of my life, so naturally I have opinions on most public issues. But you have to keep them to yourself (in this role), or if you're giving your opinions you do it privately to people you can trust will observe privacy.

Q. You've often been criticized for speaking your mind without guarding what you say. How do you respond to such criticisms?

A. That's a virtue - not a vice. I have no use for people who are afraid to express their opinions on the issues of the day. What are you in political life for if you're not going to take a stand? I have always prided myself on the fact that I make my opinions known and stand behind them and fight for them - which I've done. So I believe that's a positive thing. I'm not supportive of political correctness; I think that's arrant cowardice. So I oppose all attempts that are made by certain people to shame or make it embarrassing for anyone they disagree with. Political correctness I believe to be one of the curses of modern politics. It's very damaging. I'm simply not going to keep my mouth shut because somebody doesn't agree with my views. Sometimes it can be politically risky, but I've been prepared to take the risk - and I'm not apologetic about it.

Q. Do you believe Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have lost faith in the political system?

A. I was just doing a bit of research and I noticed that in Mr. Smallwood's last election, in 1971, 90 per cent of the Newfoundland people voted. Ninety per cent! This is huge. One of the highest percentages I've ever heard of in a general election - because there were important issues that had to be decided, basically as to whether Mr. Smallwood was going to be terminated and someone else given a chance or not. So if there are major issues to be decided I think people are still interested. They know if they want to influence things they've got to go out and vo...The papers are still full of letters and so on, so I don't think the public is as jaded as some people think. They are interested in the issues. Look at the present issue with Eastern Health - you can't say that there's no interest in that or the public doesn't express its views on it.

Q. What do you believe is the key to long-term economic success for this province and are we on the cusp of it now?

A. This has always been a difficult place to make a living. Newfoundlanders have always been hard workers and they always had to leave here. Before Confederation they'd leave and go to the Boston States and there were thousands working up in northern Cana...Well, that's changing considerably now because of the success of the offshore oil and gas. So we're going to be doing much better for the next 10-15 years. But if this continues depends on whether we find other resources of oil and natural gas. So that remains to be se...We know the government is having a big surplus now, but it won't last. It's only forecast to last for the next five or six years and unless we find more major sources of natural gas and oil we'll be slipping back to a point where we'll be entitled to equalization again. So we're not out of the woods. It all depends on how we use the prosperity we're going to have say for the next 8-10 years - how successful we can be in developing our economy in sensible, economic, productive ways - because oil and gas is not going to be enough to sustain us forever. Our future certainly looks brighter at the moment, but a lot will depend on how the private sector develops and how much initiative we show ourselv...Newfoundland entrepreneurs have done well and are risk-takers, they've shown they've got initiative and get-up-and-go...It's in our own hands and we have to be entrepreneurial and seize the opportunities, and the government has to provide the environment that will encourage all this to happen - and not waste the money that comes in and not take too much control or think that they've got to be intervening and running everything. This would certainly be the wrong approach.

Q. How do you hope the people of Newfoundland and Labrador will remember your contribution to the province?

A. You don't know whether anyone's ever going to remember you or not, unless you're a Smallwood. I tried to do my best to represent the people of Newfoundland, generally. I only left politics in 1993 because my wife said to me, "Twenty-seven years is long enough," and you have to give your wife and your family some consideration. So I thought, it's time for me to move on to something else. That's 14 years ago now. I left, but if she hadn't been keen on me getting out I would have stayed. I like politics, I like having some influence and I like being able to help people. And, of course, lots of it is ego - you've got to be a person that likes getting public attention. I must say, I've enjoyed it all and I would have continued on if I hadn't given some thought to what my wife wanted to do because she had been a tremendous help to me, and still is. She's great politically, a better politician than I was - I'm a brute.

Patsy Rideout

John Crosbie was in our home in Springdale, Newfoundland when I was a child, to sign documents.