The Prime Ministers Of Newfoundland

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In Canada, we know that the country is led by a prime minister, and has been, since 1867. In provinces, there have been premiers and even before a province had a premier, the territory was still governed over by a prime minister.

That is the case for every part of Canada except one.

Newfoundland didn’t join Confederation until 1949, and for a few decades prior to that, it didn’t have a premier, it had a prime minister.

Today, I am looking at the Prime Ministers of Newfoundland, ten in total, who led the island for nearly 30 years.

Before we get to the Prime Ministers of Newfoundland, we need to look at the 1907 Imperial Conference.

At this conference, which began on April 15, 1907 and continued until May 14, 1907, it was decided to cease referring to self-governing British colonies as colonies, and instead refer to them under a dominion status. Canada and Australia were referred to as dominions in this conference and Newfoundland Colony was given dominion status by Royal Proclamation on Sept. 26. At this colony, Robert Bond represented the island colony as he was the premier at the time and had been since 1900.

Beginning on Sept. 26, 1907, he would gain the title of Prime Minister of Newfoundland.

So, let’s begin our look at the Prime Ministers of Newfoundland with Bond.

Sir Robert Bond

Bond had been born in St. John’s on Feb. 25, 1857. Following the death of his father in 1872, Bond was left with a great deal of money and would travel to England to be educated before coming back to Newfoundland. In 1882, he would get involved in politics, become Liberal leader in 1897, and eventually premier on March 15, 1900.

Prior to being premier, he began to serve as the Colonial Secretary in 1889, which was the second-most powerful political position in the government. As colonial secretary, he would resolve the French Shore problem. Following the end of Queen Anne’s War in 1713, the treaty gave Britain control over Newfoundland, but French fishermen were given the right to catch and cure fish along the stretch of cost along the western side of the Great Northern Peninsula. Newfoundlanders had argued for the right to fish and establish settlements along the French Shore for many years, and this would occur despite the objections of the French. A compromise to the issue would eventually be reached in 1890.

Going into his time as premier, it was marked by strained relations with the United States, which reached a critical point in 1905 when Newfoundland fishermen clashed with Americans trying to buy bait on shore.

Following becoming Prime Minister, Bond would go through his first election in the new title in 1908 when both parties earned 18 seats out of 36, creating a tie. Bond asked the governor if he could form a government, but was told he could not as he would have to elect a member as speaker. Edward Morris, the opposition leader, asked if he could and he was sworn in as prime minister, but his government failed as soon as the Newfoundland Parliament convened. This created an election in 1909 that Morris would win because he had control over government funds, ending Bond’s position as the Prime Minister of Newfoundland on March 2, 1909. Bond would resign as Liberal leader in January of 1914, but the Liberals would try to persuade him to return in 1919 and 1923. He would pass away at the age of 70 on March 16, 1927. The MV Sir Robert Bond would be named for him and serve as a ferry that linked many areas of the island for over four decades. The first decade of the 20th Century, led by Sir Robert Bond, is often referred to as the Golden Age of Newfoundland.

Edward Morris

Born on May 8, 1859 in St. John’s, Edward Morris would attend the University of Ottawa as a young man and become a lawyer in a practice with his brother Francis. He would receive a knighthood in 1904 and would serve as counsel to the British government during the North American fisheries arbitration in 1910. He was also the governor of the Newfoundland Savings Bank from 1889 to 1913, and was first elected to the Newfoundland House Assembly in 1885. Initially a Liberal, he split from the party due to his strained relationship with Bond, creating the Independent Party, which he would lead from 1898 to 1900. In 1907, after seven years in an alliance with Bond, Morris would split from him again and form the People’s Party. Following his election as Prime Minister of Newfoundland on March 2, 1909, he would enjoy strong support from the Catholics of the island, and significant opposition from the Protestants. Serving as the leader of the island throughout the First World War, he represented Newfoundland at the Imperial War Conference in London. In the 1913 election, he would see his seat majority drop from 10 seats to five, and would only win 41 percent of the vote. Due the crisis over conscription, and the decline in his popularity amid accusations of wartime profiteering and conflict of interest, he would decide to invite the opposition to form a National Government in 1917 to oversee the duration of the war. On Dec. 31, 1917, he would retire as prime minister. The following year, he was made the first Baron Morris, becoming the only Newfoundland-born person to ever receive the honour. He would then move to London and take his seat in the House of Lords, spending the rest of his life there and only coming back to Newfoundland once. He would die on Oct. 24, 1935 at the age of 76.

John Chalker Crosbie

Succeeding Morris following his resignation would be John Chalker Crosbie. Crosbie would be the third Prime Minister of Newfoundland, but only in a caretaker status. He had been born on Sept. 11, 1876 in Newfoundland, and would build a fortune, which he lost, before building another one through the Crosbie and Company business that became one of the leading fish exporters in Newfoundland. He had served in Newfoundland politics since 1908, and would serve as Prime Minister of Newfoundland for a total of six days, until January 5, 1918 when he was succeeded by William Lloyd. Crosbie would continue to serve in government, becoming the Minister of Shipping in 1919 and the Minister of Finance and Customs from 1924 to 1928. He would pass away in St. John’s at the age of 56 on Oct. 5, 1932.

William Lloyd

Born in England on Dec. 17, 1864, William Lloyd would emigrate to Newfoundland in 1890 and began to teach school before becoming a journalist and editor of The Telegram. First elected to the Newfoundland House of Assembly in 1904 as a Liberal, he would become the Leader of the Opposition in 1916. With the Morris government facing the backlash over conscription, he would form the National Government I had mentioned earlier with Morris, serving as the Attorney General. Upon the retirement of Morris, Lloyd was asked to form a government. Lloyd agreed and would serve as the Prime Minister of Newfoundland from Jan. 5, 1918 to May 22, 1919. His downfall would occur when the minister of finance, Michael Cashin, would had succeeded Morris as leader of the People’s Party, moved a motion of no confidence. Cashin would defeat Lloyd in the election, becoming the new Prime Minister and pushing Lloyd to the Opposition once again. Lloyd would continue to serve in government, including as Minister of Justice in 1924.

He would pass away at the age of 72 on June 13, 1937.

Michael Cashin

Born in Newfoundland on Sept. 29, 1864, Michael Cashin was first elected to the Newfoundland House of Assembly in 1893 and would work closely with the Liberal Party. In 1907, he joined the Newfoundland People’s Party under Morris, becoming the Minister of Finance in 1909. Upon the resignation of Morris, Cashin succeeded him as leader of the party. When the National Government was formed with Lloyd, Cashin became the Minister of Finance under the united government. On May 20, 1919, he would move the Motion of No Confidence against the government he was a member of at that point. This motion passed and he became the Prime Minister of Newfoundland.

His term as prime minister would begin on May 22, 1919 and continue until Nov. 17, 1919. Near the end of his term, due to the First World War, the Newfoundland House of Assembly had not seen an election in six years and it was felt that an election was long overdue. The election was called for November 1919 and Cashin would see his government defeated.

As leader of the opposition, Cashin would change the name of the party from The People’s Party to the Liberal-Labour-Progressive Party, before choosing to retire as leader in 1923 due to his ill health from diabetes. In 1925, he would receive an honorary degree from Niagara University for his public career.

He would pass away on Aug. 24, 1926. Upon his death, Joseph Roberts Smallwood would write, “From the fishing boat to the Prime Minister’s chair he went. He started in common with every fisherman and he never forgot that such was his beginning. With him down through his 40 years of public endeavour, he carried the wholesome tang of the sea.”

Richard Squires

Next up in the chair of the Prime Minister was Richard Squires. Squires had been born in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland on Jan. 18, 1880 and began to practice law as a young man in St. John’s. He would join the People’s Party in 1908 and get elected into the Newfoundland House of Assembly in 1913, serving as a member of the Morris government until 1918. During that time, he would serve as both the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General. In 1919, he started a campaign for the vacant leadership of the Liberal Party and won the position. That same year, he would win the 1919 election thanks to an alliance he formed with the Fisherman’s Protective Union, calling the party the Liberal Reform Party. He would serve as both Prime Minister and Colonial Secretary.

Under his first term, yes I said first, as Prime Minister, he would start development of the Humber River, and he would attempt to implement several reforms that would have regulate the fishing industry but these failed with the collapse in fish prices, which many blamed the reforms for. His government also attempted to diversify the economy of the island, including assisting the Reid Newfoundland Company, which was in financial difficulty. The government would nationalize the railway in 1923. The term was not an easy one for Squires. He would see the value of Newfoundland’s exports fall by 40 per cent, and the debt of the island would reach over $60 million, or $896 million today. That all being said, under his leadership the Department of Education would be created, which also provided non-denominational schools for children to attend. Several national war memorials were established, including the one in France to honour the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel. He would oppose women’s suffrage in private, but not in public. Many of his colleagues were suspicious of him, and the fact that he spent 16 of the 41 months of his term elsewhere did not help matters.

That same year of 1923, Squire’s government came under heavy accusation of taking bribes to win the election of that year. Alex Campbell was at the centre of the scandal and many cabinet ministers demanded that he be forced to resign, which Squires refused to do. As a result, the ministers said they would cross the floor and the Attorney General, William Warren, who Squires had defeated for the leadership of the Liberal Party back in 1919, issued an arrest warrant for Squires. Squires was soon arrested and released on bond, and he promptly resigned as Prime Minister. He would then sit as an independent in the House of Assembly.

We will return to Squires in a little bit.

William Warren

Next up in the chair of the Prime Minister was the man who issued the arrest warrant on Squires, William Warren, and we would soon see one of the craziest years of Newfoundland’s history. Born on Oct. 9, 1879, Warren would become a lawyer and solicitor in 1901. Two years later, he was first elected to the House of Assembly as a Liberal, serving as speaker from 1909 to 1913. In 1919, he became the Minister of Justice.

On July 24, 1923, he would become the next Prime Minister of Newfoundland and the leader of the party. A formal inquiry was launched into the corruption charges that resulted in the arrest of Squires but Warren’s supporters soon turned against him and moved a Motion of No Confidence to bring down his government.

At this point, we have the very brief career of Albert Hickman. As for Warren, he would sit in the opposition before resigning from the House of Assembly in 1926 to be appointed to Newfoundland’s Supreme Court. He would pass away one year later on Dec. 31, 1927.

Albert Hickman

Born on Aug. 2, 1875, Albert Hickman was a prominent businessman in Newfoundland who would serve as the Prime Minister of Newfoundland for a total of 33 days, from May 10, 1924 to June 9, 1924, in a caretaker position after the collapse of the government. Hickman was asked by the governor to form a government and Hickman invited members of the Liberal Reform Party, and members of other parties, into his government in what he called the Liberal-Progressive Party. His new party would lose the 1924 election since supporters of Warren had created their own party, the Liberal-Conservative Progressive Party. Hickman would serve as leader of the opposition until 1928 when he retired from politics. He would pass away on Feb. 9, 1943.

Walter Stanley Monroe

Born on May 14, 1871 in Ireland, Walter Stanley Monroe was the son of the Solicitor-General for Ireland and would be educated at Harrow School in England. He would come to Newfoundland at the age of 17 in 1888 and become a successful businessman. He would come to power in the 1924 election, beginning his term as Prime Minister of Newfoundland on June 9, 1924. During his time as prime minister, he would settle the Labrador boundary dispute with Quebec after arguing the case at the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. He would abolish personal income tax and reduce corporate taxes paid by banks. He also passed a bill that gave women the right to vote on April 13, 1925. He would resign as prime minister on Aug. 15, 1928 to return to private life, and his cousin, Frederick Alderdice, became prime minister. He would pass away on Oct. 6, 1952 at the age of 81.

Frederick Alderdice

Born on Nov. 10, 1871 in Ireland, Alderdice was a businessman who would be appointed to the Legislative Assembly in 1924 and become the leader of the Liberal-Conservative Progressive Party when his cousin stepped down. He would take over as Prime Minister on Aug. 15, 1928 but would soon find himself out of a job by Nov. 17 of that same year after he lost a general election to a name from the past, Richard Squires.

Squires had seen four governments fall during his time in the opposition and he would spend that time working in the background for a return to power. After the 1928 election, Squires would find himself back in the chair of the Prime Minister. Things looked promising, even his wife became the first woman to sit in the Newfoundland House of Assembly when she was elected.

Unfortunately, The Great Depression popped up and further allegations of corruption against Squires, along with the massive economic crisis, brought a lot of anger from voters. In 1932, Peter John Cashin would resign as finance minister after he accused his fellow cabinet ministers of corruption and Squires of falsifying council records to hide that he had been taking secret payments from public funds. These accusations inflamed the public that were already dealing with severe financial troubles. On April 5 of that year, a large parade was organized by the official opposition and they marched to the Colonial Building, the seat of the House of Assembly. There were 10,000 people in this parade and it would soon go out of control and become the 1932 Colonial Building riot. When no one came to address the crowd, people grew angry and began to break into the building, forcing Squires and his government members to leave out the back. Squires was nearly seized by the crowd as he tried to get into a cab but he was able to run through a house on Colonial Street to another cab. Rioters then tried to set the building on fire but were unable to do so. Total damage to the building was pegged at $10,000, or $180,000 in today’s funds.

Squires had to dissolve the government and call an election, which he would lose both for his government and his seat. Out of 28 seats, his party would only pick up two and Alderdice would come back into power as Prime Minister.

Squires would pass away at the age of 60 in 1940.

As for Alderdice, he would take over a government in shambles when he became Prime Minister again on June 11, 1932. Unable to deal with the economic crisis any better than Squires did, he proposed defaulting on the debt of the island, but instead received financial aid from Canada and Britain. Both countries would look at creating an Imperial Royal Commission to investigate the future of the Dominion of Newfoundland. The commission would decide to suspend responsible government in Newfoundland and appoint a Commission of Government to rule the island. Alderdice was pressured to accept the recommendations without calling an election, or submitting it for a referendum. He agreed and in 1933, the legislature voted itself out of existence. Alderdice would pass away at the age of 63 on Feb. 26, 1936. His term as prime minister officially ended on Feb. 16, 1934. The 1932 election would be the last election in Newfoundland for 17 years until the island entered into Confederation with Canada.

With that, Newfoundland joined Canada and the men who served as prime minister over the course of 30 years played no small role in making that union happen.

Information comes from Wikipedia, Canadian Encyclopedia, Newfoundland Heritage, Biographi.ca,

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