We have reached the fifth premier of the Prince Edward Island and the last in the first section of our premier series for the island province.
Today, I am looking at the life of Neil McLeod.
Born on Prince Edward Island on Dec. 15, 1842 to Roderick McLeod and Flora McDonald. Both were Baptist immigrants from the Isle of Skye in Scotland.
After attending school in Prince Edward Island, McLeod moved to Wolfville, Nova Scotia where he studied at Horton Academy and Acadia College.
Upon receiving his law degree, he articled with a firm in Charlottetown and was admitted to the bar on the island in 1873. He also worked as the Commissioner of the Poor House and as a trustee to the public Prince Edward Island Hospital for the Insane.
On June 27, 1877, he married Isabella Jane Adelia Hayden. Together, they would have one son and five daughters.
In a move that surprised many, McLeod was appointed as the provincial secretary and treasurer for the province in March 1879. This shocked many because he had no experience in the position and was not an MLA.
Only a few days later, an election was called and McLeod easily won in his riding in Charlottetown. This began a career in the legislature that would last for the next 14 years.
Despite his sudden appointment to his portfolio in March 1879, he only stayed in the portfolio until March 1880 when he was replaced by Donald Ferguson.
In hindsight, it is likely his appointment was an election tactic.
This would begin the quick rise of McLeod in the Prince Edward Island Legislature.
In May 1887, he supported a resolution against coercion of law enforcement and was described as giving an able speech over the matter.
Until 1889, McLeod held cabinet positions in the government of Wilfrid Sullivan until Sullivan resigned from politics in 1893.
At this point, McLeod took over as the premier of Prince Edward Island. There was no real controversary related to McLeod taking over as premier. Senator Samuel Prowse wrote to Sir John A. Macdonald, stating,
“McLeod ought to be a leader…I hear no other names mentioned.”
Almost as soon as he was chosen as leader and premier, McLeod put his support behind the construction of a tunnel to the mainland, and liquor licensing laws, both of which met defeat in the provincial legislation.
Temperance was growing in importance at this time and McLeod advocated for temperance textbooks at a reduced price.
On Jan. 30, 1890, McLeod called an election, going up against a Liberal Party that did not make many announcements of policy. McLeod would campaign on the government’s success in dealing with Ottawa and its fiscal responsibility over the past decade.
In the 1890 election, his government barely won a victory with 16 seats to the 14 won by the Liberals. The government was on incredibly shaking ground and lasted for its first session.
However, in March 1891, three of his party’s members resigned to contest the federal election. With the loss of those members, three by-elections were held with the Liberals winning two and an independent Conservative winning the other riding. The Conservative, John Jenkins, was at odds with his party and he sided with the Liberals, giving them the majority they needed.
This was not the end of McLeod’s government though. On April 17, the executive council asked for a dissolution arguing that the Liberals had more members in the house now but the Lt. Governor Jedediah Carvell refused.
A near constitutional crisis was avoided when on April 22, McLeod resigned as premier of the province. An interesting historic footnote is that he resigned via telephone to the Lt. Governor making him possibly the first elected official in Canada and the British Empire to resign from government via a phone call.
He then moved into the role as the opposition leader and promised to assist the new Liberal government in every measure that was in the interest of the country.
That didn’t stop him from arguing for the abolition of the Legislative Council as the only means of reducing the deficit. During the final debate on the bill to amalgamate the council and assembly, he tried to move an amendment to remove the property qualification for election to the assembly. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful in his amendment.
The Legislative career of McLeod ended on March 9, 1893 when he was appointed as the judge of the Prince County court.
The Montreal Gazette reported,
“The vacant seat on the Supreme Court bench of this province will likely be filled by the appoint of Mr. Neil McLeod. This arrangement would give general satisfaction.”
He would remain on the bench for 22 years, becoming a widely respected judge.
McLeod would also speak in New England about Prince Edward Island. The Montreal Gazette would report on one such speech on Aug. 7, 1894, stating,
“Neil Mcleod describes Prince Edward Island, which is illustrated from sketches by Robert Harris and others.”
Only three months after he retired from the bench, he passed away on Oct. 19, 1915 in Summerside, Prince Edward Island. The Charlottetown Guardian stated that he was,
“one of the old school stalwarts, well educated, thoroughly grounded in the principles of his chosen profession, and scrupulously honest and upright, a keen student of human nature, a fair and unbiased reasoner and a thoroughly impartial judge.”
Information from Biographi, Canadian Encyclopedia, Calgary Herald, Wikipedia, Halifax Herald, Montreal Gazette, Prince Edward Island Archives