Clyde Wells

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After the very short term of Tom Rideout, Clyde Wells was ready to serve as the first Liberal premier of Newfoundland since the days of Joey Smallwood two decades in the past.
Clyde Wells was born on Nov. 9, 1937 at Buchans Junction, Newfoundland, when the province was still a dominion of the British Empire.
Wells was the second-oldest of nine children born to Ralph and Maude Wells. His father worked as a railway express messenger and freight handler, and the family was quite poor.
Very religious, their home was close to the Anglican parish church and the family was often involved in church activities.
A gifted student, Wells graduated from high school at the age of 15, and then began working at a construction company, and as a plumber’s assistant, so he could save money for university and his family.
In 1959, he graduated with a degree in Political Science from Memorial University of Newfoundland. While there, his professor Mose Morgan mentored him and helped influence him into pursuing a path in politics.
Wells was also heavily involved in sports, playing goal for the university’s hockey team.
After finishing his schooling at Memorial University, he went to Dalhousie Law School and earned a law degree in 1962. His classmate for a time was Brian Mulroney.
Once he graduated from law school, he articled in Nova Scotia and passed the bar there. Then, due to his service with the Canadian Armed Forces reserve, he was required to serve as a lawyer for the Armed Forces for three years. He only served one, as he bought his way out after two years.
In 1962, he married Eleanor Bishop, whom he had known since their childhood. They had three children together.
At this point, he moved into private practice in Corner Brook in 1964.
In 1966, Wells was elected to the Newfoundland House of Assembly and appointed to the cabinet of Joey Smallwood.
Within two years, he split from Smallwood over how the party was run and joined John Crosbie in resigning from cabinet. The split was over the Come By Chance Refinery project. Crombie and Wells were extremely against the project, which they felt was a bad deal for Newfoundland. When they said they were opposed to interim financing for the project during a cabinet meeting, Joey Smallwood told Wells and Crombie to think about it for a few days. Instead, they drafted their resignation letters.
Crombie would say of Wells that he had the courage of his convictions and was not afraid to express his views, especially against someone as powerful as Joey Smallwood. Later, in his book No Holds Barred, Crombie said,
“Articulate, intelligent, fearless, independent, and a good speaker, he had been a tower of strength during my leadership campaign and in Opposition in the Assembly.”
He added that Wells was not an easy person to know, and he rarely changed his mind once it was made up.
In 1971, Wells left politics and went back into practicing law. He began to quickly rise in the province and in 1976, he sat on the Canadian Bar Association Committee on the Constitution. The committee presented its report in 1978, calling for constitutional change, abolishing the monarchy, changing the Senate and changing the balance of power between provinces and the federal government.
By 1987, the Liberal Party was looking to come back into power after being out of power for a decade and a half. The party elected Wells as their new leader, and he won a seat in a by-election.
In 1989, Wells led his party to an election victory, ending 17 years of Progressive Conservative rule in the province. The party finished with 31 out of 52 seats in the election. Despite leading his party to a majority government, Wells actually lost in his own riding. He was able to get back into the Legislature in a by-election after Eddie Joyce resigned his seat.
Coming in as leader, he was described as level-headed, intellectual and principled, which many saw as a contrast to the fiery personality of Brian Peckford.
It was Wells hope that he could strengthen the relationship with Ottawa.
Soon after becoming premier, he created the Royal Commission on Employment and Unemployment, which worked to shift the provincial economy away from primary resources.
The Meech Lake Accord was a major issue during this time and Wells was opposed to it. He said,
“I will not shirk at doing whatever is necessary to protect the long-term interests of this province, including withdrawing the approval if that becomes necessary.”
Wells criticism of the Meech Lake Accord came from his belief that it would erode Newfoundland’s status in Parliament, and he rejected the distinct society aspect of the Accord that would be given to Quebec.
During the 1990 First Ministers’ Conference, he agreed to accept the Accord reluctantly. He did so on the condition that it be represented by the people of Newfoundland.
Wells cancelled a scheduled vote on the matter after it failed to pass in Manitoba when Elijah Harper prevented the province from ratifying it.
Wells was criticized in Quebec and by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for his opposition but he was praised by English-speaking Canada. Crombie stated that his refusal to budge was a good thing when dealing with Smallwood, but not when dealing with the Meech Lake Accord, especially when it came at the cost of the greater interest of the nation.
Crombie said,
“As a friend, he could be a formidable ally. As a foe, he was one of the most miserable people I’ve ever encountered. Clyde was one of the most stubborn beings alive.”
As premier, the government of Wells reformed the educational system of the province, implemented economic reforms, developed the province’s first offshore oil field and dealt with the collapse of the cod stocks off the coast of the province.
Decades of overfishing had resulted in the complete collapse of the stocks and the government imposed a moratorium on cod fishing on July 2, 1992. This immediately put 30,000 people out of work and ended a way of life that had lasted for generations in communities in Newfoundland.
In 1992, the Charlottetown Accord was brought in as a possible successor to the Meech Lake Accord. He eventually agreed to the proposal due to the modified Senate Reform aspect. In the end, the Accord did not pass despite Wells support of it.
During most of his time as premier, the province dealt with an extreme economic recession.
In 1991, the Wells budget reduced government departments from 18 to 12 and closed the ombudsman office. He also laid off 1,300 permanent and 700 part-time civil servants. He also imposed a one-year pay freeze on public employees.
This caused a great deal of anger among the labour unions as it overturned agreed upon salary increases for the 1991-92 fiscal year.
The budget also cut health care funding by $37 million. Labour Unions soon launched a Clyde Lied campaign.
In 1993, Wells put forward a very harsh budget and he preached fiscal responsibility as he went into the election. He was returned with his party with a slight majority but despite cutbacks he never produced a surplus. However, it was the first balanced budget in the history of Newfoundland.
The economic recession greatly hurt the popularity of Wells in Newfoundland. His efforts to privatize the Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, saying it would remove $1.2 billion from the provincial debt, was also criticized.
Wells’ popularity soon began to tank, falling from 71 per cent in 1991 to 52 per cent in 1994.
The privatization was eventually abandoned completely in 1995.
In January 1996, Wells retired as premier and went back into private practice.
He said upon his resignation,
“Anonymity is a wonderful thing. I welcome a return to it.”
Two years later in 1998, he was appointed to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland, and then as Chief Justice in 1999.
He served as Chief Justice until 2009, and in 2012 retired as a Justice of the Court. Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, CBC, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage, Wikipedia, No Holds Barred,

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