John Crosbie

John Carnell Crosbie, PC OC ONL QC (born January 30, 1931) is a retired provincial and federal politician who served as the 12th Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. He served as a provincial Cabinet minister under premiers Joey Smallwood and Frank Moores as well as a federal Cabinet minister during the governments of Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney. As a Cabinet minister under Mulroney, Crosbie was known to be outspoken and controversial.

John Crosbie

Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador
In office
February 4, 2008  March 19, 2013
MonarchElizabeth II
Governor GeneralMichaëlle Jean
David Johnston
PremierDanny Williams
Kathy Dunderdale
Preceded byEdward Roberts
Succeeded byFrank Fagan
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
In office
April 21, 1991  June 24, 1993
Prime MinisterBrian Mulroney
Preceded byBernard Valcourt
Succeeded byRoss Reid
Minister of International Trade
In office
March 31, 1988  April 20, 1991
Prime MinisterBrian Mulroney
Preceded byPat Carney
Succeeded byMichael Wilson
Minister of Transport
In office
June 30, 1986  March 30, 1988
Prime MinisterBrian Mulroney
Preceded byDon Mazankowski
Succeeded byBenoît Bouchard
Minister of Justice
In office
September 17, 1984  June 29, 1986
Prime MinisterBrian Mulroney
Preceded byDonald Johnston
Succeeded byRay Hnatyshyn
Minister of Finance
In office
June 4, 1979  March 3, 1980
Prime MinisterJoe Clark
Preceded byJean Chrétien
Succeeded byAllan MacEachen
Member of Parliament
for St. John's West
In office
October 18, 1976  October 25, 1993
Preceded byWalter C. Carter
Succeeded byJean Payne
Member of the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly for St. John's West
In office
September 8, 1966  September 4, 1976
Preceded byWilliam G. Adams
Succeeded byHubert Kitchen
Personal details
John Carnell Crosbie

(1931-01-30) January 30, 1931
St. John's, Newfoundland
Political partyConservative,
Progressive Conservative (1969-2003)
Liberal (1966-1969)
Spouse(s)Jane Ellen Furneaux
Alma materQueen's University
Dalhousie Law School
ProfessionLawyer, Politician

Crosbie ran unsuccessfully for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1969, losing to Smallwood, and was also a candidate in the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada's 1983 leadership election, placing third.

Early life

Born in pre-Confederation St. John's, Newfoundland, he is the son of Chesley Crosbie and the grandson of Sir John Chalker Crosbie, both prominent businessmen. His father was leader of the Economic Union Party in the 1940s and a leading opponent of the campaign for Newfoundland to join Canadian Confederation.[1]

Crosbie’s early education was in St. John's and at St. Andrew's College in Aurora, Ontario. He went on to study political science and economics at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, where he graduated with first-class honours and won the University Medal in political science. Crosbie went on to study law at Dalhousie Law School in Halifax, Nova Scotia graduating in 1956 as the University Medalist in Law. He was awarded the Viscount Bennett Scholarship by the Canadian Bar Association as the outstanding law student for that year. He undertook postgraduate studies at the Institute for Advanced Legal Studies of the University of London and the London School of Economics in 1956-57 and was called to the Newfoundland Bar in 1957. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree by Dalhousie University in May 1984.[2]

Local and provincial political career

Crosbie first entered politics as a councillor of the St. John's City Council, he served on council until he was appointed to the provincial cabinet of Liberal Premier Joey Smallwood in 1966. Crosbie was sworn in as Minister of Municipal and Housing, and soon after won a seat in the House of Assembly. As Minister he was responsible for the creation of the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

In 1967, Crosbie became Minister of Health and was instrumental in creating the Newfoundland Medicare Commission and the framework for the Newfoundland Medicare Plan.[2] Smallwood's government had been in power since 1949, and the Premier was trying to rejuvenate his cabinet by bringing in new blood. Smallwood's authoritarian style and refusal to allow a younger generation to take power frustrated Crosbie and other young ministers, such as Clyde Wells.[3]

In 1969, Smallwood announced his retirement from politics. However, when Crosbie, who had resigned from caucus, became the apparent front runner to succeed him as leader Smallwood decided to run for the leadership of the party. Smallwood won the leadership race and Crosbie crossed the floor to join the opposition Progressive Conservative Party, led by Frank Moores.

The Progressive Conservatives were now seen as a viable alternative to the Liberal Party, and in 1972 Crosbie helped the Tories defeat Smallwood and come to power.[3] In Moore's government Crosbie held the portfolios of Minister of Finance, President of the Treasury Board, and Minister of Economic Development; Minister of Fisheries and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs; Minister of Mines and Energy; and Government House Leader. He left provincial politics in 1976.[2]

Federal political career

Crosbie moved to federal politics, winning the seat of St. John's West in the House of Commons of Canada in a by-election on October 18, 1976.[4] When Joe Clark's Progressive Conservatives formed a minority government after the 1979 general election, Crosbie became Minister of Finance.[2] He presented a tough budget that included tax increases in what Crosbie quipped was "short term pain for long term gain." A Motion of no confidence on the budget brought the Clark government down on December 13, 1979, resulting in a new election which the Tories lost. Clark's government would last a total of 9 months less a day. Crosbie famously described it in his own inimitable way: "Long enough to conceive, just not long enough to deliver."

Though a leadership convention was not called following their defeat at the polls, Crosbie felt that a convention would be held in the near future. In 1981 he quietly organized a team for his leadership bid, while making sure not to undermine Clark's leadership. At the party's general meeting, held in Winnipeg, in 1983, 66.9% of delegates voted against holding a leadership convention. Clark felt however that he did not have clear mandate from the riding associations and recommended that the party executive hold a leadership convention at the earliest possible time, in which he would be a candidate.[5]

A leadership convention was called for later that year and Crosbie announced candidacy. At the convention he placed third behind Brian Mulroney and Clark. While Crosbie may have been the most popular of the candidates, he was hurt by his inability to speak French. His response that he did not know how to speak Chinese either was not well received. Less notable was the failure of the "John Crosbie blimp" to operate properly during his campaign's demonstration on the floor of the convention.

After Trudeau retired in 1984 and was replaced by John Turner, Mulroney led the Tories to power in the 1984 federal election. Crosbie was named Minister of Justice in Mulroney's first cabinet. In 1985, while justice minister, he attracted attention when, in a heated moment during parliamentary debate, he told Liberal Member of Parliament Sheila Copps "Just quiet down, baby," prompting Copps to respond, "I'm nobody's baby." Copps' 1986 autobiography was titled Nobody's Baby in reference to this exchange.

In 1986, he was named Minister of Transport. He became Minister for International Trade in 1988, shortly after the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement was negotiated. A lifelong supporter of free trade with the United States, Crosbie actively promoted the agreement in that year's federal election, which was primarily fought on the issue. Crosbie was also a supporter of redress for Japanese Canadians interned during World War Two - in September 1988 the Mulroney government made its historic apology in the House of Commons and compensated each surviving internee with $18,000. In 1990, Crosbie proposed the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO).[6]

At a fundraising dinner in Victoria, British Columbia in 1990, Crosbie took another dig at Sheila Copps by saying that she made him think of the song lyrics, "Pass the Tequila, Sheila, and lay down and love me again." He would later again rankle feminists and progressives with his recurring references, in the late 1980s and early 1990s (during the 34th Canadian Parliament), to the "Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse", in reference to Copps, fellow MPs Dawn Black, Mary Clancy, and National Action Committee on the Status of Women President Judy Rebick.

In contrast to his often politically incorrect comments, Crosbie was often a social liberal in practice. He was pro-choice on the issue of abortion and as Minister of Justice, liberalized divorce laws, appointed a larger percentage of women to the bench than his predecessors. He was also an early advocate of gay and lesbian rights, changing government policy to prohibit discrimination against homosexuals in hiring in the public sector, including the military and the RCMP, and in 1986 introduced amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Code to include sexual orientation as a prohibited grounds of discrimination but was forced to table the legislation due to the opposition of the Conservative caucus.[7] In the 1988 federal election when Newfoundland Conservatives opposed the candidacy of Ross Reid due to his refusal to deny rumours that he was gay, Crosbie angrily told a meeting of party workers "I don't care if he is having sexual relations with effing cats. He's a fine man and he's our candidate...I'm supporting Ross 100 per cent.[8]

Crosbie's final cabinet post in the Mulroney government was Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. On July 1, 1992 Crosbie visited Bay Bulls, Newfoundland and Labrador to celebrate Canada Day. Crosbie was greeted by an angry throng of Newfoundlanders concerned about rumours of a proposed moratorium on the Atlantic northwest cod fishery. He famously yelled out "I didn't take the fish from the God damned waters."[9] He oversaw the decision to close the cod fishery industry in Atlantic Canada due to the collapse of cod stocks. Crosbie called this decision, which put some 35,000 Newfoundlanders out of work, the hardest political moment of his life.[10]

When Brian Mulroney announced his resignation as party leader, Crosbie did not stand as a candidate at the 1993 Progressive Conservative leadership convention but supported Jean Charest's candidacy instead. He declined an offer to serve in the cabinet of Mulroney's successor, Kim Campbell, when she became prime minister and did not run for re-election in 1993.

Life after federal politics

In 1997, he published his memoirs, entitled No Holds Barred: My Life in Politics (ISBN 0-7710-2427-4). Around this time, the feud between him and Copps had also cooled. Crosbie had devoted an entire chapter in his autobiography to his confrontations with Copps. In her second autobiography, Worth Fighting For, Copps had Crosbie write an introduction in which he says "I write this Introduction to her new book as a tribute to a feisty, sometimes ferocious, feminist protagonist, never shy or retiring but redoubtable political personality. She was a constant thorn in my side while she was in Opposition, but her marriage to my fellow Newfoundlander Austin Thorne has made her more serene and has calmed her sometimes volcanic and partisan excesses".

Crosbie remained in the Progressive Conservative Party until its dissolution in 2003. Despite his earlier opposition to the Canadian Alliance, he did not oppose the merger of the two parties and joined the new Conservative Party of Canada. In 2004, he served as an advisor to Tony Clement's unsuccessful campaign for the leadership of the new party.[11] In the 2004 federal election, he publicly considered running for the Conservatives against Liberal incumbent John Efford in the Newfoundland riding of Avalon, but ultimately decided against doing so.[12]

From 1994 until 2008, he served as Chancellor of Memorial University of Newfoundland. In 1998, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. Crosbie continued to practise law with the law firm of Cox & Palmer in St. John's until his appointment as Lieutenant Governor.[2]

Lieutenant Governor

On February 4, 2008, Governor General Michaëlle Jean, on the advice of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, appointed John Crosbie as Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, succeeding Edward Roberts.[13] As Lieutenant Governor Crosbie drew sharp criticism for wearing a sealskin coat to several official events during the Royals' visit to Newfoundland in November 2009 and for saying that the coat was a statement in support of the annual seal hunt.[14] He was succeeded by Frank Fagan in 2013.

2015 federal election

John's son, Ches Crosbie, was rejected as a federal Conservative Party of Canada candidate in the 2015 Canadian federal election, the party citing his performance in a play held by a local bar association that touched on the Canadian senate scandal.

John Crosbie then accused the federal Conservatives of squashing his son's candidacy because he was too independent and because Newfoundland senator David Wells wanted to keep his control over Newfoundland patronage appointments, an accusation that Wells denied.[15]

Honours and decorations

Ribbon bars of John Crosbie

Honorary degrees

John Crosbie has received many honorary degrees for his service to Canada. These include

Honorary degrees
 Nova ScotiaMay 1984Dalhousie UniversityDoctor of Laws (LL.D)[20]
 Newfoundland and LabradorMay 1999Memorial University of NewfoundlandDoctor of Laws (LL.D)[21]
 Nova ScotiaMay 1999Cape Breton UniversityDoctor of Laws (LL.D)[22]
 Ontario2011Queen's UniversityDoctor of Laws (LL.D)[23]

Memorable quotations

  • "Why are you yelling at me? I didn't take the fish from the God damn water, so don't go abusing me."[9]
  • "They don't need to go berserk. Trying to batter on doors to frighten me. In the first place, I don't frighten. (Referring to protesters outside of his press conference on the Cod moratorium.)[24]
  • "Americans were far more popular in Newfoundland than Canadians, so I was never hung up about the United States. There's always seemed to be a hang up with the Toronto cultural literati about the US. But that's never been the feeling in Newfoundland and Atlantic Canada."[25]
  • "Someday we're going to have a North American continent that's an economic union. That's inevitable. These economic forces are there, and government policy can't stop them. It's only a question of, How do you get into a more secure position? They're next door and geography dictates. Like it or not, we're going up or down with the US."[26]
  • "No, and I'm goddamned not going to either! I'll tell you that, and I'm telling you that there isn't one person in the whole goddamn government who's read it. I'm the only one honest enough to say so... At this stage of my life I don't have to kiss anybody's ass, I can say what I goddamn well like." (on reading the 1987 Free-Trade Agreement)[27]
  • "It is better to be honest and sincere in one language than a twister, a trickster and a twit in two." (referring to his own unilingualism and Trudeau's biligualism)[28]
  • "No, I don't speak Mandarin Chinese either." (his response when asked if not speaking French would hinder his ability to be Prime Minister)

From No Holds Barred - John Crosbie's autobiography

  • "The Canadian economy needs a transfusion and who do they give us, Dracula." (reference to the appointment of Marc Lalonde as Canada's new Finance Minister, 1982) [29]
  • "The Hon. leader of the Opposition knows all about butts. He has had his hands on more butts than there are members of this House." (to Turner's 1984 election campaign gaffe on TV when he was caught slapping Liberal MP's Iona Campagnolo's bum.)[30]


  1. "Chesley Crosbie". Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
  2. "Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador Biography". Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
  3. "Provincial Government: The Smallwood Years, 1949-1972". Newfoundland and Labrador. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
  4. "History of Federal Ridings since 1867 By-Elections". Parliament of Canada. Retrieved 16 July 2011.
  5. Crosbie, John (1997). No Holds Barred: My Life in Politics. McCellend and Stewart Inc. pp. 200–205. ISBN 0-7710-2427-4.
  6. Aturupane, Chonira (1998). The WTO as an international organization. p. 188.
  7. Crosbie, John (1997). No Holds Barred: My Life in Politics. McCellend and Stewart Inc. pp. 271–273. ISBN 0-7710-2427-4.
  8. Crosbie, John (1997). No Holds Barred: My Life in Politics. McCellend and Stewart Inc. pp. 350–351. ISBN 0-7710-2427-4.
  9. "1992: Newfoundlanders protest cod moratorium". CBC Digital Archives. CBC. July 2, 1992. Retrieved May 24, 2018.
  10. "Crosbie calls cod moratorium his hardest political moment". CBC News. Retrieved November 30, 2014.
  11. "John Crosbie to aid Clement in Conservative bid". CTV News. 28 January 2004. Retrieved 16 July 2011.
  12. "Crosbie considers political comeback". CTV. 26 May 2004. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
  13. "John Crosbie named N.L.'s lieutenant-governor". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2007-12-20. Retrieved 2014-06-07.
  14. "Royal couple wrap N.L. visit". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2009-11-04. Retrieved 2014-06-07.
  15. "John Crosbie accuses N.L. Senator David Wells of sabotaging Ches Crosbie's bid". CBC News. 2 July 2015. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  20. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-05-06. Retrieved 2017-06-17.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-05-03. Retrieved 2015-05-01.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-04-27. Retrieved 2015-05-01.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  24. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (July 2, 1992). Cod moratorium deemed 'The biggest layoff in Canadian history'. CBC. Retrieved 2018-05-24.
  25. Martin, Lawrence (1993). Pledge of Allegiance. Toronto: McLelland & Stewart. ISBN 0-7710-5663-X., p.45
  26. Martin, Lawrence (1993). Pledge of Allegiance. Toronto: McLelland & Stewart. ISBN 0-7710-5663-X., p.101
  27. Martin, Lawrence (1993). Pledge of Allegiance. Toronto: McLelland & Stewart. ISBN 0-7710-5663-X., p.153
  28. Martin, Patrick; Gregg, Allan; Perlin, George (1983). Contenders: The Tory quest for power. Toronto: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-171349-3., p.116
24th Ministry – Cabinet of Brian Mulroney
Cabinet posts (5)
Predecessor Office Successor
Elmer MacKay Minister for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
Ross Reid
Bernard Valcourt Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
Ross Reid
Pat Carney Minister of International Trade
Michael Wilson
Don Mazankowski Minister of Transport
Benoît Bouchard
Donald Johnston Minister of Justice
Ray Hnatyshyn
21st Ministry – Cabinet of Joe Clark
Cabinet post (1)
Predecessor Office Successor
Jean Chrétien Minister of Finance
Allan MacEachen
Academic offices
Preceded by
Paul Desmarais
Chancellor of Memorial University of Newfoundland
Succeeded by
Rick Hillier
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