Frank Moores as the storytelling, dreaming, trusting Joey-killer

HARRY BRUCE October 1 1972


Frank Moores as the storytelling, dreaming, trusting Joey-killer

HARRY BRUCE October 1 1972


Frank Moores as the storytelling, dreaming, trusting Joey-killer


Frank Moores is the sort of premier you can bum cigarettes from and, you imagine anyway, the sort of premier you could really tie one on with and then go out somewhere and get into trouble with, at places where men decide to break things early on a crazy summer morning, and women call the police, and maybe better things happen, too. There’s a trace of the rowdyman in him. He makes liars of portrait photographers.

You know the photographs. White collar, neat little unmemorable tie, business suit in the style of how many hundred million other business suits, hair that lies down where it’s told to lie down, the large head turned just so and the eyes behind the horn-rimmed glasses fixed at a spot just over the photographer’s right shoulder. Let’s have a little smile now, Mr. Moores. (A very little smile.) There! That’s very good, sir. Click. Thank you.

Frank Moores used to be the Tories’ national president and, at an annual meeting of the party in London, Ontario, Dalton Camp described him and another young guy as “The Rover Boys on Madison Avenue.” That’s not quite right, though, not for Moores on newsprint. Ladies and gentlemen, dearly beloved voters, we have here in this onecolumn head-and-shoulders pic for page three the face of what must surely be a rising young optician in Barrie, Ontario, 1954. Can this possibly be the Joeykiller himself?

It is. But there’s a contradiction between that Frank Moores and the Frank Moores who roams the dark wooden splendor of what used to be Joey’s office, the Frank Moores who keeps a cornucopia of fine Scotch whiskey there and pours it himself for mainland strangers (“Well, I think we’ve run out of ice, Harry”), and this contradiction is so strong it offers the faintest hope that we’re wrong about all the clever, colorless nobodies who’ve recently become the premiers of every province, even Wacky Bennett’s.

Forget your Hepburns, your Thatchers, your Duplessises, Douglases and Smallwoods. Even your Robarts and your Robichaud were personalities of legendary stature beside the what’s-hisfaces and what’s-his-names that seem to have come jiggling down the ramp, rolling briskly out of some American school of business administration, prepackaged to bring Efficiency to the top jobs in every province from the cod banks to the Pacific.

But maybe all the photographs are misleading. The fact of Frank Moores raises doubts about them. Not the speechifying Frank Moores. It’s the talking, drinking, cursing, storytelling, dreaming, trusting and shooting-the-breeze Frank Moores, he’s the one who reveals



Frank Moores as the storytelling, dreaming, trusting Joey-killer

the muscle and the earth and the muskeg of the hairy character who may just hugely lurk behind any politician’s pale and careful public image.

“I’m sure as hell no parliamentarian,” he said. “I’ve got to go back in there tonight and I need about four drinks, for Chrissake.” Joey was different. He used to derive huge pleasure out of sitting in the House of Assembly, or on it. He liked the chamber, with all its pious portraits of the Speakers of the House, men who’d presided through generation after generation of Newfoundland’s insane and bitter political history, through whole epochs of amazing and putrid and impenetrably tortuous corruption. God guard thee, says the Ode To Newfoundland, God guard thee, smiling land, windswept land, frozen land, God guard thee, Newfoundland. Again and again, in ages past, after the politicians and the promoters and the resource pirates had finished gouging you, God alone could guard thee, Newfoundland.

But now, for three narcotic hours on a stifling afternoon, Newfoundlanders who currently call themselves Liberal members and Newfoundlanders who currently call themselves Conservative members had wrangled and blabbed and loudly felt their dudgeon over some Highways estimates and, from the viewpoint of a non-lawyer and Man of Action, in the eyes of a hard-driving millionaire who says he’s no good on details, a Frank Moores maybe — well, the honorable members had really produced no more than a massive crop of yawns.

It was shortly after the six o’clock adjournment on a hot, blue and magnificently windy evening in June in St. John’s, Newfoundland. A sweet, gorgeous June night. Lilacs and horse chestnut blossoms were heavy around the town, and southern; but the mountainsized icebergs were sailing down the coast, too; and the evening light off the great ocean seemed to fill the tall windows of the Confederation Building; and it was the first June in almost a quarter-century in which Joey could not enter the premier’s office without an invitation.

Frank Moores could, though. He

could enter from the cabinet room, which encloses Joey’s fantastically luxurious, creamy-brown, hugely and perfectly round conference table, and Joey’s very own specially elevated chair for looking down on people, and all the beautiful wall-high maps on rollers. The maps are terribly impressive. They show in dramatic colors and fine black lines the precise locations of all the Important Resources of Newfoundland and Labrador. Except they don’t. “They’re all wrong,” Moores said. “We found they’re all completely wrong. Can you believe it? Incredible!”

Moores could also enter the premier’s office through the front door, past his secretary. He could enter from the room where the refrigerator resides, and the good things for visitors to drink. He could enter from the private bathroom, which contains another refrigerator, or from the private elevator which is next to the private bathroom and expresses the premier of the day to and from the House of Assembly. If he wanted to, Frank Moores could probably enter his office through the very windows, by special arrangement with a government helicopter hovering here at the eighthfloor level of the Confederation Building that Joey had built to suit himself and his own single-minded ideas of what was right for Newfoundland.

On this particular evening, Moores came in through the front door. On film, he’s pale, pudgy, earnest and featureless. In person, he’s ruddy, hefty, irreverent and quick. His nose is bigger than you expect it to be — though not in the league with Joey’s nose — and his smile is sudden, confidential, shy. He shucked his dark-bluejacket. His shirt turned out to be short-sleeved. He wore grey checked pants, black loafers, a gold Rollex. “God, I hate ties.” He didn’t merely loosen the tie, he took the knot apart so it just lay there in two strips on his chest. (Only a few days earlier, at a summit meeting of east-coast premiers in Halifax, the new premier of Newfoundland was caught at a televised press conference with neither tie nor jacket. He borrowed both from a reporter.)

He poured us each a fat sundowner of Scotch, sat down at the other end of the coffee table, lit himself a cigarette, put his feet up, threw his cigarettes to me — his government, incidentally, had just doubled the tobacco tax and a small pack now cost 75 cents — and began to talk. The smile, I remembered, was supposed to be a powerful political asset among women and, though “charisma” is not part of Newfoundland’s political vocabulary, Moores’ hand-shaking sessions at supermarkets during the recent campaigns occasionally escalated into marathon mid-afternoon orgies of public housewife-kissing.

“Let’s be honest,” Mrs. Dorothy continued on page 107


MOORES from page 39

(Dodie) Moores told the press in November, “a family just can’t be a family if the father must be away so much of the time.” That was only a few days after Moores’ party beat Smallwood in an impossibly shaky election decision, and thereby launched a winter of discontent that was outstanding even by Newfoundland’s ludicrous political standards. Two months later — at the height of the political confusion — Mrs. Moores quietly filed a petition for divorce on grounds of adultery and mental cruelty; but, three days after that, she discontinued the divorce action.

“I am not divorcing my husband and I consider our relationship to be an entirely private one, and it should be represented as such,” she advised. “I stand behind my husband in his role as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and I believe, as I always have, that he is the best man to be premier of Newfoundland.”

No politician could ask for a more resounding endorsation of his candidacy and, in the election that followed in March, Moores came fairly close to demolishing the Liberals. The PCs won 33 seats, the Liberals nine, and it was clear that Newfoundland voters did not hold against any man the dubious harmony of his marriage.

Now, with his feet up, the shirt collar open and the good Scotch defeating the tedium of the afternoon, Moores was facing the enchanting color photographs of his six beautiful daughters and his one beautiful son, and he said he and his wife were teen-agers when they married and that, yes, the life of a Newfoundland politician was hardest not on himself but, rather, on his wife and kids. It was so much easier for the politician to develop a horny hide; the skin of women and children remained thin. He said, too, that he was a terrible dreamer, a chronic yearner, a secret romantic, a lifelong worshipper of the sea; and that, sometimes, he thought the only thing he really wanted to do in the world was get aboard a huge yacht, equip it with the books he’d always wanted to read, a stereo system for fine music, and some “good company,” and then just loaf and carouse his way around the world. Maybe after one more election.

Moores already takes the sort of holidays armchair yachtsmen dream about

— charter yachting parties in the Caribbean and the Aegean — and. in autumn, he likes to hunt partridge on the loneliness of the Newfoundland barrens, to tramp out the spiritual tightness and the pressures of his political life for days on end, and to collapse each night in a makeshift cabin. And unlike most of us

— and especially unlike most Newfoundlanders — Moores is rich enough to make his idlest dreams come true.

The more interesting thing is that, alcontinued on page 108

MOORES continued

though he is only 39 now, he has already retired once because “I was going to just live the good life” but the good life did not take. He was born in Carbonear, which is next door to Harbor Grace, the son of a fish merchant who was not a political man. His father wanted Frank to become something more than the scion of a local fish enterprise, and he sent him to St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ontario, and later to Boston University. (Newfoundland’s better-heeled families have always sent their boys away to get an education and, quite often, to these same two schools.) Moores, however, loved the fish business more than he loved academic life —“I enjoy true intellectuals but pseudo-intellectuals give me a gigantic pain in the rump” — and, after a while, he quit university to go to work on a fish pier in Boston.

His father relented. He took Frank into the family firm. North Eastern Fish Industries Ltd., and after he died Frank achieved a fairly miraculous expansion in the business. In a few years, its work force grew from fewer than 200 to more than 1,800. Then, in 1965, Moores sold the whole outfit to huge British fishfreezing interests for something like two million dollars. Knowledgeable fish people say the deal was exceptionally shrewd on Moores’ part. Thirty-two years old. Set for life.

“I found after a very few months you get bored with having nothing to do,” he said. Dalton Camp and particularly Robert Stanfield helped inspire him to enter politics. He had the touch. Even Joey Smallwood himself had lost his first election as a candidate, back in 1932, but in 1968 Frank Moores won the federal seat of Bonavista-Trinity-Conception for the PCs. In ’69. he won the party’s national presidency. In ’70, he won the leadership of the PC party of Labrador and Newfoundland. In ’71. he led the provincial PCs in their indecisive but nevertheless astounding upset of Smallwood. In ’72, he and his followers mashed the Liberals horribly. Moores chose to confront Smallwood personally in Humber West in the election of October, 1971, but “Joey ran like a scalded cat” to Placentia East; and, in the slaughter of March, 1972, the Liberals did not bother even to put up a candidate against Moores.

“I’ve got no great party doctrine,” he says. “I’m not sure what it is. At the national meetings people’d say, ‘Why are you a PC?’ I’d say, ‘Because Joe Smallwood is a Liberal.’ It didn’t go down that well.” Because Joe Smallwood is a Liberal. That was enough in 1968-72 to inspire a lot of angry men to call themselves PCs. They’d have called themselves filthy Commies, perverted hippie beardniks or even mainlanders if they’d thought for one minute it would have helped drive Joey off his throne.

Now, in the first year of the first PC administration since Newfoundland joined Confederation, Joey was over in England doing what one of the local papers called “definitive research aimed at producing the definitive history of Newfoundland,” and Moores rather hoped he’d stay over there because, as he said with no great vehemence, Joey was a “bloody nuisance.”

Only a few days earlier. Moores had paid a fine tribute to Joey before hundreds of the richest and most powerful men in the western world. It was at the biggest party ever held in any wilderness, the inauguration ceremonies for the Churchill Falls power project in Labrador, a blast to end all blasts, a twomillion-dollar Brinco blowout at which 3.500 people scoffed 10 tons of food, and Frank Moores upstaged Trudeau and Bourassa and maybe even Rich Little when he said, “Through all the years — from the days when there was no Brinco to this day when the project is a reality — there was one presence whose influence was undeniable . . . there was one man who fought and fought hard to keep that spark alive . . . That man is Joey Smallwood . . .”


A masterful address, said the St. John’s Daily News. Statesmanlike. Above politics. “It was no strain for me to do that,” Moores said over the Scotch. “I’ve never been partisan about Smallwood in the way he was about me.” Smallwood, in the heat of various campaigns, has called Moores the Baron, a rich boy, a milker of the poor, a sellout artist who abandoned the welfare of his workers for the sake of personal profit; and perhaps it is understandable that, as the evening wound on. the statesmanship slipped a bit.

John Crosbie, Moores’ finance minister, once served under Joey and he told me that, in the late Sixties, Smallwood had developed character traits that were reminiscent of a dictator. Moores did not go quite that far. He merely allowed that Smallwood would go to any extreme to hang onto his power: that Smallwood was incapable of forgiveness; that, although Smallwood’s stupendous collection of knickknacks had once utterly overwhelmed this very office. “the biggest knickknack of them all was the one sitting behind the desk”: and that Smallwood had “a degree of narrowness comparable to a Duplessis bridge. Geez, they were alike.”

It is hard to imagine how two men from one island could be less alike than Frank Moores and Joey Smallwood. Smallwood grew up fairly impover-

ished; Moores’ father was a highly respected fish merchant, and Moores grew up nicely fixed. Smallwood failed as a publisher, a pig farmer, at whatever business he pursued; Moores brilliantly succeeded at the first business he put his hand to, fish. Smallwood, even 50 years ago, was teaching himself tricks of oratory that would help make him one of the most magnetic speakers in the modern history of the country; even now, however, Moores as an orator has all the genius of the young Robert Stanfield. Smallwood was already a hotshot newspaper reporter in his teens; Moores, in his teens, was still a schoolboy. For most of his life, Smallwood was a rabid teatotaler; Moores is not. Smallwood is uncomfortable with women; Moores is not. Moores is an outdoorsman, a hunter, a sports fisherman; Smallwood is not. Moores is a big fellow; Smallwood is five-foot-six-inches tall.

Smallwood, all his life, has claimed to be a socialist but he ended up selling vast pieces of Newfoundland and Labrador to private interests. Moores likes to define himself simply as “Businessman,” a private enterpriser in history and outlook, but his government has started out by nationalizing private industries. Smallwood’s abilities as an administrator, organizer and conferencetable quarterback were questionable and, in many respects, he was an autocrat; but Moores’ greatest assets include his talents as an administrator, organizer and catalyst to inspire people to get along while they’re working.

This last quality is crucially important right now to any political party in Newfoundland. Earlier this year, some of Moores’ elected “supporters” demonstrated they had the minds of squids — their positions were unreliable and their mobility amazing — and Moores’ cabinet includes men who once served in Smallwood’s cabinet and dreamed of becoming premiers themselves. Moores relies heavily on the judgment of what his campaign literature described as THE TEAM, and he says. “I've got some fantastically able guys in my cabinet.” (A few years ago. the average age of Smallwood’s cabinet was over 60: the average age of Moores’ is under 43.)

Smallwood, in his last years in power, was a suspicious man; Moores, in his first months in office, is trusting to a foolhardy degree. His verbal indiscretions occasionally astound reporters but they also endear him to them. It’s hard to dislike a man who trusts you with information that could hurt him, and it’s harder still to knife him. At 8.08 p.m.. he heard activity from the House of Assembly on his intercom, said, “Geez, I was supposed to be up there,” slapped his drink down on the table, pulled on his jacket, disappeared up the tiny elevator. His last words to me were, “You wait here, continued on page 111

MOORES continued

I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Leaving me, a stranger, a free-lance journalist yet, the worst kind, the kind who hasn’t even got a boss you can lean on, leaving me, brave with booze, entirely alone in his office, and what must surely have been Important Papers of State strewn all over his desk. (I resisted all temptations except one. Well, I reasoned, I may never again even see a premier’s private lavatory, let alone use one, and everyone wants to have something impressive to tell his grandchildren.)

Moores and Smallwood, however, do have a couple of things in common. They both admire Churchill, and they are both Newfoundland politicians who are without the peculiar taint of St. John’s wealth. Moores is wealthy, sure, but he’s not one of those St. John’s merchants whom Joey used to denounce as “cocktail party butterflies” whose “delicate nostrils twitch at the honest smell of fish.” If a bayman can be rich, Frank Moores is a bayman.

The outports revered Joey because he fought St. John’s to achieve Confederation for them, and because no one could perform on a platform in so crazy and lovable and outrageous a way as he could. In recent years however the platform, and its height above the ground, and Joey’s being up there, all seemed to grow; and Moores’ style was entirely different. He is not a performer; he's one of the boys. Despite the money. He could drive into an outport, even in his sky-blue Cadillac, and he could talk to men about fish, for instance, because he knew fish, he understood the business, he cared about it in ways that Joey did not. He could hang around a wharf, just listening, talking a bit, trading information and stories, passing the time of day and, maybe, just maybe, helping to get a local PC organization off the ground. He could say, “You can’t stay where the fish is, you’ve got to go where the fish is at.” and he could say it without sounding unnatural. (“The fish always came to us.” he told me in his office. “Christ, they’d come up and bump their heads on the rocks for God’s sake, while these other countries were learning how to hunt them. We’ve never had to be hunters.”)

Early this summer. The Team was rewriting history, relentlessly broadcasting to the world the numbers they’d uncovered and the old deals and relationships to prove all the bungling and the waste and the seaminess and, really I guess, the contempt for people that characterized the last years of Smallwood’s rule. The Team was cutting back on government funds for what almost everyone regards as one of Joey’s three greatest accomplishments: Memorial University. It was producing evidence that Joey’s second great achievement, the Churchill Falls power development, was a pretty crappy deal for Newfoundland, after all.

That left only Confederation itself, Joey’s most fantastic and forever-gleaming triumph; but it was 23 years old, and it was not hard to get members of The Team to point out that if you give a man hundreds of millions of federal dollars to improve the lot of half a million people on one island then he sure as hell ought to be able to make himself look pretty good!

Moores himself, during our little drinking session at any rate, showed no powerful interest in purging Newfoundland of the Smallwood myth. He talked more about the resurrection of small industry, about processing fish, growing root crops, raising sheep for wool, cutting Newfoundland wood for building materials and fine furniture, of bringing to Newfoundland and Labrador a “Scandinavian-type economy,” and a tourist industry with a rugged Newfoundland character. He said, “We’re almost fortunate in that we’re so backward we’ve almost escaped the industrialized age,” and he talked, too, about “getting people up off their asses to control and take advantage of literally what we have here.” He said his government was “basically creating a program to enable people to believe in themselves.” To enable Newfoundlanders to recover their pride, as though they were downtrodden blacks.

Maybe, before too long, the whole Team will forget Smallwood. He’s gone, and a lot of Newfoundlanders must feel these days the way Sir Robert Bond, a former prime minister, felt in 1918: “I’ve had a surfeit of Newfoundland politics lately, and I turn from the dirty business with contempt and loathing.” And maybe Frank Moores can stick to his program. Maybe, despite all the bizarre and crooked precedents of the past half-century, Frank Moores can even keep The Team honest. Maybe. It would be a nice thing. It would be so sweet and profound a change.

On the morning after — it was another great, blowing, fragrant, impossible summer day — I went for a walk in downtown St. John’s. I was feeling as you do in Newfoundland, that you’re alive in an older and better time and. all at once, seven little boys burst from a rusty wooden house and ran right down the middle of the sloping treeless street with the sun on their moving heads and coins in their fists, and they were all yelling “Raaaaay” and “Yaaaaaay,” and they wheeled into a corner store and, beyond them and below them and between the old buildings, I could see a green and glittering slice of that secret and perfect harbor, and the dark stone of the far side, and the charging white clouds over the North Atlantic, and I thought, Frank Moores, if you mean what you say, long may your big jib draw. ■