So, what did you expect, a gold watch?

WILLIAM CAMERON February 1 1972


So, what did you expect, a gold watch?

WILLIAM CAMERON February 1 1972


So, what did you expect, a gold watch?


The floor was greasy with spilled beer, and Joey was not going to show up. The election headquarters of the Liberal Party in St. John’s was at the Holiday Inn, and the workers had been waiting in the large, hollow main room since the polls closed. The radio kept saying that the Premier was coming, was actually on his way, had left his house outside the city, would be there any minute. But at the edge of the city the limousine had turned away, and the Premier was driving around out there in the night, listening to the radio while the returns came in. Then, at last, the black car had turned back for his home.

The Liberal Party’s chief of organization was in a room just off the lobby, staring at a television set, holding a glass with both hands just below his chin. “I don’t know,” he said. “I thought we had it. I don’t know where it went wrong. We did have it. We were going to make it. I don’t know.” In the centre of the big room where the workers were a woman in a tweed coat was crying. And an old man worked his way down the length of the bar, tilting the last of the liquor in the bottles into his mouth.

In 1966, Joey Smallwood and the Liberals had taken 39 seats in the Newfoundland House of Assembly and the Conservatives had taken three — and were lucky. On October 28, 1971, the Conservatives took 21 seats, the Liberals 20, and the New Labrador Party one. So, with the likelihood that the New Labrador party would throw in with the Tories, it was over. Joey Smallwood had been defeated. When the old man came to the end of the bar, with his mouth full of the last of the rum, he turned and walked out of the room, through the automatic doors, into the night.

Two days before the election, none of this had seemed possible. Joey

marched back and forth in his office on the eighth floor of the Confederation Building in St. John’s, talking as he moved, like a general briefing the staff: “The opposition? I want to speak very kindly of them. One should always speak kindly of the dead.” A flash of the eye behind the hornrimmed glasses to make sure the epitaph is being taken down. “As a political party they’re a disaster. That may be complimenting them too much. You’ve got to be something to be a disaster.”

“What about Frank Moores?”

“The leader? He lacks sanction . . . I just don’t take him seriously. I take the Tories seriously; it’s tragic that a great and historic party, one that has had the government several times in this century, should be so disastrously ineffectual. The Liberal Party would be a better party if there was a better Tory Party.”

Joey is not a contemplative man. He likes motion, helicopters, cars, airplanes, and when he is not in mechanical transit he walks back and forth, as though the words were generated through the pressure of body movement. His smallness gives this energy a focus. Larger men, at 70, are slow and depleted. Joey vibrates.

It was this energy that had shaped the campaign; for although Smallwood had stayed away from it until the last week and had turned most of the speaking and touring over to his local candidates, he had been the issue. In the bars and supermarkets the parties were almost never mentioned. The talk was of Joey.

Cabdriver, 50 or 55, grey hair and stomach caught by a belt, wheeling down the hill toward the St. John’s harbor: “Oh, I think it’s time for him to go, you know. Twenty-two years he’s been in. The young people aren’t going to vote for him. And, you

know, where I come from, Holyrood. old Joe brought in some English guys to put up a rubber plant, a million dollars or something, and they haven’t turned out so much as a French safe . . .”

Fisherman, 30, at Trepassey on Newfoundland’s south coast, drinking Old Sam rum and Coca-Cola in a tiny glass: “Oh, I’m for Joey. He’s for the common man. He gave us the baby bonus and the pension . . . those Tories, they’re just for themselves, you know.”

Student, 19, Memorial University, a spray of acne over his forehead: “Smallwood says he’s the father of education on the island, and he’s going to get 60% of the votes of the young people here. But I don’t know anybody who’s going to vote for him. There isn’t even a Liberal Club on campus. He was down here at the trades school the other day, making promises, you know, and they were giving him a hard time. He said, ‘Do you want me to leave?’ And they said, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘Do you think I’m a liar?’ And they said, ‘Yes.’ And out he went.”

Frank Moores, the Conservative leader, 39, a tall man with an oval smile, almost meticulously clean-cut: “He is totally unscrupulous. He will do anything for personal power. He’s the world’s worst economist, as his record shows. He’s too old to do the job, and his methods go back to the Huey Long style of politics. He’d make Duplessis blush. Look, Smallwood has done some things that Ottawa has assisted him to do. He has made a fair start at education. He genuinely deserves some credit for that. I can’t think of anything else.”

The campaign was built around Joey, his age, his policies, and his manner. For the gap between Smallwood and Moores was not one of procedures and programs, nicely debated, but one of generation and identity. Moores is a rich man, from a rich family, a former fish merchant, only four years in politics, a man who in another province, or another decade, could as easily have been a banker, a merchant, or an academic. Smallwood is a politician and could never have been anything else. His manner is that of Duplessis in Quebec, Hepburn in Ontario, Thatcher in Saskatchewan: roarers, bosses, orators, lovers of power, keepers of the pork barrel. Smallwood and British Columbia’s W. A. C. Bennett are the last of this generation. The style has turned to the understated Schreyers, Davises.

continued on page 56

SMALLWOOD from page 31

In his eighth-floor office Smallwood is shrugging on his coat, heading for his helicopter and an afternoon of barnstorming along the south coast. His secretary murmurs something, hands him a paper; a small, tired-looking man steps forward from the corridor. “What? Oh, yes. Yes.” Smallwood signs the paper, hands it over. “Now, you’ve got your housing. Of course, it all depends on one thing, now. You’ve got to get elected.” The candidate smiles. “Well, we’re working on that, too.” He disappears toward the elevator, his campaign promise securely in his briefcase.

On the way to the airport, Smallwood talks about Newfoundland. “The main problem is jobs. Employment. The development of resources for the province. Now, we have the obvious resources. Fisheries. Forests. Minerals. Water power. All those physical resources. And then we have the less obvious.” He reaches up and begins to sketch with his finger on the roof of the car. “The location of the island in the Atlantic basin. At this moment you are closer to London than to Winnipeg. You're closer to Warsaw than to Vancouver. You see, the whole Atlantic coast makes a shape, an angle like this, and the apex is Newfoundland. We’ve got allweather harbors, and this is a mountainous advantage for any industry that depends on cheap freight. So oil refineries make sense. Tankers up to half a million tons . . . you will see many such refineries here in Newfoundland.” The finger sweeps down the roof, pokes here and there at the invisible shape of the island. Great metal tanks of oil emerge, constellations of industries take shape, swarms of men climb up and down scaffolds of spidery metal, factories and boardrooms bloom on the roof of the Chrysler Imperial.

In Ottawa, Brian Ross, an economist in the Department of Regional

Economic Expansion (DREE) who supervises that body’s financial relations with Newfoundland, says, “Look, as far as we re concerned, Joey’s vision is wrong for the province. He sees Newfoundland as a haven for heavy industry, construction, secondary manufacturing. Well, that just doesn't make sense. And we’re not going along with it. We want to concentrate on the fisheries, because that’s where Newfoundland is strongest — it’s close to the Grand Banks, and if we had a good fish-processing plant or two there we could be getting a lot more out of the Banks than we are getting now. But Joey doesn’t want to develop the fisheries — he associates fishing with poverty, with subsistence living. He’s closing down the outports with his centralization program, shutting off the services, bringing the fishermen into collection areas where there are no jobs for them. Frankly, as far as we’re concerned, things will have to change down there before DREE does much more than it is doing.”

Joey’s vision. Newfoundland, industrialized, part of the rich mainstream of Canada. And money is available to try for it; some industrialists have already moved into Newfoundland. John C. Doyle and his Canadian Javelin Corporation are mining in Labrador. John Shaheen is building a refinery at Come-ByChance. But the industrialists, as has frequently been pointed out, are taking very little risk; their investments are guaranteed by the Newfoundland government; and the profits are high. In 1970, according to Frank Moores, Doyle took some $7.2 million out of Labrador. Newfoundland got $3.2 million from the same source. Shaheen has a protected investment, and will be allowed to buy the Come-ByChance refinery, if it succeeds, for a bargain-basement $10 million, and will get out almost scot-free if it fails.

These are long gambles. Half of Joey’s attraction to risks may be simple love of the spin of the die; but at least half must be rooted in his past and in his sense that the Newfoundland he grew up in was too harsh to support life with dignity. Smallwood was born into poverty at the turn of the century, escaped into boarding school (paid for by a well-to-do uncle), then returned to poverty again. He worked as a newspaper reporter, union organizer, broadcaster, and farmer; he saw, as he says, fishermen staggering with hunger; in speeches, he uses his memories of the old welfare schemes that paid the poor six cents a day. It was this experience of poverty that powered part of his drive for Confederation. But another large part of Smallwood is simple political ambition, the desire to be great. At his boarding school in St. John’s, he filled notebooks with the names and titles of Newfoundland prime ministers, and then added his own: “The Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Smallwood, KCGM, PC, MHA.”

continued on page 58

SMALLWOOD continued

And to be political, in Smallwood’s terms, is to know the jugular and go for it. At a political rally in St. John’s North, at a Catholic school, under a sign that reads “Ever Onward, Mary, Queen of the World,” Smallwood damns the opposition: “Think of the great trinity of Newfoundland politicians, Liberal politicians, Sir Robert Bond, Sir Richard Squires and Joey Smallwood . . . There are 1,800 men building that great pulp mill at Stephenville. Not 600, but add another 600 and that’s 1,200 and add another 600 and that’s 1,800 people, and that’s only the beginning! Only the start! But the Tories criticize! I was all but the victim of assassination, of an assassin’s bullet . . . they fell short of that . . . but Toryism can’t help itself! I’ve got news for you. They have their renegades and traitors. But there won’t be as many of them in the House next time.”

Joey, speaking, feels the urge to move. He pivots on the balls of his feet. His hands chop up and down. His speaking style leans on repetition; the same point is made once, twice, three times, referred to, dropped, returned to, chewed over, and dismissed. And, in the middle of a high tempo, he is totally unselfconscious. “Any Newfoundlander knows that you can go and see Joey. He hasn’t got too big for his boots. He’s still the same humble, simple man he was when he was elected. But you can’t please all the people. You can’t please

everybody all the time. Lincoln couldn’t do it. Roosevelt couldn’t do it. Churchill and King couldn’t do it. And Joey can’t do it.”

In the back of the hall, a reporter from the Canadian Press has dropped his pen and is doubled over from the pressure of strangled laughter. The men in the seats ahead turn around: “Look, if you want to laugh, why don’t you just leave? Why don’t you just go away?” Many Smallwood supporters are oddly defensive with reporters; they smell irony in the questions, and they look for condescension in the reporters’ faces.

Bob Benson, reporter for the St. John’s Evening Telegram: “Joe’s supporters are the older ones, the people who remember the way it was before Confederation, when times were really tough. But there are fewer and fewer of those. You’ll notice that the accents of the people under 30 here are smoothed out, it’s a nice North American homogenized accent, they’re North Americans; in that sense, there are no Newfoundlanders under the age of 30. No quaint Newfoundlanders.

“Joe Smallwood doesn’t have an ideology, as far as I can see — just a personal ambition to remain in power at whatever cost. There may be the remnants of socialism there, from the 1920s, a subconscious desire to do something for the workers, but that has conflicted with his drive for an industrial Newfoundland, and he’s had that all his life. You can read it in his book, The New Newfoundland, which he wrote in the Thirties — the third paper mill, the power at Churchill Falls, it’s all there.

“But Moores . . . Moores is flat. Something rings dull about him. He vacillates, he doesn’t seem to be able to make decisions. I’m not voting this

time. There’s a choice of personalities, but not one I can make with an easy mind . . .”

Bell Island hangs like a dead tooth in Conception Bay, an hour by car and ferry from St. John’s. Until 1966 the Dominion Steel Company had iron mines on Bell Island, with shafts that run out under the sea. In 1966 the mines were closed down. The ore was poor. Since then, the population of the island has declined. There are no jobs.

Frank Moores speaks to the Conservatives of Bell Island, in the old armory, next to the Canadian Legion, which is the only place you can get a drink, and some of the old men, their faces red with beer, drift in to listen. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are tired of one-man rule for Bell Island, we are tired of one-man rule on Newfoundland. You have 69% unemployment here on Bell Island, ladies and gentlemen, and you know whose fault that is. Ladies and gentlemen, Newfoundland has the highest unemployment rate in Canada, the lowest standard of living, the highest cost of living, and the lowest average income. I don’t think that’s good enough, ladies and gentlemen.” Moores’ voice is not inspiring; he speaks from index cards, and one can almost see the practice sessions in front of a mirror, and hear the afternoons spent making the speech into a dictaphone, and stopping, and playing back. “Ladies and gentlemen, Newfoundland needs dreams and there’s nothing wrong with dreaming; but there must be planning to make the dreams come true. You can have careful planning, or you can have the dreams of the old and the chaos that comes with that.” The reporters have heard this index card many times; they wait, hopefully, for a new card to come out of the breast pocket of his rich man’s suit.

Newfoundland does have the lowest average wage in Canada. But the average salary of the professional — doctors, for example — is almost $2,000 above the Canadian average, which argues for a fairly sharp class structure within the province. And the rich play a startlingly public role in the political life of the island. John Crosbie, the former minister of health and former Smallwood rival for the leadership of the Liberal Party, is a very wealthy man. His brother, Andrew Crosbie, is Smallwood’s campaign manager; and the Crosbie brothers, even in their political division, are second only to Smallwood himself in their influence on the political and business life of Newfoundland.

Andrew Crosbie, head of the Crosbie business empire (John Crosbie has liquidated his investment) has his office on Crosbie Road, in the Crosbie Building, which also contains the offices of a chartered accountant and several shipping concerns. He is a studied, careful man in his thirties, and his office walls are upholstered with leather.

continued on page 61

SMALLWOOD continued

“My personal relationship with my brother has not been affected by his crossing the floor of the House. Not as far as I’m concerned. I think perhaps it has affected his personal outlook. You see, he couldn’t get along with the Premier, and, obviously, I can . . .

“One-man rule? Well, until 1968 there was pretty well one-man rule. Smallwood is a pretty dominating man. He couldn’t dominate as much after that. Well, he is somewhat of a dictator, he runs the government the way a president runs his cabinet.”

“Have John Doyle and John Shaheen contributed to the Liberal Party election fund?”

“Well, I would imagine so. Most businessmen contribute to the party in power. But, then, I imagine that they contribute to the Conservatives as well. That’s the way the democratic process works . . .

“I became campaign chairman for a very simple reason. I didn’t want everybody to think that by my silence I was backing my brother. And, more important, as a businessman I have complained about government, and now I thought it was time to do something about government, to get involved in it. If I come out publicly maybe more businessmen will come out.”

“How big is the Crosbie empire?”

“The Crosbie empire ...” A drag on a filtered cigarette. “Well, we have Eastern Provincial Airways, which is the fourth largest air carrier in Canada. We’re in construction, shipping, insurance, manufacturing, hotels, real estate, manufacturers’ agencies . . .”

“Could you put a dollar figure on it?”

“Well, I could, but I don’t. Sales amount to about $80 million a year. And we don’t do hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business with the government every year. Most of our business is tendered, anyway, and only about 15% of it is construction.”

A sharp look across the desk. “Is that all you want to know?”

Joey behind his great desk at the Confederation Building. Things have gone wrong; the helicopter was grounded by bad weather; and I start off with the wrong question. “Uh, there have been several charges by the Conservatives about corruption in the

Newfoundland Liberal government...”

“So? So what’s new about charges of corruption?”

“Well . . .” Next question. “You have said, at one point, I think, sir, that you are a socialist . . .”

“I am a socialist.” He shuffles papers. “I do not mean that I am a Marxist. But I do not believe that I have met any civilized person who is not a socialist. Lord Milner, that great British imperialist, said once that we are all socialists now. Now, I don’t carry or throw any bombs. I don’t believe in violence. I don’t believe in guns. I am not doctrinaire. But socialism is the spirit of my concept of life, and that is what led me to challenge the Water Street merchants, the powers of St. John’s. And I have succeeded in breaking them.”

“John Crosbie . . .”

“John Crosbie came into the party with a view to taking the premiership from me. He became impatient and decided to take it. Politically, he’s a completely spent force. He turns everybody off. The Conservatives have no one . . .”

A question about the press, and at last the words come easily, sharply. Smallwood gets up, begins to walk past the portrait of the Queen, the grandfather clock, the great globe of the world. “I have been treated in two ways by the press. For 20 years of the 22 I have been in power, journalists have come down here and written glorious stories, wonderful man, attractive, and so on. Now the editors have changed their minds. You’ve got to do a hatchet job on me. You've got to do a knife job on me. Well, that’s all right. The editors know I'm washed up. Well, you call me at eleven o’clock Thursday night and see how it feels to be defeated . . .

“I’m asking the people to reelect me for one more term. Now, on Friday I may have a stroke. Next January I may develop cancer. I may be killed in an airplane crash. I’m not going to run again in another election. I’m going to go on to another career. Maybe editor of Maclean’s . . .You call me on Thursday night. Will you do that?”

I do not. For on Thursday night, at the Holiday Inn, the Liberal Party workers are still gathered beside the empty bar, looking at the television sets, their shoes sliding on the slippery floor. Conservatives, 21, Liberals, 20, New Labrador, 1. It has all changed. And the old man is still riding around in the dark, waiting for it to be over and looking for room to fight in. The woman in the tweed coat is still crying in the middle of the dirty room. ■