Doyle offers an insider’s view of politics

John Crosbie
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Second in a three-part series

Norman Doyle’s autobiography, “According to Doyle: Recollections,” is largely impartial in treating the important issues of the years that followed the election of the Brian Peckford administration in Newfoundland.

Brian Mulroney is a major player in Norman Doyle’s autobiography, “According to Doyle,” which recounts the development of the Atlantic Accord by the then Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. Mulroney is shown here on Dec. 8, as he prepared to board a flight for South Africa to attend a memorial for Nelson Mandela.
— Photo by Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Those issues included the struggle between our province and the Liberal government of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and other federal governments on various matters, and the most important issue of them all: the question of which government, provincial or federal, should have jurisdiction over the potential oil and gas resources discovered in our offshore.

The book gives a good account of the development of the Atlantic Accord by the Mulroney-led federal PC party.

The ball got rolling while Brian Mulroney was the opposition leader in Ottawa, having appointed his caucus energy critics to negotiate a deal with the Peckford government, and that arrangement was confirmed following Mulroney’s great victory of Sept. 4, 1984, when he took 211 seats — including four in  Newfoundland — compared to 40 for the Liberals.

Norman makes sage observations, like this one: “Politics is leadership-driven,” he writes.

“It’s the leader who must produce. It is he who must do the heavy lifting. For only he can speak for the province and, when the final chapter is written, it is he who takes his place among the winners or losers in the pages of history.”

His keen grasp of politics is obvious.

He also describes tough issues faced by the Peckford administration, including the Sprung Greenhouse, which became very unpopular with the Newfoundland people, as well as the question of what should happen with the Newfoundland railway.

Eventually, on June 20, 1988, the federal and provincial governments of Mulroney and Peckford signed a memorandum of understanding leading to the phase-out of the Newfoundland railway, with the province receiving $800 million for road improvements in return.

The railway had been suffering tremendous financial losses, primarily because the building of the Trans-Canada Highway across Newfoundland led to a great diminishment of train traffic.

These issues apparently led to Peckford deciding to step down as premier.

Tom Rideout took up the post, winning a leadership convention and calling an election soon after.

Norman Doyle was a minister in the Rideout government, but it did not last very long before it lost to Clyde Wells’ Liberals, and so he and his Tory fellows were catapulted into the opposition side of the House.

The next four years were Norman’s last in provincial politics. Having been elected four times and served eight years in cabinet, he decided to explore the possibility of a federal seat in the district of St. John’s East, where he had lived all his adult life.

His decision was made after the disastrous defeat of Kim Campbell as national party leader when only two PC seats were won in 1993.

Norman’s clear understanding of the kind of hard work it takes to be successful in politics was evident,  and he began a door-to-door campaign to secure the PC nomination for the election to be held on June 12, 1997.

After he had knocked on 11,000 doors, he received the nod to go forward with his first federal election campaign.

The federal Progressive Conservative leader was Jean Charest, who was well liked. In that election Newfoundland contributed three seats, including St. John’s East, to the 20 seats the PCs won based on almost 10 per cent of the popular vote. The Liberals won 155 seats, with 38.4 per cent of the popular vote.

Norman writes about the major issues he was involved in and took principled stands on, the first being the Term 17 battle involving the end of denominational education in our province — a movement championed by the new Liberal premier, Brian Tobin.

When the amendment to Term 17 came before the House of Commons, Norman decided he had to act in accordance with his conscience and speak and vote against it.

He did this despite the fact that his position was not popular in

his own district, nor in the province. All of the other Newfoundland politicians, both provincial and federal, voted for the amendment.

Norman remembers Charest as an excellent leader, but notes that under heavy pressure from Quebec, he eventually moved to take over the leadership of the provincial Liberal party in Quebec so that his talents could more effectively be put to use to fight the Parti Québécois separatists.

The federal PCs, without having a convention, turned to Joe Clark once again to be their leader, but they lost the 2000 election to the Liberals, with the Reform Party splitting the Conservative vote.

It was obvious to Norman Doyle that something had to be done to address the split caused by the rivalry between, what was now, two conservative parties in federal politics.

Next week: Mending the rift

John Crosbie welcomes your feedback

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Organizations: Trans-Canada Highway, House of Commons, Parti Québécois Reform Party

Geographic location: Newfoundland railway, Ottawa, Rideout Quebec

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Recent comments

  • Artie
    December 14, 2013 - 19:10

    A true political savior. Any man that jumped on that many bandwagons was looking out for number one. It should be called, "The man without conviction".