The amazing events that transpired within Newfoundland’s NDP in recent days are not without parallel in the category of the absurd in this province’s political history.
In fact, they were actually surpassed during the Responsible Government era.
In one of a string of such farcical episodes, a prime minister fed up with the political corruption taking place in Newfoundland elections had legislation passed that barred any candidate convicted of political corruption from ever running again for public office.
In the election that followed he was swept out of power, but his astute successor who became leader of the opposition had documented enough evidence of corruption to have the victorious prime minister and 17 MHAs charged, convicted and barred from ever running for public office. But that was not the end of the charade.
The man who temporarily stepped into the prime minister’s position, in the aftermath, introduced legislation changing the law, which enabled his 18 colleagues to contest the byelections caused by their own criminal convictions.
Most were re-elected; the temporary prime minister stepped aside to pave the way for the return of his former political boss to office.
The corrupt prime minister later appointed to the post of governor of the penitentiary one of those convicted of corruption; to a senior position at the Waterford Hospital, a doctor addicted to morphine and opium and barred by the medical association; to the post of head of the Constabulary, a man who, along with the governor’s butler, had broken into the governor’s liquor supply. Both were arrested after being found dead drunk in the hallway.
If you think politics could not get more ridiculous than that, think again.
While the bandits were making their way back into power, police arrested three former prime ministers, including the opposition leader who brought the charges against the 18.
All three were charged with fraud in connection to the bank crash of 1894.
Although the opposition leader was not convicted, the public remained convinced he was guilty. He was full of bitterness and remorse in later life and, on an occasion while being interviewed by journalist P.K. Devine, broke down and wept.
Gov. Terrance O’Brien was so disgusted by these events that, when he hosted a farewell party at Government House to mark his departure, he broke with tradition and refused to invite the prime minister and his caucus, referring to them as “The Whitewashed Crowd.” The prime minister involved was Sir William Whiteway.
One does not have to probe far into Responsible Government history to find other bizarre abuses of power.
All this gives new meaning to the “Pink, White and Green.” Pink for the embarrassment of Newfoundlanders in that era, white for the whitewashed politicians, and green covers the recent generations who look back on pre-Confederation days as something to be proud of.