The reluctant premier

Tom Marshall preparing for a normal life

Cory Hurley
Published on August 4, 2014
Tom Marshall in his constituency office in Corner Brook Saturday. — Photo by Cory Hurley/The Western Star

Premier was never a title that was desired by Tom Marshall.
Serving the people of the province in a senior cabinet role, yes. Striving to better life for the people of the Corner Brook area, definitely

As he counts down the days to his retirement from public life — once again — he is now grateful to have gotten the opportunity to be the province’s top man.

Sitting down with the premier, in his former office in the Sir Richard Squires Building in Corner Brook, it is easy to see he cares about the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. The fourth floor constituency office still has his name on the door even after making the move to the 10th floor premier’s office with the interim tag in January.

He talked about his almost 11 years in politics. It was a road that began with the building of the Danny Williams empire, which ruled the province with great popularity. Marshall did not hide his emotion as he spoke. He could be described as Williams’ right-hand man — the representative of Humber East to Williams’ Humber West — serving critical portfolios such as Justice and Finance. Those are the roles he sought when the timing was finally right in his life for a run at public service.

However, the other 500,000 people in the province will just have to forgive him, because his heart really beats for the people of his hometown Corner Brook and the surrounding area.

Conversations with Marshall over the years, no matter the topic, often found direction to issues pertaining to western Newfoundland’s city. It was no different Saturday as the former lawyer talked about himself, his reflections on public life and what the future might hold for him and the province.

Marshall said it may have been a Grade 7 civics course that began his interest in public life. Maybe it was the Newfoundland history teachings in Grade 8. He knows Bill Turner’s political science offering gained him great insight into public adminstration after he left Herdman Collegiate to pay the $50 to do first-year university courses at the former Regina High School.

He said he went to Regina to play basketball “the way it was meant to be played” under Brother Duffy. Nonetheless, the eventual lawyer had his eye on public service.

Of course, his greatest influence in politics was his father Mr. Jack Marshall. He represented the federal district of Humber-St. George’s-St. Barbe in the House of Commons from 1968-1978.

In 2004, on his death bed, Marshall said his father shook his finger at him and said, “Look after the poor people.” He spent the last 11 years trying to do that and said he thinks his father would be proud.

“I think he would have been tickled pink,” Marshall said.

His father didn’t get to serve in power, Marshall pointed out. He got to advocate on behalf of the people — widely recognized for his work with veterans —but Jack Marshall did not get to make the decisions that mattered most.

His son got to do that. In the end, Tom Marshall got to do it at the highest level. Even if he didn’t seek it out, the premiership found him.

How did he treat the appointment? He would fulfil his duty and not do so lightly.

“I had a responsibility to the people of the province,” he said.

Marshall pointed out he still has six weeks until the Progressive Conservation Leadership convention will decide the next premier.

“I have not stopped. We have not stopped,” he said, referring to cabinet. “I will not stop. You will see in the weeks to come. There’s a lot coming.”

He said being premier is a different position, even from the senior cabinet positions. Just how seriously he took it can be explained by his story that he stayed up all hours through the night as premier when he knew there was a search on for a missing Labrador man.

“As premier, you kind of feel like it is your people out there,” he said.

The man was found and Marshall did get to sleep after he received word.

He said he has enjoyed his stint as premier and is grateful for the opportunity. He admits it was helpful knowing there was an end in sight, even if that day was continually delayed.

He was attending the funeral of former federal finance minister John Flaherty when he was informed Bill Barry had dropped out of the leadership race. Marshall said he thought he would be able to step aside that day. He said he wasn’t necessarily waiting at the door with his bags packed waiting for the opportunity to leave public life. However, he points out this four-year term was his response to being asked to stay a while longer.

He was again staying around, this time at the request of then premier-delegate Frank Coleman, who was expected to take over the leadership July 5. Marshall’s farewell tour was underway.

In June, Coleman withdrew as leader and Marshall’s reign continued.

Paul Davis, Steve Kent or John Ottenheimer will assume the role as leader after the Sept. 13 election at the party convention.

Depending on what the leader, and future premier asks of him, Marshall will then step down as premier.

“It’s on the weekend, so it could be right then ... a day after ... a week after,” Marshall said. “I’m not sure. It will be whatever the next leader wants or asks.”

As with his seat in the House,” Marshall said he will resign when the new premier chooses to call a byelection.

Marshall said he’s enjoyed being premier, but it was never enough to make him reconsider his future. Despite being told by insiders he would likely win the leadership race, he said his time has passed. And, he is quite content with his decision to retire.

“It was a family decision,” he said. “Maybe, if it was 10 years earlier, but the timing has to be right.”

As he travels across the province as premier, news conferences and events are often filled with accolades for him. He remains humbled and seems genuine in his surprise when people take the time to single him out. The gratitude people show him does hit home.

“It is nice,” Marshall said. “You always want to do a good job.”

Marshall said he continually gets asked to stay and serve another four years, but he’s already done that once. So it’s a request he is able to turn down.

“It’s kind that people feel that way,” he said. “It is time for somebody new ... it is not my time anymore.”

It’s time to return to Corner Brook and be with his wife Lynn full-time, he said

“I’m coming home,” he said.

Marshall has a lot he wants to do in retirement, but it’s a return to “normal life” that he seeks. Waiting for him is the same house and the same car he had before he entered politics.

He said he wants to lose the weight he has gained. He wants to get back to the gym, something he said he used to do three times a week before politics and and he wants to begin walking at the Pepsi Centre. He wants to get back into golfing and spend time with his old friends.

In his home, he is not premier. He laughed when he said, as premier, he can always ask people to get him information on this or data on that. At home, he said, Lynn just tells him to “get it yourself.”

That’s what Marshall desires. A normal life.