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By being elected to the Liberals' top job today, one of the two is set to become the province's 14th leader of government
This evening, we will know the name of our 14th premier.
Or our 25th, depending on where you stand on the official description of the job title when it comes to the history of Newfoundland’s top politicians.
We’ll clarify that later on, but for now, we can accept that later today either John Gerard Abbott or Andrew John Furey will become the 14th premier of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
No matter which of the two is elected the leader of the provincial Liberal party — and in doing so, will take over from a resigning Dwight Ball as premier — some history will be made as neither of the two has ever held elected office.
Twelve of the 13 premiers to date had been members of the province’s House of Assembly or (in the case of Brian Tobin) a member of the federal parliament prior to gaining the top job, in N.L. and the one that hadn’t been — Joey Smallwood — couldn’t have held that status since there was no provincial legislature prior to 1949 when Newfoundland — with Smallwood as its first premier — joined Canada though Confederation.
In 1932, Smallwood had been unsuccessful in his attempt to earn a seat in what was then the legislature of the Dominion of Newfoundland, but he had been elected a delegate to the National Convention of 1946, the first step on the path that would lead Newfoundland into Canada.
Abbott or Furey will also become part of a couple of limited sub-sets in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador premiers.
For one thing, both were born in St. John’s.
Of the 13 premiers to date, only Danny Williams and Paul Davis were born in the capital city.
The west coast of the province has produced three premiers — Stephenville-born Tobin, Corner Brook’s Tom Marshall and Ball, who is from Deer Lake.
Kathy Dunderdale is from Burin, Frank Moores was from Conception Bay North, and no fewer than five premiers to date came from the central part of the province — Smallwood, Clyde Wells (born in Buchans Junction, although he spent much of his growing-up years in Stephenville Crossing), Tom Rideout (Fleur de Lys), Roger Grimes (Grand Falls-Windsor) and Beaton Tulk (Ladle Cove).
Brian Peckford had a more geographically eclectic upbringing, having been born in Whitbourne, but also raised in Marystown and Lewisporte, and eventually representing the district of Green Bay in the House of Assembly.
Either Furey or Abbott will become premier without being a member of the House of Assembly, while the others in that club had memberships based on technicalities.
Smallwood became premier on April 1, 1949, but the election that established Newfoundland’s first House of Assembly wasn’t until May of that year. Clyde Wells had been an MHA during the Smallwood regime (1966-68) and had returned to the House in 1987 as the result of a by-election (in Windsor-Buchans) shortly after he became provincial Liberal leader. However, in the general election of 1989, he ran in Humber East, but while the Liberals won power, Wells was personally defeated by the Tories’ Lynn Verge.
He wasn’t without a seat for long, however. Eddie Joyce, then MHA of the Liberal strongpoint Bay of Islands, resigned shortly afterward. Neither of the other parties contested, and Wells, who stood for the Liberals in Joyce’s place, was elected the riding’s MHA by acclamation.
Tobin had been officially been premier for about a month in 1996 before he gained a seat in the legislature, this after making the transition from Member of Parliament to provincial Liberal leader, replacing Wells.
Either Abbott or Furey will become the seventh Liberal premier, meaning there will be an even split with the Progressive Conservatives, who have also had seven premiers.
However, the Liberals have a fair edge when it comes to years in power. In large part because of Smallwood’s 23-year run (1949-1972), there has been a Liberal premier for just about 40 years of Newfoundland and Labrador’s 71-year history as a province,
There is one group to which neither Furey nor Abbott wants to belong. That’s those who have been premiers, but have never won an election as premier.
There have been five of those.
The first was Tom Rideout, whose Tories won the popular vote by a slight margin in the 1989 election, but were defeated 31-21 by Wells’ Liberals when it came to seats. Roger Grimes (who lost to Danny Williams in 2003) and Paul Davis (defeated by Dwight Ball in 2015) also lost their only elections as premiers.
Both Tulk and Marshall remained in office while their parties elected new leaders and never stood for election as premier.
Caretakers such as Tulk and Marshall have appeared before in Newfoundland history. From 1894 to 1897, three consecutive leaders of the Newfoundland colonial government — Augustus Goodridge, Daniel Greene and William Whiteway — took office through appointment, not elections.
Which brings us back to where we began.
In 1855, Newfoundland gained responsible government as a colony of Great Britain, and depending on your historical source, the 11 different leaders of colonial governments here, including Goodridge, Greene and Whiteway, were called premiers.
Other sources reference them as prime ministers.
If you opt for the colonial premiers, then Robert Bond was both premier and prime minister, having been in office in 1907, when Newfoundland gained dominion status like Canada and Australia.
Bond was the first of 10 prime ministers of the Dominion of Newfoundland, which lasted about a quarter of a century before national bankruptcy led to a Commission of Government (1933-49), with British-selected leadership.
One of those 10 prime ministers, by the way, was John Crosbie.
No, not John Carnell Crosbie, who became one of Newfoundland’s most famous politicians.
This was John Chalker Crosbie, who was prime minister for a week in early 1918, between the resignation of Edward Morris and William Lloyd taking office.
John Chalker Crosbie was the grandfather of John Carnell Crosbie and great-grandfather of Ches Crosbie, the present leader of the provincial Progressive Conservatives and someone who eventually would like to make Furey or Abbott one of those Newfoundland and Labrador premiers who have never won an election.