Hon. Dr. John C. Crosbie, P.C., O.C., O.N.L., Q.C.
John C. Crosbie passed away on January 10, 2020, in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, surrounded by family and friends, days from his 89th birthday.
One of the province’s and Canada’s most notable, stalwart and admired political figures, he enjoyed a remarkable career in public life, serving in municipal government, the Newfoundland House of Assembly, the House of Commons and as Lieutenant-Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador.
He married the love of his life Jane Ellen Audrey Furneaux on September 8, 1952. Together they were a formidable team in every endeavor they undertook. They had three children, Chesley, Michael and Beth.
John Carnell Crosbie was born in St. John’s on January 30, 1931, to a prominent business and political family. He was the son of Chesley A. Crosbie, the head of the Crosbie mercantile group and leader of the Economic Union Party, which favoured free trade with the United States. His grandfather was Sir John Chalker Crosbie, a cabinet minister and caretaker prime minister in pre-Confederation Newfoundland.
He attended St. Andrews College, Queen’s University, where he was awarded the Gold Medal in Political Science, and Dalhousie University, graduating in 1956 as the University Medalist in Law. He was also awarded the Viscount Bennett Scholarship by the Canadian Bar Association, as the year’s outstanding law student. He moved on to postgraduate studies at the University of London and London School of Economics, and was called to the Bar in 1957, practicing law in St. John’s before and after political life.
At the age of 34, his first elected position was to municipal government, where he served briefly in 1965 as deputy mayor of St. John’s. He moved to the Newfoundland House of Assembly a year later. As a provincial Liberal cabinet minister under Premier Joey Smallwood, he railed against the practices and policies of the government. In this well-documented battle, he returned from lunch one day to find that Smallwood had moved his desk across the floor of the House. He joined forces with the Progressive Conservatives to defeat the government and served in the cabinet of Premier Frank Moores as Minister of Finance, President of Treasury Board, Minister of Economic Development, Minister of Fisheries, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Minister of Mines and Energy, and Government House Leader.
In 1976, he was elected as the Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament for St. John’s West. He served as Minister of Finance in the eight-month Joe Clark government, which he memorialized as “long enough to conceive but not to deliver.” In the government of Brian Mulroney, he was Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, where, among many accomplishments, he ended discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the RCMP, the military and throughout the public service. He also served as Minister of Transport and Minister for International Trade, responsible for the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement. His last official responsibilities before retiring from federal politics in 1993 included the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Fisheries and Oceans.
As Fisheries Minister – which he described as his toughest job in three decades in politics – he faced the unenviable task for a son of Newfoundland of imposing the Northern Cod moratorium. Having executed this with courage and grit, many believe no other politician of the day could have successfully delivered the substantive Northern Cod Adjustment and Recovery Program, “The Package”, to assist fishers, plant workers and their communities.
He was an architect and signatory of the pivotal Atlantic Accord, which established joint management and guaranteed that Newfoundland and Labrador would be the principal beneficiary of its offshore oil and gas development. He was instrumental in securing an essential federal equity share in the Hibernia project, which fostered the province’s offshore oil and gas industry.
He believed that thinking on your feet was essential in the House. He was good at it and never failed to land a well-placed barb. On being heckled that he had a foot in his mouth, his quick quip –“I’d rather have a foot in my mouth than a forked tongue” – was often quoted.
An independent spirit, a passionate nation-builder, an orator of biting wit and charm, he was a tireless fighter for his beloved province and country. He relished the cut and thrust of politics, not for sport but for the people, whose best interests he unfailingly embraced as his own. On the wharf or around a negotiating table, he listened, he heard and he delivered.
After retiring from federal politics, he served for 14 years as the hard-working Chancellor of Memorial University. He also worked as legal counsel and director of several institutions, community organizations and private companies.
From 2008 to 2013, he represented Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II as the 12th Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador. Together with Jane, he raised the bar for outstanding service in the role.
Among his honours were Chancellor of the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador; Honorary Chief of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary; Honorary Colonel of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment; Officer of the Order of Canada; Queen’s Counsel; Member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada; and Knight of Justice of the Order of St. John. He also held many honorary Doctor of Laws degrees.
His 1997 autobiography No Holds Barred: My Life in Politics candidly recounts his long career in the witty and irreverent language for which he is known. In it he wrote: “I’d like to be remembered for being an independent person who took independent positions…I made the attempt to achieve what I thought was the right position for the country and for the province.”
He leaves his beloved wife, lifelong partner and best friend of 68 years, Jane; his children Chesley (Lois), Michael (Lynn) and Beth; his grandchildren Charlotte, Catherine (John), Rachel, Jane (Stephen), Victoria (Alex), Mary (Matthew), Megan, Amanda and John; his great-grandchildren Olivia and Charles; as well as a large extended family and vast circle of friends and colleagues.
No politician in our system of government can make a difference without the work of an army of smart and devoted aides and the support of loyal constituents. Mr. Crosbie knew that he was blessed with both. The family would like to warmly acknowledge and thank them.
In his final years, Mr. Crosbie was wonderfully supported by the excellent staff at Kenny’s Pond Retirement Community. Sincere thanks to you all on behalf of all the family.
The family would be grateful for donations to the Home From The Sea Foundation, the Hon. John C. Crosbie Weldon Tradition Scholarship in Law at Dalhousie University and Memorial University, choosing “Scholarships & Fellowships” as the area of designation and specifying the “John and Jane Crosbie Scholarship” in the designation information.
John C. Crosbie will be remembered for his indelible humour and quick tongue, his willingness to make controversial decisions and his fierce and effective advocacy on behalf of Newfoundland and Labrador. His is a legacy worth celebrating, a life worth emulating and a name indelibly etched in the history of the country and the province that he loved. Many have heard him relate how to spot the Newfoundlanders in heaven. “They’re the ones who want to go home.”
Cremation has taken place. Resting in state at the House of Assembly, Confederation Building, St. John’s, NL from 2 pm to 6 pm on Tuesday, January 14th and Wednesday, January 15th. Funeral service will be held at the Anglican Cathedral, Church Hill on Thursday, January 16th, 2020 at 2:00 pm. Private interment to follow.
House of Assembly