In every country and region there are politicians and public figures who become such big figures that it becomes hard to think of that place without them coming up. In Canada, every province can point to some of these larger than life characters, the impact they made and the legacy they left, for good or bad. Names that come to mind for me right away are the likes of Tommy Douglas, Bill Davis, Rene Levesque, W.A.C. Bennett and Joey Smallwood, along with many others. In this country we have very few politicians who rise to that point, but today we lost one who, for better or worse, belongs in that kind of company:
John Crosbie did a lot in his time; he was a city council, an MHA in Newfoundland, a federal MP, a cabinet minister, a Liberal turn a Progressive Conservative and Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador. He did it all in his own way, with his heart on his sleeve and even sometimes, with his foot in his mouth. He was known for his quick wit and quicker way with words, something that got him into a lot of trouble from time to time. But in a generation of big political names in Canada, he was synonymous with his home province.
When you look at his political legacy, Crosbie was at the centre of one of the seminal moments of the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. He was Brian Mulroney’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans when the decision was taken. That lead to moments like these, moments that he said were the hardest he ever faced:
Let’s face it everyone, regardless of how you feel about Crosbie’s legacy and actions, there are precious few Cabinet Ministers today who would have faced those directly affected by his live-changing decision and faced the music. In this time when many decisions are made far away from those they touch, Crosbie was right there and took it. That was the kind of thing that I can’t help but respect, even if I disagreed with a lot of what he did during his time in office.
Another thing that needs to be pointed to about Mr. Crosbie was despite the fact that he did put his foot in his mouth many times and said things that were simply offensive about certain people, he had enough decency to try to make amends with those he offended. One person that he personally went after a few times was Liberal MP Sheila Copps, saying things to her or invoking her name in sexist ways that were awful even by 1980’s standards, let alone todays. Yet somehow he did make amends to her and they became friends, to the point where he actually wrote the introduction for Copps’ second book, Worth Fighting For, in 2004. In our current age when politicians still get personal in the House and outside of it, and still battle hard in their politics, we don’t see as much of this example and honestly, our politics could use more of it.
Finally, one thing about Crosbie that made him bigger than life was his ability to laugh at himself. Growing up in the 90’s, I was only 13 when he closed the cod fishery and then a year was gone from Ottawa. For me, my most vivid memory of Crosbie was an appearance he made on “This Hour Has 22 Minutes”, where Rick Mercer did a piece with him. It was hilarious stuff, where Crosbie played with the caricature of his personality, leaving a moment that sticks with me to this day. I tried to find the video of it to put in this post, but I had no luck finding it. But I did find this piece from CBC’s “The Current”, where Mercer talks about the day he filmed that piece, and I think it does the job just as well:
Crosbie leaves this world with a legacy that is as controversial as beloved, depending how your experiences and where you sit on the political spectrum. But it’s hard to think of politics in Newfoundland and Labrador without thinking of John Crosbie, his personality and his influence on it. That personality is one that will ring through out history and will forever be linked with the history of the province that he loved and called home.