New­found­land’s un­elected prime min­is­ters


Twenty-eight men and one woman — Kathy Dun­derdale — have served as prime min­is­ter or premier of New­found­land, or to­day of New­found­land and Labrador.

Many peo­ple be­lieve that an elec­tion vic­tory is the only way to gain the high­est of­fice in our prov­ince. But no less than 17 — nearly two out of three — of those 29 were sworn into of­fice be­fore they led their par­ties into a gen­eral elec­tion.

One third — nine — of them did not win an elec­tion, and so lost the job quickly. The tenth, Kathy Dun­derdale, is still an open ques­tion.

Our first seven prime min­is­ters — Philip Lit­tle, John Kent, Hugh Hoyles, Fred­er­ick Carter, Charles Fox Bennett, Wil­liam White­way, and Robert Thor­burn — all won the right to gov­ern in gen­eral elec­tions, some of them more than once.

Au­gus­tus F. Goodridge, in 1894, was the first to get there by other means.

Wil­liam White­way and the Lib­er­als were vic­to­ri­ous in the 1894 gen­eral elec­tion, but 15 of their 23 Mem­bers (in­clud­ing White­way) were un­seated by the Supreme Court in re­sponse to pe­ti­tions filed by Con­ser­va­tives.

Goodridge, the leader of the Con­ser­va­tives in the House, be­came prime min­is­ter when White­way re­signed. But he lost the job within months, when the Lib­er­als won all but one of the by­elec­tions to fill the va­cated seats.

He was re­placed by Daniel Greene, the acting Lib­eral leader in the House, our sec­ond un­elected prime min­is­ter. He held the of­fice for a lit­tle more than two months, un­til White­way re­turned to the House.

The next three prime min­is­ters — James Win­ter ( 1897) Robert Bond ( 1900) and Ed­ward Morris (1909) — all led their par­ties to vic­tory, al­though both Bond and Morris served as prime min­is­ter for sev­eral months be­fore the elec­tions in which they did so.

Wil­liam Lloyd and Michael Cashin, suc­ces­sors to Morris, failed to do so. Lloyd be­came prime min­is­ter on Jan. 1, 1918, when Morris was ap­pointed to the Bri­tish House of Lords (the only na­tive New­found­lan­der ever to be so hon­oured). He led the war-time Na­tional Gov­ern­ment for 17 months, be­fore los­ing the prime min­is­ter­ship in one of the most mem­o­rable mo­ments of our po­lit­i­cal his­tory.

Cashin, fi­nance min­is­ter since 1909, tri­umphantly pre­sented his 1919-20 bud­get early in May. When next the House met, he stood in his place and moved a mo­tion of “no con­fi­dence” in the gov­ern­ment of which he was a part.

Af­ter a few mo­ments of stunned si­lence, Lloyd rose to sec­ond the mo­tion. It car­ried unan­i­mously. New­found­land had won a unique place in par­lia­men­tary his­tory.

Cashin be­came prime min­is­ter two days later. He and his “Lib­eral-Pro­gres­sive” party were dev­as­tated in the elec­tion that fall, win­ning only 12 seats to the 24 earned by the Lib­eral Re­form-FPU coali­tion.

Squires be­came prime min­is­ter a fort­night af­ter the 1919 elec­tion, and his coali­tion won re-elec­tion hand­ily in 1923.

Soon af­ter the elec­tion, how­ever, he found him­self mired in the Liquor Store scan­dal, per­haps the most pu­trid in New­found­land’s long po­lit­i­cal his­tory.

He was forced to re­sign as prime min­is­ter, to be suc­ceeded by Wil­liam War­ren, a fel­low Lib­eral.

War­ren, the fifth un­elected prime min­is­ter, held of­fice for 10 months, un­til he was ousted by a “no con­fi­dence” mo­tion, with a mar­gin of one vote. He was suc­ceeded by Al­bert Hick­man, our sixth un­elected prime min­is­ter.

He promptly called an elec­tion, which he lost. He held of­fice for 30 days, the short­est term of any of the 31 New­found­lan­ders who have led us. Hick­man was fol­lowed by Wal­ter Mon­roe (1924-28), Squires again (1928-32) and Fred Alderdice (1932-34), all of them vic­tors in gen­eral elec­tions.

Sixty-five years passed be­fore we had an­other un­elected first min­is­ter. Joseph Small­wood was premier for two months be­fore he won the 1949 gen­eral elec­tion; Frank Moores won two elec­tion vic­to­ries; and Brian Peck­ford won a gen­eral elec­tion soon af­ter he was cho­sen as Leader of the Con­ser­va­tives in 1979.

Thomas Ride­out be­came premier in March 1989, when he suc­ceeded Peck­ford as PC Leader. Clyde Wells and the Lib­er­als won the sub­se­quent gen­eral elec­tion, mak­ing Ride­out’s ten­ure the sec­ond short­est, bet­ter­ing only that of Hick­man.

Brian Tobin, suc­ceed­ing Wells, won a gen­eral elec­tion and Beaton Tulk in­her­ited the pre­mier­ship from him in Oc­to­ber 2000, to be suc­ceeded in Fe­bru­ary 2001 by Roger Grimes, the newly-elected Lib­eral Leader.

Grimes, an­other un­elected premier, re­mained in of­fice un­til the Lib­er­als lost the 2003 gen­eral elec­tion to Danny Wil­liams and his Con­ser­va­tives. Wil­liams, af­ter two over­whelm­ing vic­to­ries, re­tired from pol­i­tics in De­cem­ber 2010.

Kathy Dun­derdale be­came the first woman to serve as our premier. We shall soon know whether she will take her place as one of the 10 who never won an elec­tion, or one of the 19 who have.

Ed­ward Roberts has had a life­long in­ter­est in the his­tory of New­found­land and Labrador. He was an MHA for 23 years, and served as the prov­ince’s lieu­tenant-gov­er­nor from 2002 to 2008.

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