The election that took 14 months to settle
There have been many memorable general elections in Newfoundland, not the least of which were the two where several months passed before the winner could be determined.
The most recent was in October 1971, when Joey Smallwood won the last of his “six-and-ahalf victories,” in Pierre Trudeau’s memorable phrase. Three months later, in January, the Supreme Court confirmed that the Progressive Conservative candidate had, in fact, been elected in St. Barbe South, giving the Progressive Conservatives a majority in the House of Assembly.
Frank Moores became premier, ending Smallwood’s long reign. But that was neither the longest nor the strangest election in our history.
Newfoundlanders went to the polls in November 1893, the first in which they cast secret ballots, but it wasn’t until February 1895, 14 months later, that they knew which party had won, and who was going to be their prime minister. Three men — two Liberals and a Conservative — held office successively during those months, one of them twice.
The election results confirmed a strong victory for the Liberal party, led by Sir William Whiteway. Prime minister since 1889, he and his party won 23 of the 36 seats in the House. (He had earlier held the office between 1878 and 1885, winning two successive general elections).
But the apparent Liberal victory quickly turned to ashes at the hands of the Supreme Court. The Conservatives, led by Walter Baine Grieve and Moses Monroe (neither of whom had managed to win a seat in the House), filed petitions against 16 of the men elected (15 Liberals and the one independent) charging them with bribery and corruption. The petitioners asked the judges of the Supreme Court to overturn the election results. None of the 12 successful Conservatives was challenged.
Each of the petitions was heard by a single judge. At the end of the day, 15 of the 16 mem- bers were unseated. Newfoundland’s Corrupt Practices Act also required the judges to impose a ban that prev e n t e d a ny o f the unseated candidates from standing again, and they did so.
Whi t eway, the incumbent prime minister, and the apparent victor, had remained in office for four months after the election. In March 1894, shortly after the Supreme Court unseated the first of the challenged Liberals, he asked the governor, Sir Herbert Murray, to dissolve the House and hold another election. Murray refused, and Whiteway promptly resigned.
Although the Liberals still had a commanding majority in the House with 22 seats, Murray asked Augustus Goodridge, the interim Conservative Leader, to become prime minister.
Goodridge and the Conservatives held only 12 of the 36 seats. The rule that a member who accepted an office of “profit under the Crown,” which included a seat in the cabinet, forced five of them to resign and to seek re-election. They did so.
Whiteway, still an MHA, although no longer prime minister, promptly introduced a motion of “no confidence” in Goodridge’s administration, which passed by 20 votes to seven.
That was on April 14. Goodridge did not resign, but persuaded the governor to prorogue the House. It did not meet again until Aug. 23. By that time, the court had heard all the cases and unseated all but one of the challenged Members. Those who were unseated included not only Whiteway, but two future prime ministers, Robert Bond and Edward Morris.
A series of byelections throughout the fall left the House with 23 Liberals and 13 Conservatives. On Dec. 12, two days after the 1894 Bank Crash, Goodridge acknowledged defeat and resigned.
Whiteway was not then a Member of the House, because he had been banned from run-
ning by the court. The governor sent for Daniel J. Greene, acting leader of the Liberals, and swore him in as prime minister on Dec. 13.
The House met early in January 1894. The Liberal majority immediately amended the Corrupt Practices Act to permit Whiteway and the other banned men to stand again as candidates. Greene then resigned as prime minister, and the governor had no choice except to send for Whiteway.
The death of a Conservative member opened a seat in the House, and Whiteway was returned by acclamation later in February. Bond and Morris also returned, winning byelections opened when sitting Liberal members stood down to make way for them. Bond was the last to win a seat, on Sept. 16.
Whiteway remained as prime minister until Sir James Winter succeeded him after he and his Conservatives won a general election held in October, 1897. He lost his own seat, in Trinity, in that election.