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.

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