Lethbridge Herald

Former cabinet minister Crosbie dead at 88

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John Crosbie, a former federal cabinet minister who was known as much for his sharp wit as for his politics, has died at the age of 88.

His death early Friday followed a period of declining health that saw an outpouring of support from both politician­s and average citizens, particular­ly in his home province of Newfoundla­nd and Labrador.

His family issued a statement saying they were heartbroke­n by their loss.

“To Newfoundla­nd and Labrador and to Canada, he was an independen­t spirit, a passionate nation builder, an orator of biting wit and charm, and always — forever — a tireless fighter for the people,” the statement said.

“He relished the cut and thrust of politics throughout his life, not for sport, but for people, whose best interests he embraced as his own. On the wharf or around a table, he listened, he heard and he resolved to deliver.”

Crosbie, who was perhaps best known as an outspoken fisheries minister under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, was born to a political family in preConfede­ration St. John’s in 1931. He was an exemplary student, graduating with honours from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., and Dalhousie Law School in Halifax.

A practising lawyer, he entered politics in 1965 as a city councillor in St. John’s. Within a year, he was appointed to the cabinet of Liberal Premier Joey Smallwood and shortly afterwards was elected to the legislatur­e.

After a dispute with Smallwood over the leadership of the party in 1969, Crosbie crossed the floor to join the Opposition Progressiv­e Conservati­ve party led by Frank Moores. The Conservati­ves were elected to govern in 1972, and Crosbie held a number of cabinet positions before deciding to run federally in 1976.

As finance minister in the short-lived minority government of Prime Minister Joe Clark, he brought in a tough budget containing tax increases in 1979, and the government fell on a motion of non-confidence after less than nine months in office.

“Long enough to conceive, just not long enough to deliver,” Crosbie quipped at the time.

He ran for the party’s leadership in 1983 but, hurt by his inability to speak French, he lost to Brian Mulroney.

Questioned about his unilingual­ism, Crosbie shot back, “I cannot talk to the Chinese people in their own language either.”

Mulroney became prime minister in 1984 and Crosbie was named justice minister. In an exchange in the House of Commons in 1985, Crosbie told Liberal MP Sheila Copps to “Just quiet down, baby,” prompting Copps to reply, “I’m nobody’s baby.”

He riled Copps again in 1990 during a fundraiser in Victoria, B.C., saying Copps made him think of the song lyrics, “Pass the tequila, Sheila, and lie down and love me again.” The sexist quip was caught on camera, sparking an uproar. Crosbie later acknowledg­ed the comment was “ill-considered.”

He said he and Copps played up their squabbles for mutual gain. “She’s a profession­al politician, and I was as well,” he said in 2011. “We’re good pals now. We’re very friendly, and she’s married to a Newfoundla­nder, so she’s a fine woman as far as I’m concerned.”

During his time in the Mulroney government, he was one of the most vocal proponents of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

Crosbie’s final cabinet post was as fisheries minister, and he oversaw the closure of the cod fishery in Atlantic Canada — a move that put thousands of people in his home province out of work.

Defending himself in front of protesting Newfoundla­nd fishermen in 1992, shortly before he announced the fishing moratorium, Crosbie said, “I didn’t take the fish from the God damned water!”

He would later describe the moratorium as the most difficult moment of this life in politics. However, when he left the political arena he earned praise for the compensati­on the government offered to those thrown out of work.

Marjory LeBreton, a former Conservati­ve senator and longtime party insider, said Crosbie was ahead of his time with his ill-fated 1979 austerity budget. She also hailed his tough stand in the face of the cod crisis.

“He is revered in the Conservati­ve party for his intelligen­ce, his courage and for his incredible wit,” she said. “We could fill a book with Crosbie-isms, some of which would not pass the ‘political correctnes­s’ restrictio­ns we currently live with.”

Crosbie was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 1998.

 ?? Canadian Press photo ?? Newfoundla­nd and Labrador Lieut.-Gov. John Crosbie is shown during an interview in his office in St.John's, Jan.6, 2011.
Canadian Press photo Newfoundla­nd and Labrador Lieut.-Gov. John Crosbie is shown during an interview in his office in St.John's, Jan.6, 2011.

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