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Frank Moores in 1972, the year he became Newfoundland's first Tory premier. (CP Photo)

Frank Moores, who became the first Progressive Conservative premier of Newfoundland in 1972 after defeating Joey Smallwood's Liberals and went on to wield great influence on Parliament Hill, has died.

Moores, 72, died Sunday of cancer in a hospital in Perth, Ont., about 60 kilometres southwest of Ottawa. He had been fighting the disease for more than a year.

In 1972, he became the province's second premier after the province joined Canada in 1949, after two contentious elections in which his upstart Tories finally gained power over Joey Smallwood's Liberals.

'People ask me about the greatest thing [I did] as premier. We did one – we restored true democracy to the province.'

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Frank Moores, pictured in a 2004 interview with CBC Television.

The twists and turns of those elections became legendary. In the Oct. 28, 1971 general election, Moores led the Tories to seize 21 of the 42 seats in the legislature.

Smallwood's Liberals won 20 seats, with the remaining seat won by New Labrador Party leader Tom Burgess.

Smallwood refused to resign, leading to a deadlock that lasted for three months.

Under pressure, Smallwood tendered his resignation in January 1972. Moores formed a government, but a shaky hold on power forced him to call another election to clear the air.

"Once things had cracked in the first election, the overwhelming mood was, 'Let's do the job,'" Moores said in a 2004 interview.

'Dedicated and passionate': Williams

As premier, Moores emphasized development and ownership of natural resources.

He served two terms as premier, until 1979.

'We all owe him a debt of gratitude for his significant contributions as the province's first Progressive Conservative premier.'

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams called Moores "one of the most dedicated and passionate individuals to ever serve this province."

"He was committed to making Newfoundland and Labrador a better place, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for his significant contributions as the province's first Progressive Conservative premier," Williams said in a statement.

Led Mulroney's Tory leadership campaign

Moores went on to have a successful career outside of elected politics, although he never lost his appetite for the political life.

He became a lobbyist and, in 1983, organized Brian Mulroney's victorious campaign for the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservatives.

He was an adviser to Mulroney, who became prime minister in 1984, and his lobbying firm, Government Consultants International, earned a reputation as being a key gatekeeper in the capital.

Dragged into the Airbus scandal

His position of influence became entangled in the Airbus affair, which involved speculation of wrongdoing in Air Canada's acquisition of Airbus jets.

'If there was any fact to it, you could take it on the chin – but there was no fact to it.'

In 1997, the federal government apologized to Moores because the RCMP Airbus investigation became public, and it had "wrongly reached conclusions that [he] had engaged in criminal activity."

"If there was any fact to it, you could take it on the chin – but there was no fact to it," Moores said last year.

In 1999, CBC obtained Swiss bank account documents of Karlheinz Schreiber, the German-Canadian businessman who was the focus of the Airbus affair.

The documents showed that despite years of denials by Moores, he had received Airbus commission money from Schreiber. The funds were transferred from Schreiber's Swiss accounts to Moores' Swiss accounts.

But in 2003, the RCMP ended its Airbus investigation. No charges were laid against Moores or Schreiber.

People 'wanted the yoke of Mr. Smallwood shucked'

Born to a prosperous Conception Bay family, Moores entered the family's fish-based business before being lured into active politics.

In 1968, he was elected to the House of Commons, in an election that presaged his provincial career.

While Trudeaumania was sweeping the rest of the country, Newfoundlanders voted overwhelmingly instead for Progressive Conservative candidates, picking them for six of the province's seven seats.

That upset had little to do with Trudeau and everything to do with Smallwood, whose hardline style was beginning to wear out its welcome.

In 1970, Moores left Ottawa to become Progressive Conservative leader at home, and began preparing the party for a fight against Smallwood. Until then, Smallwood had never lost an election.

"Young people, particularly, wanted the yoke of Mr. Smallwood shucked," Moores said.

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"People ask me about the greatest thing [I did] as premier. We did one – we restored true democracy to the province."

Cancer's effect on his family

In retirement, Moores had been living in Perth for many years. He leaves six daughters and a son from his first marriage to Dorothy Pain, and a son from his second marriage to Janis Johnson.

'You always know how much you love your children, but you never know until you're going through something like this how much they love you back.'

Moores was diagnosed with cancer of the liver early in 2004. The disease later spread to his back.

In an interview last year, he spoke candidly about his battle with the disease and its impact on his family life.

"You always know how much you love your children, but you never know until you're going through something like this how much they love you back," he said.