Nfld. & Labrador

Condolences pour in following death of N.L. icon John Crosbie

News that iconic Newfoundland and Labrador politician John Crosbie has died is sweeping across the province, and condolences are pouring in from the public as well as former premiers and prime ministers. 

Crosbie remembered for charisma, humour and passion for his province

Ches Crosbie, left, here with his father John Crosbie, tweeted this photo Friday with the caption, 'I'm going to miss you Dad.' John Crosbie died Friday morning. (Ches Crosbie/Twitter)

News that iconic Newfoundland and Labrador politician John Crosbie has died is sweeping across the province, and condolences are pouring in from the public as well as former premiers and prime ministers. 

The Crosbie family announced his passing Friday morning. He was 88.

"Our hearts, although broken, are also warmed and deeply touched by the overwhelming outpouring of support we have received from near and far," the family statement reads.

"Thank you to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and all Canadians from the bottom of our hearts."

Crosbie was cremated at Carnell's Funeral Home.

A general visitation will take place at the House of Assembly on Jan. 14-15 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

A funeral service will be held at the Anglican Cathedral in St. John's Jan. 16 at 2 p.m.

Crosbie was a sometimes controversial figure, through a career that brought him from St. John's city council to Parliament Hill, in particular for his role in the shutdown of the northern cod fishery off Newfoundland and Labrador in 1992.

John Crosbie raises his hands above his head during introductions at the opening of the PC convention in Ottawa on June 9, 1983. (Andy Clark/The Canadian Press)

In the 1980s, Crosbie held several federal portfolios under Brian Mulroney's Tory government, including justice, transport, international trade and fishery.

Mulroney called Crosbie "one of the giants of our generation in Canadian public life" in a statement issued Friday.

"John Crosbie devoted his life to serving the people of Newfoundland and Labrador," Mulroney said.

"He will be long remembered for his courage, his humour and his passion. I will be honoured to offer a eulogy to his memory in the days ahead."

The fallout of the 1992 cod moratorium was a particular challenge; the following year, the federal election saw the Liberals elected to government.

Brian Tobin became the federal fisheries minister. It was a difficult time, Tobin said, when he became the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador post-cod collapse, but Crosbie had a sympathetic ear.

John and Jane Crosbie, with their children Beth, Michael, and Ches, in an old family photo. (Beth Crosbie/Facebook)

"What was ironic about it all is one of the fairly regular visitors to my office as premier, as we struggled to deal with the economy such as it was with the collapse of the fishery, was none other than John," Tobin said.

"He was happy to come in and commiserate with me the challenges in front of the province and offer genuine, heartfelt, sincere advice, and frankly to keep confidential those things we talked about."

Crosbie embodied the true concept of a public servant, Tobin said.

"John always wanted to find a way to serve, whether it was as an MHA, as a provincial politician, a federal politician, lieutenant-governor, the chancellor of the university, or as a private citizen," he said.

"He was someone whose whole mission was to serve."

Sitting across the aisle from Crosbie in the House of Commons was an experience that Tobin said every member of Parliament will remember.

Ches Crosbie, right, leader of the Provincial Progressive Conservative party, assists his fathe with his tie prior to lunch at Kenny's Pond Retirement Residence in St. John's on May 12, 2019. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

"In my opinion — and I hope Brian Mulroney won't take this the wrong way, because Brian pays close attention to these things — John Crosbie was always the smartest guy in any room in which he sat," Tobin said.

"Ordinarily in the House of Commons, people have half an ear to what's being said … When John rose, trust me, the entire House stood still. Everybody wanted to make sure they didn't miss a word. We heard exactly what he was going to say, and we knew there was a very high degree of probability we were gonna hear a quote of the day."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Crosbie was known for his quick wit and as a true force of nature. 

"Mr. Crosbie made lasting contributions to his province and country. Over a remarkable career, he served his community at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. As a federal cabinet minister, his work to promote free trade changed the face of our country, creating new opportunities for Canadians from coast to coast to coast," Trudeau said in a statement.

"On behalf of the Government of Canada, Sophie and I offer our heartfelt condolences to his family and many friends."

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette said during Crosbie's five years as lieutenant-governor of Newfoundland and Labrador he would happily showcase the best the province had to offer, deeply proud of its culture and history.

"On behalf of all Canadians, I offer my deepest condolences to his loved ones and to the people of his cherished home province."

MHA David Brazil issued a statement on behalf of the Progressive Conservative party early on Friday, with condolences for the family and provincial Tory Leader Ches Crosbie — John Crosbie's son.

"He wasn't trying to fake being anything other than John Crosbie, who was a very sincere, intelligent individual who would go to fight for people," Brazil told CBC News Friday afternoon.

"He didn't tell you what you wanted to hear versus telling you what you needed to hear."

Former premier Danny Williams — a memorable political personality in his own right — said Crosbie was "one of the most charismatic, colourful and genuine individuals" the province has ever seen.

"His contributions are far too many to list; however, there can be no doubt that his legacy will be felt forever throughout Canada," Williams said in a statement, pointing at Crosbie's role in the establishment of the oil and gas industry, as well as trade negotiations at a national level.

"He truly is one of the greatest public servants of our time."

Liberal Premier Dwight Ball said Newfoundland and Labrador is a better, stronger province because of Crosbie.

"He would always say, regardless of your political party or affiliation, 'do what's best for Newfoundland and Labrador. Stay the course.' And that was kind of his mantra. That's who he was an individual," Ball said.  

Crosbie was a fan of sealskin products. (John Rieti)

"I would have loved to have been around if John Crosbie had a Twitter account, and what those comments would have looked like. Think of what 140 characters would have meant to John Crosbie. He was extremely colourful, but he had a lot of friends."

Flags at provincial government buildings across Newfoundland and Labrador will be lowered to half-mast, and details around visitation at Confederation Building are being arranged with the Crosbie family.

While Crosbie and former Liberal MP Sheila Copps had an infamous exchange in the House of Commons in 1985, which saw Crosbie tell her to "just quiet down, baby," among other interactions, the two became friends.

"He was one of the greats. He was a great Canadian. He was a great conservative. He was a great Newfoundlander," Copps said. 

Copps said she had the privilege of having lunch with Crosbie and Jane in August while visiting Newfoundland for her brother-in-law's birthday.  

"He still had a sense of humour, and when we finished the lunch and he called me 'baby.' So, he hasn't lost it," she said. 

Comedian and television personality Rick Mercer said Crosbie was one of the most influential politician's in the province's history.

"He was a man who was at the centre of every significant part of Newfoundland history since Confederation, and whether people agreed or disagreed with him, nobody ever questioned his love of Newfoundland and Labrador," Mercer told CBC's The Current.

"It was infused in everything he did."

Mercer said Crosbie, in his role in Ottawa, was in many ways the "most famous Newfoundlander" for decades.

"And we were OK with that because he embodied all the qualities we were proud of. He was hard-working, he was passionate, he was capable, and he had a hell of a sense of humour," Mercer said.

"We were proud of him. He was known as a good guy."

During Mercer's time on This Hour Has 22 Minutes, he and Crosbie recorded a gag they came up with together and filmed at Crosbie's summer home, where they planned for Crosbie to throw Mercer off his property.

"At the end … he said, 'Oh I've got something for you,' and he went in the shed and then he came out and then he had a gun with him. And he threw me off the lawn and he said, 'The CBC can kiss my —' and blam! He fired the gun over my head," Mercer remembered with a laugh.

"It was a great moment. Scared the hell out of me, but just as soon as he fired the gun, the door opened and Jane, his wife, ran out and she said, 'John, you told me you got rid of that!' and he looked at me and he said, 'It's time for you to go.'"

Former Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Brian Peckford, said he first met Crosbie when he was running for leadership of the provincial Liberals, and became one of Crosbie's campaign managers during his run against Joey Smallwood.

Peckford said Crosbie was determined, hard working, qualities for which he became known for.

"Like his family, John's influence on life in his home province was substantial. His wit, intelligence and hard work on behalf of the Province will be remembered."

Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote's office issued a statement on Crosbie, a former lieutenant-governor, saying he will be remembered "for the deep-rooted passion and firm conviction he exhibited throughout his career" as a public servant.

"It would be hard to find anyone in our province or country who has not heard of John Crosbie," the statement said.

"His love of debate and his sense of humour made him a household name."

Former Prime Minister Joe Clark told CBC News that Crosbie was a big personality, without question, but also an intelligent colleague who was respectful around the cabinet table. 

Crosbie served as Clark's finance minister during his brief run in 1979.

"He was at that time, and I have to say throughout my long experience with him, he was was a first-class colleague. He kept you in form," Clark said.

"He was a fierce fighter for Newfoundland. But, for Newfoundland in Canada. One couldn't find a better representative of a province, or of a region, or of a country for that matter, in a cabinet than John Crosbie."

Bill Rowe is a former Liberal MHA and in the late 70s sat as the official leader of the opposition in Newfoundland and Labrador. He and Crosbie were colleagues under the Joey Smallwood administration, later on facing off from opposite sides of the House floor. 

"He was good in terms of honest, straightforward, direct, no punches pulled, tell it like it is. What's not to love in that?" Rowe said of Crosbie. 

"Perhaps the most important thing of all is that he turned politics from being deadly dull, dull as dishwater often and tedious, into something that was entertaining and amusing, and he was able to get his points across by the little dose of humour that he injected."   

Rowe said Crosbie was the best premier Newfoundland and Labrador never had.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The Current and CBC News Network

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