New book profiles Alex B. Campbell

In a province traditionally slow to change, three-term premier Alex B. Campbell was a breath of fresh air, perhaps a gust or even a whirlwind.

First aired on Island Morning 96.1 FM

In a province traditionally slow to change Alex B. Campbell was a breath of fresh air, perhaps a gust or even a whirlwind.

Now the politician known best for ushering his province into a new era is being profiled in the book Alex B. Campbell: the Prince Edward Island Premier of Who Rocked the Cradle, by Wade MacLauchlan

If political lineage is the measure Campbell wasn't long out of the cradle before entering public life.  Elected premier at 32 he was, at the time, the youngest first minister ever elected in Canada. Between 1966 and his retirement from politics in 1978 he would serve with a total of 26 premiers and two prime ministers.  When he attended the first ministers conference in his final year in office he had been the longest serving premier in Canada, and at 44 was still the youngest at the table. 

Campbell was born into politics. He is the son of a former premier Thane A. Campbell. The B in his name comes from his mother Cecilia L. Bradshaw.  Alex B. Campbell was born in December 1933 in Summerside and educated at Dalhousie University. 

His first run for political office happened in a 1965 byelection in what was then known as 5th Prince. Later in the year he was elected leader of the P.E.I. Liberal Party and took the party to victory beating the Progressive Conservatives led by Walter R. Shaw.

12 years of change

His first years were not a political honeymoon. Campbell ushered the province through the agricultural crisis of the early 1970s, five of the worst years ever for the province's farmers. The national energy crisis hit P.E.I. particularly hard, with the Island's reliance on imported power. And Campbell's provincial coffers were also stretched, with the government regularly in danger of not being able to meet its payroll. 

Alex B. Campbell was undeterred, and able to give Islanders what they needed.

"He had that effect on people, that when he walked into a room they moved toward him, " said author Wade MacLauchlan. 

I think the word magnetic captures it.- Author Wade MacLauchlan

"I think the word magnetic captures it. He was famous for being a good listener, for having an exceptional memory, for having an exceptional sense of humour and a, you might say, humility for his own part in the whole thing." 

Campbell was able bring the Island through a difficult time by taking advantage of new spending and changes at the federal level, bringing new money and programs to the cash-strapped Island economy. 

Campbell is credited with seeing P.E.I. through tremendous change. He streamlined the school system and created both the University of Prince Edward Island and Holland College. His government also created the PEI Lending Agency and the Land Development Corporation to help the economy. There were assistance programs to build Islanders new homes and help them fix up existing ones. The Campbell government also introduced Medicare.

There were changes to the land development rules in the province, and Campbell undertook measures to limit the amount of land non-residents can own, rules that formed the basis for current land-ownership legislation.

The impact of his leadership showed in the bottom line.

"In 1966 the average household income of Islanders was 62 per cent of the Canadian average. By 12 years later it was 72.2 per cent," said MacLauchlan.

Campbell left politics in 1978, shortly after winning his four successive election, the dashing lawyer from Summerside stepped aside at 44.  He became a justice of the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island, and in 2013 was named to the Order of Canada. 

Alex B. Campbell spends most of year a short drive from Summerside, he has a home in Stanley Bridge and winters in Florida.

He still does some organizing, though not political. For the last 14 years he's been the chief organizer March's Prince Edward Island Picnic at Desoto Park is St. Petersburg.

The launch for Alex B. Campbell: The Prince Edward Island Premier Who Rocked the Cradle will be held Friday in Summerside.  It is published by the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation.