Working for John Crosbie is a time St. John’s resident Ray Andrews remembers well.
“He was a workaholic, a stickler for details, needed all the research from as many as he could get before he made any decisions, so that was the part I really liked about him,” said Andrews in an interview.
“He didn’t work on the fly or do short-term type of stuff. He always wanted the details necessary from everybody and many times he would ask the same question of a bunch of people and take all of it and put it together and say my best decision is this. He always used that approach; getting all the background, all the details, and making what he called a reasonable decision based on all the people’s input.”
Andrews worked for Crosbie from 1989 to 1993 as a special advisor, in addition to operating his St. John’s office.
“Basically, I was with him for the years of the Mulroney government,” said Andrews. “I was a political staffer doing his follow-up political work, not a bureaucrat” although Andrews had also spent a career as a bureaucrat with the Newfoundland and Labrador government.
“When I was with the provincial government, I was one of those people who got fired as a deputy minister in 1989 when Premier Wells took over. Crosbie called up and said up “Hey b’y. You might not be any good to the crowd down in Newfoundland. Come up to Ottawa and I’ll get some work done from you and you can help us out in the federal system.”
As Crosbie’s boots on the ground in St. John’s, “I had to deal with everybody on almost everything in terms of the federal government, although the fishery was always my speciality and his major concern was nearly always fisheries,” said Andrews.
Andrews recalled one time when the Newfoundland community of Gaultois Island was having great difficulty in surviving.
“Gaultois Island was out of fish. The plant was closing down. He (Crosbie) struggled with it because it wasn’t in his district, but as minister he said to me, ‘Ray go find some fish for Gaultois.’ And I casually said to him you’re really concerned about that community and he said that’s a Newfoundland community in trouble and sent me out on safari to all the big fish companies to get some reallocations of fish to try and keep the town and the fish plant going, which I was successful in doing. That’s the kind of stuff I remember him for. When you do those things, you don’t forget them because he could have easily said not in my district and let it slip.”
The Northern cod moratorium was probably the longest and hardest decision that Crosbie struggled with as federal fisheries minister when Andrews was there.
“It’s beyond anybody’s belief how much time we spent at that,” said Andrews. “With the Northern cod, it was not simply what’s the state of the stocks. We were being told by the offshore it’s not as bad as it was, the inshore was saying it’s worse than you think it is and the scientists were somewhat stretched over a long research analysis and they weren’t 100 per cent… We had to make the final decision. It was a very difficult day and the days that followed even more difficult.”
One big risk that Crosbie took which produced a lot of results was when he approved an Atlantic surf clam harvesting licence for Clearwater, said Andrews.
“(John) Risley and company, they wanted to develop the clam industry in Newfoundland. While there was not a lot of science about clams and there wasn’t a lot of support for the organization, Crosbie decided to give them a licence to fish clams and it’s probably the most successful fish harvesting, processing and marketing operation in the whole province in many ways,” said Andrews.
Crosbie was also known for his sense of humour.
“No matter how bad times were or how difficult the issue was, he always found some way to lighten things up or liven things up with his humour,” said Andrews.
Andrew said probably Crosbie’s greatest legacy in Newfoundland and Labrador, besides all the other things he did, was to spearhead the creation of the Sealer’s Museum and Interpretation Centre in Elliston, that bears his name.
The John C. Crosbie Sealers Interpretation Centre is the first of its kind in the world. The facility features a museum and art gallery and a seaside memorial statue and monument.
The Honorable Dr. John C. Crosbie, P.C., O.C., O.N.L., Q.C. passed away on January 10, 2020, days from his 89th birthday.
He is described in his obituary as “one of the province’s and Canada’s most notable, stalwart and admired political figures,” who enjoyed a remarkable career in public life, serving in municipal government, the Newfoundland House of Assembly, the House of Commons and as Lieutenant-Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador.
He was Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans from April 21, 1991 to June 24, 1993.