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A politician often in the soup


Bert Riggs,

(an archivist with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at Memorial University),
whose column, A Backward Glance
appears in the Telegram each Tuesday

Transcribed From the Telegram

By: Barbara McGrath



Through the years, a number of remarkable individuals from Prince Edward Island made a contribution to the development and life of Newfoundland. The first prime minister of Newfoundland, Philip Little (1824-1897), was from P.E.I. and moved to St. John's in 1844 to practise law. He was later joined by his brother Joseph (1835-1902), who became chief justice of the Newfoundland Supreme Court in 1898.

David Smallwood (1839-1928), sawmiller, bootmaker and grandfather of Joseph R. Smallwood, was also a Prince Edward Islander.

Another was a medical doctor who became quite influential in Newfoundland politics in the 1920s.

Alexander Campbell was born in Souris, P.E.I., on July 11, 1876, the son of Angus and Anna Campbell. After graduation from Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown, he attended McGill University in Montreal, receiving a doctor of medicine degree.

Medical practice established

Campbell came to Newfoundland in 1902, and set up a medical practice at Bonne Bay. He moved in 1904 to St. John's, where he established a lucrative practice. In 1909, he became quarantine officer for the port of St. John's, a position he would hold until 1925.

Some time after his arrival in St. John's, Campbell met Richard Squires. It would appear they became fast friends. In 1919, Squires succeeded in gaining control over the remnants of the Liberal party. He was able to bring about a coalition with William Coaker and the Fishermen's Protective Union, and as leader of this Liberal-FPU affiliation, Squires won the majority of seats in the general election held on Nov. 3, 1919.

Campbell was one of the Liberal candidates in the three-member district of St. John's West. The others were Squires and Henry Brownrigg, who were first and second, respectively, in the balloting.

Campbell finished fifth, but he was only 150 votes behind John R. Bennett in third place. Bennett had represented St. John's West in the House of Assembly since 1904.

Of the 24 Liberal-FPU members elected, only two were Roman Catholic: Brownrigg and James MacDonnell, the member for St. George's, who crossed the floor and joined the opposition shortly after the election, even though he had been offered a seat in Squires' cabinet.

Brownrigg became minister of finance and customs. In order to redress the denominational imbalance, Squires appointed Campbell as minister of agriculture and mines and George Shea, a former mayor of St. John's, as minister without portfolio. Both were appointed to seats in the legislative council early in the new year.

Campbell's tenure as minister of agriculture and mines was lacklustre; there was no major legislation affecting either area in the almost four years he held the post.

A new election was held May 3, 1923. Campbell resigned from the legislative council to contest St. John's West once again. He was defeated, but this time he finished fourth, only four votes behind Squires in third place.

Squires' Liberal-FPU coalition won the majority of seats, and after the election Squires re-appointed Campbell to cabinet and to the legislative council. Both during and after the election campaign there had been charges of misuse of public funds levelled against Campbell. Opposition questioning of the expenditures of Campbell's department only added to the charges.

On July 23, four cabinet ministers visited Squires and insisted he dismiss Campbell from Cabinet. When Squires refused, all four resigned. Later that day, Squires submitted his resignation as prime minister to the governor. His successor was one of the group of four, Attorney General William Warren, who appointed Thomas Hollis Walker, a British barrister, to investigate the charges against Campbell.

Walker delivered his report the following March: he found many instances of misuse of public funds. Before any action could be brought, Warren lost a confidence vote in the House, and after the subsequent election a new administration took office.

While there were indications of wrongdoing on Campbell's part, no charges were ever laid.

Campbell was not a candidate in the 1924 election. He spent the following four years practising medicine and raising foxes on the farm he had established on the western outskirts of St. John's.

In 1928, he returned to the political fray, finally gaining election to the House of Assembly as a Liberal, supporting a rejuvenated Squires in St. John's West. He joined Squires' new cabinet as minister without portfolio.

More trouble

It is said old habits die hard. In February 1932, Finance Minister Peter Cashin resigned, charging Squires had falsified cabinet minutes, in order to mislead the governor and cabinet colleagues of his misappropriation of certain public monies. He further charged Campbell with income-tax evasion. Cashin's accusations, coupled with the depressed state of the economy, and a volatile electorate, resulted in the rout of Squires and his party in that summer's election. Campbell lost badly in St. George's district, having switched from St. John's West, where he probably would have been beaten even worse.

It was his last foray into Newfoundland politics.

Campbell married Charlotte McWade of Souris, P.E.I., in 1903. They had no children. He died in St. John's on May 16, 1940, less than two months after Squires' own death.

Campbell was Squires' closest political collaborator and friend. He held a place of confidence in the life of a man otherwise noted as a loner who seldom took advice.

Amazingly, Squires never abandoned Campbell, sticking by him even though it meant the loss of the prime ministership in 1923. Perhaps Campbell knew too much. Together they made quite the pair.

Bert Riggs is an archivist with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at Memorial University. ...



This page transcribed by Barbara McGrath (October 2000)
REVISED: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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