Crosbie-isms: Notables, quotables and one-liners from a plain-spoken politician

In the decades he spent in public life, John Crosbie was anything but a wallflower.

Whether it be in the House of Commons as the Conservative MP for St. John's West, or as a cabinet minister under a Tory federal government, or perhaps during his time with Joey Smallwood's governing Liberals in provincial politics, or later in his retirement — Crosbie did not shy away from saying exactly what was on his mind.

And the iconic Newfoundland and Labrador politician never seemed to worry much about tact.

Some of his comments drew ire from political opponents, feminists, his fellow Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, as well as plenty of other groups.

A number of utterances from Crosbie in the House of Commons are recorded in the book Memorable Quotes from John Crosbie, published in 1992 on his 25th anniversary in politics, and kept at Memorial University's Centre for Newfoundland Studies.

Inside the book's front cover is Crosbie's dedication to his wife, Jane, and a quote from him in the House of Commons on June 21, 1988.

"I am one of the few lucky enough to have married a woman who is completely perfect."

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The second quote on the inside cover is more on-brand for Crosbie — this one from Nov. 20, 1987.

"I will leave it to Hansard to reveal exactly what I did and did not say," Crosbie said, referring to the official record of debate in Canada's Parliament.

On the eve of Crosbie's funeral in St. John's Thursday, it seems fitting to look back at some of the more notable Crosbie-isms uttered through the years.

  • CBC will carry special coverage of the funeral of John Crosbie on Thursday from 1:30 p.m. NT (12 p.m. Eastern) on CBC News Network, CBC Television and Radio in Newfoundland and Labrador, on CBC Gem, the CBC News app and CBCNews.ca, and on CBC N.L.'s YouTube and Facebook channels. 
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Blunt honesty

Crosbie long said that he preferred honesty to political correctness — a motto he maintained for many years.

Feb. 1, 1979 "I would sooner have a foot in my mouth than a forked tongue."

Feb. 13, 1985 "Mr. Speaker, I have no information that any officials from the Department of Justice did anything improper in this matter. There was one official from the Department of Justice who, unwisely, took a phone call from a Liberal MP."

June 30, 1986, admitting ignorance of how airfares work, as Minister of Transportation "No one can understand airline fares. Why I should be expected to understand them is beyond me."

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Oct. 4, 1986, in defence of the secrecy of recommendations by the task force examining Via Rail "Is nothing to be confidential any longer? Are we to be stripped naked as newts before the world? Can you govern in a fishbowl? Aren't we all even to have little jockey shorts any longer on us?"

Aug. 16, 1988 "If Your Honour feels that to say that is unparliamentary, I will withdraw it in this chamber, but I will repeat it outside the chamber."

June 28, 1988, when he came under fire for not having read the entire Free Trade Agreement "I once sold the Encyclopedia Britannica and I never read every article in it to sell it, believe me. I once sold vacuum cleaners and I never once vacuumed a house.

"I can hardly lift it, much less read it all."

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In 1983, at his federal Tory leadership rally, on not speaking French "In 1985, I will speak to Canadians in both French and English. I have met and overcome many challenges in my lifetime. It will be a pleasure — une pleasure — to overcome this challenge. I shall overcome."

July 17, 1987 "I've spoken too long, I've said too much, I've been too frank, and I don't give a damn."

On women

June 4, 1979, after stating that the government needed "first-class men," and being rebuked for not including women "When I say man, I mean woman. When I say woman, I mean man. I am bisexual in that respect. And when I say Mr. Speaker, I mean Madam Speaker. When I say Madam Speaker, I mean Mr. Speaker. This is the way I am — absolutely sexless."

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Nov. 19, 1979, from a speech on the Income Tax Act "I have always treated women exactly the same as men. From now on I will call them 'honourable persons' so there will not be any cries of discrimination. I never realized there was any difference between us. I am a real innocent.

"It is funny how we hear the honourable turkeys gargle once they get on the other side of the House."

On political opponents

June 1, 1970, in response to Joey Smallwood's charge that he had betrayed the Liberal Party by crossing the floor to join the Progressive Conservatives "The honourable premier is being just as truthful when he says that as he always is, and we know what that means: there is not a word of truth in it, not an ounce, not a centimetre.… The honourable gentleman lies through his teeth. And anyone who says that is a lie is a foul liar and a complete liar and an utter liar and a 100 per cent liar … it is a contemptuous lie."

Nov. 15, 1979 "It is hard to make a sensible speech when the members of the opposition opposite in the NDP are guffawing, giggling and hee-hawing. That shows how seriously they treat their resolution. Look at them grinning like apes over there. If the farmers of Canada could see them now, that little knot of frustrated frenetics, they would know what to do with this resolution."

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His take on what NDP stands for "The honourable gentlemen in the NDP are members of the neurotic, demagogic and paranoid party. They are the party of professional whiners, they are the professional groaners, they are the professional moaners, they are the down-at-the-mouthers … not offering any solutions, but just making the welkin ring with their complaining."

In 1983, during the federal Tory leadership race "And to those of you who do not support me, I will bear no grudge — as long as I don't know who you are."

Nov. 8, 1984 "It is certainly a daunting task to see the spurious indignation gather on their brows as they rise to ask a question. But I have no doubt that our colleagues opposite in the Liberal ranks will quickly develop the same amount of spurious indignation and vainglorious air that the NDP have. The more effective they can be, the better it will be for us. I invite them to ask me the toughest, meanest, dirtiest kinds of questions they can, and I will respond in my usual statesman-like fashion."

Nov. 19, 1984 "I get rattled when faced with the rats, Mr. Speaker."

May 17, 1985 "We have been awaiting with trepidation all week the charge of the rodent brigade."

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March 6, 1986 "What is their alternative? Not once have we heard an alternative from the ragtag, tatterdemalion remnants on the Liberal benches."

Nov. 2, 1987, referring to Clyde Wells, who became Liberal leader earlier that year and would later be premier of N.L. "All's well that ends Wells."

March 3, 1990 "Clyde [Wells] is the most stubborn and self-opinionated person that I've ever met, completely convinced that he's right in every particular and about every issue.… Other than that, I get on very well with him."

Nov. 20, 1987 "The NDP does provide an alternative. It provides Canadians with the alternative of committing suicide, of committing hara-kiri, the alternative of all of us getting together and marching off the wharf like a group of lemmings."

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Nov. 29, 1984 "Mr. Speaker, I am glad the honourable gentleman finally got around to asking me about this question, because if you want an answer, you have to go to the horse's mouth.... In this case, Mr. Speaker, the other end of the horse asked the question."

June 30, 1985 "In fact, Mr. Speaker, they are not interested in the answers at all. They are howling and bawling like a bunch of banshees."

Oct. 9, 1985 "Mr. Speaker, the longer this House continues, the more I become in favour of capital punishment."

Sparring with George Baker

George Baker is a former Liberal MP for Gander–Twillingate who would later be appointed to the Senate. The two often matched wits and sparred in Parliament.

Dec. 2, 1987, in response to Baker's question of whether the CN Tower was up for sale along with other CN assets "I think I said all of CN's non-rail assets. Now, unless the CN Tower can go choo-choo-chooing along, it is a non-rail asset, and presumably the honourable member knows what he can do with the CN Tower."

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Nov. 20, 1987 "Mr. Speaker, I have a comment or two to make and even a question or two to ask the honourable toothsome gentleman. I must say, however, that I am afraid that he did not cook up very much in his remarks. There is not much we can get our teeth into. As a matter of fact, what he had to say was as toothless as a tomcod."

June 28, 1988, in response to Baker's questioning of his reading ability, Crosbie expressed sorrow at Baker's own library burning down "He lost all two books — one of them before he finished colouring it. The other one was Playboy."

Fan of Superman?

Crosbie perhaps outed himself as a fan of Superman — or at least of a common phrase used to describe the flying superhero, which he used twice in the House of Commons.

Dec. 19, 1978, on the man who was president of Air Canada from 1978 to 1979 between federal elections in which he was a Liberal candidate "Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it is Bryce Mackasey, sucking his thumb, flying across Canada and chairman of Air Canada." 

May 20, 1988, in response to opposition criticism of protectionist U.S. policies in the Free Trade Agreement "Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's [NDP Leader] Ed Broadbent, hurtling over Oshawa on his way down to the United States to force the Senate and the House of Representatives to do his will." 

Crosbie on his beloved Newfoundland

June 4, 1979 "With a Polish pope and a Newfoundland finance minister, you mainlanders had better watch your jokes."

Sept. 2, 1986, on the Atlantic Canada economy "We are not a 'have not' area when compared to Bangladesh, we are not a 'have not' area compared to Haiti, and we are certainly not 'have not' compared to Jamaica. We shouldn't always be looking at southern Ontario; it's very healthy occasionally to look at Haiti or Sri Lanka … and then we're very 'have' when we do that."

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June 27, 1988, on the Free Trade Agreement "We have to think big.… We've got to be like the lion, the tiger, the elephant, the rhinoceros or the Newfoundlander."

Aug. 1988, in Port Dover, Ont., talking about N.L. "We're not supposed to be as intelligent as you on the mainland. I guess it's true because we voted to join you in 1949."

And finally, John Crosbie on John Crosbie

Oct. 29, 1979, on being criticized by "a number of sourpusses opposite" for seemingly enjoying himself during debate in the House of Commons "I did not smile for three years while I was minister of finance in Newfoundland. Now I am trying a different approach.… If the Canadian minister of finance must go around looking like the hunchback of Notre Dame, I will do it to avoid being attacked. You have seen my last smile or chuckle in this house, Mr. Speaker.

"One must be very lugubrious if one is to be minister of finance in this House. From now on, 'lugbriousness' is the order of the day."

June 4, 1979 "In 1924 my grandfather was finance minister in Newfoundland with a budget of $8 million. I was finance minister in Newfoundland with a deficit of $200 million. Now I'm Minister of Finance of Canada with a deficit of $12 billion. It makes a man proud."

In 1983, during the Tory leadership race "I'm not even functionally illiterate in French."

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Dec. 13, 1984 "Cries of adulation will not stop me… The honourable gentleman has me stumped; I do not know of anything that can stop me, Mr. Chairman."

Sept. 1986 "I never regret and I never look back."

In 2004 "I was never politically correct. I tried to speak my mind, and while it's not possible in politics or practical, always to be truthful and to answer questions truthfully, because it can be too politically damaging. I did try to be truthful wherever I could, and frank, and so sometimes you become an endangered species if that's the way you are."

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