The Campbell years: An age to remember

Alan
Alan Holman
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The young lady is in her early 50s, age is in the eye of the beholder (to massacre a metaphor) and would have been four or five years old when Alexander B. Campbell became premier in 1966.

“Who is he, and why should I care?”

The question dramatically drove home the point — you have to be in your mid-60s to have any substantive memories of the most successful politician in the province’s history. Alex Campbell, as premier, may well have brought about the most change to the province since James Pope dragged the Island, kicking and screaming, into Confederation.

However, there is nothing to mark Campbell’s accomplishments. There are no public buildings named in his honour, though there are two federal buildings named after members of his cabinet; the Jean Canfield and the Daniel J. MacDonald buildings in downtown Charlottetown. And there’s the Joseph A. Ghiz tax centre in Summerside, named for a premier who followed him.

Alex B. Campbell lacks an essential criteria for a building to be named in his honour — he’s still alive. He was only 32 years old when he was first elected and only 44 in 1978 when he stepped down after winning four consecutive elections for the Liberals. Today, at 80 years of age he is still in relative good health, but not politically active.

When he was first elected, there was no University of Prince Edward Island, nor was there a Holland College. However, there were more than 250 one-room schools throughout the province.

When he was first elected the province was almost broke, there was barely enough money to meet the payroll, and yet during his 12 years in office he brought down five budgets that showed a surplus.

These and other aspects of his life and time as premier are well documented in a recently published book, The Premier Who Rocked The Cradle, by Wade MacLauchlan, past president of UPEI.

The book was launched last week with well attended signing ceremonies in Summerside and Charlottetown. Both the author and the former premier were on hand to write dedications in books purchased. Noted by their absence were any substantive numbers of today’s governing Liberals. Only Janice Sherry and Gerard Greenan were at the Summerside launch and Kathleen Casey and Robert Mitchell were the only caucus members in Charlottetown to pay homage to a Liberal legend.

That’s unfortunate, but hopefully the others will read the book, if for no other reason than it is a primer on the art of retail politics. It gives many examples of why Alex Campbell was a superb politician. He enjoyed meeting people one-on-one and went out of his way to do so.

When Alex Campbell came to power in 1966 he had only a two-seat majority in the legislature and there were two large public policy issues on the agenda, both of them requiring massive federal government funding.

The mid-60s was the time of The Causeway, a proposal to construct a massive causeway-bridge-tunnel complex to link the mainland to P.E.I. The initial talks with Ottawa on the The Causeway had been started by the Conservatives, both in Ottawa and on The Island.

The second issue was the Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) , which also began under the Conservatives as a series of economic studies funded by the federal government. As the CDP evolved it would entail an injection of more than $125 million of federal funds in economic development, educational reform, land use changes, an overhaul of the province’s social programs and the up-grading of the professionalism and size of the provincial government.

The federal government argued that it couldn’t afford to to fund both The Causeway and the CDP. In his book, MacLauchlan details the pressure Ottawa put on the inexperienced and vulnerable Campbell government to chose between the two. Alex Campbell refused, arguing both were vital to The Island’s future.

In the end Ottawa chose to abandon The Causeway, and as Campbell notes in the book it is just as well they did as the design of The Causeway would have resulted in an ecological disaster. The Comprehensive Development Plan was revolutionary. Prince Edward Island was a very different place in the 1980s than it was in the 1960s. But, its implementation wasn’t without controversy, most of which is documented in Mr.

MacLauchlan’s book, The Premier Who Rocked The Cradle, is an excellent chronicle of an important period of Island history and the man who was instrumental to that history.

Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: acholman@pei.eastlink.ca

Organizations: Holland College, University of Prince Edward Island, The Premier Conservatives Robert Mitchell

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Summerside, Ottawa Prince Edward Island

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  • luke
    June 07, 2014 - 18:13

    Great story today, Allan, - interesting observation. It was a pleasure to be there and hear and see the old star, - he had us eating out of his hand again, --- great afternoon, - a reminder of congeniality , graciousness and class acts. Thank you for a pleasant time Mr. Campbell and Mr. MacLauchlan

  • nostalgic
    June 07, 2014 - 18:06

    I think the reason our current political crop was absent, is that they simply cannot grasp intellectually the talent and commitment of Premier Alex Campbell. By being there they would have reminded us of the incompetence we have to live with until the next election. They would have spoiled the good feeling of remembering the days, we can be so proud of having shared with Premier Alex.