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Retired senator Norm Doyle reflects on four decades of public service

Senator Norm Doyle is calling it a career after 41 years of public service on behalf of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
Senator Norm Doyle is calling it a career after 41 years of public service on behalf of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. - Telegram file photo
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Senator Norm Doyle, who has been a part of public life in Newfoundland and Labrador in five different decades, called it a career on Remembrance Day — his 75th birthday.

Doyle, born in Avondale, was a businessman before his life in politics. He travelled to New York as a young man to work as an ironworker on the World Trade Centre.

Doyle’s political career started in the district of Harbour Main, when he was campaigning for former cabinet minister Bill Doody. Doyle spent years helping with Doody’s campaigns for the House of Assembly, and when Doody decided to retire, Doyle saw his opportunity to make the jump into public office.

“In the beginning, when you’re looking for the nomination and that kind of thing, you don’t think about what your role will be in the House of Assembly, you only look at trying to get there,” said Doyle.

“That in itself can be quite a hard thing to do, to get there. It was really a great time. The great motivator, for me, I think, was Brian Peckford. He was the premier that succeeded Frank Moores and he had a vision for Newfoundland and Labrador. That rubbed off on most of the new members, as well. His attitude was that there would never again be any resource giveaways. Everyone was really excited about that, including me.”

The accomplishments that came during Doyle’s time in the House of Assembly are still paying dividends to the province today.

From the Atlantic Accord, to the original Hibernia agreement, to the St. John’s Status of Women Council and the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, Doyle witnessed and contributed to some historic moments in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We did have some good victories. The Atlantic Accord and the oil negotiations turned out to be what Peckford had been fighting for, for some time,” said Doyle.

“I saw interesting things go on.”

But with politics, victory and tragedy are part of the job.

Doyle recalls a stormy morning in February 1982, driving into Confederation Building to meet with Peckford, when Doyle served as his parliamentary assistant.

When he arrived at the Premier’s Office, the only word was communications with the Ocean Ranger offshore rig were lost. He says the mood was sombre, but no one really knew what was happening. Until Peckford exited the elevator.

“The premier walked in with a bundle of papers clutched to his chest. He had a blank look on his face. He passed by the four of us and never said a word. We thought it was so out of character for him,” said Doyle.

“He generally would be talking about the news the night before. He was quite talkative in the mornings, but he didn’t say a word. We knew something very tragic had happened.”

After Doyle had spent 13 years in the provincial legislature, Ottawa came calling and he ran for the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in St. John’s East — a seat he held for another 11 years.

Doyle says one moment that stands out for him during his time in the House of Commons was the merger of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

Doyle says with two conservative parties on the federal level, both parties knew they had no chance of winning government, so a decision had to be made.

“This was the party of John A. Macdonald, the creator of Canada, if you will. How could we drop the PC from our party logo? Even that was a big deal. We realized there would be a Conservative party, but it wouldn’t necessarily be branded the Progressive Conservative party. We were quite unsure of whether or not we should support that,” he said.

Doyle served as caucus chair for the Conservative Party of Canada and its previous iteration during his time in Parliament, a senior leadership role.

Doyle stepped down as a Member of Parliament in 2008, escaping then-premier Danny Williams’ “ABC” campaign.

Doyle says he hopes the province can welcome the federal party in the future.

“A lot of water has run under the bridge since then. The Conservative Party of Canada has been a good party and has made great progress,” he said.

“I’m hoping that will continue again into the next election.”

Four years after stepping down, then-prime minister Stephen Harper tapped him to join the Senate, a position he held until his retirement.

Doyle offered words of wisdom for the next generation of parliamentarians.

“I think you have to be upfront and honest with the people you represent. That will stand you in good stead. You have to realize from the get-go that you’re not going to be able to change the world in one little term in office. You need to establish a reputation of being honest and telling it like it is,” said Doyle.

“Even though your own constituents might come to you looking for you to represent them on an issue that you may not feel good about, well, you have to be straight and honest with your constituents. Try to be as upfront as you can possibly be with them. Honesty is the best policy in politics, as in everything.”

On Doyle's final day in the Senate, Opposition Leader Donald Plett read a tribute to Doyle’s career of public service.

“Senator Doyle served Canada honourably for over 30 years and we are sad to see him go. On behalf of the entire Conservative caucus and on behalf of all honourable senators, I wish Senator Doyle and his wife, Isabelle, their sons, Deon and Randy, and their grandchildren all the very best as he begins his next chapter of life,” said Plett.

“May Senator Doyle enjoy a long, happy and healthy retirement.”


David Maher reports on provincial politics in St. John’s.

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