He sits at the table with a pen in hand and a broad grin across his face as familiar folks approach him with open arms and bright, joyful expressions. For many, he stands to his feet and reaches out to embrace them like the old friends they are, calling many by name, and recounting fond memories of the days he campaigned in their communities, or taught their sons and daughters in high school at Grant Collegiate in Springdale.
“Remember the time we went and campaigned in Middle Arm? We got 38 votes out of it, and won the nomination,” says one man. The two share a laugh at the fond recollections and continue with their banter.
After a quick chat, his hand bends down to scribble a note on the inside of the book – his book – that the person has brought to be signed. It’s the book that tells the story many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have waited 40 years to hear.
His signature caps off the memo in a tasteful fashion, as that person shuffles along and the same routine is repeated with the next one.
Each is leaving with a signed copy of Brian Peckford’s latest autobiography. The signature in the front is the same as found on a document which is talked about in the book extensively, and could very well be the thing that changed the history of Newfoundland and Labrador forever: the Atlantic Accord.
Peckford says he was four years working on his latest memoir, “Some day the sun will shine and have not will be no more,” since the work required a lot of research and study to get the information being put out there correctly.
“I had a lot of work to do on figuring out the timeline of things happening and that,” he said. “My memory was good for a lot of it, but I needed to make sure what I was saying was accurate.”
Peckford’s book recalls a lot about his life in the early years as a child in Whitbourne, the Burin Peninsula, Mainland and Lewisporte. He also talks about his post-secondary education and time at Memorial University, then as a teacher in Springdale, but of course that was short-lived as his political bug struck early on and in 1972 he was soon running for the Green Bay seat in the House of Assembly.
“I was only teaching for about three years, before I decided to go into politics,” he said. As they say, the rest is history.
Peckford elevated to eventually become premier of the province after Frank Moores in 1979. During his political career which included 10 years at the helm. During his tenure as premier, Peckford saw some rises and falls – from Sprung Greenhouses to the legendary Atlantic Accord signed with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
“We were basically getting enough for operating – no capital at all,” he recalls about the government’s financial situation at the time. “Any money we spent on capital projects we had to borrow, because the taxes we collected barely covered our day to day operations.”
It was situations like that, which inspired Peckford to do more for the future sustainability of the place he loved.
In his book, he explains the inside story of how he was able to negotiate the Atlantic Accord with the federal government at the time, which would set the bar with how provincial and federal relations took place from then on.
Landmark decisions which saw the province receiving the bulk of the revenue from the resource meant groundbreaking developments for many, as such clauses didn’t exist in previous negotiations.
“Some people told me at the time I probably had oil on the brain,” he said. “But I knew how important it was, and I knew that if we got the right deal, what it would mean for the province.”
That deal was eventually signed and say Newfoundland receive billions for dollars over the past decades, as oil prices rose to record highs. Many have credited Peckford with the gift of great foresight to strike the deal when the price of oil was no where close to today.
“We negotiated this with a 20 dollar barrel of oil,” he explained. “It’s not like it is today – but we knew it was a good deal.”
So good in fact, that it inspired Peckford to give a speech at a PC convention soon after the deal with struck, where he uttered his famous line, “One day the sun will shine and have not will be no more.”
Peckford says he was sitting in his home on Vancouver island a few years ago when a reporter called him and left a voice mail informing him the province was now off equalization – fulfilling the prediction made decades earlier.
Peckford says whether saying that statement was risky a move or not at the time, history has been the judge.