Clyde Wells

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Clyde Wells
5th Premier of Newfoundland
In office
May 5, 1989 – January 26, 1996
Monarch Elizabeth II
Lieutenant Governor James A. McGrath
Frederick Russell
Preceded by Thomas Rideout
Succeeded by Brian Tobin
MHA for Humber East
In office
September 8, 1966 – October 28, 1971
Preceded by Noel Murphy
Succeeded by Tom Farrell
MHA for Windsor-Buchans
In office
December 17, 1987 – April 20, 1989
Preceded by Graham Flight
Succeeded by Graham Flight
MHA for Bay of Islands
In office
April 20, 1989 – February 22, 1996
Preceded by Eddie Joyce
Succeeded by Brian Tobin
Personal details
Born Clyde Kirby Wells
(1937-11-09) November 9, 1937 (age 79)
Buchans Junction, Newfoundland
Political party Liberal

Clyde Kirby Wells, QC (born November 9, 1937) was the fifth Premier of Newfoundland from 1989 to 1996, and subsequently Chief Justice of Newfoundland and Labrador, sitting on the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador (Court of Appeal) from 1998 to 2009.

Early life[edit]

Born in Buchans Junction, Newfoundland, Wells graduated from Memorial University of Newfoundland with a BA in Political Science in 1959 and Dalhousie Law School with a LL.B in 1962.

Entry into Newfoundland politics[edit]

Wells entered the cabinet of Joey Smallwood in August 1966 and was elected to the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly for the district of Humber East in the 1966 general election as a member of the Liberal Party.

Wells and John Crosbie resigned from cabinet on May 14, 1968 over concerns about financing of the Come by Chance oil refinery project.

Wells left politics in 1971 and resumed his legal practice full-time.

CBA Committee on the Constitution[edit]

While in private practice, Wells was a member of the Canadian Bar Association. In 1977, in the aftermath of the election of the separatist Parti Québécois government in 1976, Wells was asked to sit on the CBA Committee on the Constitution. The mandate of the Committee was to study and make recommendations on the Constitution of Canada.[2] The members of the Committee were drawn from each province of Canada, and included two future provincial premiers (Wells and joe Ghiz), a future Supreme Court of Canada justice, two future provincial chief justices, and a future Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations. The Committee presented its report to the CBA at the next annual meeting, in 1978. The Committee made wide-ranging recommendations for constitutional change, including a completely new constitution, abolishing the monarchy, changing the Senate, entrenching language rights and a bill of rights, and changing the balance of powers between the federal government and the provinces.

Return to provincial politics[edit]

In 1987, he was elected leader of the Liberal Party, succeeding Leo Barry. Graham Flight, the party's incumbent MHA in Windsor-Buchans, resigned to allow him to contest the seat in a by-election.[3]

In the 1989 general election, Wells led the party to power, defeating Tom Rideout and ending 17 years of Progressive Conservative rule. In that election, the Progressive Conservatives won a slightly higher percentage of the popular vote (one percentage point). Nonetheless, the Liberals won 31 of the 52 seats in the provincial legislature and formed a majority government.

Wells ran in his home riding of Humber East instead of Windsor-Buchans, but was defeated by Lynn Verge despite having led his party to victory. Subsequently, another member of his caucus, Eddie Joyce, resigned and Wells was acclaimed as the new member for the electoral district of Bay of Islands.[4]

Wells became a major figure on the national political stage at the time of the Meech Lake Accord for his opposition to several of its provisions. Wells cancelled the scheduled vote on the agreement in the Newfoundland Legislative Assembly after the Accord failed in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, where native MLA Elijah Harper prevented the assembly from ratifying the Accord, on the grounds that the Accord was devised without proper aboriginal input. The Accord would have required ratification by all ten provincial legislatures and parliament to come into effect. (Wells also noted that, in addition to the failure in Manitoba, the Accord was headed for a likely defeat in the Newfoundland House of Assembly.)

Wells later participated in discussions that led to the development of a set of constitutional proposals known as the Charlottetown Accord.

The Wells administration reformed the province's educational system, implemented far-reaching economic reforms, concluded an agreement to develop the province's first offshore oil field and coped with the consequences of the collapse of cod stocks off the coast of the province all at the time of a severe economic recession.

Retirement from politics[edit]

Wells retired as Premier in January 1996 and returned to private practice. In 1998, he was appointed to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland (Court of Appeal) and was appointed Chief Justice in 1999. He retired from that post in March 2009. On November 8, 2012 Wells formally retired as a justice of the court.


  1. ^
  2. ^ CBA Resolution 77-01-A: Constitution of Canada - Special Committee; reproduced in Canadian Bar Association: Towards a new Canada - Committee on the Constitution, p. xv.
  3. ^ Newfoundland and Labrador Votes 2007: Grand Falls-Windsor/Green Bay South.
  4. ^ Newfoundland and Labrador Votes 2007: Bay of Islands.