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Crosbie first entered politics as a member of the St. John's city council until he was appointed to the provincial cabinet of Liberal Premier Joey Smallwood in 1966. He won a seat in the Newfoundland House of Assembly soon after. Smallwood's government had been in power since 1949, and the Premier was trying to rejuvenate his cabinet by bringing in new blood. Smallwood's authoritarian style and refusal to allow a younger generation to take power frustrated Crosbie and other young ministers such as Clyde Wells.
In 1969, Crosbie challenged Smallwood for the party leadership and lost. He crossed the floor to join the opposition Progressive Conservatives led by Frank Moores. Crosbie helped the Tories defeat Smallwood and come to power in 1972. After holding several senior portfolios in Moores' cabinet, Crosbie moved to federal politics, winning a seat in the Canadian House of Commons in a 1976 by-election.
When Joe Clark's Progressive Conservatives formed a minority government after the 1979 general election, Crosbie became Minister of Finance. He presented a tough budget that included tax increases in what Crosbie quipped was "short term pain for long term pain." A Motion of No Confidence on the budget brought the Clark government down on December 13, 1979, resulting in a new election which the Tories lost.
Crosbie was a candidate at the 1983 Progressive Conservative leadership convention, placing a strong third behind Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark. While Crosbie may have been the most popular of the candidates, he was hurt by his inability to speak French. Less notable was the failure of the John Crosbie blimp to operate properly during his campaign's demonstration on the floor of the convention.
When Mulroney led the Tories to power in the 1984 federal election, Crosbie became Minister of Justice. In 1985, while justice minister, he attracted attention when, in a heated moment during parliamentary debate, he told Liberal M.P. Sheila Copps "Just quiet down, baby." This remark was the motivation for the choice of title for her autobiography, Nobody's Baby.
In 1986, he was named Minister of Transportation. He became Minister of International Trade in 1988, shortly after the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement was negotiated. Crosbie actively promioted that agreement in the that year's federal election, which was primarily fought on the free trade issue. Crosbie finished his career as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and did not run for re-election in 1993.
In 1998, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Crosbie remained in the Progressive Conservative party until its dissolution in 2003. Despite his earlier opposition to the Canadian Alliance, he did not oppose the merger of the two parties and joined the new Conservative Party of Canada. In 2004, he served as an advisor to Tony Clement's campaign for the leadership of the new party. In the 2004 federal eleciton, he publicly considered running for the Conservatives against Liberal incumbent John Efford in the Newfoundland riding of Avalon, but ultimately decided against doing so.
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