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Canada Former premier Beaton Tulk was unapologetic about his Newfoundland outport origins

Beaton Tulk (right), with then-premier of Newfoundland Brian Tobin, in 1997.

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Beaton Tulk was Newfoundland and Labrador’s deputy premier in October 2000 when Premier Brian Tobin decided to return to federal politics and tagged Mr. Tulk to replace him in the Premier’s office, on the eighth floor of the Confederation Building. “Beatie, don’t forget to turn off the lights,” Mr. Tobin said, according to Mr. Tulk’s 2018 memoir A Man of My Word. Mr. Tulk’s four-month term, concluding Feb. 13, 2001, included a wildcat strike of lab and x-ray technicians, who were legislated back to work.

His brief time as Newfoundland’s seventh premier was one chapter in a decades-long political career. The premiership was “never a job that I wanted,” he told CBC News in 2018. He had given his word to his caucus that he wouldn’t subsequently run for the leadership.

“I loved the House [of Assembly],” he wrote in his memoir, which he co-wrote with Laurie Blackwood Pike. “There’s a special feeling you get when you are in there – the feeling of responsibility. … When you are able to deliver for your own people something they might not have gotten otherwise, it is a wonderful feeling.”

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Mr. Tulk, who had a strong regional accent, was unapologetic about his roots in the outports of Newfoundland. His district and his home were very important to him. “Ladle Cove was the place,” he told CBC News of his birthplace on Bonavista Bay. “I was a dinner guest with Prince Philip one time and they asked me where I came from and I told them. I always believed I grew up in a cocoon where everybody took care of everybody. There were no roads, there was no electricity, there was no television. It was just a beautiful place.”

Beaton Tulk (right), premier of Newfoundland from 2000 to 2001, speaks with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau at 24 Sussex Drive in 1982.

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He had met Prince Philip when, as Minister of Forestry, Agrifoods, Wildlife and Inland Fisheries, he was seated beside the Prince at a World Wildlife Fund dinner. Prince Philip, who was honorary chair, greeted him by asking: “Old chap, now where do you hail from?” Then, several weeks later, the Prince and Queen Elizabeth began a royal visit to Newfoundland, and the two met again at the Confederation Building. Prince Philip remembered him and asked that Mr. Tulk be selected to present him with a portrait of the bird sanctuary at Cape St. Mary’s. Mr. Tulk later received a personal invitation from the Prince to visit Buckingham Palace were he ever in London. He never made the trip.

Mr. Tulk died on May 23, the day after his 75th birthday. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball noted his loss, and flags at provincial government buildings flew at half-mast.

Beaton Tulk was born May 22, 1944, in Ladle Cove, the youngest son of Sadie and Japhet Tulk. During his student days, his summer jobs included labouring at Churchill Falls for a season.

Mr. Tulk’s accent, which included dropping his h’s in some places and adding them in other places, was not always what the university faculty wanted to hear. “I remember on the first day of this class at Memorial [University of Newfoundland], the professor gave us each two words to pronounce,” Mr. Tulk wrote. “Mine were ‘hearth’ and ‘cloister.’ I’m pretty sure you know what happened with that first one.” The professor told him he wasn’t speaking proper English, and unless he pronounced it correctly there was no room for him in her class. He told her she was probably right, “then I walked h’out.”

Nevertheless, he earned his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education from Memorial.

He then worked as an educator, and was principal of the Carmanville school system, but politics gradually pulled him in. A member of the House of Assembly since 1979, he was first elected as a Liberal for the district for Fogo, and re-elected in 1982 and 1985. He lost the seat in 1989, the same election that brought the Liberals back to government. He served a stint as assistant deputy minister of Children and Youth Services, before winning Fogo back in 1993. After that election the riding was re-distributed and he won what was now Bonavista North in 1996 and 1999. His many, varied posts included Deputy Leader of the Opposition, House Leader, Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, and acting minister of education.

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He was out of cabinet, though, during the tenure of Clyde Wells (1989 to 1996). He and Mr. Wells were “oil and water,” Mr. Tulk told CBC News, and Mr. Wells banished him to the backbench. In his memoir he revealed he was approached to cross the floor during this time, but replied: “I play for the Montreal Canadiens, and you play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I’m sticking with my team.”

His team stuck with him when in 1998 he weathered his one major scandal. John Woodrow, owner of the Paralegal Institute, a private college whose licence had been revoked, claimed he had paid bribes to Mr. Tulk’s Department of Development and Rural Renewal. (Mr. Woodrow also brought a $90-million-dollar suit against the provincial government, but later dropped it.) Mr. Tulk quickly resigned. Two investigations, one by the Commissioner of Members Interest, and one by the RCMP (which Mr. Tulk requested), cleared him and he was welcomed back to cabinet in April 1999. Notably, there was a provincial election during this “five months of hell,” as he called it in his memoir, and he won re-election with 75 per cent of the vote in Feb. 1999.

But his fortunes turned in 2002 when he attempted and lost a federal run in Gander-Grand Falls after George Baker was named to the Senate. He then ran in a provincial by-election for Bonavista North, the same seat he vacated for his federal bid, but lost again.

On Dec. 16, 2002, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed him to the Canadian Transportation Agency, where he stayed for 5½ years, until his retirement.

Mr. Tulk had a way with people, including his colleagues. He wrote that in his decades at the House of Assembly there were only two fellow MHAs he didn’t like, but he declined to name them. “You must keep caucus solidarity, you must keep cabinet solidarity or otherwise people will not feel free to speak out,” he told CBC News. “Be careful that you don’t destroy the institutions that have served you so well.”

Mr. Tulk was a die-hard Canadiens fan, an avid moose hunter and a skilled woodworker.

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He leaves his second wife, Dora May Skiffington; his children, Cynthia, Christine and Conrad; and stepchildren Alicia and Kerry Lynn.

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