Bond served as the Liberal member of the House of Assembly for Trinity from 1882 to 1885. From 1884 to 1885 he was Speaker. Bond was elected as an Independent and sat in the House representing the district of Fortune Bay from 1885 to 1889.
|Sir Robert Bond|
Elected for Trinity again in 1889, Bond served as Colonial Secretary in the second Liberal administration of Sir William Whiteway. It was during this time that Bond negotiated the first of two reciprocity or free-trade treaties between Newfoundland and the United States. The British government vetoed the agreement based on Canadian objections.
Bond won re-election with the Liberals in 1894 but soon faced charges of corruption brought by the Conservatives and Alfred Morine. Bond, Whiteway and a dozen others lost their seats over accusations they had promised road work in exchange for votes.
In a series of by-elections, the Liberals were re-elected. A new piece of legislation, the Disabilities Removal Act, allowed the members to take their seats and Whiteway formed a new administration in 1895.
Faced with a financial crisis in 1895 brought on by the collapse of local banks the previous year, Whiteway sent Bond to Canada to raise money either through Confederation or by other means. Newfoundland's public debt caused the Canadians to balk at the idea of Confederation so Bond secured a bank loan using his own assets as collateral to tide the Newfoundland government over.
Morine became finance minister in the Conservative administration of James Winter after the general election of 1897. Morine negotiated a contract with Robert G. Reid to operate the Newfoundland railway. The terms of the contract provoked controversy. This extract from heritage.nf.ca website describes the contract and the controversy:
The railway contract of 1898 gave the Reids astonishing influence. They were to operate the railway for 50 years and then own it outright, acquire further lands (to a cumulative total in excess of four million acres), purchase the St. John's drydock, operate eight coastal steamers at an annual subsidy, operate the government telegraph for 50 years, develop the first hydro-electric power in the country, establish a streetcar system in St. John's, and build a new headquarters and terminal in the west end of St. John's - a permanent and substantial presence in the capital after years of struggle in the bush.
Initially the '98 contract met with some acclaim. However, Governor Sir H.H. Murray felt the Reids were in a position dangerously close to monopoly, and refused to sign the enabling legislation until directed to do so by the British Colonial Office. The political opposition began to prick up its ears, particularly after it was learned that Morine had been on retainer to R.G. Reid during the contract negotiations. Popular opposition mounted when some blanket land grants to the Reids infringed on local property rights.
Winter's administration collapsed amid the controversy involving Morine that eventually included a deal that would have seen Morine become Prime Minister in 1899 and Winter appointed to the bench. as leader of the Opposition, Bond accused Winter of selling out to the Reids.
With Conservatives split, Bond was asked to form an administration 1900. He continued as Prime Minister until 1909. Bond's administration marked a time relative prosperity for Newfoundland and marked the beginnings of the country's greater role in international affairs, specifically Imperial defence arrangements.
Bond played a key role in negotiation of the Anglo-French Convention of 1904 that resolved the problem of French rights to portions of the Newfoundland coast. As the Heritage website describes it:
The existence of the French Treaty Shore had a significant impact on Newfoundland's history. The settlement and development of the Shore was delayed as a result of the French presence, and its inhabitants received virtually nothing in the way of government services until the 1880s, when they were finally allowed representation in the legislature, and magistrates were appointed. Land and mining rights remained insecure until 1904. The route of the Newfoundland Railway was influenced by the Shore's existence, as was the decision to build the first newsprint mill at Grand Falls, and not on the west coast. In addition, the disputes over French fishing rights became a major focus for the Newfoundland nationalism that emerged from the mid-19th century.
In the infamous election of 1908, the Liberals under Bond and the Peoples' Party under Edward Morris each won 18 seats. In another election the following year, Morris won. Bond continued in politics as Liberal Party leader through one more election, although an alliance with fishermen's leader William Coaker in 1913 failed to unseat Morris.
Bond left politics in 1914, retiring to his home at Whitbourne. He died there in 1927.
On learning of Bond's death, his former colleague and one-time political adversary Sir Edward Morris [later Lord Morris] wrote: "He was a fearless advocate and an attractive and convincing speaker. No personal or party allegiance could win his adherence to any measure he did not believe in. Industrious and painstaking, he was ever ready to consider any policy or measure that aimed at the advancement of Newfoundland and the amelioration of her people."
- Robert Cuff et al, The dictionary of Newfoundland biography, (St. John's: harry Cuff publications, 1990)
- James K. Hiller, "The 1904 Anglo-French Newfoundland Fisheries Convention: Another Look", Acadiensis, XXV, 1 (Autumn 1995), pp. 82-98.