Biography: Alex B. Campbell

Alexander B. Campbell

Photo Credit: Island Information Services

Alex B. Campbell is Prince Edward Island’s longest-serving premier, in office from July 1966 to September 1978. Campbell led his Liberal party to an unparalleled four consecutive electoral victories and the province through a period of social and economic transformation.

Campbell's government modernized the school system, created a provincial university and a new community college, centralized and equalized property taxation, introduced medicare, built a modern public service, reformed the judicial system, revamped family services and industrial relations, undertook a massive housing initiative, and acted on energy, environment, land use, heritage and many other areas. A highlight was the Comprehensive Development Plan, a fifteen-year federal-provincial agreement bringing an historic infusion of resources, policy development and institution-building.

For the decade of the 1970s, PEI was third among Canadian provinces for GDP growth, after Alberta and BC. During Campbell's twelve years in office, the GDP of Prince Edward Island quadrupled. Moreover, the gap between Prince Edward Islanders’ average incomes and those of other Canadians was reduced by more than ten percentage points. Campbell assesses the overall impact of the period as preparing Prince Edward Island “the better to meet its future.”

This book explores the personal and political sides of Alex Campbell. When he took office in 1966 at the age of 32, Campbell was the youngest person to be elected premier in Canada in the twentieth century. He was born December 1, 1933 in Summerside, PEI, the son of Thane A. and Cecelia (Bradshaw) Campbell. His father served as PEI premier and later chief justice, while his mother was creative and ran a lively household. From his early days Alex was popular but more likely to be listening than speaking. He was smart but not studious. He was a championship schoolboy curler, a King’s Scout, a singer and a joker. His happiest days were spent at the Campbell family retreat at Stanley Bridge, where he lives today with his wife Marilyn. They were married in August 1961 and have three children, Blair, Heather and Graham.

Alex Campbell was a hard working premier and a natural politician who had a magnetic influence on people. He was at his best one-on-one and became an effective orator who had a charismatic influence on crowds. Alex and Marilyn Campbell had a strong partnership that included keeping politics separate from family, notably at their Stanley Bridge refuge where Marilyn refused to have a telephone until well after Alex left office. People who were close to Campbell in public life or as long-time friends emphasize his good humour, his humanity and his ability to listen. When asked whether political life went to Alex Campbell’s head, a long-time friend responds: “No, definitely not. Alex could shake hands with anyone. And pay attention.”