McLEOD, NEIL, lawyer, politician, and judge; b. 15 Dec. 1842 in Uigg, P.E.I., son of Roderick McLeod and Flora McDonald; m. 27 June 1877 Isabella Jane Adelia Hayden in Vernon River, P.E.I., and they had one son and five daughters; d. 19 Oct. 1915 in Summerside, P.E.I.
After attending school in Uigg, Neil McLeod went to Wolfville, N.S., where he studied at Horton Academy and Acadia College (ba 1869, ma 1872). He articled in law with a Charlottetown firm, and upon admission to the bar in 1873 he formed a partnership with Edward Jarvis Hodgson, with whom he would practise for some time before joining the firm of McLeod, Morson, and McQuarrie in the 1880s.
In March 1879, although he was without experience and was not an mla, McLeod was named to the powerful position of provincial secretary and treasurer in the Liberal-Conservative administration formed by William Wilfred Sullivan on the resignation of the government of Louis Henry Davies*. In the election which was called within days, he won easily in Charlottetown and Royalty. He would be reelected at every election until he resigned from politics in 1893. McLeod held his portfolio only until March 1880, when he was replaced by Donald Ferguson*. It seems likely that his original appointment had been largely an election tactic. Nevertheless, he remained in Sullivan’s cabinet, without office, until he became premier in 1889. This stage of his career was uneventful, marked by no great causes or controversies. He was a regular attender and active in the business of the Legislative Assembly, but he tended to speak only when necessary and to say only what needed to be said. He was careful, however, to attend to the needs of Charlottetown, shepherding many bills through the legislative process.
It would seem that McLeod’s views were progressive and reformist. For some time before 1879 the labourers of Charlottetown and area had been demanding legislation to protect their rights, a matter on which the Davies government was reluctant to move. During the election campaign that year McLeod and his running-mate, George Wastie DeBlois*, negotiated with the labourers, indicating their support for a mechanics’ lien act, an end to imprisonment for debt, and legislation to define the rights of workers. Satisfied, the labourers helped to elect them both. The Charlottetown Patriot wondered how DeBlois could be a workingman’s candidate, but never questioned the sincerity of McLeod. During the following session McLeod promoted the Mechanics’ Lien Bill as it passed into law. He also supported legislation severely limiting imprisonment for debt and an indigent debtors bill, both of which were adopted. Sullivan’s caucus had dissidents who opposed the reformist legislation passed particularly in the government’s first and second sessions, but McLeod does not appear to have been one of them.
On 19 Nov. 1889 Sullivan resigned and McLeod was sworn in as premier. There seems to have been no controversy about the succession. Senator Samuel Prowse, while admitting Ferguson’s claims, wrote to Sir John A. Macdonald* that “McLeod ought to be leader. . . . I hear no other names mentioned.” McLeod called an election for 30 Jan. 1890. The Liberals under John Yeo did not announce much by way of policy and campaigned against what they thought to be the weak record of the government. McLeod based his case to a great extent on the government’s success in dealing with Ottawa and on its fiscal responsibility. The result was more eventful than the campaign. The government survived by the narrowest of margins (16–14), and in the following session was sustained, with all members present, by a majority of 15–14. In March 1891, however, three of McLeod’s members resigned to contest the federal election. The Liberals won two of the ensuing by-elections and the third was won by John Theophilus Jenkins, an independent Conservative at odds with his party. Even if Jenkins was placed on the Conservative side, the Liberals had a majority.
The government then attempted an astonishing manœuvre. On 17 April, with the assembly scheduled to meet six days later, the Executive Council asked for a dissolution, arguing that, because of the equality of numbers in the house, the people should be consulted on the advisability of dealing with two longstanding issues: combining the assembly and the Legislative Council and introducing a measure to supplement revenue so as to equal expenditure. Lieutenant Governor Jedediah Slason Carvell* refused. A constitutional crisis was avoided when on 22 April McLeod tendered the resignation of his government.
As opposition leader, McLeod promised to assist the administration of Frederick Peters “in every measure that is in the interest of the country.” However, the promise did not prevent him from driving home some of his firmly held views. He continued to argue for the abolition of the Legislative Council as the only means of reducing the deficit. During the final debate on the bill to amalgamate the assembly and the council, which provided for half the members of the new house to be elected on the old Legislative Council franchise, based on property, he unsuccessfully moved an amendment to eliminate the property qualification and have all members elected on the House of Assembly franchise, which was universal manhood suffrage. He also continued to joust with Donald Farquharson* over free trade with the United States. Rejecting unrestricted reciprocity, he favoured “the freest trade relations possible . . . consistent with the exigencies of the Dominion and our relations with Great Britain.” After the defeat of the Canada Temperance Act in Charlottetown in 1891, McLeod maintained his support for a reasonable licensing law rather than prohibition.
McLeod was appointed judge of the Prince County court on 9 March 1893. After 22 years on the bench, where he gained a high reputation, he died in October 1915 following an illness of about three months. The man and his career were well captured by the Charlottetown Guardian in a brief obituary: he was “one of the old school of stalwarts, well educated, thoroughly grounded in the principles of his chosen profession, and scrupulously honest and upright . . . a keen student of human nature, a fair and unbiased reasoner, and a thoroughly impartial judge.” He was buried on 22 October in the Peoples Cemetery, Charlottetown.
Acadia Univ. (Wolfville, N.S.), Registrar’s office, alumni records. NA, MG 26, A: 238379. PARO, Master name index; RG 5, minutes, 1879–92, esp. 3 March 1880; 19 Nov. 1889; 17, 22 April 1891; RG 19, ser.3, subser.3, 27 June 1877. Charlottetown Guardian, 20 Oct. 1915. Examiner (Charlottetown), 29 June 1877; 15, 18 March 1879; 27, 29 Jan. 1890; 13 March 1893; 19 Oct. 1915. Patriot (Charlottetown), 15 March, 5 April 1879. Canada Gazette, 18 March 1893. P.E.I.. House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1879–92, esp. 1879 (28th General Assembly, 1st session): 179; 1891: 13–14, 472, 478; 1892: 337–39, 368; Journal, 1879–92, esp. 1879 (27th General Assembly, 3rd session): 17; (28th General Assembly, 1st session): 209–10; 1886: 31–32, 190; 1891: 2–3; 1892: 21–22.