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Negotiations of Union Between

Newfoundland and Canada in the XIXth Century



[This text was written by Castell HOPKINS in 1900. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]


The relation between this island warder of the Canadian shores and the other Provinces of British North America have not always been satisfactory. The inevitable union of Newfoundland with the present Dominion has been delayed and petty differences upon trade and fishery matters have been precipitated from time to time as a consequence. The Island was invited to send delegates to the Conference of British North American leaders which met at Quebec in 1864 to discuss the question of Confederation. She sent Messrs. Ambrose Shea and F. B. T. Carter, but the final proposals of the Conference were not accepted by the "Ancient Colony." In 1869 the Council and Assembly of Newfoundland passed Resolutions stating the terms upon which they. would enter the Union . These and the counter proposals of the Government of Canada were considered by a Committee of the Privy Council of Canada and by Newfoundland Delegates in June, 1869. At that meeting it was agreed:


That the Federal Government should provide efficient mail service between Canada , Newfoundland and Great Britain.


That the Federal Government should maintain the Newfoundland mail coastal service.


That the Federal Government should assume and defray the charges for the following services: Salary of the Lieutenant-Governor; Salaries and allowances of the judges of the Supreme Court, the Judges of District Courts, and the Labrador judge and bailiff ; the charges in respect to the Department of Customs, the Postal Department, the protection of fisheries, the provision for volunteer militia and naval brigade, the lighthouses and shipwrecked crews, Quarantine and Marine, the Surveyor-General and staff, the Geological Survey, the penitentiary and such further charges as might be incident to and connected with the services which, by the British North America Act, appertained to the general Government, and were allowed to the other Provinces.


The proposed Province of Newfoundland was to receive the same per capita allowance on debt account that had been given to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick - which was about $25 per head. In 1873, when the terms of Union were agreed upon with Prince Edward Island, that Province was allowed $50 per head. Newfoundland was also to receive an annual grant of $35,000 for Legislative expenses and 80 cents per head of the population until the population of the Island reached 400,000. It was also to receive $150,000 annually in lieu of its ungranted mines, minerals and unoccupied public land. Nothing came of the effort, however.


In 1888 an attempt was made to get the two sister communities together again and despatches passed between the Governor-General and the Government of Newfoundland as to the time at which another Conference might be held. But the effort did not succeed. Following this failure a question came up involving, not only the friendly relations of the Dominion and the Island, but the alleged commercial interests of Newfoundland and the wider general question of the right, or possibility, of one part of the Empire being allowed to discriminate in tariff against another portion by means of a treaty with a foreign State. Early in October, 1890, Mr. Robert Bond arrived in Washington with permission from the Imperial Government to enter upon negotiations - subject to the assistance of the British Ambassador and, of course, to Imperial approval of the arrangement when completed. Hitherto, in 1854, in 1871 and in 1888, any negotiations concerning the fisheries, in which the Maritime Provinces of Canada were almost as much interested as the people of the Island , had proceeded concurrently. Necessarily, therefore, the Dominion Government was aroused to action in this new matter and Sir John A. Macdonald at once cabled to the High Commissioner in London : "Can hardly believe Newfoundland has received authority from Imperial Government to make separate arrangements regarding the fisheries. The relations of all the North American Provinces to the United States and the Empire would be affected. Please represent strongly how the fishing and commercial interests of Canada will be injured by such an arrangement as Bond is currently reported to be making . . . . Our difficulties under the new American tariff are sufficiently great now." An elaborate Report was also submitted to the Governor-General-in-Council, signed by Sir John Thompson, Minister of Justice, and by the Hon. C. H. Tupper, Minister of Marine and Fisheries. It dealt with the history of previous negotiations and with the general condition of the fishing interests which would be affected by the Bond-Blaine proposals. Then, in reference to the McKinley Bill, the infringement of the Treaty of 1818, and the obvious fact that an arrangement such as that exhibited in the draft which had just been published would permit Newfoundland to discriminate against Canada in favour of a foreign country, Sir John and his colleague entered the following effective and now historic protest


"The protection afforded by the Treaty of 1817 for upwards of seventy years would thus be taken away from Canadian fishermen and Newfoundland fishermen alike, but there would be special compensation to the fishermen of Newfoundland in the shape of removal of duties, while the Canadian fishermen would be made to pay enhanced duties under the new American tariff. While this would, perhaps, be the most effectual method of impressing on the minds of the Canadian people the lesson that they cannot be British subjects and enjoy American markets Her Majesty's Government can hardly, on reflection, feel surprised that Your Excellency's Government have not for a moment believed that Her Majesty's Ministers would co-operate with the authorities of the United States in inculcating such a lesson at the present time."


The Report was accepted by the Canadian Cabinet and sent to England. Although previously favourable to some arrangement, no British Government of the present day would act in the teeth of such a protest from Canada , and the Treaty was promptly "hung up." Then followed the effort by the Dominion to obtain a joint treaty of reciprocity, and its failure after prolonged negotiations. Meantime the indignation of the Islanders was very great, and correspondence between their Government and those of Canada and England became peppery in the extreme. Newfoundland tried to retaliate by refusing to sell bait to Canadian fishermen while giving Americans all they desired; and the Dominion returned the compliment by putting a moderate duty upon fish coming from the Island. Eventually a Conference was agreed upon, and in November, 1892, Sir John Thompson, the Hon. Mackenzie Bowell and the Hon. J. A. Chapleau, representing Canada, and Sir William Whiteway, the Hon. Robert Bond and Mr. A. W. Harvey, representing Newfoundland, met at Halifax to discuss a mutual arrangement, and incidentally, on the part of the Canadian Ministers, to see if the troubles could not be settled upon a basis of Confederation.


The Canadian Minister of justice, in opening the discussion, reviewed the history of previous negotiations ; pointed out that the Bond-Blaine Treaty would have resulted in a distinct discrimination against Canada ; and would have greatly restricted the rights and privileges of her fishermen. He suggested that the following principles should be assented to:


I. That Canada as well as Newfoundland should have the right to take part in such treaties or in any negotiations which would affect the interests of both countries.


II. That at the very least, no Convention should be concluded which both countries should not have the right to avail themselves of.


He went on to say that "the efforts to obtain a fair arrangement with the United States were only relaxed (by Canada) when it was found that the conditions imposed would sow the seeds of Imperial disintegration," and he thought that "any separate arrangement, such as the Bond-Blaine Convention, would divide the hitherto united interests of the British American dependencies." Mr. Bond claimed that his Treaty did not involve any discrimination against Canada, but Mr. Bowell promptly pointed out that in flour and other articles it provided for admission into the States under lower duties than were granted similar Canadian products. Then followed a discussion of an informal kind upon Confederation. Mr. Bowell in an earnest speech urged it as the best and, in fact, the inevitable, settlement of all their material difficulties, and as a means of strengthening British power upon this continent. Sir William Whiteway expressed himself as favourable to the principle, but thought the time had not yet come. Sir John Thompson thought it ought to be carefully considered by the Conference, and might constitute "a solution of all pending difficulties." Mr. Harvey opposed its being dealt with at this time, while Mr. Chapleau discussed the French Shore Question. Eventually, an understanding was arrived at with regard to many of the minor causes of friction, and a little later the Dominion and the Island substantially resumed their old relations. But the Canadian Government positively refused, speaking through Sir John Thompson, to withdraw its protest against the Bond-Blaine Treaty; while the Newfoundland Delegates and the people themselves apparently remained impervious to the advantages of Union . In the present year (1900) the matter of reciprocity with the United States has again come to the front in Newfoundland as a result of Mr. Robert Bond becoming Prime Minister.


Source : J. Castell HOPKINS , ed., Canada. An Encyclopedia of the Country, Vol. VI, Toronto, The Linscott Publishing Company, 557p., pp. 497-499.


© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College