Newfoundland Plots Her Future
[For the source of this document, see the end of the text.]
The people of Newfoundland have taken their first step toward what may presage a return to self-government for the "Ancient Colony", a democratic privilege which was voluntarily given up thirteen years ago by the Islanders. Last Friday 155,000 Newfoundlanders, or about half the Island 's population, went to the polls to elect a forty-two member National Convention, a non-political committee which will study the various forms of administration which have been suggested for the country, and later bring forward recommendations, which the British Government will submit to the people.
The affairs of Newfoundland are not so remote to be of little concern to Canadians. On the contrary, the people of this country have watched, with mingled affection and perplexity, the working of the island since the days of Confederation. At that time, in 1867 and again in 1869, Newfoundland rejected the invitation to amalgamate with Canada. Since then, as the economies of the two countries have gone their separate ways, sentiment for federation has grown somewhat among the Newfoundlanders, as recent reports would indicate.
As a reflection of this feeling, Ottawa, after many years of reticence about the matter, is beginning to show some cautious interest. Justice Minister St. Laurent has stated that should Newfoundland declare her intention to seek union with Canada, such will be given "the most earnest and sympathetic consideration". If there is any advantage to such a marriage it is to Newfoundland, which would sacrifice no rights or privileges, but could gain economically.
The choice leads down one of four paths: resumption of self-government, with, presumably, a return to the Dominion status which Newfoundland enjoyed until self-abrogation of that privilege in 1933; continuation of the present Commission, responsible only to Whitehall ; a reversion to colonial status, with representative but not fully responsible government, or, as the most decisive step, federation with Canada .
Newfoundland which is handicapped by a narrow economy and an extremely unbalanced export-import problem, fell upon unhappy times during the depression, and at one time was nearly $100,000,000 in debt. In the economic sense the outbreak of war was a windfall to Newfoundland . The Canadian and United States governments spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the island, building up air and naval bases. At the end of 1945 the island enjoyed, largely because of this prodigal influx of outside capital, a surplus of $28,000,000.
This friendly invasion had, however, a disturbing effect upon the country's inhabitants. The wide gulf separating them from their fellow North Americans was brought sharply into focus. The established, and more or less accepted state of poverty into which they had fallen became so apparent that a restlessness and dissatisfaction unknown before set in. This will no doubt have a profound effect on any move for corporate union with Canada . It may not be enough to overcome the ingrained sectional pride, or isolationism, of the Newfoundlander. But the decision, whatever it may be, will be watched closely by Canadians.
Source : "Newfoundland Plots Her Future", editorial in The Globe and Mail, Friday, June 26, 1949.
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© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College