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Considering the Problems of Union


[For the source of this document, see the end of the text.]

A clearer picture of some of the problems that will have to be solved before Newfoundland can be admitted into Confederation is presented in the official report of the Canadian delegation. The Union of Newfoundland with Canada remains as desirable an objective as ever. But the peoples of both countries are being brought to a closer consideration of the obstacles that will have to be surmounted before union can become a matter of final negotiations.
Certainly, Newfoundland 's position as the tenth province in the Dominion of Canada would be basically natural. Before Confederation it was one of the British North American colonies, with a position and interests not greatly different from those of the other maritime colonies that did become part of the Dominion of Canada. Moreover, the present negotiations are nothing actually new. Newfoundland had its representatives at the celebrated conference at Quebec in 1864 at which the Fathers of Confederation created the Dominion. In 1894 formal negotiations were resumed, and the question of union has received some degree of consideration since.
Newfoundland 's admittance into Confederation now would be both geographically and historically natural. Its undoubtedly great resources, its substantial trade and its strategic advantages would all contribute towards the completion of the Dominion's life.
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Yet there are difficulties, mostly political, which would make the entry of Newfoundland into Confederation a considerable problem. They are much the same difficulties which broke down the negotiations of 1894. It is not apparent that the passing of time has greatly diminished them. But the publication of the official report provides good grounds for the serious reconsideration of how they may be more successfully overcome.
There would be little political difficulty within Canada if Newfoundland could enter the Confederation upon the same terms as those now governing the position of the other provinces, It seems probable, however, that special concessions would have to be made to Newfoundland and that these might seriously disturb the existing pattern, and establish precedents and demands for more general and very difficult revision of the legal conditions under which other provinces live with the federal Government and with one another.
The most serious of these problems would come from Newfoundland 's financial condition, and the special measures that would have to be taken to meet it. If the federal Government at Ottawa were to offer Newfoundland the same financial terms in subsidies which it offers the other Canadian provinces, there would be a wide gap between Newfoundland 's revenues and Newfoundland 's expenditures, which would go unfulfilled. An attempt was made at the negotiations of 1894 to have this gap filled from the exchequer of the United Kingdom , but such a solution has, of course, become utterly impossible.
If however the federal subsidies to Newfoundland are raised to the level of Newfoundland 's need, even if these were stated to be only temporary, a number of other Canadian provinces, especially the maritime group which has shared many of the financial difficulties of Newfoundland , would demand upward revisions of their own subsidies. However it may be excused or explained, the unwillingness of the federal Government to divulge the details of its financial offers to Newfoundland before the federal by-election of York-Sunbury in New Brunswick remains politically interesting.
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Newfoundland might also require special concessions of other kinds, such as are not enjoyed by the present Canadian provinces. For example, it is proposed that Newfoundland should be permitted to continue the manufacture of oleomargarine, though its manufacture in other provinces would be prohibited. This is an unequal legal privilege not sound in principle or as precedent. It is also proposed that the federal civil service should be recruited among Newfoundlanders. If this is made a formal and even constitutional provision, similar claims could be made by other provinces.
Another special provision is especially interesting. For it is suggested that the boundaries between Labrador and Quebec , as set by the Privy Council's decision, should never be changed by the federal Government without the consultation and approval of Newfoundland . Though unexceptionable in itself, this provision would establish the precedent for similar restrictions upon federal power, by introducing the principle of consultation with an individual province concerning something considered of particular importance to itself. There are no doubt several provinces in Canada which have matters of at least equal importance concerning which they would like to have a similar guarantee of consultation and approval.
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However important and desirable the union of Canada and Newfoundland may be, it is evident that much in detail remains to be worked out. The publication of the details of the negotiations to date, though making clearer some of the difficulties, also provides the material for closer and more serious discussion. It will be a step towards the understanding of the problems, which is the first condition of considering their solution.

Source : "Considering the problems of Union ", editorial, Montreal Gazette, October 11, 1947, p. 4.


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© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College