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Newfoundland May Yet Vote on Confederation


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

In a decision which will not be entirely surprising to those who have followed its proceedings, though it will be somewhat disappointing to many, the Newfoundland National Convention has ruled that the issue of Confederation should not be put before the people when they vote this spring on a new form of government. The choice to be put before the islanders, if the Convention has its way will be between retention of the present bureaucratic commission form of administration and a return to a fully-autonomous self government.


The decision is as we say not altogether surprising. From the time when the question of Confederation was raised, a majority of the Convention members were hostile, even to the point of attacking the good faith of the delegation sent to Ottawa to discuss a basis for union and attempting to sidetrack discussion of the report which the delegation took back with them. There were few signs of the open mindedness with which members were supposed to approach their task.


The report was in the event discussed at considerable length, but in an atmosphere of open intemperate bitterness that must have made a balanced appraisal of all its implications difficult, to say the least.


On the face of it, the Convention's action looks undemocratic. The final judgment on the choice of a form of government is to rest with the people, yet the convention is bent on arbitrarily narrowing the field of choice to two alternatives, excluding one the interest in which no one was prepared to dispute. If the people could be trusted to choose wisely between two alternatives, it is hardly to be believed that they could no choose wisely among three. Yet this is what the Convention has in effect asserted.


The disappointment which we believe many will experience at the Convention's decision arises from no certainty that the Newfoundland people would vote for confederation, if given the opportunity. The project was raised twice before, and twice defeated. The Newfoundland people have a natural pride in their past and their identity which is a factor in any consideration of attaching themselves to us. But we should like to know the feeling of the people themselves, rather than that of a group of unrepresentative spokesmen.


The exclusion of the confederation alternative from the referendum paper does not, of course, necessarily block expression of a majority desire for it. As has been argued by opponents, in the event of return of responsible government, confederation could be brought about by election of as government pledged to carry it through, and the only significant consequence of its exclusion from the referendum, if the majority wants it, would be some delay in achieving it by such a round-about route.


But there is another element in the situation which might operate to thwart the intention of the Convention die-hards. The terms of reference under which the Convention was established direct it to consider alternative types of government and recommend the form of question to be put to the people in a referendum. Its recommendation goes to the Dominions Office in London, which may or may not feel itself bound to accept the Convention's advice.


If, as there is good reason to believe, the Dominions Office is disposed to look with favor on Newfoundland 's entry into confederation, it may decide that the referendum paper will offer it as a third alternative. The matter will not be closed until the Dominions Office has accepted or rejected the Convention's recommendation. It is not likely, however, that confederation would be put to the referendum test, over the Convention's opposition, unless there was good evidence of a strong popular desire for it.


Source : "Newfoundland May Yet Vote on Confederation", editorial, Montreal Star, January 28, 1948, p. 12.


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© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College