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Referendum Aftermath

Newfoundland Vote Leaves Bitterness


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

St. John's, June 6.

Newfoundland this week-end is a country of postmortems and recriminations. The referendum having produced the worse possible of all results - no result at all has left behind ill feeling and bitterness which the forthcoming campaign for the second referendum is bound to increase.


If this were all it would be enough but there is no certainty that even the second referendum will produce a decisive enough result to quench the opposition of the beaten side.


The vote last Thursday - leaving aside for the moment the commission ballots -   divided responsible government, the winner, by only some 7,000 votes from confederation. An even split of the 21,000 commission votes is possible since they were, as far as can be judged, a negative protest vote.


If this should happen, and the second referendum show a similar even result, then domestic politics in Newfoundland are likely to be ineffective for years to come. An island with as delicate an economy as this cannot afford bad government or indecisive government.


Furthermore it is hard to believe, seeing the feeling the feeling with which the campaign has been conducted and the result received, that anything short of a sixty or seventy per cent vote for confederation could meet Mr. King's condition of a clear and unqualified declaration.


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Today, Sunday, Newfoundland has been quiet with the quiet of exhaustion. For once the radio was not screaming insult and charge and countercharge, loudspeaking trucks were off the streets in St. John's, and the various party headquarters were empty.


It will not be this way for long. While no date has been given for the run-off between responsible government and confederation, it is expected that Governor Macdonald will attempt to hold it around mid-July in spite of the fact that such a date coincides with the height of the fishing season.


His problem is obvious. Normal life has practically come to a stop in Newfoundland . To allow the present period of indecision to continue until fall would have serious results quite apart from the opportunity it would give Newfoundland's somewhat spectacular orators to further arouse feelings in the island.


Even allowing for the fact that the referendum had an importance for Newfoundland beyond that of ordinary election politics, the methods used and the standard of campaign were both hair-raising to those used to quieter and less violent Canadian politics.


Mr. Smallwood who has been the real head of the Confederate party, is a skilled, quick and energetic campaigner. He alone was probably worth several thousand votes to Confederation. Forty eight years old, he is a former newspaperman with experience in his own country, Canada and the United States. His campaign newspaper was the highest piece of work of the contest.


His campaigning experience was gathered as the backroom man for the Squires party in the pre-Commission Government days. His sincerity has been attacked, he has been called an opportunist, but he impresses visitors. His case, summarized briefly, has been this:


"I do not criticize Newfoundland herself, nor her fine generous people; I criticize those things that hold her back and deny the opportunities to her people that they should have. I have earned the right to do that. Other people have called Newfoundland 'The Cinderella of the British Empire and the sport of historic misfortune'. Not I. But it is because I see some truth in her statements, and because I am a patriotic Newfoundlander that I speak as I do. Union with Canada will give Newfoundlanders greater security, a fairer system of taxation, and a higher standard of living for her people, and will deprive her of no benefits".


*      *      *      *      *


Mr. Chesley A. Crosbie, who introduced the idea of economic union with the United States into the campaign, was also at pains to show that his policy would mean no change in the country's liberties or ties.


Mr. Crosbie who plays an important part in Newfoundland's most important industry, fishing, undoubtedly drew a lot of votes to Responsible Government. The U.S. is now a large influence in Newfoundland life. Some [1,000?] Newfoundlanders are employed in the various bases, some $30,000,000 are spent annually in maintaining them; they now have the status of a major industry.


It is for this reason that the question of the legality or otherwise of the bases deal has not been introduced, though the right of Mr. Churchill to hand over Newfoundland territory and abrogate Newfoundland sovereignty for 99 years over them is challenged by most legal authority.


Britain , though much is talked about the Old Country, is none too popular today except in the upper social set of the island. Part of the bitterness of the campaign lies in the widespread feeling that Newfoundland is being railroaded into Confederation by the British. The Commission Government is accused of playing with the Confederate party.


The reasons for holding a referendum are not clear. Officially, it is to hear the voice of the people but in fact there was nothing in the terms under which Commission Government took over which requires that its tenure of office should be ended in any other way than by a return to responsible government.


*    *    *    *    *


Canada is obviously popular with one side and heartily disliked by the other. Again this is not a partisan view; there are may who cannot understand why the confederation issue should have been raised before Newfoundland had a government of its own which could negotiate terms.


Certainly, the Commission Government could hardly carry on the final negotiations. Nr, it is felt, could a group whose only authority lay in a referendum vote and who lacked any constitutional status whatsoever.


Very few individuals in Newfoundland tonight are happy about the events of the past two years. Business in the past few weeks has been at a standstill. No one will act until they know what type of government Newfoundland is to have.


Now they must wait another two or three weeks, face another campaign, go all through the performance once more and still be without any certainty that it will prove anything one way or the other. There must still be local elections.


Newfoundland has had no real politics for 15 years. It has very nearly had enough in the past few weeks.


Source : Special correspondence, "Referendum Aftermath: Newfoundland Vote Leaves Bitterness", in Montreal Star , June 7, 1948, p. 12. Editing mistakes have been corrected. Given the poor quality of the original from which this text has been transcribed, it is possible that punctuation has been changed in a few instances.


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© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College