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Tenth Province



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

After 81 years, it finally happened. The oldest British colony in North America (excluding Virginia ) voted to join Canada. Twice since the Dominion of Canada was established in 1867, Newfoundland had turned down confederation; from 1895 to 1946 it had been a dead issue. Last week the little (pop. 327,000) island, which for a time was actually a dominion, decided that it was too hard to make a go of things alone. The British and Canadian parliaments must still approve, but the decision is not likely to be upset.
It was not a unanimous decision. The vote was only 77,000 to 71,000, with a few northern districts (strongly for confederation) still to be heard from. In St. John (sic), and the Avalon Peninsula, there was sorrow and tears at the prospective loss of independence. Newfoundlanders had gone their independent way ever since their forebears had sailed after Cabot to carve the original British colony out of the island's barrens and rock. Cod had lured them then and cod has remained the mainstay of the island.
Their first crude governors were the fishing admirals. In those days the captain of the first ship to reach a Newfoundland port administered justice there for the season. By 1832 they had representative government, by 1855 self-governing status. Through it all the wind-bitten outport fishermen never had much ready cash, but their wants were few. They got some of their food from the sea, some from poor soil; the rest had to be imported. The islanders pay for it with fish, iron, lead, zinc, newsprint, pit props.
In the early '30s, when world markets collapsed, one-fourth of them were on relief. In 1933 Newfoundland went under. It had a national debt of $100 million, a long list of deficits, and no credit. It turned to Britain for help, got it by surrendering dominion status in exchange for a British-appointed Commission of Government. Newfoundlanders did not like outside rule. In a referendum last month they voted out the Commission of Government.
Baby Bonuses & Divorce. To lure them into the dominion, Canada had made a generous offer, and the whirlwind campaign of wiry, yeasty Joseph R. ("Joey") Smallwood had been effective. He concentrated on the little outports where Canada 's family allowance ($5-$8 a month per child) looked like sizable ready cash and where old-age pension boosts were as important as duty-free goods from Canada .
Confederation will reshuffle the island's economy. Instead of getting 50% of her revenue from high tariffs, as she does now, Newfoundland will have to raise it by direct taxes. Her currency (with its 20¢ coin and its tiny silver 5¢ piece) will disappear. Her narrow: gauge railroad, which winds the longest way - from east to west - will become part of C.N.R. Her controlled marketing of fish will go by the board.
But Newfoundland can still carry on her strange educational system by which the government supports a separate school system for each major denomination (Church of England, Roman Catholic, United Church , Salvation Army). Divorce will be introduced for the first time, and Newfoundlanders can keep on eating margarine (colored) while it is banned elsewhere in Canada .
Ships & Senators. Newfoundland's coastal boats will be taken over, as will the international airport at Gander. Instead of the Ode to Newfoundland, the anthem will be O Canada. U.S. cigarettes will go up from 35¢ to 50¢. The islanders will pay less for some things (food, clothing), more for others ( U.S. radios, cars). What is important: in lean years there will be no immigration barriers to Newfies who want to go elsewhere in Canada.
In all, Newfoundland will get about $27 million a year from Ottawa, and will be taxed about $20 million in return. Canada will take over $63 million of Newfoundland's debts, leave the island with $9,000,000, and with her war-born surplus of $29 million. Political parties will have to be reborn to contest seven seats in the dominion House of Commons, and elect a provincial government. In addition, six Canadian Senators must be appointed from the tenth province. Last week the Liberals took no chances of missing any bets. Even before the full vote was counted, they invited a delegation from Newfoundland to attend their national convention .

Source: " Tenth Province ", Time (Canadian edition), August 2, 1948 , pp. 13-14.


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© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College