Newfoundland Looks Ahead:
The Last of the Ten?
[For the source of this document, see the end of the text.]
Charles Fox Bennett, wealthy merchant and mining prospector, led the final battle against Confederation in Newfoundland. His campaign was a masterpiece of fact and fiction. Union, he declared, would force the people of Newfoundland to lay down their lives in defence of "the desert sands of Canada".
The general election of 1869 was a stunning defeat for the supporters of Confederation. Governor Hill, who had fought hard in support of it, accepted the verdict, but in a message to the provincial legislature re-stated his hopes:
"I believe, when the proposal is more calmly and maturely considered, and better understood by the people that they will be satisfied that this measure of Imperial policy is intended for their welfare, and accept Confederation as tending politically and socially to the prosperity of this island."
Calm and mature consideration is being given to the problem today. In 42 constituencies of Newfoundland, 124 candidates are offering themselves for election to a national assembly whose responsibility it will be to plot the future course of Newfoundland.
These are the terms of its appointment:"It shall be the duty and function of the convention to consider and discuss among themselves as elected representatives of the people of Newfoundland the changes that have taken place in the financial and economic situation of the island since 1934 and, bearing in mind the extent to which the high revenue of recent years has been due to wartime conditions, to examine the position of the country and to make recommendations to his Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom as to possible forms of future government to be put before the people at a national referendum."
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One of the forms of government which is being considered is union with Canada . In fact, Confederation ranks, according to reports from Newfoundland with responsible and representative government, as among the three most likely choices.
If the convention does give serious consideration to this proposal - and a place is waiting Newfoundland under the British North America Act - then representations are likely to be made direct to the Canadian government to elicit the specific terms under which the island would be admitted to Confederation.
These terms would then presumably be considered by the convention and, if acceptable, would be included as one of the proposals to be put forward to the electorate in the referendum this fall.
Canada 's position in the debate has been clearly stated by Prime Minister King. The Dominion will do nothing to influence the decision one way or the other but -
"if the people of Newfoundland should ever decide that they wish to enter the Canadian Confederation and should make that decision clear beyond the possibility of misunderstanding, Canada would give most sympathetic consideration to the proposal."
Such a proposal poses obvious problems. What, for example, would be the position of Canada relatively to the United States' bases in Newfoundland? If the United States maintained its right to the bases, on what would then be Canadian soil, would that right be considered a precedent for demanding bases elsewhere in Canada ? Would the United States be prepared to surrender the bases and accept, in lieu of them, the mutual cooperation on military problems which mark present U.S.-Canada relations?
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Leaving aside the question of military bases, the importance of Newfoundland from the Canadian point of view is threefold:
First, strategic; entry of Newfoundland into Confederation would complete Canada as a geographic entity and give her military rights in territory over which she already has military responsibilities.
Second, economic; it is doubt ful whether Newfoundland can be considered an economic asset to the Dominion, but there remains within her territory an unexplored potential, chiefly in Labrador, as well as the known assets of fish, lumber and iron.
Third, civil aviation; Newfoundland total [sic] is an important stop on the trans-atlantic run.
From Newfoundland 's point of view, Confederation would be advantageous because it would make her a part of a larger and wealthier whole. She could expect and would receive as part of the union, the standards of living which were in effect elsewhere. Her deep reliance upon import levies as a means of taxation would be removed and her peop le would share in the reduced cost of necessities . There would be free access for her people to all parts of the Dominion. They would be Canadian citizens.
Newfoundland would still depend upon a free world trade for her prosperity but her complete dependence on it would be tempered by her membership in the Canadian nation.
There would be mutual benefits from union. There would be mutual disadvantages. The decision for Newfoundland to make is whether the former outweigh the latter. If they do, if the assembly likes the scheme, if the people of Newfoundland find it to their taste, and Canada agrees, then section 146 of the British North America Act will be fulfilled:
"it shall be lawful for the Queen, by and with the advice of Her Majesty's Most Honorable Privy Council, on addresses from the Houses of Parliament of Canada, and from the houses of respective legislature of the Colonies or Provinces of Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and British Columbia, to admit those provinces or colonies or any of them, into the union."
The gate has never been closed.
Source: F. B. W., "Newfoundland Looks Ahead - The Last of the Ten?", in Winnipeg Free Press, June 18, 1946, p. 11. Text transcribed by Jonathan Kusek. Revision by Claude Bélanger.
© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College