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Newfoundland Referendum

The Second Canpaign


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

St. John's : The St. John's newspaper which has suggested that the second referendum be forgotten and the country handed over to responsible government, leaving the confederation issue to be settled on a straight election basis, is voicing a common feeling to this country today.


Newfoundland has had a rough few months. The viciousness of the referendum campaign has persuaded many to ask the country to go through another such period to be followed immediately afterwards by one or more elections will damage seriously the islands general economy.


Business has been at a standstill here for weeks. No business man is going out on a limb when the whole system of taxation and government may be changed in months. At the same time the deep spilt between the Avalon Peninsula and the rest of the country can make for political trouble.


Newfoundland does not answer to the normal rules. First, it is North American only by the accident of geography. Avalon faces east and its emotional ties are east. Second, the west coast is more closely linked with Canada than with Avalon. Third, of its 325,000 population 60,000 are in St. John's , another 20,000 in the remainder of the Avalon peninsula and the rest of the population scattered in some 1,300 coastal settlements.

The Religious breakdown


The religious breakdown it had, according to confederate claims a definite influence on the referendum is sharp and distinct. Local patriotism has a fervor unknown today in western Canada .


To judge the country by St. John's is like looking at the United States from the empire state building.


All these factors, plus the def inite influence of the United States bases, whose upkeep runs to some thirty millions of dollars annually and provides some six millions in local income, made the referendum campaign a political nightmare. The confederates - this is a lively word in these parts - was based almost entirely on the social benefits which would accrue to individuals as a result of confederation.


Mr. Smallwood, who leads the confederate party, played this issue and the "water street gang" issue throughout. The latter is old-time politics in Newfoundland and has the same relation to many New foundlanders as any local Canadian political bogey.


*      *      *      *      *


The responsible government group, including Mister Chesley Crosbie's economic union with the United States , became the patriots' party. There was little discussion by either side on the real merits of confederation or responsible government. The issues were strictly a bribe on the confederate side - Newfoundland would get this and that out of it - and a combination of local patriotism and fairy story on the other.


The economic union with the United States idea was introduced late in the campaign. Like confederation, it had little to do with the real i ssue. It has been interpreted in some quarters as political union as well. Mr. Crosbie in his opening speech, however, made it clear that:


"Such negotiations (with the U.S. ) will not in any way change our position as a British possession. We are not seeking to become the forty-ninth state. Nor are we asking for a change of flag, and I can assure you that if the party was asking for a change of flag that I would not be its leader."


Naturally enough economic union votes went into the responsible government column. There is n o other way an y form of customs union could be negotiated.


Preparations for the second referendum are being hurried forward as fast as possible. Commission officials are concerned about the effects of any prolonged delay. They would rather hold the vote at busy season than take chances on another extended campaign.

Voting Evenly Divided


With the final vote almost complete figures for the first referendum show how evenly the country was divided. Remove St. John's from the total, and confederation would have been won by a small majority. The twenty-one odd thousand commission votes, even if they plump for one or the other group in the second referendum still will not give that group the most comfortable kind of majority.


Fifty-five or sixty per cent, of a vote is not big majority in a decision involving the form of government and status of a country, especially when the remaining forty-five or forty per cent is organized into a single opposition. The vote was extraordinary heavy. In fact it was over one hundred per cent. in at least one area. This is not as odd as it might seem. The registration was not complete. A number of voters were therefore sworn in at the polls. Furthermore the arrangements made it easy for every one to vote.


The difficulties in which Newfoundland now finds itself involved - the palmy days of wartime are over - make it seem inevitable that its days as an independent country are numbered. Its economic future hangs on too slim a thread. Social services require developing. Housing is needed. Alternative employment is needed. All these services which are basic not luxury services seem beyond the ability of Newfoundland to provide for its own people.


Source : F. B. W., " Newfoundland Referendum: The Second Campaign", Winnipeg Free Press, June 7, 1948 , p. A13. Article transcribed by Jonathan Kusek. Revision by Claude Bélanger.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College