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Wooing the 'Forty-Ninth State'

Washington Eyes Newfoundland


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

There is a chance - admittedly a long one -   that neither Alaska nor Hawaii will be the forty-ninth State of the Union, but that a rank outsider will. It is reported here that there is a grass roots sentiment in Newfoundland favouring taking that orphan of the British Empire into the United States. A Newfoundland Gallup Poll, the Washington grapevine says, could well show a major sentiment among Newfoundlanders for joining the United States.

The reason this possibility arises is that Newfoundland's present political status is up in the air. It is neither beast, bird nor fish. It is not a Dominion of the British Empire. It is not a province of Canada. It is not a British colony. It is not an independent country. It occupies a class alone in the British Empire. It is governed by a Commission of Britishers and Newfoundlanders in what is admittedly a temporary status.

That suspension of St. John's in political mid-air occurred in 1934 when Newfoundland, then a British dominion, went bankrupt and sought financial help from London. London was prepared to bale out its overseas relative, but only if St. John's agreed to surrender dominion status. The pinch was such that Newfoundland agreed, and so, for thirteen years, has been living in suspended political animation, governed by a temporary commission.

Now, however, the country faces the prospect of a referendum on its status. A Newfoundland National Convention is wrestling with the prospect of the country's political future. The referendum is expected to occur next spring, though there is a slim chance it could still occur this year.

Convention delegates have already been in London to find out what the British could promise them if they returned to dominion status. While the bargaining was admittedly wrapped in secrecy, the reports are that the Newfoundlanders extracted little promise of financial help from London should the 316,000 Newfoundlanders vote to go back to dominion status. Now the delegates are bargaining with the Canadians to discover how anxious Ottawa is to make Newfoundland the tenth Canadian province.

Press Support

Meanwhile, there is considerable press and apparently spontaneous public interest in Newfoundland for joining the United States. After all, the Newfoundlanders know where much of their war prosperity came from. They may well feel that their chance of help in hard times, if such return, is better if they are an American State than if they are a canadian province or a British dominion, or continue in their present uncertain status.

There is some question as to whether the Commission, when it puts the question of Newfoundland's future status to the people, could include the choice of union with the United States. There is even serious doubt as to whether the referendum can provide the alternative of provincial status in Canada. Canada's equivalent of this country's philadelphia lawyers argue that the Convention has only the power to have a referendum ask if Newfoundlanders prefer to continue as is, under joint Commission rule, or return to dominion status.

If the Newfoundlanders decide for the present status, then that's that. But if they decide for dominion rights, then, and only then, these same legal technicians say, could the Newfoundlanders look into what to do with their sovereignty - keep it, merge it with Canada, or seek admission to the American Union.

Strategic Importance

Of course, Canada and the United States would have something to say about whether or not they would take Newfoundland in. As for becoming the forty-ninth State in the United States, the American Congress, which means the American people, would have something to say about that. And as yet, if Washington sentiment is any indication, they are conspicuously unconditioned for such an event, despite the reported grass roots interest in Newfoundland in such a solution.

However, it is not too late for Americans to take an active interest in Newfoundland with one eye on sizing it up as a future member of the family. While Newfoundland before the war was an economic liability to Britain, there is no gainsaying its strategic importance. Nor should the untold mineral wealth of Labrador, which belongs to Newfoundland, possibly including atomic energy sources, be ignored, Americans could do worse than cultivate Newfoundland for statehood, particularly as that cultivation would apparently be welcome.

Source: Article originally published in the Christian Science Monitor and reproduced in the Vancouver Sun, October 24, 1947, p. 4. Article transcribed by Claude Bélanger.


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© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College