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Newfoundland Issues and Events of 1908



[Canadian Annual Review, 1908; for full citation, see the end of the text]


Newfoundland affairs have always been of special interest to Canada and the Island has frequently been a diplomatic storm-centre in British relations with the United States. The 1908 Session of its Legislature opened on Jan. 9th with Sir Robert Bond entering upon his 8th year of power. On Feb. 1st a unanimous Resolution was passed protesting against the action of the Imperial Government in over-riding Newfoundland Fishery regulations and arranging a Modus vivendi with the United States. Legislation was enacted regulating the employer's liability for accidents, safeguarding the lives of miners, improving the Lighthouse system, encouraging shipbuilding by means of bonuses, establishing an Experimental Farm, and increasing educational facilities. The Assembly adjourned on Feb. 18th. The revenue of the fiscal year was stated at $2,750,690 and the surplus as $125,000. The Public Debt in 1907 was $22,000,000; the exports in 1907-8 were $11,815,769 and the imports $11,516,111 - a total trade increase over 1906-7 of $804,000.


Labour unions increased greatly in force and numbers during the year and their leader, Michael P. Gibbs, became Mayor of St. John's; Sir Edward Morris (lately a member of the Bond Cabinet), both in the Legislature and before the people, assumed the Opposition Leadership and organized what he termed the People's Party; the Rt. Hon. Sir William V. Whiteway, ex-Premier, a pronounced Imperialist and a believer in Confederation, died on June 24th; the Harmsworths continued during the year their construction of paper mills, power-house, etc., at Grand Falls and Millerton, with 1,000 men employed, the expenditure of about $6,000,000 and the expectation of beginning operations in 1909; the Fish exports equaled those of 1907 in quantity but shewed a considerable decrease in value. Lord Northcliffe visited the Harmsworth enterprises during the year and Mr. W. D. Reid said of general conditions, in the Montreal press on Dec, 1st, that financially and commercially things were sound in Newfoundland and that a case of insolvency was unknown. Confederation with Canada was made a forced issue in the general elections, which followed the dissolution on Sept. 18, with polling day fixed for Nov. 23rd. It started with the first issue of the new Opposition organ - The Chronicle - early in the gear; it proceeded in an elaborate story of Sir Robert Bond's coming visit to Canada on a mission of inquiry along this line; it was not fully met by the Premier's denial of the visit or of any negotiations in the matter; it was a factor in the subsequent result which his past policy and present expressions of hostility to the idea could. not overcome.


The elections were bitter in language, in charge and countercharge, in personalities and political issues. Both Leaders published Manifestoes. Sir Robert Bond denounced the Opposition as being the revival of an old Tory organization which was described as extravagant and reckless, as the parent of unlimited concession to the Reid Company, as the author of high tariff prices and the cause of one-time financial depression. He claimed to have reformed the Reid contracts; to have established a splendid coastal steam service and lowered passenger and freight rates; to have remitted duties upon articles of daily consumption to the fishermen totalling $1,300,000 in eight years while expending considerable sums in the erection of wharves and harbour improvements; to have passed beneficial Workmen's Compensation Acts and placed various articles of special agricultural requirement upon the free list; to have improved the Mines Regulation Act and made many kinds of mining machinery free; to have helped the lumbermen by the important arrangement with the Harmsworths for the establishment of pulp and paper industries; to have reduced general tariff taxation by $1,400,000 in eight years while expending $409,000 upon roads, $211,000 upon marine works and $442,000 upon education.


Sir Robert Bond claimed to have fought a great fight against American aggression and to have stood by the Colony's interest's against even the Mother-Country's desire for peace and harmony with the United States . He declared in favour of an Old-Age pension system subject to the advice of a Commission recently appointed to study the question and denounced the Opposition as pledged to a Reid domination over the country, and to a policy of financial bankruptcy and Canadian confederation. Sir Edward Morris in his Manifesto attacked the Government all along the line. He described it as indifferent to Labour interests; denounced it for the failure of various industrial enterprises which it had either initiated or aided during eight years of power; condemned it for having in the United States dispute accepted reference to the Hague Tribunal with a Canadian (Sir C. Fitzpatrick) as joint Arbitrator; proclaimed the existing depression in the Fishery interests as subject to immediate betterment under a change of government. Confederation was repudiated in words as strong as those used, with signal lack of success, by he Opposition of four years before. "I am and have been all my life a staunch, unwavering opponent of Confederation on any terms." The policy outlined included the following items:


1. The increase of teachers' salaries, of grants to poor school-sections, the improvement of school-buildings.


2. The placing of tea, sugar, pork and other necessaries of life on the Free List.


3. The construction of branch railway lines at and to various points.


4. The opening of new markets for fish, the providing of subsidies to steamship lines, the adoption of cold-storage facilities, the establishment of bait freezers around the coasts, a daily fishery telegraph service and an extension of the Marconi system, the establishment of a weather bureau, the dredging of shallow harbours, an increase in lighthouses.


5. An agricultural bonus for the clearing of land, the provision of seeds for the farmers and a better breed of cattle and sheep, with low rates for products by train and steamers.


6. A bonus for the discovery of minerals, no matter on whose land they are found, the better housing of miners, and protection against explosives.


7. Giving Labour Unions a legal status with legislation along Old-Age pension lines.


8. Defence of Island rights under the Treaty of 1818.


9. Steam service to, and general development of, the Labrador coast.


As to the personnel of the fight Sir Robert Bond, though nominally a Liberal was really more of the Old Country Tory type reserved in bearing, wealthy and without special occupation, courteous in manner but not genial. He mixed little with the people, was unknown to the masses except by sight, and was rarely seen in public places or at public functions. Sir Edward Morris on the other hand, was essentially one of the people, knew every one in the small communities of the Island, was a lawyer by profession and constantly before and with the public in a personal and more or less intimate way. Originally a Liberal he headed a combination of Opposition elements chiefly, no doubt, Conservative in character. He was a Roman Catholic in religion and an Imperialist in his general sentiment. The Opposition was fiercely attacked as being in favour of Confederation with Canada; it retaliated with bitter counter-charges along the same line. The net result of the contest was a tie 18 to 18 - where the Government had won in 1904 by 30 to 6. Up to the end of the year the deadlock remained, neither party would give way, and the Government held office without being able to call the Legislature unless it were willing to accept defeat after the election of a Speaker. Early in 1909 the Government resigned and Sir Edward Morris won the succeeding elections.


Source: J. Castell HOPKINS , The Canadian Annual Review of Public Affairs, 1908, Toronto, The Annual Review Publishing Company, 1909, pp. 592-594.






© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College