Is Confederation an Irrevocable Step?
[For the source of the document, see the end of the text.]
There appeared on this page last Friday, a letter written by Dr. L. J. Jackman, a leading spirit in the movement of opposition to the entry of Newfoundland into Confederation. In it, Dr. Jackman asked a number of very pertinent questions, questions which it would be well to have answered authoritatively while the proceedings antecedent to union are being carried on. They touch on matters on which decisions made should be accepted as conclusive, in the interest of the most harmonious possible relations between the island's people and those of the rest of Canada in the event the union is carried out. We say "in the event" with no present doubt that it will be so carried out.
Some of Dr. Jackman's statements will not stand up, of course. He speaks of the known resistance of "half the population" to Confederation. The only evidence we know of as to the feelings of the people of Newfoundland in the matter is the outcome of the second referendum, which showed a majority of some 6,000 for confederation. Not a large majority, it is true, but a clear one. As we noted here earlier in discussing the question of its validity any decision as to the adequacy of a majority must necessarily be an arbitrary one, open to criticism and objection by last-ditch resisters.
At to the propriety of placing the Confederation issue on the ballot after the National Convention had turned it down, Dr. Jackman himself disposes of that by admitting that the Convention's role was purely exploratory and advisory, and the people themselves furnished adequate warrant for including this question with the two others by their votes.
Dr. Jackman asks whether, after remaining in Confederation long enough to prove the contention that recent mineral discoveries in Labrador and others that may be made will remove any uncertainty about Newfoundland 's financial future could secede and go its own way again. He asks whether there is anything in the British North America Act to prevent such a defection.
There is nothing in the B. N. A. Act specifically to prevent such a dissolution. The matter does not seem to have been considered by the Fathers of Confederation. The union was to be a lasting one, "until death do us part". The question did arise, it was true, before the ink of the signatures on the Act was thoroughly dry. Some Nova Scotians felt that they had received less that their due in the arrangements concluded, and there was a movement of which Joseph Howe was the truculent spokesman to undo the pact. But it went no further than talk, and Sir John A. Macdonald ended up by persuading Howe of the soundness of the Confederation conception and enlisting his support in his Cabinet. Various provinces have had and still have their grievances, but there is no considerable force of opinion in any on the side of secession.
In theory, perhaps the process could be reversed. The Dominion was created by the British Government, and succeeding provinces were brought in by concurrent action of the Dominion and British Governments. Concurrent action could separate parts from the whole but, in practice, such action is inconceivable.
Provincial action would not suffice, any more than provincial, or as it was then colonial action, sufficed to bring the union about.
What if Newfoundland , deprived of constitutional means of secession, defied the Dominion? Would the other provinces fight to keep it in the family, as the Northern States fought to prevent the secession of the Southern States? We could not imagine it. The Government, of course, is doing what it can to complete the Confederation design, for obvious reasons. We believe the majority of Canadians would be happy to see Newfoundland come in, but there is no Canadian interest strong enough to warrant any pressure to bring about or maintain the union.
For that matter we have no doubt that some experience will commend Confederation to the people of Newfoundland as it has done to the nine existing provinces. But if any considerable number of Newfoundlanders feel, like Dr. Jackman that this is to be a marriage of convenience, should the banns be postponed?
Source : "Is Confederation and Irrevocable Step?, Montreal Daily Star, November 17, 1948, p. 10
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© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College