Why Not Acquire Newfoundland ,
And Consolidate the Empire?
[This article was written by Sir Alfred B. Morine in 1940. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]
If the United States offered one hundred million dollars for Newfoundland , to make it part of the Republic, would Canada approve the sale?
If Germany offered peace if Newfoundland were ceded to it, would Canada approve the bargain?
No, in both cases! Newfoundland, then, must have some value to Canada. Why, then, not acquire it? That value may be purely negative, in the view of some - the threat it would be to Canada if either the United States or Germany acquired it.
If the United States got Newfoundland, contemplate the effect upon the fisheries of the Atlantic provinces of Canada . American enterprise and Newfoundland fish would supply American consumers, and Canada 's markets to the United States for fish would fade away.
If Germany held Newfoundland she would command the exports of the St. Lawrence, Canada's trade with Great Britain would vanish in time of war, and Great Britain's breadbasket be closed. The iron ore of Belle Isle would supply much of Germany 's needs.
It must be realized that Newfoundland is not only the Island , but an even larger area on the mainland of British North America, with great water powers, splendid harbors, and boundless mineral possibilities, an eastward expansion of Quebec's natural resources.
Why, then, should an extraordinary opportunity to make Newfoundland a part of Canada be neglected? With forts on both sides of the strait of Belle Isle, with naval bases on the southwest coast of Newfoundland and at Sidney, Cape Breton, the St. Lawrence could be made impregnable. The airport at Botwood could be made the concentration point for aeroplanes, from which a great air fleet could be made available at short notice for the protection of Canada or Great Britain, or both, and the cost of arming should be borne by both Canada and Great Britain jointly. The whole cost would not exceed the whole cost that Canada alone will spend this year for war preparations, or Great Britain spend for two or three warships.
Worth much to the Empire
Newfoundland , regarded as a fortress only, is worth more to the Empire than Gibraltar or Singapore . The trade of the Mediterranean or of the East Indies is not more vital than that of the St. Lawrence. Without the latter, Great Britain could not survive a great war. Without free outlet from the St. Lawrence, Canada would decay.
Newfoundland has value for Canada in other respects. She can supply the sailors to man her warships, of which there must soon be a great fleet. The offspring of Irish, Scottish and English ancestors who manned the wooden walls of Great Britain in the days of sailing ships, the Newfoundlanders of today can do as good work now as then. With the disappearance of sailing ships the sailors have also almost disappeared from Canada . The Maritime provinces could not easily provide man-of-war's men for a large Canadian fleet of warships, but Newfoundland employs many men in the fishery, and has a surplus to man the warships of Canada when Newfoundland becomes a part of it.
Newfoundland has one great asset too lightly regarded. Her birth rate is as valuable as the gold mines of Canada . Moral, intelligent, loyal, her people are such stuff as Canada wants for immigrants. They are "handymen" by heredity and training, invaluable as sailors, fishermen, minors, and men of all work. British Columbia would be an ideal resort for the surplus youth of Newfoundland . Why look abroad for immigrants when such men can be got so near at hand?
Causes of Unemployment
Unemployment in Newfoundland is due chiefly to two main causes: (1) Rapid increase of population, (2) loss of fish markets in Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece through fiscal troubles in these countries. The fisheries of Newfoundland have not failed, only the markets, and they will revive when peace comes to the world.
The fish of Newfoundland competes in foreign markets with fish exported from Canada. One control over the fish of both would restrict competition and improve the price. With the fishery resources of Newfoundland and Canada under one control, free entry into the market of the United States could soon be attained.
The revenue collected in Newfoundland is equal to the expenditure there for all services other than interest on the public debt, for which Great Britain is legally responsible, having guaranteed the principal. She now contributes to the colony annually a sum equal to the interest, but as of grace only, not as an obligation to Newfoundland. If, therefore, she cancelled Newfoundland 's liability for the debt, the cost to her would not be greater than at present. But if it were cancelled, Newfoundland could enter Canada without a public debt, and the subsidies she would be given by Canada would enable her to pay for Provincial services without direct taxation. Newfoundland's present revenue pays for all the services either she or Canada would have to carry on. If Canada's collection from customs duties did not equal all she pays for Federal services in Newfoundland, and the subsidies to the Province, the deficit would be due to the importation into Newfoundland from Canada of goods now bought elsewhere. Canada would gain in trade all that she lost in revenue.
Its importance to Canada
But, were it otherwise, how small would be the deficit compared to the vast indirect advantages to Canada. Macdonald, Tupper and Laurier and men of their stamp realized the importance of Newfoundland to Canada . Men of "parish views" have lost sight of it. The war is widening our vision. Parochial views should be abandoned in Empire emergencies. The statesmanship which is fortifying Singapore and Hong Kong should realize how vital it is that Newfoundland shall be fortified also. The whole of North America could be protected by making Newfoundland impregnable. Lapoile and Mortler, great harbors on the south coast of Newfoundland , open to navigation at all seasons, should be used to shelter convoys to go east and west. Transportation across the Atlantic would be a solved problem if this were done. The longitude of Cape Race should be a dead line west of which European enemies should not be allowed, and thus the whole of America be protected. Just as a roadway through British Columbia and Alaska seems vital to protect the United States and Canada from Japanese aggression, so naval stations in Newfoundland may be essential to both Canada and the United States .
Take her into the union
Canada should say to Great Britain : "Assume the public debt of Newfoundland , and Canada will take her into the Union on terms liberal enough to enable her to function as a Province, without direct taxation, for which she is at present unfitted".
The Strait of Belle Isle should be fortified, naval stations established in Newfoundland and Cape Breton to guard the Cabot straits, and the great airport at Botwood made a concentration point of air fleets for Canada and Great Britain. The cost of all this should be borne equally by Canada and Great Britain , as a vital Empire service, and the expenditure and other incidental effects would banish the unemployment problem in Newfoundland , which has given the British Government great concern for years and is still unsolved.
The "dole" would be ended there. With representation at Ottawa, and with Provincial Legislature and Government, the franchise would be restored to Newfoundland, and her people repossess the status of free British citizens.
This is not the plea for "Confederation" in the conventional sense. It is a call to act imperially, not provincially. It is not primarily for Newfoundland , nor yet for Canada , but for both, and for the whole British Empire, that prompt and decisive action is urged. This is not a matter to be deferred till peace comes, but amounts to an emergency in time of war, and should be settled now.
Source : Sir Alfred B. MORINE, "Why Not Acquire Newfoundland , And Consolidate the Empire?", in The Globe and Mail, April 20, 1940, p. 6.
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© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College