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Letter No. 11 of Joseph R. Smallwood on Confederation



Editor Daily News,

Dear Sir,



First of all, does Canada want us?


The last official pronouncement delivered in Canada was the statement of the Canadian Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. W. L. Mackenzie King, M.P., P.C., on July 13, 1943. Mr. King had been urged by J.W. Noseworthy, M.P., to make a statement about the matter. Noseworthy, a native-born Newfoundlander, living in Canada , made a speech in the Commons advocating Newfoundland 's entry into the Confederation.


Mr. King said:


"I took note of what my honourable friend said, and I prepared with a little care the following words that I thought it might be wise to use if occasion should so demand. I would say that Canadians like and admire the people of Newfoundland . They are attached to them by bonds of sentiment and by the memory of dangers shared and victories won together. They look forward to a continuation of the friendship and co-operation which have increasingly marked our relations during recent years. Canadians are interested in the defence of Newfoundland , which is so vital a part of the defence of the continent and the hemisphere. They hope that the people of Newfoundland will find some wholly satisfactory solution of the political and economic problems which confront them. They will be happy if, in any way, they can contribute to the solution of these problems, many of which are common to both countries.


"If the people of Newfoundland should ever decide that they wish to enter the Canadian federation and should make that decision clear beyond all possibility of misunderstanding, Canada would give most sympathetic consideration to the proposal."


Entry of Newfoundland is of course provided for in the British North America Act, Newfoundland being mentioned by name in half a dozen of its sections. This, however, is the mere technicality of the position. From our standpoint, we could only enter, if at all, upon the basis of terms especially agreed upon with the Dominion. In so doing we should only be following the precedent established in the entry of most of the present nine Provinces.


The National Convention could appoint several of its members as a special delegation to Ottawa to interview the Prime Minister and Cabinet, or a Committee of Cabinet, for a discussion of the question.


This delegation would have no authority to conclude anything. Its parent body, the National Convention itself, would have no such authority. The actual entry of Newfoundland into Confederation can only be done by a duly-constituted Government of Newfoundland. Such a Government would need to have a definite mandate from the people to proceed with the deal.


The delegation from the National Convention could learn at first hand from the Canadian Government:


1) Whether Canada definitely would like to have us;


2) The general nature of the terms Canada would be prepared to offer;


3) The attitude of the Canadian Government toward certain of our special problems.


The delegation would report back to the National Convention.


Meanwhile, another delegation would have gone to interview the British Prime Minister and a Committee of the British Cabinet to learn what if anything Britain was prepared to do for Newfoundland .


Assuming, as I believe we may, that Great Britain would prefer to see Newfoundland enter the Con­federation, the British Government would be likely to say something like this:

"We have noted that another delegation from your National Convention has gone to Ottawa . We would like to do what we can within our means, to help your country; but it seems to us that Canada is your best bet. The delegation to Ottawa will bring back a general outline of the terms that Ottawa is prepared to offer. It is quite possible that these terms will not be wholly satisfactory to Newfoundland, and it is at this point that His Majesty's Government might be able to help. We might be able to plug some of the holes in the terms. You may therefore tell the National Convention that in general we are willing to help but that we need first to know how its Ottawa delegation gets on."


The reports of both delegations are laid before the National Convention, and a comparison made.


The next step might well be to follow the precedent already established in Confederation history - the National Convention could send a new delegation to London, there to confer with a delegation from Canada. The two delegations, meeting with the British Government, could iron out any difficulties and come to a final tentative deal.


I say "tentative," for of course even then no final decision could be made. But if this tentative deal seemed attractive to the National Convention, it could so recommend, and the ballot submitted to the New­foundland people in the referendum could then read something like this:

"I favour:

"1. Continuation of Commission Government.

"2. Responsible Government.

"3. Responsible Government under Confederation."


If the majority of Newfoundlanders voted for No. 3, then the next steps would be clear and easy.


1. There would be a general election.


2. The newly-elected Government would proceed at once to conclude a deal with Canada .


As I see it, the National Convention will be in session at least until mid-December -maybe mid­-January - and a busy time it is going to have.


The referendum will be held around June of next year.


A general election could not be held before the fall of 1947. It will be at least January, 1948, before an elected Parliament will convene.


The suggestion may be made that the whole question of Confederation should be left over until after the general election; and that nothing should be done about it until after a new government is elected.


I should like to ask this question: what confidence has anyone in his heart today that there will be a general election, or an elected government if the Confederation question is dropped?


If we knew that there existed in the Newfoundland people today a strong belief in Responsible Government, it might indeed be practical to hold over all consideration or action in the Confederation question. In that case, we could count upon getting Responsible Government; and we might then be willing to hold over the Confederation question; although I must remind the reader of the possibility that once we get Responsible Government, all action in the Confedera­tion question might be dropped. This means that those who wish to see the Confederation question fully and fairly explored must demand that it form part of the work of the National Convention, else it may never be even looked into.


And in any case, so far as my knowledge goes, the Newfoundland people are not strongly in favour of Responsible Government, unless Responsible Government is strongly fortified and buttressed by help from outside. I do not believe that our people would favour Responsible Government if it means Responsible Government paddling its own canoe, sinking or swimming by its own unaided efforts. I suggest to all Newfoundlanders who do favour Responsible Government that they had better give serious thought to this question of outside help in some form or other. Otherwise, they may wake up wiser but sadder men.


It is now, this year, while our finances are what they are, that our approach should be made to Canada , if we want the best possible terms.


It is now, while they are still the great motivating force of public life, that those who want the Con­federation question fully and fairly explored should demand it. They should say to those who favour Responsible Government: "We will support your demand for Responsible Government if you will support our demand for a full and fair exploration of the Confederation question."


A new Government is in power in Canada , with a safe tenure of years ahead of them. They are a strong administration. Its Prime Minister, Mr. King, has announced that this will be his last term in public life, after nearly twenty-five years in office. If he can bring off a successful deal with Newfound­land , and actually "round off the Confederation," his name will be established forever in Canadian history side by side with that of Sir John A. Macdonald, Confederation's first Prime Minister.


The time is this year.


Source : Joseph R. SMALLWOOD, Letter to the Editor, The Daily News, March 14, 1946.


© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College