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Letter No. 1 of Joseph R. Smallwood on Confederation



Editor Daily News,

Dear Sir,


The Confederation of Canada is the third largest country in the world. She constitutes 27-percent. of the total area of the British Empire. She is the greatest producer of food in the United Nations. She is the world's third greatest trading nation.


In Canada's case the Confederation consists of nine separate self-governing Provinces. Some of these Provinces existed as separate colonies before the Confederation was created. Each of them has its own popularly elected Parliament, or Legislative Assembly, as it is called. Each of them has its own Government, and that Government is entirely responsible to the elected Parliament. The Government of each Province is fully responsible for handling all matters which are purely provincial. The matters are laid down in the British North America Act which is the Constitution of Canada.


So far as Newfoundland is concerned, Confederation means simply that we would become the tenth Province.


We would elect our own Legislative Assembly and have our own Government, which would be fully responsible to the Legislative Assembly. Our Provincial Government would be masters in all matters that affected Newfoundland alone.


Besides electing our own Legislative Assembly to provide a Government for Newfoundland, we would also elect so many members to the House of Commons of the Dominion, which sits at Ottawa. We would be entitled to elect, probably, about ten such members. We would also be entitled to have about eight Newfoundlanders appointed to the Senate of Canada.


Thus we would have our own elected Legislative Assembly and Government, and also a share in the governing of the Dominion as a whole.


A Newfoundland M. P. would almost certainly become Minister of Fisheries for the whole Dominion of Canada, and a Newfoundland M. P. might even become Prime Minister of Canada. A Newfoundland M. P. would almost certainly always be in the Cabinet of the Dominion.


1869 and To-day


Newfoundland was one of the six British Colonies which existed in North America in the 1860's, and as such she was invited to take full part in the meetings held to consider the advisability of forming the Confederation. Two of our greatest sons attended the meeting and are always included in the list of Fathers of Confederation.


The matter was submitted to the Newfoundland people in the General Election of 1869. One party advocated Confederation, the other opposed it.


In 1869 probably fewer than 500 Newfoundlanders had ever visited Canada or any part of it. There was no realistic knowledge of Canada amongst the masses of our population. The Confederation idea itself was strange and new, and untried Canada was still a small country, not the great Nation she is today. And the opponents of Confederation entirely misrepresented the whole idea.


They told the people that under Confederation everything they had would be taxed, and taxed heavily: their houses, the window glass in their houses; their furniture; their boats; their flakes and stages; their gardens; their cows; their horses; their pigs; their hens.


A horde of tax-gatherers would pour down from Ottawa to collect these taxes, and if a man couldn't pay his house-tax, his house would be taken from him and he would be put on the road. His boat would be taken from him if he didn't pay the boat-tax.


Canadians would come here and seize all our young men for their Army - our children would be used as gun-wads in Canadian guns.


Many people feared an imminent invasion by the Fenians, who were much in the public eye just about then.


The opponents of Confederation roused our people to a frenzy of fear, and the advocates of Confederation did not know how to present their case so as to make it understood. Perhaps they did not know the case very well.


In any event, the case for Confederation was not very attractive just then, because the Dominion was not very strong or wealthy. And the terms that Canada had offered us were not very attractive in the circumstances.


The people rejected Confederation overwhelmingly.


Today, for the first time in our history, Newfoundlanders are prepared at least to hear the case for Confederation. Education is not what it was in 1869. Newspapers are widely circulated. Radio is almost universal. Tens of thousands of Newfoundlanders have visited Canada , and almost every family has or has had relatives working in Canada. Today, Canada is known to us all to be a great Nation with a brilliant future. Thousands of Newfoundlanders have worked for the Canadian Government, and Canadian contractors, right in Newfoundland.


Above all, what gives timeliness to a fair and manly consideration of Confederation is the fact that we must all shortly make a decision about the future of our Country.


Few, if any, have any use for the Commission Government. Most Newfoundlanders want Respon­sible Government, but they want it under conditions that will make it succeed. They want help to make it succeed. They feel that we are a very small country, in need of some outside help.


Appeals to them to "depend on their own efforts," arguments to the effect that they must shape their own destiny without consulting anyone else; pleas that they must paddle their own canoe, and sink or swim by their own unaided efforts - all these leave Newfound­landers cold and unmoved. An instinct deep down within them tells them that we must spare no effort to seek external help; and gives them a profound dread of taking the risks of Responsible Government entirely unaided and unhelped by anyone but ourselves.


They are prepared now to consider fairly any pro­posals for the welfare of their country, and it is because of this fact that the present letters are being written.


I am writing in this series of letters not a case for Confederation; or a case against Confederation. I am writing the case concerning Confederation. To the best of my ability I am setting down all the arguments I know in favour of Confederation, and all the arguments I know against it. It has involved great effort on my part, and the task is all the heavier because it has not been done before.


Source : Joseph R. SMALLWOOD, Letter to the Editor, The Daily News, March 1, 1946.




© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College