Before & After

Everton McLean
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A lot has changed since 1949, but Confederation is still providing fodder for arguments

About 15 years after the province joined Canada, Ed Roberts, then a young MHA, was driving in a remote area of the province with thenpremier Joey Smallwood - a notoriously bad driver.

Roberts turned to the man many called the "Father of Confederation" and asked what was the biggest difference between Newfoundland before March 31, 1949, and Newfoundland after.

Joey Smallwood's signs of the Terms of Union. - Photo courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Memorial University of Newfoundland

About 15 years after the province joined Canada, Ed Roberts, then a young MHA, was driving in a remote area of the province with thenpremier Joey Smallwood - a notoriously bad driver.

Roberts turned to the man many called the "Father of Confederation" and asked what was the biggest difference between Newfoundland before March 31, 1949, and Newfoundland after.

"He said, 'You know, the biggest single difference is, since Confederation, I've never seen ... a child that wasn't properly clothed.'"

Roberts was taken aback. As the middle-class son of a St. John's doctor, he hadn't seen much poverty.

He asked the premier to elaborate.

"(Smallwood) said, 'Before Confederation, it was quite common to see children with no socks, just rubber boots, and wearing clothing made of recycled flour sacks,'" Roberts recalls.

It was a lesson in Newfoundland history that never left him.

Newfoundland and Labrador's union with Canada was hotly contested when it was brought to the public in a referendum on June 3, 1948.

Confederation took second place on that ballot, with 41.1 per cent of the vote; 44.6 per cent voted for Responsible Government. In third place was the option to return to a commission of government. That option was subsequently dropped from the ballot for the second referendum on July 22.

In that vote, Confederation edged out Responsible Government, with 52.3 per cent versus 47.7 per cent.

Canada welcomed its 10th province.

'Deep divide'

The event caused a "deep, deep, deep divide," said Peter Neary, a Bell Island native and professor emeritus in history at the University of Western Ontario.

Arguments against Confederation continue to this day, although Neary says people's perceptions of the debate are changing as fewer and fewer people are around who remember Responsible Government.

For him, there's no doubt - Newfoundland and Labrador did well as a province.

"Principally, what (Confederation) did for Newfoundland is make Newfoundland part of a larger political and economic space, and opened up that space to the people of the province," he said.

"I'm living in Ontario. ... I can move to British Columbia, I can move within the Canadian economic space and people within that space can move to Newfoundland."

Costly decision

But at what cost did Newfoundland benefit, asks Liberal Senator George Baker, a veteran politician who recently caused a stir when he said a move by the federal government that effectively cut the amount of money being transferred to this province by about $1 billion over the next three years would promote separatism in this province - a movement he said he would encourage.

Baker said discussing separation is natural to someone who lived through the debate in the '40s and was an MP in the '70s, when people were musing aloud about whether Newfoundlanders made the right move.

Even Smallwood had second thoughts, Baker said, particularly in 1959 when the House of Commons voted to give the province just $8 million per year to bring it up to the financial level of the rest of Canada, a provision under Term 29 of the Terms of Union.

Baker, who went on to be chief clerk of the House of Assembly under Smallwood, said the premier maintained that regret and he contends that in private, Smallwood would say Ches Crosbie had been right.

Crosbie, father of Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie, was the only member of the delegation sent to Ottawa to draft the Terms of Union who refused to endorse it.

While Baker says he isn't a separatist, strictly speaking, he disagrees with Roberts and Neary that the province is better off as part of Canada.

He said he once spoke to a chief economist of the Export Development Corp. who said one of the best indicators that a region can survive as a country is if it exports enough products to maintain a strong economy.

Baker said Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest exports per capita of any province.

"It formed my belief that we could, at any point in time, not (be) part of Canada. We could have printed our own money and we could have done very well, thank you."

'No equality'

Greg Byrne, a Newfoundlander living in British Columbia who was an NL First Party candidate in the last federal election, said this province's place in Confederation has been compromised by the very political system it became a part of.

"It comes down to the fact that there's no equality," he said in a phone interview, adding that all the power in Parliament and most of the seats belong to Quebec and Ontario.

"Hope springs eternal in a democracy," he said, "(but) we are a minority province. ... I call it per capita colonialism."

Brought benefits

John Crosbie suggests "we might have survived ... as a small independent dominion," but said Newfoundland and Labrador wouldn't be where it is today without Confederation.

"It's worked out well for us. I mean, we're always going to have complaints," he said.

Crosbie said he doesn't believe Canadians look down on Newfoundlanders, although he cautions that people in this province shouldn't complain too much.

"The only thing I think we have got to watch out for is that we're not always taken to be grouches or ungrateful sons-of-bitches," he said.

Roberts, who was lieutenant-governor when Premier Danny Williams ordered all provincial buildings to stop flying the Canadian flag during one of his battles with Ottawa, didn't sugarcoat the effects of Confederation. He said there are problems with it, as there are with any union.

But, he argues, the province is still better off as part of Canada, while maintaining a distinct identity, and separatist notions 60 years after the fact are becoming less and less logical.

"There are still arguments, 60 years later, against Confederation," he said. "Although they're becoming more heat and less light, in my view; more passion and less thought. But the conviction is still there."

emclean@thetelegram.com




NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR POLITICAL TIMELINE

This is a chronology of political events of Newfoundland and Labrador from early elections through to Confederation with Canada, as compiled for "Timelines of Newfoundland and Labrador" as a joint project by the Writers' Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Cabot College Literacy Office. The timelines were written by Janet McNaughton.
June 1832
After petitioning Britain, Newfoundland is granted Representative Government. Elections begin.
1836
During the 2nd general election, riots break out at Harbour Grace.
December 1842
Third general election.
November 1848
Fourth general election.
November 1852
Fifth general election.
1855
A system of Responsible Government, based on British parliament, is established. Sixth general election.
November 1859
Seventh general election.
May 1861
Eighth general election - Hugh Hoyles becomes prime minister.
November 1865
Ninth general election - Frederick T.B. Carter becomes prime minister.
November 1869
Tenth general election - Charles Fox Bennett becomes prime minister.
November 1873
Eleventh general election - Charles Fox Bennett is re-elected, but resigns after a few months.
November 1874
Twelfth general election - Frederick T.B. Carter is re-elected prime minister.
November 1878
Thirteenth general election - William V. Whiteway is elected prime minister.
November 1882
Fourteenth general election - William V. Whiteway is re-elected prime minister.
October 1885
Fifteenth general election - Robert Thorburn becomes prime minister.
November 1889
Sixteenth general election - William V. Whiteway becomes prime minister.
November 1893
Seventeenth general election - William V. Whiteway is re-elected prime minister.
October 1897
Eighteenth general election - James S. Winter becomes prime minister.
November 1900
Nineteenth general election - Robert Bond becomes prime minister.
October 1904
Twentieth general election - Robert Bond is re-elected prime minister.
November 1908
Twenty-first general election - The parties led by Robert Bond and Edward P. Morris both elect 18 members out of 36.
May 1909
Twenty-second general election - Edward P. Morris is elected prime minister.
October 1913
Twenty-third general election - Edward P. Morris is re-elected prime minister.
July 16, 1917
Edward P. Morris is prime minister, but because of the war, there is a coalition government.
January 1918
William F. Lloyd replaces Morris as prime minister; the coalition government continues.
November 1919
Twenty-fourth general election - Richard Squires becomes prime minister.
May 1923
Twenty-fifth general election - William R. Warren becomes prime minister.
May 3, 1924
Twenty-sixth general election - William Warren is re-elected prime minister, but cannot put together a government. Just four days later, he resigns.
May 10, 1924
Albert E. Hickman becomes prime minister.
June 1924
Twenty-sixth general election - Walter S. Monroe becomes prime minister.
October 1928
Twenty-seventh general election - Frederick C. Alderdice becomes prime minister.
June 28, 1932
Twenty-eighth general election - Frederick C. Alderdice is returned to office as prime minister.
1933
The Amulree Commission is set up.
December 1933
Newfoundland declares bankruptcy.
February 1934
Commission of Government begins.
1946
The National Convention replaces Commission of Government.
February1947
St. John's businessmen and professionals form the Responsible Government League.
June 1948
The first referendum produces no clear winner.
July 1948
In the second referendum on Newfoundland's future, 52.34 per cent vote for union with Canada.
December 1948
Newfoundland and Labrador signs the Terms of Union with Canada.
March 31, 1949
Newfoundland becomes Canada's tenth province.

Organizations: Cabot College Literacy Office, University of Western Ontario, House of Commons Export Development NL First Party Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador Amulree Commission Responsible Government League

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Confederation Ontario British Columbia Bell Island Ottawa Quebec Britain St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Bill
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    I was thrilled to work on the CBC's 20th anniversary documentary of NL joining Canada in 1969.

    The BCN, later CBC, had recorded the entire National Convention for play back later at night to the whole Province.

    Along with Producer David Gunn we copied hours and hours of the debates.
    It was a tremendous history lesson for me.

    I have to agree with Lt Gov John Crosbie NL had done well by Confederation. I will always be a Newfoundlander but I am proud to be a Canadian, we are admired all over the world.

    Happy Anniversary!

  • Mike
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    You are right True Newfoundlander, it doesnt sound like something Canada would do. It sounds like a page from the book George W. read when he wanted to win his first election. As much as I dont like Joey, Id much rather be a part of Canada in these economic times then be in the situation the States are in. As loved our fathers, so we love
    Where once they stood we stand;
    Their prayer we raise to Heaven above,
    God guard thee, Newfoundland

  • True
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    We joined Canada and quickly became a new welfare state with the UI programs offered by welfare. People in Newfoundland are far too eager to suckle at the federal bosom than actually do work. Joining Canada was a mistake carried out by those who had poor education and lived in the middle of nowhere.

    We gave up over freedom to join Canada and that's why I now live in the United States. We should have chosen the option for economic union with the United States.

    For everyone's information, they burned the ballots after they came up with the 53/47 decision to join Canada. An odd thing to do in an election don't you think? Your mighty Elections Canada wouldn't do such a thing.

  • Labradorian for life
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    Well as a Labradorian who now lives in St. John's... I can say that there are many Labradorians who prefer Quebec. They return far more money to Fermont and the surrounding area than our own Provincial Government does to Labrador.

    I think that you'll find many Labradorians think they pay far too much into provincial taxes that are used to help Islanders and not Labradorians. How many people on the island would live in a community of 8,000 people and have 3 doctors? How many would live where a decrepit hospital is the only medical care available. How many would live there if there was 500-600KM of gravel road to the nearest civilization. How many would live there knowing that it's cheaper to fly from Montreal to Ireland than from St. John's to Wabush?

    The Federal Government gives even less to Labrador than the Provincial government. I still wonder if we'd all be better off if NL joined Quebec in separating. I know logistically that will never happen but to think of the resources we'd have and the opportunities available! The big land has always been used as leverage.


    I often wonder what NFLD would do without Labrador? Our mines and hydro create a lot of revenue... but we see only a tiny fraction of it return to Labrador. I'd like to see Danny Williams live in Labrador City for a year, and try to travel... or dare I say, become ill and try to seek medical attention. The staff that we have are lovely... however, there just aren't enough of them!

    So confederation was a good thing in my opinion... but will it continue to be the best option? Who knows?

  • Lloyd
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    g-man says:
    .the reason where a part of canada is because of the outside of the overpass..the only province thats better off since nl. joined is quebec. unquote

    Gee, g-man, what could be possibly wrong with that? Pretty clear there would be no need of that place 'inside' the overpass if it wasn't for all the resource(s) from 'outside the overpass', now would it?

    I have no doubt whatsover that the good folks of Labrador are proud Canadians and that they wisely voted in the ranges of 80 plus percent to join Canada back the very first time they were 'allowed' a vote of any kind. I have no doubt the vote would be even higher today. Pretty much everyone here is better off because of it. Even though our infrastructure is still way behind the rest of 'the province' most of it has still been funded by Canada.
    And, g-man, if other province are better off because of Nfld and Labrador joining Canada then it has worked for everybody. Please remember that ALL land based resources are under the full constitutional control of 'the province' and that if they are gone then it is because 'the province' sold, or traded, them off.

  • g-man
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    the reason where a part of canada is because of the outside of the overpass..the only province thats better off since nl. joined is quebec.they now control labrador. god guard thee newfoundland .

  • Patrick
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    It is time we tell canada to kiss our arse and take our resources to form our own independent nation. We can go it alone without harper and the rest of the dimwits.

  • Mark
    July 02, 2010 - 13:08

    Another media appearance by George Baker which features absolutely zero by way of evidence to back up anything he's saying.

  • Bill
    July 01, 2010 - 20:23

    I was thrilled to work on the CBC's 20th anniversary documentary of NL joining Canada in 1969.

    The BCN, later CBC, had recorded the entire National Convention for play back later at night to the whole Province.

    Along with Producer David Gunn we copied hours and hours of the debates.
    It was a tremendous history lesson for me.

    I have to agree with Lt Gov John Crosbie NL had done well by Confederation. I will always be a Newfoundlander but I am proud to be a Canadian, we are admired all over the world.

    Happy Anniversary!

  • Mike
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    You are right True Newfoundlander, it doesnt sound like something Canada would do. It sounds like a page from the book George W. read when he wanted to win his first election. As much as I dont like Joey, Id much rather be a part of Canada in these economic times then be in the situation the States are in. As loved our fathers, so we love
    Where once they stood we stand;
    Their prayer we raise to Heaven above,
    God guard thee, Newfoundland

  • True
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    We joined Canada and quickly became a new welfare state with the UI programs offered by welfare. People in Newfoundland are far too eager to suckle at the federal bosom than actually do work. Joining Canada was a mistake carried out by those who had poor education and lived in the middle of nowhere.

    We gave up over freedom to join Canada and that's why I now live in the United States. We should have chosen the option for economic union with the United States.

    For everyone's information, they burned the ballots after they came up with the 53/47 decision to join Canada. An odd thing to do in an election don't you think? Your mighty Elections Canada wouldn't do such a thing.

  • Labradorian for life
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    Well as a Labradorian who now lives in St. John's... I can say that there are many Labradorians who prefer Quebec. They return far more money to Fermont and the surrounding area than our own Provincial Government does to Labrador.

    I think that you'll find many Labradorians think they pay far too much into provincial taxes that are used to help Islanders and not Labradorians. How many people on the island would live in a community of 8,000 people and have 3 doctors? How many would live where a decrepit hospital is the only medical care available. How many would live there if there was 500-600KM of gravel road to the nearest civilization. How many would live there knowing that it's cheaper to fly from Montreal to Ireland than from St. John's to Wabush?

    The Federal Government gives even less to Labrador than the Provincial government. I still wonder if we'd all be better off if NL joined Quebec in separating. I know logistically that will never happen but to think of the resources we'd have and the opportunities available! The big land has always been used as leverage.


    I often wonder what NFLD would do without Labrador? Our mines and hydro create a lot of revenue... but we see only a tiny fraction of it return to Labrador. I'd like to see Danny Williams live in Labrador City for a year, and try to travel... or dare I say, become ill and try to seek medical attention. The staff that we have are lovely... however, there just aren't enough of them!

    So confederation was a good thing in my opinion... but will it continue to be the best option? Who knows?

  • Lloyd
    July 01, 2010 - 19:52

    g-man says:
    .the reason where a part of canada is because of the outside of the overpass..the only province thats better off since nl. joined is quebec. unquote

    Gee, g-man, what could be possibly wrong with that? Pretty clear there would be no need of that place 'inside' the overpass if it wasn't for all the resource(s) from 'outside the overpass', now would it?

    I have no doubt whatsover that the good folks of Labrador are proud Canadians and that they wisely voted in the ranges of 80 plus percent to join Canada back the very first time they were 'allowed' a vote of any kind. I have no doubt the vote would be even higher today. Pretty much everyone here is better off because of it. Even though our infrastructure is still way behind the rest of 'the province' most of it has still been funded by Canada.
    And, g-man, if other province are better off because of Nfld and Labrador joining Canada then it has worked for everybody. Please remember that ALL land based resources are under the full constitutional control of 'the province' and that if they are gone then it is because 'the province' sold, or traded, them off.

  • g-man
    July 01, 2010 - 19:52

    the reason where a part of canada is because of the outside of the overpass..the only province thats better off since nl. joined is quebec.they now control labrador. god guard thee newfoundland .

  • Patrick
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    It is time we tell canada to kiss our arse and take our resources to form our own independent nation. We can go it alone without harper and the rest of the dimwits.

  • Mark
    July 01, 2010 - 19:43

    Another media appearance by George Baker which features absolutely zero by way of evidence to back up anything he's saying.