The world according to Malone

Bob Wakeham
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After reading Greg Malone’s fascinating and thought-provoking book, “Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders,” I couldn’t help but think of a story I’ve told in this space on a couple of occasions about a poignant conversation my mother had with her father after Newfoundland had decided by the slimmest of margins to join Canada.

When my grandfather heard Mom admit she had voted for Confederation, tears glistened in his eyes: “Ah, Eileen,” lamented Joe Judge, a native of Point Verde, a Grand Falls mill worker and a First World War veteran, “you gave her away.”   

And I know for sure that my grandfather would have pounded the kitchen table in anger and disgust and a sense of betrayal if he had had the opportunity to read “Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders,” and would have agreed with Malone’s conclusion that Canada and Britain conspired, through “concealment and deception,” to ensure that Newfoundland would join Canada instead of returning to Responsible Government.  

Conspiratorial theories about Confederation have long been dismissed by, among others, academics with a lot of time on their hands, Smallwood apologists and defenders and those who fervently believe Canada did Newfoundland a gigantic favour in 1949 by allowing its impoverished and starving birdies to find a cosy spot in her inviting and generous nest.  

And if you dare to wonder or write or discuss what might have happened if Newfoundland had been accorded a fair and honourable opportunity to choose its destiny and had become, once again, a country, you’d be lazily dismissed as an incurable romantic by those who unequivocally accept and embrace the 1948 verdict that attached us permanently to our neighbour to the west.

I’m sure that’s how some of those same defenders of the process that led to Confederation viewed St. John’s lawyer Jim Halley during his lifelong campaign to convince Newfoundlanders that they had been duped and tricked into joining Canada.  

Halley had a front-row seat to the events that led up to the fight over Newfoundland’s future; in fact, he was in the arena itself for much of the battle. And it was Halley who inspired Malone’s book, sending the actor, comedian and writer in the direction of the evidence — and providing him with much of the documentation — that makes the case for the conspiracy concocted between Great Britain and Canada in the 1940s.  

I knew Halley fairly well myself, on both a professional and personal basis, and was aware, as was anyone who spent any time in his company, how strongly was his belief about the immoral, illegal and unconstitutional way in which Newfoundland entered Confederation.   

So it was with a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction to see Malone carry out Halley’s wishes to inform as many people as possible about why it was that a proud and independent people opted for Confederation and not Responsible Government.

Plenty to read

I‘m obviously not going to even try and summarize the mounds of documentation in Malone’s book (some parts are as dry as unbuttered toast, others unexpectedly  entertaining, while still other sections, memos between London and Ottawa, will make your pee hot and cause your patriotic blood, if that’s what flows in your veins, to reach the boiling point).

Suffice to say the paperwork, and Malone’s accompanying prose, will reinforce (depending on your perspective) the idea that there was no legitimate reason in the first place for Newfoundland to have temporarily given up its independence in 1934 and relegated the running of its affairs to a commission appointed by London.

If Newfoundland was in such a dire state of financial affairs, it had plenty of worldwide company.

More importantly, though, Newfoundlanders weren’t asked if this was a decision they agreed with.

It was an arbitrary decision, window-dressed by a royal commission that knew what it was ordained to do.

And the most pertinent fact about that shameful time in 1934 — and this is made clear time and again in Malone’s book — is that Newfoundland was promised at the time that it would be ruled again by Responsible Government once its finances were in the black.

It would be a matter of course, not the subject of a vote.

But that wasn’t to be

Britain wanted to rid itself of its “problem child.” (The patronizing, paternalistic and condescending language used by both Canadian and English politicians and bureaucrats to describe Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders was as cruel and nasty as any “Newfie” joke.)

Britain’s war debt to Canada was written off. And Canada knew what it could gain from Newfoundland.

The die was cast.  

As Malone puts it: “Canada had the dollars; it was the buyer and would set the terms; Britain was

the vendor and would deliver the goods: Newfoundland.”

You can read the book and draw your own conclusions — and it’s not too hard to find alternative opinions (you might want to read, for instance, the views of a MUN professor named Jeff Webb online, as I did).

I happen to come down decidedly on Malone’s side.

But I’ll tell you what I found awfully disconcerting: last week on CBC’s “Radio Noon,” during a discussion of Malone’s book, a couple of callers expressed the view that it was quite OK if a conspiracy took place to lead us into Confederation because we were “tricked into a better way of life,” as one of the program’s participants put it.  

Another caller from Grand Falls — I can’t recall his name — said his father had volunteered to drive Joe Smallwood around in his cab during the referendum campaign. Fair enough. But this caller also advertised the fact that his father had taken names off headstones and given them to Smallwood to be used as pro-Confederation votes.

What shocked me was that this man was bragging.

He acknowledged there was a conspiracy, and he implied that Joey and people like his father were part of it.

But it was a worthwhile and wonderful conspiracy because Newfoundland became part of Canada.

In other words, the end justifies the means.   

I almost lost my lunch.

Well, I’m grateful there are people like Greg Malone and the late Jim Halley, individuals with an aversion to that sort of bizarre thought process.

And fortunately, all people in Grand Falls weren’t like the above-mentioned CBC caller.  

There were people like my grandfather.

He believed to his dying breath that Newfoundland had been “sold.”

And he never wanted it forgotten.  

Pop would have appreciated a book like “Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders.”

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: CBC

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Great Britain Grand Falls Point Verde London Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • A. Morris
    July 10, 2013 - 18:09

    I was born in England during WWII. My mother was British and my father born and raised in the country of Newfoundland. Although I have a British Birth Certificate, I was considered by the British Government to be a Newfoundlander as was my mother the moment she married my father. We moved to Newfoundland in 1947. I have a very keen interest in history especially so after my father at one point, spoke of how NL entered confederation. Even though he voted for Confederation, he made a comment that the vote had been rigged. He said, "the vote was not 52% for Confederation but 52% for the return of Responsible Government and 48% for Confederation. After our union with Canada took place, he was not ever happy with his vote. He did not like the way Canadians looked down their noses at Newfoundlanders. This attitude was the attitude the Federal Government of the day took calling Newfoundlanders uneducated and stupid and lazy. Joey Smallwood who initially was against confederation continued to allow this third class opinion to continue. Joey Smallwood became the third person to designate Newfoundlanders as third class citizens and was the second dictator of Newfoundland behind Britian. My father to his dying day, always regreted his vote. He more than once said Newfoundland had been flushed down the drain with no respect either from Joey Smallwood nor the Government of Canada. Most irritating are those many Canadians who continue to say, "Newfoundland always has its hand out." Having lived on the mainland of Canada for 51 years and not ever having been detected as someone who had lived in Newfoundland, it is always surprising to people if I happen to mention, I lived in Newfoundland. "Where is your Newfie...Newfie being derogatory.... accent?" Mainland Canadians don't have any idea how many Newfoundlanders live in NL and just how many live in the rest of the country all working individuals contributing to the public coffers. It is most disheartning to hear several family members speak of Newfoundlanders in a disparaging offensive manner commenting Newfoundlanders "are always looking for something for nothing". I suggest every Canadian read a copy of "Don't Tell The Newfoundlanders". At least Canadians might learn how Newfoundland saved the Prairie Provinces from no wheat sales to Russia purchasing their wheat saving the Farmers in the early 1950's by the Canadian Government giving Russia unlimited fishing rights on the Grand Banks in exchange. Maybe then, Albertians and the rest of the country wouldn't be so qick to say, "Newfies go home"!

  • Tom
    May 24, 2013 - 16:20

    Some of the documents cited in this book did indeed make my blood boil. It changed the way I view Canada. Both sides received benefits from confederation, but one party also lost something: its sovereignty. I feel strongly that what was done can be undone. If Newfoundland finds itself in a position to restore its sovereignty, we should do it.

  • paddyjoe
    December 17, 2012 - 12:59

    Bob, the heading of your article, The World " According " to Malone is appropriate--Incidentally, the Saturday edition of the Telegram also published a review of Malone's book by Ed Roberts. Roberts argues that Malone's assertions regarding a conspiracy are groundless and his contention that the second referendum count was fraudulent is simply incorrect. His cogent arguments, backed up by solid support, essentially debunk the main planks in Malone's work. The conspiracy theorists might also want to consult Harold Horwood's book " Joey "......On the second referendum ballot being fraudulent he wonders how this could happen " under the noses of scrutineers from the various responsible government parties, who sat in all the polling booths." And why does the fiction still persist that the second referendum result was so small as to be almost invalid? Confederation won over Responsible Government by 6989 votes or 4.67 percent. It was close but it was a decisive victory. Mackenzie King, who accepted Newfoundland into the Canadian Confederation, was in power for 22 years. Horwood tells us that in all of the elections he contested, " only once had he received a larger share of the popular vote than confederation had received in Newfoundland."

  • Winston Adams
    December 16, 2012 - 10:58

    Bob, why would you be shocked? The end justifies the means- what else would you expect from a country that was still engaged in promoting it's Empire? Wasn't this routine procedure? And if Joey was involved in conspiracy, where were you journalists in the 70s, 80s and 90s? This information first hand from the man's father who is alledged to have used names from headstones would have been much more valuable than hearsay evidence now.Many old people were and are willing to talk, if journalists were and are doing their job. And your uncle Joe Judge, the war vet, I beleive your prior columns stated he had several wounds from Beaumont Hamel? How do you feel about the cause he fought for? Was it not the cause of Empire foremost, wrapped up in language of democracy, freedom, truth etc, but as immoral in reality as the methods likely used to bring about confederation. And what about the corrupt means long practised by our government members that helped lead to our loss of responsible government? Much, but not all is documented in Peter Cashin's book. I had the good luck to get the story of an old lady who ran rum from Tor's Cove to St. John's in the 1920s. Her main customers: the prime minister, Sir Richard Squires and Sir Albert Hickman, the Chief Justice. And what business did Cashin do without government connections-- conflict of interest appears foreign to his morals. I can understamd those who beleived we were not capable of governing ourselves as had been practised. And given recent action; Bill 29, the secrecy act, and actions to bypass the PUB, and moves to railroad through the Muskrat falls project, our moral compass is still not working. The PUB of Nova Scotia and the restrictive terms of the federal loan guarantee are doing more to further transparency than our own laws. Perhaps it says something about us as a people?

  • W McLean
    December 15, 2012 - 15:12

    Actually, it's been some academics with too much time on their hands who've largely promulgated the myths. And had Malone footnoted his book, others could follow up and expand upon his research. For someone who spent so much time in archives researching, there's an astonishingly small amount of archival citation in the endmatter.

  • Cyril Rogers
    December 15, 2012 - 12:31

    Mr. Wakeham, while there is some merit to Mr. Malone's arguments there is ample reason for us to be grateful that we joined with Canada. I was born under the Canadian flag and, yes, I share the frustration of many in this province at our impotence in the Canadian Parliament but, on balance, one could easily argue that Confederation was a net benefit. I have never been less enamored of Confederation than in recent years but that frustration is tempered by the the realization that we have our own colonialists in this province. Simply look at the cavalier way Labrador resources have been exploited with minimal benefit to Labrador and the way outport Newfoundland is still at the mercy of the St. John's elite. Sure, money does get thrown around to some degree but it is meant to pacify as opposed to sustain and nourish them as viable entities. I am a proud Newfoundlander but I am personally ashamed of our own colonial past and present that exploits its own people for the benefit of the few. We need to look forward not back so better that people focus their anger on our own taskmasters instead of trying to deflect it to Quebec or Canada or any other imagined exploiter. There is plenty of blame with our own government....we don't need to look elsewhere.

  • Doug Smith
    December 15, 2012 - 10:31

    Mr. Wakeham, there is only one question anyone needs to ask about NL joining Canada and that is, were and are the people of NL better off financially by joining Canada. The answer, of course is yes. Did you not make your living from the CBC, and lets not forget the CPP and OAP coming your way all paid for by Canada so how can you agree with Mr. Malone? Doug Smith, GFW

  • William Power
    December 15, 2012 - 09:06

    Nothing new here. It was always know that the Confederation vote was was acheived through fraudulent means, Smallwood and his confederates using underhanded tactics that would make most third world dictators envious. Tactics such as people rising from the dead and showing up on voters lists; more people in a community voting in the election then actually lived there; that illerate people that voted had a person at the polling booth vote for them, that person coincidently being a confederate supporter; even reports that the last vote count was actually against joining Canada, but that the numbers were switched to change the result once and for all. Even the actual date for the signing of the confederation is in dispute. Everyone I ever spoke to from that period all said that the date was 01 April, not 31 March as Smallwood and his confederates claim. I guess it really was a terrible April Fools joke; one that just never ends. In any event, all old news. One of the things that amused me when the Quebec Sepratists almost won their last seoeration vote was that Ottawa quickly came out and said that there would need to be a much larger majority then 51% before Canada would even consider letting Quebec seperate; yet it was that same percentage that resulted in Newfoundland giving up it's independence and becoming part of Canada. I guess what's good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander. Maybe the Newfoundland government should open an investigation into the reports of voter fraud, etc., involved in the Canada vote, and if found to be true, declare that election null and void and hold a new one. In any event, it would clear up this long standing controversy once and for all.

  • Unfortunate Son
    December 15, 2012 - 08:38

    We should all give up one pogey cheque to fight this in court.