March 31, 2008

The Confederation Controversy

"Hurrah for our own native Isle, Newfoundland-
Not a stranger shall hold one inch of her strand;
Her face turns to Britain, her back to the Gulf,
Come near at your peril, Canadian Wolf!"

-A verse from an anti-Confederation song written anonymously in 1869

One of the greatest issues Newfoundlanders had to face as a nation is Confederation with Canada, with the debate raging for 59 years.

On 11:56 p.m. on March 31, 1949, Newfoundland joined Canada. Since Canada's new citizens awoke the next day to a dawning new era, April 1 is the more common date of reference. The Booster doesn't publish on that date, so March 31 is more convenient.

51 per cent to 49 per cent.

These were the results of the second referendum that brought Newfoundland into Confederation. The choices offered was union with Canada and independence.

The first referendum, which offered a choice between responsible government, independence and union with Canada was also close.

There were also supporters for union with the United States. Canada would have balked at that - the country would be surrounded by the main body of the U.S. to the south, the state of Alaska to the north and the state of Newfoundland to the east. I'm personally glad we didn't join the States. Having Bush as our President makes me shudder.

Arguments against Confederation included:

For nearly 400 years, Newfoundlanders had made a life for themselves. We had our own way of doing things. Joining Canada would create a great upheaval. We would lose our special place in the world, erasing our history and heritage - our traditions, our ways, our unique customs.

Joining Canada would result in thousands of our young people leaving Newfoundland to find jobs throughout Canada.

Arguments for Confederation included:

Family allowances. A cheque comes in the mail every month providing money for every Newfoundland child under 16. Money for food and clothing for the children.

The children won't need to worry about not having decent winter coats and boots ever again. The Canadian government money will help see the new province through the thin times.

Old age pensions. The Canadians pay a lot more and payments start when you're 65.

Veterans' pensions. Canada will provide the money for their pensions and look after wounded and disabled war veterans.

So what happened? Why, after joining Canada, is Newfoundland nearly abandoned? With no economy, Newfoundlanders by the boatload began to leave for work, reducing the province's population.

Under Canada's mismanagement, the fishery died. Canada allowed foreign fishing fleets to deplete the Grand Banks, and Newfoundland's once-abundant fishing grounds. The fishers had to abandon their craft. From the very beginning, Newfoundland governments were corrupted from within. The first premier, Joey Smallwood, while very skilled in the art of persuasion, proved himself to be gullible. His government was swindled several times.

With our offshore oil boom, things are finally in the process of turning around. Foundations are being laid for a prosperous future. The lighthouse beacons will soon shine out into the fog, guiding us home.

Newfoundlanders, I open the floor to you: Write me at and chip in with your views of Confederation. Responses will be published here at a later date.