Political Union with Canada. (continued)

  534. It is axiomatic that, if Newfoundland should at any time enter the Canadian Confederation, she should only do so of her own free will on terms which would make her a contented partner. It is doubtless for this reason that the traditional policy of the Canadian Government has been to refrain scrupulously from any action or expression of view which might, however erroneously, be regarded as a form of coercion. The people of Newfoundland have long memories and in many parts of the country an instinctive distrust of Canada, the legacy of the propaganda spread by the anti-Confederate Party at the General Election of 1869, remains to this day a factor to be reckoned with. It is freely alleged that Confederation with Canada could have been brought about in 1895 had not the Canadian delegates, so far from conducting the negotiations in a spirit of sympathy and generosity, adopted an attitude suggestive, in the eyes of Newfoundlanders, of indifference to their fate. It was argued that the failure of these negotiations, following on the action of the Canadian Government in making representations which prevented the Island from enjoying the benefits of a reciprocity treaty successfully negotiated with the United States in 1892, created an additional obstacle in the path of those whose object was to create a better understanding between the two countries. However this may be, the fact remains that the old suspicions have never been entirely dispelled, and that Confederation with Canada has remained a bogey of which every political leader has fought shy.

  535. The question is also complicated by the reactions which political union would have on individual interests. The broad principles underlying any such union would be that a large portion, if not the whole, of Newfoundland's debt would be assumed by the Federal Government; that the Island would be subject to the Canadian tariff, the revenue from Customs duties being paid into the Canadian Exchequer; that the Canadian Government would undertake certain public services in the Island, such as the Postal services, which could be regarded as of a Federal character; and that Newfoundland, with the aid of a small subsidy from the Canadian Government would in other respects maintain the administration from its own resources. The substitution of the Canadian tariff for that at present in force in Newfoundland would mean that Canadian goods which are now subject to duty would in future enter the Island duty-free. This would doubtless have the beneficial effect of reducing the present cost of living; but the likelihood that branches of the Canadian departmental stores would be introduced into the Island would create consternation among the store-keepers in St. John's. There is a very general apprehension in St. John's that, in such circumstances, it would be impossible for local store-keepers and business houses to compete successfully with Canadian firms operating on a basis of mass production, and that in a short time they would find themselves swept away. Similarly, it is feared that the farmers would be unable to dispose of their produce in competition with Canadian hay and vegetables; while the local factories would also be overwhelmed by the products of the Canadian manufacturing centres. There is doubtless a tendency to exaggerate the effects which would follow from the throwing the Island open to Canadian imports, but these apprehensions cannot be dismissed as groundless and the argument that, even if they are substantially justified, a change of régime might none the less serve the best interests of the country cannot be expected to appeal to those whom such a change would sentence to permanent elimination.

  536. In these circumstances, it may be said that the store-keepers in St. John's, the few local manufacturers, and the members of the farming community would, in general, be strongly opposed, in their own interests, to any form of political union with Canada which involved the substitution of the Canadian tariff for the existing duties. In other respects, also, fears are entertained that such a union would be economically disastrous to the Island. St. John's, under present conditions, is almost as far from Ottawa as from Liverpool. Ottawa can be reached by train and steamer in four days; Liverpool can be reached by steamer in six days. If Newfoundland were to enter the Canadian Confederation, the number of representatives in the Federal Parliament to which she would be entitled would necessarily be small; few Canadians outside the Maritime Provinces have any intimate knowledge of Newfoundland, and it is urged that there would thus be a serious danger that the interests of the Island would be neglected. The people of Newfoundland would much prefer to be masters in their own home, however poor, than to play the part of Cinderella in the Canadian mansion.

  537. Witnesses who expressed these apprehensions frequently sought to illustrate their argument by reference to conditions in the Maritime Provinces of Canada. They pointed out that the markets of Newfoundland, like those of the Maritime Provinces, lie outside Canada; indeed, Canada only imported $1,000,000 worth of goods from Newfoundland in 1932, whereas she exported to Newfoundland goods to the value of $8,000,000, or half the total imports of the Island. On the other hand, it was claimed, the imposition of a high protective tariff compels the Maritime Provinces to purchase their requirements of manufactured articles from Central Canada. It was suggested that, in the same way, Newfoundland, while finding in Canada no outlet for the products of her fisheries or her forests, would be compelled to sacrifice her existing freedom to buy in the cheapest market and to confine her import trade increasingly to Canadian channels. It was alleged that, in the Maritime Provinces, local industries had to a large extent been ousted by the growing activities of a centralised industrial machine, and the deduction was drawn that the same effects would manifest themselves in Newfoundland. The Island, it was argued, would in fact be involved with the Maritime Provinces in a continual struggle to prevent the cost of living being raised for the benefit of the manufacturer in central Canada to heights which would cripple the export trade on which she is dependent for her livelihood.

  538. Such were the views commonly expressed in Newfoundland by those who claimed to have made a close study of conditions on the mainland. How far, if at all, such views may be justified by the facts, it is not for us to say, since such matters as the economic relations between the several parts of the Canadian Confederation are altogether outside our competence. Still less could we presume to embark on a discussion of such a question as whether the Maritime Provinces would not, in practice, have fared better economically, if they had formed themselves into a single independent entity, instead of joining as separate units, each with their own Provincial Parliament and Provincial administrative machinery, a Confederation which stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific and thus comprises a variety of different interests. We think it important, however, to record that there is in Newfoundland an influential body of opinion which holds that the interests of the Maritime Provinces have been sacrificed to those of the manufacturing districts of Ontario and Quebec, and which would therefore be opposed in principle to the entry of Newfoundland into the Confederation on the same basis.

Partnered Projects Government and Politics - Table of Contents Site Map Search Heritage Web Site Home