CHAPTER IX.--A JOINT PLAN OF RECONSTRUCTION.

Political and Constitutional Aspect of Proposals submitted to the Commission. (continued)

  551. After much anxious consideration, therefore, and in spite of a strong pre-disposition in favour of the maintenance of established representative institutions and of responsible government, we have been forced to the conclusion that only by a radical change of régime for a limited period of years can the Island be assisted to effective recovery. In arriving at this conclusion we must not be understood to be reflecting in any way either on the capacity of the good intentions of the present Government, the members of which have given signal proof of their public spirit and willing service in the public interest in straining every nerve to stem the tide of adversity, but it is clear that the legacy of a generation of mis-government has presented them with a task which they cannot hope to accomplish in an atmosphere tainted by political and party influences.

  552. We have carefully considered whether the difficulties of the Island might not be satisfactorily countered if a National Government, composed of all political parties, could be formed with a view to the launching of a united effort for the reconstruction of the country. The relations between the two main parties are, however, such as to make it unlikely that a government of this nature could be formed on the basis of a common programme, or, if formed, could be sustained; and there are other difficulties, arising from the present distribution of seats in the House of Assembly. We cannot, moreover, escape the conclusion that even if a National Government could be established on a basis which led to a suspension of political rivalry, the underlying influences which do so much to clog the wheels of administration, and to divert attention from the true interests of the country, would continue to form an insuperable handicap to the rehabilitation of the Island.

  553. That it is essential that the country should be given a rest from politics for a period of years was indeed recognised by the great majority of the witnesses who appeared before us, many of whom had themselves played a prominent part in the political and public life of the Island. These witnesses only differed as to the form which such a rest from politics might take. In most cases it was contended that a radical change was required if the country was to be built up anew: there were, however, some witnesses who expressed the view that the situation would be remedied satisfactorily if the present Government could be persuaded to enact a law extending the existing statutory period of the present Parliament for three or four years beyond the present term, thus freeing the country from any apprehension of a general election until 1939 or 1940. We have carefully considered this suggestion, but we feel bound to record the view that, even though the circumstances might be held to be so extraordinary as to render such a course constitutionally justifiable, it would not, for the reasons which we have outlined above, conduce to the creation of that new order of things which must be the goal to be aimed at.

  554. The view expressed by most witnesses was that freedom from politics must be interpreted as denoting freedom from the undercurrents of political influence. That a Legislature composed almost entirely of one party should seek to extend its life beyond the existing statutory period might possibly be justified in the present predicament of the country: but any such action would, they claimed, be liable to misinterpretation, and would be a bad precedent, of which use might be made later in other conditions. It was felt, indeed, that, so far from leading to a political holiday, such a course might have the very opposite result. For it would inevitably give rise in some quarters to a bitterness of feeling which might be expected to lead to a revival of the crudest form of electioneering methods. In this event there might be an intensification of those very practices which we are most anxious to see eliminated. In view of these witnesses, the desideratum was not merely that the country should be freed for the time being from the prospect of a general election, and from the demoralising influences of party politics, but that, in order that people might be trained anew to a spirit of self-reliance and independence, the existing Legislative machine should be temporarily suspended and the Government of the country placed for a period of years in the hands of a "Commission". Such a "Commission" would be presided over by His Excellency the Governor, and would be able to remodel the administration and to shape its policy without regard to the political considerations which no elected Government could afford to ignore.

  555. It was recognised that, if such a form of Government was to be established, it would be necessary that it should be subject to supervisory control by Your Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. This would inevitably detract for the time being from Newfoundland's status as a Dominion. But considerations of constitutional status were regarded more as a matter for academic discussion than as a practical issue. The people of Newfoundland are fully content that the Island should be known as "Britain's oldest Colony" and constitutional niceties, which in any case are held to be of small importance compared with the necessity of rescuing the country from its present dangers, make no appeal to them.

  556. Numerous suggestions were put before us as to the form of "Commission" that might be established. We need not perhaps enter into details of these suggestions: it will suffice to say that in most cases the principles underlying them were that the Commission should be composed, in part of Newfoundlanders who inspired general confidence in the community, and in part of Commissioners drawn from outside the country; the Commissioners should take charge of the various Departments of Government and should be responsible to His Excellency the Governor for the administration of the country; and that, in order that they might fulfil their duties without regard to political considerations, the existing Legislature should for the time being be suspended.

  557. After examination of all the alternative courses that have been put before us from time to time and of variants that have suggested themselves to us, we have no hesitation in saying that, in the circumstances now prevailing in Newfoundland, the proposal that a system of "Government by Commission" should be established for a limited period of years affords the best hope of enabling the Island to make a speedy and effective recovery from its present difficulties. We proceed, therefore, to outline the plan which has been specially devised to meet the present emergency and which is based on the understanding that, as soon as the Island's difficulties are overcome and Newfoundland is again self-supporting, responsible government, on request from the people of Newfoundland, would be restored.




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