Glossary: The Confederation Debate

British North America Act, 1867
The act of the British Parliament that created the Dominion of Canada in 1867 by uniting the colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Canadas (Ontario and Quebec). The BNA Act defined the powers of the federal and provincial governments and became the constitution of the new country. An amendment to the Act by the British Parliament was necessary for Newfoundland to become the tenth province of Canada.

Commission of Government
As a result of a severe financial crisis, responsible government was suspended in 1934. Until 1949, Newfoundland was administered by the Commission of Government. It consisted of three British and three Newfoundland commissioners chaired by the governor, all appointed by the British government.

The short-hand term meaning union with the Dominion of Canada, a confederation of nine provinces. Confederation with Canada was debated in the National Convention, and was one of the options on the two referendum ballots in 1948.

economic conservatism
The belief that in a capitalist economy, the government should intervene as little as possible, leaving the regulation of the economy to market forces.

Economic Union
During the 1948 referendum campaigns, the Economic Union Party* argued that closer economic ties with the United States would give Newfoundland the economic stability it needed to remain an independent country with responsible government. The organization, headed by businessman Chesley Crosbie, offered a popular alternative to confederation.

Economic Union Party
A political organization, headed by prominent Newfoundland business person Chesley Crosbie, formed to promote Economic Union* with the United States. This group favoured responsible government in the hope that once Newfoundland gained independence, it could start negotiations with the United States. The Economic Union Party joined forces with the Responsible Government League during the 1948 referendum campaigns.

A person who is a proponent of liberalism (see below).

A political philosophy "historically associated with the idea of freedom: the civil freedom of the individual: free political institutions; freedom of religion; free enterprise and free trade in economics." In its contemporary form, liberalism includes a belief in democratic capitalism, and in the duty of the state to alleviate social ills, and to protect civil liberties and individual and human rights. (Alan Bullock and Oliver Stallybrass (eds.), The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought (London 1977), 347). Political parties calling themselves "Liberal" do not always reflect "liberal" values.

London Delegation
The National Convention sent a delegation to London in the spring of 1947 to find out what assistance, financial and economic, Newfoundland might expect to receive from Britain in the future. The members were Gordon Bradley (chair), Peter Cashin, Malcolm Hollett, Albert Butt, Chesley Crosbie, Pierce Fudge, and William Keough. The British government made it very clear that it could not provide any support for an independent Newfoundland.

National Convention
An elected body of 45 delegates from all parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, which sat from September 1946 to January 1948. Its task was to examine the economic and financial condition of the country, and to recommend to the British government suitable forms of government to be placed on the ballot in a national referendum. In 1947, delegations from the convention visited London and Ottawa. The confederate faction in the convention was led by Joseph R. Smallwood, who dominated debate on draft terms of union with Canada. The convention recommended that the referendum choice should be between responsible government and Commission of Government; the British government rejected this advice, and added confederation with Canada.

Adjective of the noun, nationalism (see below); a descriptive word attributed to a person's emotions or beliefs.

"The feeling of belonging to a group united by common racial, linguistic, and historical ties, and usually identified with a particular territory." (Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, 409). The term usually includes feelings of pride in, and love of country. In pre-confederation Newfoundland, many nationalists saw confederation with Canada as a betrayal or loss of their country.

Taking advantage of opportunities or circumstances when they arise (often with little regard for principles.)

Members of the Loyal Orange Association. A Protestant organization that originated in Ireland in 1795 to commemorate William of Orange's famous victory at the Battle of the Boyne on July 2, 1690, securing the Protestant succession to the British throne. The Loyal Orange Association was established in Newfoundland in 1863, filling a need, among Protestant Newfoundlanders, for a social and political organization. It worked both as a charitable organization—helping Protestant families in need—and as a political network, although its political power waned in the 20th century. When prominent Orangemen began to feel that the Roman Catholic Church was interfering in politics by opposing confederation, a letter of warning was sent to all Orange Lodges. This "Orange Letter" may have encouraged some of them to vote for confederation.

Ottawa Delegation
A group of National Convention* delegates sent to Ottawa in 1947 to discuss Newfoundland entering into confederation with Canada. Under the leadership of the convention chairman Gordon Bradley, draft terms of union* were drawn up. These terms included promises that Canada would assume most of Newfoundland's public debt, and that Newfoundland could keep its $29 million surplus. Canada would also pay a special 12-year transition grant. Newfoundland could keep its denominational school system. The anti-confederates were outraged, feeling that by drafting terms of union the delegation had exceeded its authority. Besides Bradley, other members of the Ottawa delegation included Joseph Smallwood, Thomas Ashbourne, the Rev. Lester Burry, Gordon Higgins, Charles Ballam, and P.W. Crummey.

A direct vote by which the electorate can decide issues of public policy put to it by its government. After the National Convention* of 1946-48, the government asked Newfoundlanders to decide their political future by this means. In the first referendum (3 June 1948), Newfoundlanders voted for one of three forms of government-- continued Commission of Government*; Responsible Government* as it existed in 1933, or confederation* with Canada. Neither option received a majority of votes. In the second referendum, (22 July 1948), only two options were on the ballot--confederation and responsible government. Confederation won with 52 percent of the vote.

Responsible Government
A form of government in which the executive is responsible to an elected assembly. Newfoundland had responsible government from 1855 to 1934. The governor would ask the leader of the party with the largest number of elected members in the House of Assembly to become prime minister and to form a government. The prime minister would then select members of his or her party to take cabinet positions.

Responsible Government League
An organization of people, primarily business people and professionals, dedicated to Newfoundland resuming responsible government. It was established in St. John's in February 1947 in response to Joseph Smallwood's suggestion in the National Convention* that Newfoundland enter confederation. The league, along with Chesley Crosbie's Economic Union Party, which was later incorporated into the group, led the anti-confederate campaign leading up to the 1948 referendums. There were tensions within the league and Smallwood's pro-confederation team out manoeuvred it.

Adherence or devotion to a group with a particular set of beliefs, usually but not necessarily religious. The term carries overtones of intolerance and bigotry.

social conservative
This refers to a person who wishes to preserve traditional social structures and values, often values associated with the community, such as deference to authority and religious faith. Social conservatives feel that the social roles and values passed down from the past have proven their worth should be maintained.

A person who is a proponent of socialism (see below).

A term covering many belief systems that oppose the concentration of wealth and power that is a natural part of capitalism. Whereas capitalists emphasize freedom for the individual to possess private property, socialists emphasize the well-being of the community. They strive to achieve this through many methods, including public ownership, regulation, and state-sponsored social programs. Socialism has taken on many different forms throughout the world, with varying degrees of success. Some socialists favour a gradual move away from unrestricted capitalism and the maintenance of a democratic society; others favour force to overthrow capitalism and distribute wealth.

Terms of Union
The terms of union set out the conditions under which Newfoundland became a Canadian province. The Ottawa delegation of the National Convention negotiated proposed terms of union in 1947, and the Commission of Government appointed a group of Newfoundlanders to negotiate final terms of union after confederation won the referendum in July 1948. The Terms of Union were signed on December 11, 1948. The terms include the number of senators and Members of Parliament for Newfoundland and Labrador, and the provincial and federal responsibilities, and financial arrangements.

Originally a British term referring to a member of the political party that favoured royal power and the established church, and opposed change. Although there is no longer a Tory Party in Britain, Newfoundland or Canada, members of the Conservative Party in Britain and the Conservative Party in Canada are often called Tories.


Walter S. Avis et al., Gage Canadian Dictionary (Toronto: Gage Publishing Limited, ©1983) 759, 797, 1186.

Vernon Bogdanor, ed., Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Political Science (Oxford: Blackwell, ©1991) 129, 524, 578.

"British North America Act." Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, volume one (St. John's, Newfoundland: Harry Cuff Publications Ltd., ©1967, 1981 reprint) 266-267.

"Commission of Government." Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, volume one (St. John's, Newfoundland: Harry Cuff Publications Ltd., ©1967, 1981 reprint) 489.

"Confederation," Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, volume three (St. John's, Newfoundland: Harry Cuff Publications Ltd., ©1967, 1993 reprint) 497-502.

"Crosbie, Chesley Arthur." Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, volume one (St. John's, Newfoundland: Harry Cuff Publications Ltd., ©1967, 1981 reprint) 560-561.

"Loyal Orange Association." Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, volume three (St. John's, Newfoundland: Harry Cuff Publications Ltd., ©1967, 1991 reprint) 381-384.

John McMenemy, The Language of Canadian Politics: A Guide to Important Terms and Concepts (Toronto: Wiley Publishers of Canada, ©1980) 228-29, 255.

"National Convention," Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, volume four (St. John's, Newfoundland: Joseph R. Smallwood Heritage Foundation Inc., ©1967, 1993 reprint) 337.

Peter Neary, ed., The Political Economy of Newfoundland, 1929-1972 (Montreal: Copp Clark Publishing, ©1973) 136-38.

"Referendum," Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, volume four (St. John's, Newfoundland: Joseph R. Smallwood Heritage Foundation Inc., ©1967, 1993 reprint) 547.

"Responsible Government (1855-1934)." Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, volume four (St. John's, Newfoundland: Joseph R. Smallwood Heritage Foundation Inc., ©1967, 1993 reprint) 590.

"Responsible Government League." Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, volume four (St. John's, Newfoundland: Joseph R. Smallwood Heritage Foundation Inc., ©1967, 1993 reprint) 590-591.

"Terms of Union." Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, volume five (St. John's, Newfoundland: Joseph R. Smallwood Heritage Foundation Inc., ©1967, 1994 reprint) 354-357.

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