Newfoundland Legislative Council Debate April 21, 19041

Hon. Mr. Knowling2 had very much pleasure in laying on the table the correspondence with regard to the French Shore fisheries and the matter relating thereto. The matter had been under consideration for some time, and the press and individuals had all formed different opinions as to its merits. As he had stated at a previous sitting, some of the statements made by the press were correct, and some contained a certain amount of truth, but not all truth. Hon. gentlemen, possibly, had blamed him for being reserved on the matter, and not giving the information that was asked for, and he was afraid they had all considered it was a want of courtesy on his part in not supplying the information; but that he felt that the Hon. Mr. Greene were in his place he would do just as he, Hon. Mr. K. had done. It might have been done in a more diplomatic manner, from the long experience the hon. gentleman had in parliamentary practice, but the hon. gentleman would not have given away any information which was entrusted to him as confidential. There were difficulties surrounding the correspondence that rendered it impolitic for the government to publish information as first obtained, and it was, therefore, considered expedient to retain everything until all the information was before the government, every point made clear, and the correspondence such that no difference of opinion could exist as to the merits of the arrangement.

The treaty was a consummation that had long been looked for. It had been the ambition of Premier after Premier almost since the inauguration of responsible government; delegation after delegation had gone to the old country on the question; elections had been fought on it; it had been made a football for political purposes, time out of memory. He was not prepared to say how often it had been mentioned in the Governor's speeches opening the legislature, but it had certainly come in for a fair share of recognition. And yet up to the present all these efforts were fruitless, and the so-called “French Shore” or “Treaty Coast” had labored under the same difficulties for the past eighty or a hundred years. But the arrangement just completed, and which he felt sure would be hailed with joy from one end of the country to the other, settled for ever the difficulties that had existed. And the benefits to be derived from this settlement were not confined entirely to the West Coast. Trinity Bay, Conception Bay, Bonavista Bay and Green Bay would all derive benefits from this treaty. There was scarcely a season but there were reports of crews fishing on this French Shore having their nets taken up, in many cases destroyed, ruining their voyage and causing suffering during the winter. And it had not been possible to issue a grant of land on the Western Coast without inserting the obnoxious clause, “Subject to French Treaty rights.” This clause would now be no longer necessary, as the people of Newfoundland would be the sole owners and occupiers of the West Coast, and the North and North-East Coasts, from this time forth and forever. Again, if it were necessary to build a pier or a lobster factory on the West Coast, one did not know the minute a French man-o'-war might come along and insist on operations being stopped. There would now be no further trouble from that source.

One important point of the new treaty which seemed to have been made a great deal of in certain sections of the press, was the reference of the discontinuance of the fishing on the 20th of October. That point had been set at rest by the Imperial Government. The clause would not affect our fishermen at all, who retain the right to fish up to the end of the year and any portion of the winter, and none of the privileges which they had enjoyed would be taken away from them. Whatever privileges they had were to be maintained, with the addition to the new ones they would get. Up to the present the French had always exercised the right to erect stages and land and dry fish. Under the new treaty it was clearly provided that they should have no such right, they will simply have a concurrent right of fishing, but no right to land to cure their fish on the coast.

It was not his intention, nor was he prepared to go into details of the new arrangement to the extent that would probably be indulged in by hon. gentlemen who were connected with the political affairs of this colony much longer than he was. He fully appreciated the importance of the correspondence he was tabling, so much so that he was well aware of his inability to do it justice. He felt in this matter like a painter who conceives the idea of a picture, and after he has all his ideas in his head and sits down at his easel to begin his painting, he is so filled with the magnitude of what he has in hand that he is unable to begin his work. But right here he would like to pay a very small tribute to the great work done by our esteemed Governor in connection with this new arrangement, for he, Hon. Mr. K., felt sure that the position of His Excellency and his close touch with the home office, which had been used so strongly in favor of the colony, had contributed largely to this grand settlement of a difficulty extending over so many years in the history of the colony. It had also received an extraordinary amount of consideration and labor from the Premier of the day, the right hon. Sir Robert Bond. He, hon. Mr. K., did not believe that any previous Premier had devoted so much time and attention, and at the same time so determined that nothing should appear in the treaty that should be a source of future trouble and annoyance to the colony, as the present Premier had in connection with this new arrangement. It was possible that there might be some who would take exception to the merits of the treaty, but he believed that the majority, and all who looked at it from a disinterested and patriotic point of view, would hail the treaty with joy. It was a measure that had been fought for for many years. he could not say that there had been any blood shed, although he understood that a small amount had been, but the amount of money that had been expended in delegations from time to time was enormous. The principal loss arriving out of the passage of this treaty would be the loss of a “grievance.” We shall have to look around and find a new one; the French Shore grievance was gone, for Newfoundland will be under the control of the Newfoundland government from one end to the other, from north to south and from east to west. He felt he was not justified in closing his remarks without paying tribute to Sir Robert Bond who had worked so hard for the accomplishment of this grand result, and to whom the country was largely indebted for the great success. The Premier had devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to the matter, and was not satisfied until he had eliminated everything save what was for the best interests of his countrymen.

With these few remarks he, hon. Mr. K., begged to lay the correspondence on the table of the House, but before doing so would like to read the following extract from same, which would probably remove some of the ideas that seemed to have been formed as to the action of the government:-

(Received at 7:30 p.m. 19th April, '04).
"The effect of the Convention is to maintain the existing rights of British fishermen and to give them in addition equal rights of fishing during the summer which they have not enjoyed hitherto. They are in no sense prohibited from the winter fishery, whilst their liberty to fish after the 20th of October remains undisturbed, and that the convention can be construed so as to impair the liberty is not admitted by His Majesty's Government."

Hon. Mr. Bishop3 - In view of the prime importance of the Treaty Shore question and their anxiety regarding the treaty just concluded between Great Britain and France, he felt that the tabling of the correspondence and the particulars of the agreement by the hon. gentleman representing the government ought not to be allowed to pass without comment during the present sitting. He wished, however, that some of the hon. members whose years and experience carried them farther back had undertaken to express their opinions on it. If the result of the present negotiations has been as satisfactory as affirmed by the hon. Mr. Knowling, every member of this chamber will rejoice and will be willing to accord to the Premier and to the government the fullest credit and praise to which they are entitled. He would, however, in justice to the labors and advances toward a settlement of this vexed question made by former Premiers of Newfoundland, dissent from the utterances of his hon. friend when he confined his laudations exclusively to those concerned in the present negotiations. Much has been done by former premiers, and the agitation of former governments had been drawing us nearer and nearer to a settlement. Furthermore, he desired to remind hon. Mr. Knowling that Messrs. Kent, Hoyles, Carter and succeeding premiers, all and always kept that question out of, and untouched by, party politics, and he questioned the statement that elections had been contested with this question as an issue.

Respecting the clause of the Convention read by the hon. member, he hoped that their neighbors, the French, would interpret it the same as the British government had, and that there would be no interference with our codfishery after the 20th of October, or with the winter herring fishery. He could not see why there should be any need for the mention of the 20th of October at all, in view of the fact that the French left the coast at that time.

He was glad that the terms of the Convention would rid future grants of mineral and water rights on the Treaty Coast of their most obnoxious clause, “Subject to French treaty rights-” a condition that hampered their industrial operations there. Particularly was its development by foreign capitalists hampered by that restriction. He could not regard this instrument, however, as putting an end forever to conflicts between French and British fishermen. There was, however, a likelihood of their joint enjoyment of fishery rights producing less friction, less collision, in future, provided that the French be not permitted to land and cure their catch as heretofore. This concession would prove to be a great relief to prevailing conditions, even if it did not lead to the best solution of the difficulty. The only real satisfactory solution would consist in a complete abandonment of the fisheries on that coast by the French, that and that alone would afford a satisfactory close of the question. He hoped when they considered the text of the Convention in detail they would be glad in realizing that the obnoxious and painful features of the Treaty Shore question were at last brought to an end, but he must confess he felt as yet considerable doubt regarding it.

Hon. Mr. Greene4 asked the hon. the leader of the government whether an act would be introduced this session to ratify the new treaty?

Hon. Mr. Harvey5 - Though a junior member of the chamber, it would, he hoped, not be regarded as presumption on his part of he added a few words to the congratulations that, in view of the important announcement just made, must greet Sir Robert Bond and his government. He would be modest, however. He would not claim that the settlement of the French Shore question was directly due to the much criticized appointment of the four new members. This settlement seemed to be as satisfactory as could possibly be hoped for, and reflected the very greatest credit upon those who had carried it to a successful issue, and, without doubt, especially on our Premier, Sir Robert Bond. Without however detracting in any way from the great work accomplished by the latter, it might not be inopportune to refer to the fact that this settlement formed a present climax to the administration of our present Governor. That the governor had had this question very much at heart, and that he had been a powerful auxiliary in bringing the negotiations to a termination so satisfactory to this colony, was no doubt well recognized, and it must be generally recognized also that the speed termination of the stay amongst them of the present administration of the Crown was a matter for regret …

Hon. Mr. Knowling - In reply to the hon. Mr. Bishop, the first correspondence received from the Secretary of State for the Colonies read:-

“The discussion of the French fishery question on the basis of an arrangement in the matter of baiting and bounties having proved hopeless, and of no avail, His Majesty's advisers propose to drop it and put before the government of France an agreement in draft which will terminate the rights of French fishermen to land and dry their fish on the shores of Newfoundland, but which will leave a concurrent right of fishery, the regulating and policing of which will be provided in the manner of the North Sea fishery convention of 1881, articles 14-38, and in the convention of 1897, also North Sea Fishery.”

That was a portion of the arrangement. In reply to the hon. Mr. Greene, he was not prepared to say that it was the intention to put the matter before the House this session as an act, but he thought it likely would be.

Hon. Mr. Baird6 did not intend to speak, but as he was one of the senior members by age, and not by occupation of a seat in the House, and so very much identified with the French Shore for the past fifteen or twenty years, he perhaps might be excused for saying a few words. Whilst granting without stint all the praise he had been given by previous speakers to the present government, the Premier and his Excellency the Governor, he thought it only just not to forget the past, and the great efforts made by other men who were “passed and gone” on this same question. He remembered the time when our fishermen could not locate on the French Shore, and premiers of the past had ever done their best to remedy matters along that coast. Not many years ago he met one of our premiers in London, who told him that in the Foreign Office there was no subject that was more “pigeon-holed” than this French Shore question; volume upon volume of correspondence had been sent there, all of which must certainly have entailed a great amount of time and attention on the part of those in charge of the government of this colony, and surely these men were entitled a mead of praise. He did not wish to say more. He hoped this much discussed question was at last settled, but he thought that hon. members should have had this correspondence read to them, so that they would have a clearer idea of what they were talking about.

Hon. Mr. Knowling said that it was proposed to have the correspondence printed and placed in the hands of hon.members.

Hon. Mr. Greene said that until he knew what was in the treaty and in the correspondence, it would be rather rash on his part to advance an opinion, but when the correspondence was printed he would avail of some opportunity before the House rose, whether it was on the introduction of a bill or on a motion to discuss the matter freely to express his views on the settlement. When that time came, and if the hon. leader of the government's remarks were fully borne out by the arrangement, he would not be the last to accord his share of praise to Sir Robert Bond and party.

Hon. Mr. Anderson,7 as one of the junior members of the chamber, thought this important occasion should not be allowed to pass without making one or two remarks. It certainly was very gratifying to the junior members that they should have seats in the House on the year this great French shore question was settled. He quite agreed with the hon. Mr. Baird that we should not forget those who have passed away, and who had made such continued struggles to clear away our difficulties in regard to this matter, for it was by their continuous appeals to the home office, followed up by the present Premier, Sir Robert Bond, that the present settlement was at last reached. It was only a few years ago that our local Hampden, his friend the hon. Mr. Baird, bearded the Admiralty over his troubles on the coast, and he was sure the hon. gentleman would mete out all praise to the present Premier and government for making a settlement which will prevent all trouble for him on that shore in future.

Hon. Mr. Knowling thought it advisable to have the correspondence printed and in the hands of members before the next sitting.

On motion of Hon. Mr. Knowling the house then adjourned until Monday at 4:30 o'clock.

1. Taken from The Evening Telegram, April 28, 29, 1904.

2. George Knowling (1841-1923). Businessman. Government Leader in the Legislative Council, and a member of the Executive Council.

3. Robert K. Bishop (1853-1930). Businessman.

4. Daniel J. Greene (1850-1911). Lawyer. Served briefly as Liberal premier in 1894-1895.

5. John Harvey (1865-1920). Businessman.

6. James Baird (1828-1915). Businessman. In 1890, the Commodore of the British naval squadron forcibly closed a lobster cannery in St. George’s Bay in which Baird had an interest. Baird sued Admiral Sir Baldwin Walker for trespass and was awarded damages.

7. John Anderson (1855-1930). Businessman.