Newfoundland National Convention, 15 October 1947, Debates on Confederation with Canada


October 15, 1947

[The Acting Chairman[1] read a commission appointing John Bernard McEvoy as Chairman]
Mr. Bradley Mr. Secretary, may I avail myself of this, the first opportunity, to publicly convey my congratulations to my very good friend, Mr. McEvoy, our new Chairman, on his appointment to this most important office.
I do not think that I am unduly egotistic when I say there is no one in this Convention more qualified to appreciate the problems and the difficulties which at times beset the Chairman than myself, for I occupied the post for a period of nearly 12 months and I had particular opportunity to observe those errors which contribute so largely to the Chairman's problems. One of the very greatest of our errors has been a casual assumption that we are a political body, even a partly political body. The method of our election by the people has tended to foster that illusion and our adoption of a parliamentary framework for our deliberations has tended to confirm it. There is a tendency to assume that we may speak for the people in a representative capacity, where no such right exists. And that for two reasons: the first, in its nature double, I suppose, has to do with our election to the seats which we now occupy. A substantial number of us are here by acclamation and received no votes. Many others of us received votes and hold our seats by the franchise of somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25% of the electorate of our particular district. We can hardly then claim to have been sent here as a body by a majority of the electors of this country.
But there is an even greater reason for this. We were not elected to carry out any particular policy, for no such policy could properly exist. Far from pledging allegiance to any form of government or policy, our duty under the act which created us was nothing more or less than that of investigating and recommending, as a result of our investigations, to the Crown. We were and are in the nature of somewhat numerous royal commissions charged with duties as inves tigators of facts, and obligated to make recommendations to the Crown just as a royal commission does. It is fair to say that in reality the only difference between this Convention and a royal commission is the method of our selection. Quite clearly, it is outside our province to advocate particular forms of government. It is quite human, of course, that we should have opinions as to forms of government. I think l am not going too far if I say that any man who has not got personal opinions about forms of government is not a man fitted to be in this Convention at all. But those views should not be allowed to obtrude themselves into our deliberations. Our duty is not to advocate, but simply and objectively to recommend, not the particular form of government which appeals to us, but those forms of government which may be suitable in the circumstances. Ours is not the right to decide; we have nothing to do with decisions. It is ours to recommend forms upon which the people themselves will decide. Theirs is the duty, theirs alone the right to make the ultimate selection.
Speaking for myself, as I see the position today, I shall have to recommend to His Majesty's Government, insofar as my vote in this Convention goes, one form of government which I do not altogether like, and another which I shall definitely vote against at the plebiscite. I must recommend them notwithstanding that I do not like them — I do not like the one and I am opposed to the other — because they are forms which might be suitable and which the people might select; and I have no right whatever to debar the people from the right to vote for or against any form of government which might be suitable. If we could have kept that one point in view, many of our difficulties could not have arisen and much of the ill-will which has developed could have been avoided. Unfortunately it was not so. Political ideologies were adopted and fought for — sincerely enough, perhaps, but definitely erroneous.
We are now drawing to the close of the activities of this Convention. Our work is for the most part completed. And yet the part which remains is the most important part. The decision has still to be made on the question of forms of government which we shall recommend to His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.
Can we not for the remainder of our life as a Convention, forget our political leanings? Can we not realise, as I have already said, that we are not a body of partisans, but rather in the position of a bench of judges? That we are not a House of Assembly, but rather in the nature of a royal commission? If we can do this, we shall recover that public respect which I fear we have done much to destroy, we shall remove unnecessary and improper problems and difficulties from the path of the Chairman, and we shall have done a real service to this country.
In our new Chairman I have full confidence. His ability is great. He is adequate to the task. For myself, I offer him my fullest co-operation and support and I trust that all members will feel as I do on this subject.
Sir, I move that our new Chairman do now take the Chair.
Mr. Job In rising to second the motion so ably proposed by our ex-Chairman, which I may call a motion of welcome to you as our new Chairman, I cannot add very much to the encomium expressed by the proposer of the motion. I feel sure that your expert knowledge and well-known diplomacy fit you well for the office you have accepted at no small sacrifice to yourself. I think, moreover, that the government can be congratulated upon the promptness with which they dealt with the crisis calling for a new appointment.
I do not intend to discuss those regrettable events which occurred in this chamber a few days ago, as I feel that in the public interest it will be best to entirely forget and overlook them. Nevertheless, I cannot refrain from saying, without the slightest equivocation, that in my opinion our ex-Chm'iman performed his difficult duties at all times in a fair and unbiased manner, and that he at no time allowed his personal leanings towards any particular ideology to interfere with the performance of those duties.
Unfortunately there seem to be many members who have already formed definite opinions as to the recommendations to be made in connec tion with the forthcoming referendum without having heard all the evidence or waiting for the end of the discussions. This is indeed an unfortunate state of affairs, as our plain duty is to proceed with the presentation of facts, and not to utilise this National Convention as a jumping-off place for future political partisanship. If we cannot help forming a definite bias towards one or more forms of government, we can restrain ourselves from preventing a hearing for those other forms of which, at the present time, we may not approve.
Our duties as regards the gathering of facts have almost reached their objective, and if we now decide to concentrate our attention on perhaps three phases of our deliberations which seem to me necessary before we wind up our work, we shall be acting wisely. The first of these seems to be to declare whether the country is at the present time self-supporting, a decision which should not be difficult to reach. The second is to decide whether we have a reasonable expectation of being able to maintain a self-supporting position in the foreseeable future, and I submit that we cannot be expected to prophesy for any lengthy period, and indeed under present world conditions it may be dangerous to prophesy at all. The third phase, it seems to me, is to debate and definitely decide upon the forms of government which we consider should be placed on the referendum paper, taking each form separately. Perhaps I should add a fourth item, namely, the drafting of a report covering our findings and recommendations.
I feel sure, sir, that if you can assist in keeping the minds of the delegates of this Convention on these definite objectives you will be doing us a good service, and we shall be able to wind up our operations within a comparatively short period. I believe you will receive the respect and support of all the delegates.
[The motion carried]
Mr. McEvoy Members of the National Convention of Newfoundland, before assuming the Chair I should like, first of all, to express to you my very deep appreciation and sincere thanks for the warmth and kindness of your welcome and to assure you I regard your kindness in this respect as a very great and pleasing compliment. In particular would I address my thanks to my distinguished and learned friend, Mr. Bradley, former October 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 593 Chairman of this Convention, for his kind remarks; and to the Hon. R. B. Job who so graciously consented to second the motion.
I feel I should trespass upon your time and patience in order that I may, at the outset, leave with you my conceptions of my sworn duty. As I see it, my position is similar to that of a judge of the Supreme Court. I come to this chamber under a Royal Commission issued by His Excellency the Governor in Commission, and I have sworn that I will do the duties expected of me, "so help me God." The extent to which I shall be successful, must, in the last analysis depend upon the sympathy, co-operation and support that I receive from you as members.
I want to make it clear that I regard my sworn duties in a three-fold way. Firstly, that I must impartially and fairly discharge my duties to His Excellency the Governor in Commission who has entrusted the discharge of the duties of this office to me. I have, secondly, to fairly, impartially, and without fear and prejudice discharge my duties to the people who sent you here; and thirdly, I have my sworn duty to you as the representatives of the people.
My task is none too easy. It was a duty I did not seek and I doubt very much if anybody other than His Excellency the Governor could have persuaded me to accept it. But, like the thousands of people throughout this country who know our Governor, I think it is a fair statement to make that he is a great man in the most literal sense of the term. He is a wise man and what perhaps is the most important of all, he is a good man.
I am not underestimating the extent of my duties. May I remind members that the lamented late Hon. Mr. Justice Fox, because of the exactitudes of his office, in the opinion of many of us who were close to him, laid down the burdens and cares of this life at the untimely age of 54 because he had accepted the office which I am now about to assume. I feel duty bound to say that Mr. Justice Fox sacrificed his life for his country just as truly as if he had laid it down on the battlefields of Europe. This country is under an irreparable debt to him and to his family. Then again, as a great lawyer, and a judge of the Supreme Court, his wide parliamentary experience pre-eminently fitted him to discharge his duties as Chairman. The high standards set by the Hon. Mr. Justice Fox will indeed be very difficult for me to attain, if I ever do attain them. But certain it is, by and with your sympathy and co-operation, I shall strive to the best of my ability to maintain the very high traditions set by him.
I feel, however members may be divided in their opinions on this subject, that the high standards set by the late Mr. Justice Fox were quite definitely maintained by my distinguished and learned friend Mr. Bradley, K.C. His wide parliamentary experience, his brilliantly analytical mind, and his great facility for promptly and concisely expressing that brilliance of mind, quite properly entitled him to the respect and admiration of all who know him.
I come in at a very awkward time. I take over where one Chairman laid down the burdens and cares of this life, and the other, because of the exactitudes of the office, saw fit to resign. I must therefore appeal to members to remember the unenviable place in which I find myself. Idid not seek this office. I agreed to accept it only at the request and persuasion of His Excellency, but, having accepted it, it is my intention to discharge literally the requirements and dictates of my oath by presiding impartially and without fear or favour.... I shall expect members of the Convention to obey any rulings that I may be called upon from time to time to make, unless and until such rulings are appealed to and reversed by the whole House.
I should like to conclude by again expressing my very deep appreciation and thanks for the warmth and kindness of your welcome, and to ask you to accord to me in some measure the respect, co-operation and support that I certainly intend to give you, so that together we may walk forward with dignity, decorum and businesslike expediency, in the colossal task of preparing our beloved country to shortly meet its fateful rendezvous with destiny. Gentlemen, thank you very much.
Mr. Smallwood Mr. Chairman, I have no intention whatever of making any lengthy remarks. I want merely to assure you of my deep admiration of you, my respect, and my intention to cooperate with you to the fullest possible extent. I believe that for the remaining few weeks that the Convention will last the members will conduct the affairs of the Convention in a manner that will deserve the respect of the whole country.
If I cannot speak for the members I can speak 594 NATIONAL CONVENTION October 1947 for myself, and I promise you that, as far as it lies in my ability at least, while you are in the Chair and for the remainder of this Convention's life, I for one will be an absolute model of parliamentary propriety, dignity and decorum. If the members who smile are inclined to doubt the sincerity of what I say, I will give you at this moment an earnest of the sincerity of my statement and intentions, when I offer, through you, to a member of this Convention about whom at the last sitting on Friday last, in the heat of debate and in a state of anger, I made a remark which now I wish to withdraw. I refer to the remark I made about my good and learned friend behind me, Mr. Hollett. I withdraw the remark. I apologise sincerely to him, and promise him sincerely that he will have to provoke me much more than he has ever done in the past, before I will make another insulting remark about him....
Mr. Chairman, I wish you every success in your office, and I believe you will be a success. I look upon you as one Newfoundlander, amongst others, who has come up from the ranks by hard work, great study and brilliance of mind. I acclaim you as a Newfoundlander of whom we always can be proud. You have my respect, and you will have my co-operation to the dying hour of this Convention.
Mr. Hollett Mr. Chairman, I don't propose to make any extended remarks in reply to my friend Mr. Smallwood. I think probably he has the right to lose his temper once in a while, the same as the rest of us, and I can say frankly that I do very heartily accept his apology for the words which he used towards me the other day, but, as I said, these words were spoken in the heat of debate and I am quite sure that he probably did not mean what he said, and if he did, he has recanted now. Mr. Smallwood and myself have got along very peaceably in the past 12 months. We have fallen out once in a while, but it was always in the course of debate when we were trying to decide something which we each believed to be for the benefit, or otherwise, of our country.
I am rather appalled at the attitude taken by some of the daily papers in connection with the little episode which happened here on Friday. Speaking for myself, I remember being in the British House of Commons last May at question time, and there were more cat-calls across the floors of that assembly than we have cast at each other in the whole 12 months. There were catcalls and cries of "sit down" and "get out"; and nobody seemed to worry about that, it was in the ordinary course of debate.... I accept this apology from Mr. Smallwood, and l would like, sir, in accepting it, to offer to you my heartiest congratulations on this office which you have assumed, and which I know will tax even you; at times you will be taxed probably as to the correct decision to give, but I feel quite sure that I can add my words to Mr. Smallwood in offering you my whole-hearted support in this strenuous job which you have undertaken for your country.
[The Convention adjourned]


Newfoundland. The Newfoundland National Convention, 1946-1948 Vol 1: Debates. Edited by J.K. Hiller and M.F. Harrington Montreal: Memorial University of Newfoundland by McGill-Queen's University Press, 1995).



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  • [1] Captain W. Gordon Warren.

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