Newfoundland National Convention, 12 November 1947, Debates on Confederation with Canada


November 12, 1947

Mr. Chairman Before proceeding to the business of the day, may I advise the House that I have just received the following communication from His Excellency the Governor:
12 November, 1947.
Dear Mr. Chairman,
I have received a communication from the High Commissioner for Canada directing my attention to a typographical error in the last paragraph on page 10 of the document outlining the "Proposed Arrangements for the Entry of Newfoundland into Confederation."
The word "not" needs to be deleted.
Whilst this does not of course affect the appointment of the debt or the retention of the surplus by Newfoundland and is immaterial from the standpoint of the general effect of the proposed arrangements, the High Commissioner feels that, for the sake of accuracy, he should mention the matter.
Yours sincerely, Gordon Macdonald Governor.

Report of the Finance Committee: Economic Report[1] Committee of the Whole

Mr. Crosbie Mr. Chairman, I am not going to enter into any petty discussions or sandbag anyone. I have heard too much of this; have listened to too much doom and disaster and sundry roaring and reckon our listeners suffered the same, although not at the same time.
Newfoundlanders are not infallible, neither are other people, and to prove this I would like to take you back to the time Japan declared war on China. We were told by the political economists of the United States and other countries, including Great Britain, that Japan could not carry on war with China without going financially broke, yet she did continue this war for several years. Then in March 1933, we were told by the political economists of Great Britain and the United States that Hitler, who had come to power in Germany, could not last six months, yet in fact he lasted until 1939 when he declared war on Great Britain and later the United States, and for six years he waged war against these two great nations and their allies. Japan later attacked the United States and helped Hitler for at least two or three years of war against these two great countries. Hitler lasted long enough to bring untold hardship and starvation to millions, and millions are still suffering, yet we are told here in this chamber that Newfoundlanders are foolish, because they bring in a report and make estimates that may not finally turn out. I have seen budgets and estimates made of other countries with the same result. It is true that the report of your Committee may be changed in places, that is why it is brought in here; to be treated the same as other reports — some things added, some things taken away; but as a member of that Committee I am satisfied it is as clear a picture of the conditions of this country today and for the near future as is possible. I am sure we are self-supporting at the moment, and will be for some time to come.
I would like to review once more our fisheries. As we know it is from our fisheries that the greatest number of our people obtain their livelihood. If our fisheries are prosperous, our country is prosperous... It may come as a surprise to some of you to know that we are the second largest exporter of frozen fish and fishery products to the United States. Canada comes first, but some day I hope we will come first. You know that there has been a meeting of many countries to discuss the reduction of tariffs and inter-trade; it may be possible there will be a reduction on certain tariffs and then Newfoundland will benefit, we cannot expect better treatment than other countries, but at least we may expect the same. We have been told that this country is in a very strategic position. This is perfectly true. But I do not mean a strategic position with regard to war, but with regard to our fishing banks, the water around and near our shores. We are known to have one of the largest continental fishing ledges in the world, one of the best. I have been told by presidents of large fishing companies of the United States that some day in the near future they will have to come to Newfoundland for their raw materials. This paints a nice picture in my mind of what our fisheries may be in the future. In 1934-35 we 704 NATIONAL CONVENTION November 1947 exported very little frozen or fresh fish. It was only in 1937-38 that some of our people had sufficient courage to go ahead. In 1940-45 it took great strides. Due to the necessity of more food because of war conditions a great many people ate fish who never ate fish before, and who will continue to eat fish for years to come. The war gave our exporters an opportunity to get more or less established and today they are still enlarging and are still very optimistic over the future of our fresh fish industry.
Within a very few weeks you will have here in St. John's, operating from Job Brothers, two new up-to date trawlers which will permit this firm to operate all year round. This will give employment to many Newfoundlanders and will help change entirely the outlook of our fisheries.
It is true that our salt codlish for 1934-35 was only worth $5 million and in 1945 it was some $17 millions — quite a gap. It is also true we can expect reduced prices in our salt codfish over the course of the next few years, but I do not expect to see our salt codfish drop in price as low as it did in 1934-35. If you say, "Why?", my answer is this: during recent years there has been a greater spirit of cooperation all over this country and our marketing system for salt codfish has improved tremendously. There will be no throat- cutting, no loss because of shipping on consignment; more co-operation in every direction, which means a steadier, firmer market and better returns. Like every other industry, the salt cod- fishery has certain branches and phases that are uneconomic, and one of these branches is the Labrador fishery. This fishery costs a lot to fit out and continues only for three to four months; further, during these three or four months, only six weeks of fishing may be done. We had men come home from Labrador last year and this year with no voyages, men who have to go through hardship because they have caught no fish. For these men I have deepest sympathy and greatest admiration; it is not their fault, the country's fault, but nature's. I feel it is our duty, knowing that these fisheries are uneconornical, to wake up, get together, try and find the cure for these uneconomical fisheries. I would suggest centralisation, intense fishing of certain areas, more versatile boats, better equipment. You may say, "Where is this money coming from?" I say, if necessary the state should put it up. They have guaranteed bonds to our paper companies to the extent of $15 to $20 million. Why cannot the same thing be done for our fisheries? I am sure that if our men go to the Labrador, properly equipped with the right vessels, they can come back and later prosecute other fisheries, even the seal fishery, which are now on the verge of being developed.
Then we have in this country our herring fishery. I have been in touch with this fishery from an angle entirely different from the pattern of the old days, from the angle of mass production, the production of protein meals that are badly needed all over the world, and will be needed for many years to come, Fishmeal is only in its infancy. It is only in the last 15 or 20 years, that the value of these fish meals have been realised for the purpose of feeding cattle, poultry and many other purposes. It is true, as some of you have said, since 1940 I have been in this business, had hardship and it is true I have made no money. But I would like to assure you my faith in this industry is greater than ever, and I am sure some day I will be rewarded or at least repaid for the trouble I have taken. We have today, which we never had before, the filletting of herring, the canning of herring by a large Canadian company, that has invested close to half a million dollars in Newfoundland for the handling of herring, a firm that has been for years in the herring fishery of Canada, who know their markets and have faith in herring as a product. There are many people in this country who would doubt that these industries can be developed. To them I say, have faith, encourage the people who are trying to run them, do not knock — just encourage.
We have a whale fishery which has gradually been built up because ofnewer methods and more things being found to save waste in the plants, and to decrease the cost of production which will under normal times permit this industry to meet the prices which may be prevailing.
The seal fishery will again come into its own. We have the opportunity of developing this industry and making it much more valuable than in the past. Today the seal fishery has changed somewhat, we have smaller boats going to the ice, with smaller crews and it appears to me that these boats and smaller crews may be the answer to a larger and most beneficent fishery in the future.
There are many varieties of fish which I cannot take time to discuss with you. I would like to discuss, however, our lobster fishery. At one time we only canned lobster, but today the greater part of our lobsters are being shipped alive. I am sure that the co-operative men in this Convention will agree that, through the shipment of live lobster by the co-operatives and private firms, the fishermen are much better off than they ever were. I am glad that the co-operative movement has taken over such work, and I wish them luck in the future. Now then, we come to the product about which many people are sceptical and that is the value of our waste. When we first started in Corner Brook to manufacture herring oil and meal after extracting the oil from the water, we had water left. During the last two years we have found this water valuable and today there is not a thing which cannot be used, including the water. This also applies to the whaling industry, and I am sure we are going to find the same in all the other branches of our fishery. In Iceland and other countries, all this waste is utilised, running into millions of dollars; and waste can be utilised in this country as well. I am sure that in centres such as Bonavista where they are handling large quantities of frozen fish, fish waste plants could be established and the fishermen will get more money per quintal for their fish and get rid of the dirt and the filth around their harbours.
The value of our fisheries in 1946 was somewhere in the neighbourhood of $34 million. The Fishery Committee valued the fisheries at $25 million. I think they can be valued at more if we have faith and courage enough to go ahead, to move forward, to push and strive for greater developments. I feel that if our fisheries go below $25-30 million, it is because we are lacking foresight and vision, something which most Newfoundlanders find in other countries, and which we seem to lack in our own. I have every reason, the country has every reason, to feel optimistic over the future of fisheries. We have unlimited resources and raw materials; we have the fishermen; we have everything that anyone needs to develop the fisheries in this country and push them forward. We may need assistance, more research information, more biological information and a better laboratory than the one we now have, but these are things we can have if we want to fight for them, push for them and insist on them. There is very little more I can say on the Economic Report.
This country and this Convention is facing very momentous weeksjust ahead. We are going to discuss forms of government. We are going to discuss many different things, but I would like to say to you all, let us remember it is a fine country that we live in, that we fought for and that we will fight for again. During those weeks let us forget our political passion, let us argue out those things sensibly, reasonably and intelligently. Let us give the public of this country the facts that we can give them without being hot, personal and abusive. We can do it if we wish, and l for one intend to follow those lines, and I hope and trust that we can prove to our country and our people that we are sensible, reasonable and willing to co-operate and work together.
Mr. Hillier ....Mr. Hickman, in a very fair speech calmly made here two or three days ago, gave me the impression that he was a bit disappointed in connection with Convention proceedings. If that is so, I can quite understand it. I too have been somewhat disappointed, because the mental picture I had built up of this work has been dashed to pieces. I have no desire to prolong this Convention one hour longer than is strictly necessary, so my remarks will not be lengthy. I am not aspiring to a place in any future government Newfoundland may have, so like Mr. Hickman, I have no axe to grind. My only wish is that whatever our political set-up, it proves to be productive of the most good for the most people and in the general interest of all. I do not look on the dark side of life, even when clouds are heavy and dark I look beyond them in hope. I believe that we have somewhere resources as yet untouched which can be profitably developed, and that those we have can be further developed; but capital, labour and government must work together. A government must not be expected to shoulder all the responsibility in making a country progress. We, the people, have to bear our share, and blame ourselves to the proper extent for lack of progress.
With a long pull and a strong pull all together, I see no reason why matters in this country could not be considerably improved. I fear in the past there has been a little too much of self and not enough of the realisation of the necessity of pulling together. What are the hopes of mending our 706 NATIONAL CONVENTION November 1947 ways? Has our attitude shown that we are moving along that road?
This report has come in for considerable debate. Some members have gone all out in support, others have taken a contrary view. In some cases the debate has been a bit on the stormy side. I wonder what our listeners all over the country think. Are they in agreement that the task assigned us is being handled properly? Are they acquiring such knowledge as will enable them to decide more easily the great question which must in due time be given serious thought? An artist may paint a beautiful picture, but it may not appeal to every one in the same way. The same applies to the picture this Economic Report gives. There is no just reason why one man should become aggrieved simply because the other fellow cannot see in that picture the same thing.
I do not see much in this report to disturb my peace of mind, neither am I going to quarrel over it. There are many listeners all over Newfoundland quite capable of judging the merits or otherwise of this report.... I leave it to them....
Economics is the science that treats of production, and use of wealth, so its meaning has two sides. Faith in the possibilities of production is one thing, getting down to business and producing is another thing. Nature may provide wealth in the land, but she does not dig it out. The four factors are land, labour, capital and organisation, and capital is very important. The report does give an encouraging picture. I hope it works out along these lines in the years which lie ahead....
Fishery. I note the government laboratory motor vessel has found a variety of fish off our coast which might become a source of wealth some day; but it is of little value to know that wealth exists if we don't go after it. I am more familiar with the shore codfishery than any other, and agree with Mr. Reddy that the shore fishery is too short to enable our fishermen to earn a decent living. On some parts of the Burin Peninsula it has, because of shortage of bait, been but a two months fishery for some years. Prospects are better now by reason of the erection of bait depots. One member made reference to failure of the fishery in his area, another brought to notice the high earnings of a banking vessel at Grand Bank. To get a true picture of the average earnings of our fishermen the whole rather than the part is to be considered. The earnings of fishermen are very irregular depending upon quantity secured and price received, and the value of earnings is based on cost of fishery outfit and the general necessities of life.
Revenue is affected by earnings. The fisherman is no eight-hour-a-day-man with a regular income. He too often cannot cut the garment according to the cloth. When he cannot provide from the fishery, too often he finds there is no employment elsewhere, which places him in a fairly tight spot; and this because of lack of industries. The problem is the establishing of more industries. Give our people adequate employment at a living wage and one of our greatest problems is solved.
The report suggests an increased grant for old age pensions. Fishermen who, having spent practically a lifetime at that trade, and for reasons over which they have no control, had been unable to save from their earnings sufficient money to provide even moderate comforts for the evening of life, would greatly appreciate augmentation to that paid at present. The present pension is too low, and the age should be 65 instead of 75 years. I am not satisfied that pensions should be paid from the general revenue. I believe an export tax on all our fish and fishery products to provide the wherewithal to pay fishermen pensions would be the better way....
The Committee does not definitely say that Newfoundland is in every particular self-supporting. If we accept the interpretation that when a government has funds sufficient to meet the cost of public services that country is self-supporting, then I agree that Newfoundland is self- supporting. I take it that was what the Committee meant, and that was what the British government meant by being self-supporting. I prefer to class it as the government being self-supporting. If we had sufficient industries to assure adequate employment at a living wage, then providing for meeting the cost of public services would cease to be a problem. It is a matter of just how we look at it and of interpretations, so we won't quarrel over that...
I feel that the revenue received during the past two years has to a considerable extent been the result of high earnings during the period of war, and the augmentation of the purchasing power of many of our people, particularly business people November 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 707 who ventured to increase their imports when more shipping space was available, and the risk of loss was not so great as during the war. I do not think the increase in revenue has been altogether the outcome of industrial growth. There has been an increase in exports of iron and paper by reason of more shipping available during the past two years, which directly or indirectly, quite likely has in some way been responsible for increase in revenue. Suffice it to know that we had an increase in revenue, though we all may not quite agree as to the power which brought it to us....
Mr. McCormack Mr. Chairman, ... I propose to deal but briefly with this report, as it has been thoroughly covered by previous speakers. I am sure that the members as well as the listening public have satisfied themselves by this time as to its merits or demerits.
Since it has been held up to ridicule, though only by a small minority of speakers, I should like to say that in my opinion Major Cashin and the members of his Committee have done an admirable job. The task of estimating the economic prospects of the country really requires experts with full authority to probe into every department of government, and yet in spite of many drawbacks the Committee has given us a body of solid facts, arrived at by a co-ordination of reports prepared by the various committees, and on the basis of these facts, has estimated our prospects for the immediate future....
We are expected to determine on the basis of the committee reports, and bearing in mind the effect the war had on our economy, whether we are and can reasonably hope to remain self-supporting. We are all aware that no country, no people, is self-sufficient. A country must depend on its productive economy and on its ability to trade on a remunerative basis in order to attain any measure of success in giving its people a reasonably high standard of living. It is superfluous to say that most people in this country are living more comfortably today than they did say in 1930, and with the indisputable facts of this report on our ever-increasing productive enterprises, our improved facilities for trade negotiations, our favourable position by reason of our strategic importance, we must honestly admit that we are definitely self-supporting, and without being unduly optimistic, can look for ward to a continuation of this prosperity. The fact that hard-headed and successful businessmen have invested large sums and are continuing to expand their business ventures is an undeniable proof of their confidence in future progress.
We could not hope for more than this report contains. It proves the country is enjoying the greatest prosperity in its history, and gives evidence that this prosperity is not ephemeral but permanent. It gives a fair estimate of ordinary requirements of government over a period of three years, and of revenue anticipated for the same period, with facts on which to base such estimates. It shows good prospects for our main industries with demand for pulp and paper and minerals reasonably stable. It evaluates our local industries and takes into account the considerable employment at the bases and at Gander. It advises conservation of our surplus, and points out that only very necessary public works should be undertaken at the present time. Referring to the Marshall Plan it wisely observes that our future prosperity, like that of all other countries, is dependent on general world conditions and on the quantity and quality of what we produce and export.
Mr. Fogwill has dealt with the value of agriculture to the economy of this country. I could and would like to go into this more fully, but I will not take more of your time. Suffice to say that agriculture in this country should be given much more consideration and assistance than in the past. I accept this report as being fair and equitable and am satisfied that the country is at the present time, and can remain self-supporting.
Mr. Keough ....In between now and when we first did meet there has been much application of honest effort and sincerity of purpose to the task in hand — and there has been some application of effort to the serving of political purposes. We have been to London and to Ottawa. We have examined with such competence as was ours into the financial and economic changes that have taken place in the island since 1934. And we are come now, at long last, to the drawing of the first of the great conclusions — as to whether or not we are self-supporting; in other words, to the drawing of a conclusion which in the strict letter of the law might well be held to be none of our business. It was as far back as last January that I 708 NATIONAL CONVENTION November 1947 first gave it as my opinion that it was not the assigned task of the Convention to seek a conclusion as to whether or not we are self-supporting. I am still of that opinion.
I grant you that the Letters Patent of 1934 did provide for the administration of Newfoundland until such time as it became self-supporting again. But those Letters Patent were issued under the Great Seal at Westminster. And that locates the headache at Westminster. The burden of proof of self-support — at any rate the decision in the matter — lies with Westminster. And if the British Parliament had decided to foist the responsibility for determination of the question of self-support upon this Convention it would have been written in the Convention Act. No such thing was written into the Convention Act. What we were told to do was examine into the financial and economic changes that have taken place since 1934. The Economic Report before us, undoubtedly not without good reason, has seen fit to go beyond that commitment and bring the matter of whether or not the island is again self- supporting before this assembly. It has gone further and suggests that we are self-supporting.
During the deliberations of the Finance Committee in preparation of the Economic Report, I, together with another member of the Committee, did resign therefrom. By that time it was evident that the other members of the Committee were of one mind upon an approach to the matter in hand with which I was not in accord. Reappointed to the Committee by you, Mr. Chairman, I thought that the Committee would make more rapid progress if I did not attend further meetings. It was just as well that I did not. For to this report in its entirety I would not have been able to subscribe, and my presence at meetings at which it was prepared could only have led to further delays — at a cost to the country of $1,000 a day....
I see it this way. The proper function of the Economic Report, as is self-evident from the terms of reference of the Convention, is to indicate the economic changes that have taken place in the island since 1934, and as is implicit in those terms of reference, to make such forecast for the foreseeable future as the financial and economic data to hand and the competence of the talent applied to its interpretation make possible. There is a line of demarcation between such an enterprise and taking a decision as to whether or not we are self-supporting. The Economic Report has crossed that line. It was not wrong for the report to do so. But in doing so the report put a chip on its shoulder and went hunting trouble — perhaps without as much purpose as may have been supposed. The British Parliament has not asked for a decision on the specific question of self-support. That is a decision that it will make for itself — for it has made that condition for itself. To be fair, it must be said that the report did have some justification for addressing itself to the question, in that it was popularly expected to make a pronouncement. Rightly or wrongly, the people have been led to expect this Convention to pronounce upon the matter of self-support... And I do think that that makes the matter of self-support legitimate for our concern. In that belief I have already discussed the matter in Convention. And in that belief, now that this report has formally brought the matter before this Convention, I intend to discuss it further today. However, I cannot see that any useful purpose is served by the estimate of revenue and expenditure for the next three years. For such an estimate to have any credibility it would have to be predicated upon a more accurate measure of our economy than was possible.
To begin with, there is not in the Convention anyone equipped with the specialised knowledge necessary for making a conclusive evaluation of the present condition and the potential of our economy. And even if there had been elected a composite financial wizard and mathematical genius, it is an open question just how far he could have gone in that direction. For he would have had available to him few reliable statistical indices, no reliable figure of national income, hardly any basis aggregates upon which to predicate a conclusion that would be much more than a good guess. One of the most urgent needs is for an efficient bureau of statistics. If we had had such a bureau to turn to this Convention would have been over in half the time. Even if we had had foresight enough at the beginning to call in a competent statistician-economist, I am convinced that we should have achieved more ac— curate results sooner....
In the absence of conclusive statistical information and special talent skilled in interpretation of the same, I cannot see where any special value November 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 709 attaches to the putting together of probabilities to achieve a budget for tomorrow. Under such circumstances, an estimate of the immediate future in broad terms is the most that should be attempted. To provide for the morrow on paper down almost to the last million dollar — I'm afraid I have to view that as counting the chickens before even the eggs are laid. The way ahead is loaded with imponderables that do not lend themselves to reduction into round figures of probable revenue and expenditure. Under these circumstances any attempt to forecast the shape of things to come in terms of millions of dollars could at its best result in a good guess, a guess susceptible to challenge by any other guess held to be just as good.... All of which is not to suggest, mind you, that the Finance Committee has deliberately prepared anything like a political document. Far from it. I am quite prepared to accept this report as an honest effort to make an objective appraisal of our economic position — and an effort which is, after its own fashion, monumental. But I am not prepared to go along with it all the way. And if I must give reasons, they are these:
1. The spirit in which the report is written is more optimistic than I can find cause to feel. I do not contend that the Committee set out deliberately to achieve an optimistic report, or that they have achieved such a result. But I do not note that the report notes that there is any dark side to the future. And as far as I am concerned there is a dark side to the future.
2. I can see no particular value that attaches to the forecast of revenue and expenditure for the next three years....
3. ....The way I read it, the report says we are self-supporting, and as far as can be foreseen we are going to stay self-supporting. I have to record that I cannot subscribe to that position without qualification.
To my mind the Convention is not competent to do much more than generalise about the present condition of our economy and its potentials.... For the record, then, I should like to make a few generalisations about the economic changes that have come upon us since 1934, and on our chances for the future. This will be my final word upon these matters.
The economy in 1934 was in a state of collapse. The Depression was the immediate cause that induced this condition. And indeed the Depression occasioned more havoc within the economy of Newfoundland than it did within the economies of most countries. But the Depression was able to do that because of other causes making for fundamental weaknesses in the economy. Of such causes the more notable were these:
1. Newfoundland's economy was an export economy. The national income was for the most part derived from the sale of staple commodities abroad. In consequence, our economy was extremely vulnerable and collapsed with the collapse of world trade. Collapse was very nearly complete.... Such a disastrous deterioration in our export trade naturally resulted in wage cuts and lay-offs and in the reduction of fishermen's incomes to sub-subsistence levels. The coincidence of these conditions in their turn precipitated wage reductions and unemployment in local secondary industry.
2. Newfoundland's economy was based upon but few natural resources — for the most part fish, wood and some minerals. Except in the instance of fish the quantity of the natural resources was meager. And in the instance of fish we were geared to the production of a greater quantity than the market at that time could absorb. This lack of diversification was a fundamental fault.
3. Newfoundland's economy was crippled by the great burden of servicing the public debt. Had the public debt been internally contained, the national income would have been at the advantage of what it cost to service it. But the public debt was preponderantly an external debt and this involved the export of a sizeable proportion of the increment from production to service it.... By 1933 the ratio of service cost to revenue had become such as would in any case have led to the eventual wreck of the island's economy even without benefit of a world depression....
4. The Newfoundland people were without adequate reserves to fall back upon. In many countries the Depression did not bear so heavily as it otherwise might have upon many people, because in the past they had been able to make some provision 710 NATIONAL CONVENTION November 1947 against just such an emergency. But the economy of Newfoundland had never been such as to permit more than a handful to put aside a little against a rainy day. At the time the Newfoundland people had some meager reserves. And all during the Depression they hung on to them for dear life. People with a little money in the bank or in the sock went on dole, but would not part with their little accumulated store. I have never been able to bring myself to blame them....
Finally, there must also be taken into account the fact that the national income had long been at the advantage of increment from seasonal employment on the American mainland and from emigrant remittances, and that the former ceased and the latter were curtailed by about 75% in the early 1930s.
Not since 1919-20 had the taxable capacity of our economy been such as would enable us to defray the normal costs of government and service the public debt without borrowing. By 1933 world depression had played such havoc with our economy as to have reduced it to where it could no longer provide many with the opportunity to make a living, and in consequence a quarter of the population came to be on relief. Such then was the fix in which we found ourselves in 1934 — up to our necks in a depressed economy which was unequal to the task of supporting one quarter of the population. In between then and now have come Commission of Government and World War II and a new virility to our economy.
In a speech delivered about two weeks ago — and which appears to have been misunderstood in some respects — I analysed the present condition of our economy and drew the following three conclusions:
1. That no man of fair mind can deny that our finances and economy are in much sounder condition than they were in 1934 — and perhaps in sounder condition than they have ever been.
2. That in consequence, no man may deny the possibility of a precarious condition of self-support.
3. That no man can speak with confidence of the future....
I wish to add a comment or two with reference to this possibility of a precarious self-support. I know that in using that phrase I shall be thought of as playing politics. It does not matter. But for the life of me, I cannot see what other conclusion there is to come to. To admit of more would involve gratuitous assumption. Not to admit to so much would involve downright evasion. And so I say that a fair man must admit to the possibility of a precarious self-support However, if it be a condition of self-support we have come to, we have to hold that the condition is precarious, because even the immediate future offers no surety that the basis upon which our improved condition rests will not be disestablished overnight.... If this be a condition of self-support we have arrived at, it is a meager enough thing. At its best, it is a condition of self-support at the level of what we were used to — perhaps even a little better than what we were used to. But that is not enough. It may well be that, for the most part, the standard of living is higher today than it ever was. But that is not all that is to be taken into consideration. The important consideration is — is it high enough? In the issue that confronts this nation, are we to be satisfied with that which is as good as what we were used to, or are we going to seek for the most that may be had?
If anyone feels that the condition of our economy is sound and satisfactory, then the reason must be that he feels that our economy is adequate to provide us with as good as what we have been used to. That is one way of looking at it. Yet we may well find the average fisherman taking another view. The average fisherman has always had his own cost of living index, which he has historically applied to determine the satisfactory condition or otherwise of our economy. That index has been this — a barrel of flour for a quintal of fish. In times when fishermen have been able to get a barrel of flour for a quintal of fish, they have been able to cope adequately with their family economies, and enjoy some measure of temporary security. In times when our fishermen have been unable to get a barrel of flour for a quintal of fish, they have found the national economy out of focus with their best interests, and have lived with their fingers crossed against adversity. Today it takes two quintals of fish to pay for a barrel of flour — and it is just possible that my last forgotten fisherman on the bill of Cape St. George is not so happy over the condition of our economy as is the Finance Committee. He may not at this moment be wondering about November 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 711 where his next meal is coming from. But he may well be wondering where his next barrel of flour is coming from.
I have to insist upon relating any conclusion as to the sound and satisfactory character of our economy to the minimum that I am prepared to be satisfied with. I have made the point before that we are a western people, a North American people. We have but to look across the Gulf to the North American mainland to observe the standard of civilisation that such a people are entitled to enjoy in this day and generation. If there are any means that we can employ to come by such standard, then we have every right to use those means, provided they are not in conflict with Christian principles and the democratic tradition. For a little while I had almost become uncertain of that. So much emphasis had come to be put upon our duty not to sell that rather amorphous something called "our sacred heritage" for a mess of pottage, that I had almost come to think that a mess of pottage was something intrinsically evil. However, in the meantime I have had the opportunity of talking again with people to whom a mess of pottage has meant the difference almost between life and death at times — and I have consequently been confirmed in my belief that in its rightful place a mess of pottage is something of considerable moment.
In the most recent years we have come upon a new ability to supply ourselves with some of the public and social services of a western people. It is but little enough we have come by — and what we have come by we have come upon the hard way. We have been a long time in this island. Our history is as long as the history of any others who live in this hemisphere. We are as old in the New World as any men of our race. We have worked hard in this island — we and our fathers before us, and their fathers before them. The men who pushed around the capstans to stump the first fields, and their sons after them who laboured so mightily to make those fields produce the little that they have; the men who decade after decade have wrenched from the ice floes their wealth of seals and from the surrounding sea its wealth of fish; the men who have trapped and logged and mined and done all such others things as men have done in this island to make a living; they have all had to work for that living mightily indeed. From the wolf at the door they have received no quarter. Sometimes even to stay alive has required effort monumental in its proportions.
In June past we came to the end of 450 years of history — for the most part years of grim endeavour to make both ends meet, years of just managing to keep body and soul together, years of doing without. And at the end of four and a half centuries we have not very much to show for all our years and all our efforts. Three or four cathedrals, a few hundred churches, a thousand or so schools, a narrow gauge railroad that swirls across the island in a reiteration of fantastic scrolls, a few ribbons of road and an airport at Gander and in the red. Once upon a time we even had a house of parliament and a museum. These latter years, it is true, many more of our people have come to know the benefits of what are called modern conveniences. But as far as a great many are concerned, the intimate institutions of their daily lives still are outdoor latrines, wood stoves, kerosene oil lamps, and carry in your drinking water from the well back of the house.
I have often wondered why it is that after four and a half centuries we have so little to show for all our efforts. It is true we live in a gaunt land that maybe has not had the capacity to produce a higher standard of living than we have known. But I have often wondered if that is not too simple an explanation. There is a saying that they built New England out of hard times and codfish. Well, we too have had the codfish. It will also be conceded that we have had the hard times. There is another saying about the fault being not in our stars but in ourselves. But there again the explanation is too simple. There have been things in our history that have been beyond ourselves to effect, that have contributed.
In any case, it would appear that we have lately come to enjoy a somewhat greater portion than has been our historic portion.... Some of us have come to be a bit better off than ever before. As a people, we have come to be able to supply ourselves with a few of the public amenities and social services of a North American civilisation. I am not prepared to accept as conclusive evidence of a condition of self-support less than reason to believe that we shall be able to maintain such personal and national standards for the normal times of the future. No person of fair mind will seek to deny that there is some hope that we 712 NATIONAL CONVENTION November 1947 can maintain such standards. And reasons can be given for such hope.
Take the matter of the fundamental character of our economy. It is still preponderantly an export economy. The national income is still for the most part derived from the sale of staple commodities abroad. But it so happens that the world today is temporarily more congenial to the well-being of an export economy than it has been for a long time. With the reconstruction of Europe to be accomplished, and a world-wide shortage of consumer goods to be filled, one would imagine that world demand for staple products will not be satisfied in a short time. So for the future there is some consolation in that. There is consolation too in the strengthening of our economy through the diversification that has been achieved in the fishing industry and in a lesser dependence upon that industry; in the reduction of the burden of the public debt; in the increment to the national income derived from services rendered at the military installations; and in the accumulation of not insignificant national reserves. These are the major factors that urge us to look with hope to the future.
But if there is reason to be hopeful there is also room for doubt. And I am not prepared to avoid this just because it may be held to be the proper thing to accent the optimistic view. You see, I belong to the generation that has never voted. We have grown up and come to our maturity without benefit of all the tender ministrations of shibboleth and political poppycock that other generations have enjoyed. In consequence, we are far less likely than were our fathers to give our allegiance to a cause for purely sentimental reasons. The mere injunction that we should have faith in our country is not enough to scare us away from insisting that there is a dark side to the future too.
Two years ago you could hardly get a man in this island to do an odd job. There was full employment. Wartime construction and the withdrawal of men from the economy to enter the fighting services were what led to that condition. It was not a matter of a sudden competency having come upon the economy to find a niche and a living for all. Now the war jobs are over, and those who fought are returned. I doubt that all returned men have found employment — and there are certainly others now without jobs. Our economy has not been able to absorb the twin flow of manpower from the armed services and from the schools. And it is no answer to say that nobody need be without work these days, the unemployed can go to the lumberwoods. It so happens that not all of them can. Not all of them are suited for that sort of work. Technique with a bucksaw does not come naturally. 1n the last analysis there is no such thing as unskilled labour. If you don't believe that, you might try putting your average professor of psychology in a ditch with your average road labourer and see who digs the mostest ditch in the shortest time. In any case, the Christian position is that it is an inherent right of man to be free to earn a living at work of his own choosing and for which he is suited. Am I to understand that we must be satisfied to have self-support mean less than that? For it would seem that we are headed for more of less than that.
The Economic Report is hopeful of a continuing annual revenue for the future of $30 million because this year we shall have a revenue of $40 million. A pious hope, a goodly hope, but nevertheless a figure pulled out of thin air. And it might just as well have been $20 million or $50 million. And if I prefer to contend that the year after next our revenue will amount to $50 million, I'd like to see anyone in this Convention undertake to prove to me that it could not be. It would be a most interesting manoeuvre to observe....
Apropos of that revenue, there are two things worthy of mention. One is that it derives in part from not-so-efficient business management. During the war, goods were in such short supply that business firms began booking orders for this, that and the other thing over half the world. Orders were duplicated and triplicated and never cancelled. This year there has been a flood of goods emanating from these orders that should have been cancelled but were not. The revenue originating from this source may hardly be construed to have arisen from the normal needs of the people. Also there is a great deal of importing to satisfy what may be called an abnormal replacement demand. Many things wore out during the war years, which due to shortages could not be replaced. Indeed, in this island many things wore out during the Depression which people have only lately come to be in a financial position to replace. Much current importing is being done November 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 713 to satisfy such abnormal replacement demand. It so happens then, that significant proportions of the $40 million we shall likely realise this year derive from extraordinary rather than the ordinary needs of the people. Since such is the case, it could be that $30 million would be a more appropriate figure from which to begin to figure....
However, my major concern for the immediate future is rooted in the uncertainty that hangs over the whole world. If everything goes just right with the world everything will go all right with us. If it doesn't, I prefer not to think of the consequences. Two months ago something did not go right — England froze the convertibility of sterling. Overnight we were no longer so certain that we were self-supporting. We needed $7 million to tide us over the crisis and the winter. Such was the meager measure of our much- vaunted self-support. And had it happened that we were not able to dig down in our own pocket for that, a great many of our fishermen would be finding little evidence of self-support in their open receipts.
For the future, of this much only can we be certain — that if everything goes just right in the world we will manage to get along. If the Marshall Plan goes into effect; if the world's exchange problems can be solved; if the Geneva multilateral trade arrangements come to be ratified and extended; if the US won't up the tariff on our fresh fish; if the world price of newsprint stays put; if a hundred and one things go just right, then all will go all right with us — if at home the fishery doesn't fail. For the fishery is still important, and a fishery failure will still mean hungry people. And will the nations of the world take care to conduct their affairs so as to serve our best interests? What is your guess? And don't forget that my guess is as good as yours.
I do regret it if my attitude appears unreasonable, as I know that it must to some. But resolution of the question of self-support at the national level in terms of present and anticipated revenues in excess of expenditures appears to me too simple a solution. I keep seeking a conclusion in terms of the ability of the little fellow to carry on — the little fellow who hasn't got a Cadillac to his name, and who never gets to attend a community concert, but who nevertheless makes up the fibre and sinew of the nation. And I am not so certain that right at this moment this little fellow enjoys as great a measure of security as he did during the normal times of the past. He has, it is true, a higher income. But it is a question if it means as much to him in terms of the necessities of life as his incomes in the normal times of the past have meant. He has an enormously increased cost of living to contend with. And in that respect, please don't remind me that his salt pork comes in duty free. He also has to have a shirt for his back on which he must pay 40% duty — plus profit, plus profit on the duty. And incidentally who wants to eat salt pork all the year round? I grant you that he may have come to enjoy a measure of precarious self-support. But whether or not he can continue to enjoy in the normal times of the future such meager-enough standards of living and social services as he now knows, is not something on which we can pass judgement at this moment. It is something at which we can but guess.
As has already been pointed out by several speakers it is not our business here to take the optimistic view of the future. It is not our business to take the pessimistic view. It is our business to take the realistic view. And the realistic view is this: if all goes just right with the world we will manage to get along. If not — the deluge.
I am not prepared to accept as conclusive evidence of self-support less than satisfactory evidence that we can hope to see the paltry standards of living and public and social services we now know, maintained for the normal times of the future. And there are far too many imponderables in between now and even this time next year, for anybody to give me categoric assurance of any such thing. I am consequently compelled to an attitude of economic agnosticism. I am convinced that the only thing of which we can be certain is that we cannot be certain. So I cannot join in a categoric assurance to the Newfoundland people that we are self-supporting. The possibility of a precarious self-support I am prepared to admit. But I cannot join in such an assurance as sees no shadows on the road ahead. If others can, be it upon their own conscience. It is a matter of conscience since it cannot be shown to be a matter of fact.
I note that the Economic Report quotes for our edification the late President Roosevelt's famous dictum — "We have nothing to fear but fear 714 NATIONAL CONVENTION November 1947 itself." Might I point out that Roosevelt was addressing those words to 130 million people living in one of the richest lands of the earth and with all the mighty forces of a highly industrialised civilization theirs to command. The Economic Report is addressing 320,000 people living in one of the poorest lands of the earth, and with but a $30 million national surplus to pull and haul on if the going gets rough. There just happens to be a slight difference. But now that Roosevelt's name has come up, I remember that he had a formula for the re-establishment of the lives of men at a level of not less than the most that might be had for all men. He wanted all men everywhere to enjoy freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom from the fear of want. And I like to think that he wanted that not only for the butcher and baker and candlestick-maker he knew, but for my last forgotten fisherman on the bill of Cape St. George as well. And if in the decision that confronts this nation there shall be any way of coming by such economic security, and yet retaining the full measure of our political liberty, then we should not turn our backs on that way to a more spacious destiny for purely sentimental reasons.
[The committee rose and reported progress. A number of items on the order paper were deferred]

Motion to Amend National Convention Act to Permit Voting by Proxy

Mr. Higgins I move:
That this Convention request His Excellency the Governor in Commission that Paragraph 2 of the National Convention Act, 1946, be amended, whereby provision may be made that any member or members of the Convention incapacitated by reason of illness from attending sessions of the Convention may have his or their vote recorded in his or their absence provided he or they have signed and executed the proper instrument to give effect to this purpose. Such right to vote by proxy shall be exercised only during the debate on forms of government and the recommendations to the United Kingdom government arising therefrom to be put before the people at a national referendum.
If the motion is carried, and if the Commission of Government accede to the request, it will be necessary to amend article 39 of our own constitution, but that could wait until after amendment is made by the Commission of Government, if the amendment is passed.
Mr. Chairman It is to permit members incapacitated by illness from attending to express by proxy his or their vote or votes on forms of government, when that business comes before the Chair.
Mr. Smallwood I wish to second that motion.
[The motion carried, and 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).



Selection of input documents and completion of metadata: Gordon Lyall.


  • [1] Volume 11:425. [Volume II is not in The Confederation Debates Collection]

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