Newfoundland National Convention, 18 September 1946, Debates on Confederation with Canada


September 18, 1946

[Requests for information were tabled by Mr. Ashbourne, Mr. Vardy, Mr. MacDonald, Mr. Harrington, Mr. Fudge, Mr. Jackman and Mr. Smallwood]
Mr. Chairman I desire to inform you that pursuant to the resolution of the Convention yesterday afternoon, an invitation was extended in writing to the Hon. the Commissioner for Finance to attend before the committee of the whole at 4 o'clock this afternoon in public session. A reply was received this morning and I would ask the Secretary to read it.
 September 18, 1946. Hon. Mr. Justice Fox, Chairman of the National Convention.
Sir, I wish to refer to the letter addressed to me by the secretary of the National Convention, on 17 September, in which he conveys to me an invitation to address a committee of the whole of the members of the National Convention in public session at 4 p.m. today.
As you have already been informed, while I am very willing to meet the convention informally in committee, I regret that I am unable to meet them in in public session.
                           I have the honour to be,                            Sir,                           Your obedient servant,                            I. Wild.                   Commissioner for Finance.
Mr. Chairman What is now your wish, gentlemen?
Mr. Ashbourne It was perfectly clear to my mind when I made the motion to invite the commissioner to address the committee of the whole, that it had been decided by the Commission of Government, and transmitted to us through you, that the commissioners were not prepared to attend before us in public session, but in private session. I move now that the Hon. Commissioner for Finance be invited to attend in private session tomorrow September 19 at 4 pm if convenient, to address us on the general financial condition of Newfoundland.
Mr. Vardy I second that motion. [The motion carried]

Report of the Steering Committee[1]

Mr. Chairman I have great pleasure in informing you that the Steering Committee met this morning at 11 am to undertake the duty you instructed them to perform and I shall now read an interim report for your information. It was hoped, in dividing the work into different headings — fisheries, finance, forestry, mining, agriculture, local industries, education, public health and welfare, and transportation —- to distribute the work over the whole of the Convention. It was thought that the Convention itself would meet, say, once a week until the committees' work is over. Each member will be on one committee. In that way, while the committees are at work doing research, compiling data and generally studying the subjects mentioned, the members cannot meet in session as we are this afternoon; nevertheless, it is to be under September 1946 NATIONAL CONVENTION 27stood that the members of the Convention are perfomiing the duty they took upon themselves when elected. In spreading the work over the whole Convention, it will expedite the programme. I should add here that the Steering Committee is also considering some method of expediting the obtaining of information for the Convention itself, and in particular the question as to whether or not sub-committees on information would be a better way than the way we are following. The questions would go immediately to that committee which would meet every morning and would then consider whether any of the questions are repetitious, and that being decided, would have them sent at once to the appropriate departments concerned, and see that the information comes back with all possible speed; the idea being that basic information is essential and should be obtained with all despatch and in the simplest way possible. Perhaps it would be an improvement....

Motion to Appoint a Statistician-Economist

Mr. Chairman I notice in the order paper that Mr. Smallwood was to move the appointment of a statistician economist, actually it was Mr. Vincent. I now call upon Mr. Vincent.
Mr. Vincent I rise as seconder of the motion that a competent statistician-economist be appointed. The reasons are obvious. From time to time questions will be asked relevant to this Convention. A lot of material will be furnished and the work will be somewhat arduous, and I suggest that an expert, the type of Professor Wheare, be engaged to assimilate and properly conduct an investigation into the figures so that we would be able to expedite the work more properly.
Mr. Cashin In connection with asking that a political economist be brought in to direct us in many matters, I think it is time we stopped people coming telling us what we can do. We have two gentlemen, members of this Convention, one of whom is Mr. Hollett, who has a master's degree from Oxford. Why do we go outside and bring in strangers to show us what we can ourselves do. There are too many brought in taking the places of Newfoundlanders, who are not as competent as our own. Therefore I oppose such a resolution.
Mr. Butt I think Major Cashin misunderstood the resolution. The motion is for a 'statistician' economist, not a 'political' economist. I doubt if there is a competent statistician-economist in this country.
Mr. Cashin I do not mind appointing a statistician-economist, but I do insist that he be a Newfoundlander.
Mr. Job I would like to ask if it is someone in the country or outside? Or if the proposer of the motion had any intention that someone should be imported? One would think that we ought to do this work.
Mr. Smallwood The idea is not that of getting a political economist. We have one in Professor Wheare. The idea is to get a man accustomed to examining and analysing figures, drawing graphs, percentages and doing work for the delegates to help us to see the trends indicated and the meanings of the statistics to be produced. I do not know of one Newfoundlander now in the country — there may be Newfoundlanders outside the country — who is a statistician economist. Major Cashin directed a question of the utmost importance, perhaps the most fundamental that has been tabled to date, the figures showing the gross national production of Newfoundland.... '
Mr. Cashin National income.
Mr. Smallwood A figure no man knows yet; a figure without which government and the Convention are groping about in the dark. It is a vital question. Mr. Chairman, a man such as this motion has in mind, brought to this country can inside of perhaps two months or ten weeks arrive for the first time in the country's history at precisely that result. We have been guessing all our lives about what the country is worth. I spent three months compiling one table that occupied half a page of a book I wrote. I went to every manufacturer in the country and by cajolery got out of him the figures as to the production of his plant for the preceding year. I did it by promising each that I would not let anyone else know. I am not saying this statistician should know the value of manufactures. But manufacturers in what we call our local industries are merely one element going to make up the gross national production of Newfoundland. Mr. Chairman, if such a man were brought here, not only would he be useful to Major Cashin, who must, from the moment the 28 NATIONAL CONVENTION September 1946 answers begin to come in, be a very busy man, but he would be a great help to all of us. Major Cashin could say to him, "Here are a mass of figures, will you get to work on these and work out graphs, percentages, etc?" In addition he can be set loose at the much bigger and more fundamental job of finding out for the first time in 450 years just what is the national income of Newfoundland, and to what extent is the government imposing upon the people a burden they ought not to be called upon to bear. What will the people have left to live on when the taxation is taken from them? Who knows? No one. We know what is taken from them roughly, but we don't know what they are left with. I am thinking of a man who made exactly a study of this kind of thing in New Zealand and Australia, and who is at this moment making it for the city of New York, and I don't think the best is any too good. With no ulterior motives this is purely a matter of getting help. If there is no Newfoundlander or no outsider to be obtained I will have the Devil if he will give us that kind of help
Mr. Hollett After my friend Mr. Smallwood, I hesitate to speak on this matter. We have had experts dealing with the economics and finances of this country over the past 12 years, and probably for many years before, and many of these experts have made up graphs, tabulated figures, and based opinions on the figures and graphs which are there for any man to read. We should all like to know the actual national income of this country. That is a job definitely for a statistician, but one which is going to take a much longer period than the life of this Convention. At least I hope so. If the people of this country desired the importation of an expert or statistician to find out and explain to them the economic and financial condition of this country they probably would have been able to dispense with electing 45 men to get it in their own way. But we shall get the information so that we at least shall be able to interpret it to the people who sent us here. I feel that we have no authority to engage a statistician, and I am not quite sure that the Commission of Government are going to fall for the importation of another expert. Most of us know, generally, the economic condition of this country, and the fact of putting it down in bold figures is not going to help us tremendously, or make up our minds. The various committees you are going to appoint to go into the different aspects of the life of this country will be able to bring forward enough facts and figures to enable us to go into the matter, and I oppose the motion.
Mr. Ballam Mr. Chairman, I agree with Mr. Hollett. Although there may be a necessity of bringing in an expert, I think that is exactly why we were elected — to make a study, in our own way, of the economic position of this country. As our previous speaker mentioned, we have already had too many experts, and I think we are quite capable of doing the job.
Mr. Chairman Is the Convention ready for the question? Proposed by Mr. Smallwood and seconded by Mr. Vincent that the Convention request the government to appoint a competent statistician to better enable us to ascertain the financial and economic status of the country. Those in favour say "Aye". Contrary "Nay". The "Nays" are very heavy.

Report on the Financial and Economic Condition of Newfoundland[1]

Mr. Chairman Major Cashin, the Report on the Economic and Financial Condition of Newfoundland will be now received.
Mr. Cashin Mr. Chairman, in rising to move that this Convention receive the Financial and Economic Report on Newfoundland, presented by the Secretary of State for the Dominions to the British Parliament in June past, I would first ask the indulgence of the Convention for the purpose of making a few introductory remarks.
As my first sentiments, Mr. Chairman, I wish to offer my most sincere congratulations upon the high honour and distinction which has been conferred on you, in your appointment as Chairman of this assembly of elected representatives of the Newfoundland people, the first to meet in this historic chamber since the suspension of responsible government in December, 1933. It is nearly 13 years since the surrender of our democratic form of government, since the control of our national destinies was transferred to the Dominions Office in London.
We delegates have been appointed by the men and women of Newfoundland to meet here to review our past, study our present and, as far as humanly possible, to plan for our future. It is a great task, a great responsibility, but at the same time, let us ever remember, it is also a great privilege. To us has been given the sacred and solemn duty of performing a truly patriotic service — helping to shape the destinies of our country for possibly 100 years. It should then be unnecessary for me to stress the importance of our approaching the task in a proper spirit - prepared to face all the facts, however disagreeable, and to get these facts, no matter how deep we may have to dig. We must not hesitate to stand solidly behind what is just and right, and be equally ready to condemn whatever is wrong, regardless of the source from which that wrong emanates, and no matter whom the wrong-doers may be. Newfoundlanders have always been noted for their courage and love of justice. Let us then show to the country and to the outside world that we, in this time of crisis, are not lacking these same qualities.
As regards this Convention itself, I should like to repeat what I have so often said in the past, that I am not and have never been a supporter of this whole set-up which is absolutely contrary to the pledge made to this country by the British government in December, 1933. Everyone present knows that under the terms of that agreement we were specifically and categorically promised the return of responsible government upon our becoming self-supporting, which state we reached, according to the Dominions Secretary himself, in the year 1941. No one has yet come forward to give us the reason why this pledge was ignored, and why we were offered this Convention as a substitute. We know that in that international pact, there is no mention of conventions or plebiscites and the introduction of these foreign issues is wholly contrary to the spirit and letter of that agreement. How can I, how can any thinking Newfoundlander, honestly and conscientiously give his moral support and endorsement to a thing which is not alone illegal, but even ethically improper? Therefore, Mr. Chairman, if we are to view this Convention in its right perspective, we must accept the fact of its fundamental illegality. And in reference to this point, permit me to give you some extracts from a speech delivered by Prime Minister Attlee in the British House of Commons on December 11, 1945. Replying to questions asked by the late James Maxton, Independent Labour Party, and Sir Alan Herbert, Independent, Mr. Attlee says, "It is important that a series of reconstruction measures which the Commission government already have in hand or are planning to introduce should proceed without interruption and these will be pushed forward as rapidly as possible. The Commission have a full programme to meet very pressing requirements on the island during the next two or three years."
Now, Mr. Chairman, is not this a most extraordinary statement for Mr. Attlee to make. On the one hand, he talks about letting Newfoundland hold a Convention to decide what form of government the people want, and in the next breath coolly telling the world that regardless of what the people of Newfoundland may want, regardless of any political aspirations they may have or what the findings of this Convention may be, he intends to enforce Commission rule on Newfoundland for another three years and during that time to carry out his own special plans with regard to our country. If this is so, what is the sense of our being here at all, going through these legislative gestures? Why not save ourselves and the country all this trouble and expense and wait until Mr. Attlee has completed whatever schemes he has in mind for our country, in the working out of which, apparently, no Newfoundlander shall have part? Does it not simply bear out what I have said time and time again, that this whole convention and plebiscite scheme dressed up in the trappings of democracy is nothing more or less than a glorified stall. I have no doubt that in drawing up his three-year programme Mr. Attlee has been influenced and enthusiastically abetted by the local commissioners, who must have stressed the necessity of retaining their indispensible services. I should like to make it clear I am not speaking with any idea of making political capital, or placing unnecessary obstacles in the pathway of this assembly. I am prepared and eager to assist in anything which has for its object the genuine welfare of our country or our people. But even at the risk of creating a discordant note in this Convention, 1 am not prepared to deny the truth of things as I see them. If I did, I would be false 30 NATIONAL CONVENTION September 1946 to myself, to the country in general and in particular to the people who sent me here to represent their interests.
I say that this Convention should not be kept here dilly-dallying in an atmosphere of questionable motives on the part of the Dominions Office. Nor should delegates be under any misconception as to our actual status. We must realise that we are not in any sense a legislative assembly and that we have no power to make binding decisions. There has been much misguided talk about our far-reaching responsibility, but the fact of the matter is we have no legal responsibility whatever, for the simple reason that the Dominions Office will not permit us to exercise any responsibility. As for the opinions or representations we may present to the Secretary of State for the Dominions, if such do not suit he can and probably will throw them in the waste-paper basket. Our status is simply that of a mock parliament, a discussion group, a study club, and that's where our power and responsibility begins and ends. Under present circumstances the responsibility for Newfoundland's future rests firstly in the hands of the British government, and secondly in the hands of our people themselves, provided they are permitted to vote in a plebiscite authorised by Mr. Attlee. For ourselves, we are simply third parties to the whole transaction. Some people who are as not yet aware of the true nature of this Convention may be surprised to hear me speak of it in what they may regard as a disrespectful manner, but mark my word, and note, that as time goes on, and the true nature of this whole thing emerges from the impressive stage-settings with which it is dressed up, they will fully endorse the semi- merits I have expressed today. They will realise that in their dealings with Newfoundland, Mr. Attlee, the Dominions Office, and the local Commission, have stolen the vocabulary of democracy, but they have deliberately sidetracked its spirit and substance.
In view of these opinions, it may be fairly asked why I am prepared to sit in a Convention which I condemn. I am here not in the role of a subservient delegate to a Commission-inspired assembly, but as a free and independent representative of the people whose interests I represent. Anyone who has heard my radio talks, listened to my pre-election speeches can have no misunderstanding as to my unchanging attitude in this matter. I did not wait until I was elected to condemn this Convention idea. From its first announcement, I have consistently denounced it as being conceived with the deliberate idea of indefinitely prolonging the rule of Commission government in this country. I told the people of my district in St. John's West, that I came before them as a 100% advocate of responsible government; that if they elected me, I would use every effort to see that the Dominions Office and the British government carried out the pledge made to this country in 1933. It is for these things that the people have sent me to this assembly, and I do not intend to fail them. Again, I emphatically condemn the motives which inspired this Convention, and I equally condemn the purposes for which the Dominions Office would use this assembly of Newfoundland representatives. But we have to be realists, we have to make the best of the situation thrust upon us; and, as good sometimes comes out of evil, I at least hope to see in this assembly an opportunity for a long silenced, long subjugated country to recover its voice. I see in it the first opportunity given our people in 14 years to lawfully come together and consider the fate of their common country, and by the personal contacts thereby created to strengthen the bonds of their blood and soil. I see in it an opportunity for giving birth and outlining plans for the freeing of our country from her present state of national dishonour, of laying the cornerstone of a new freedom and making the first advances towards that new and brighter future so long denied and desired by us. And it is with the desire of assisting that I am here today.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, I have been asked to present for your acceptance and consideration a report on the financial and economic position of Newfoundland. In doing so I am not to be regarded as its Sponsor. I am performing this service simply as a part of my duty as delegate to this Convention and because I have been requested to do so, with the hope of expediting the work
This report on Newfoundland has, as usual, neither been compiled nor authored by Newfoundlanders. For the past 12 years, our people have been subjected to consistent propaganda by apologists of the Commission and the Dominions Office, and during that same period the only September 1946 NATIONAL CONVENTION 31 reports they have seen were those issued at the instance of the Dominions Office: the Amulree Report,[1] the Goodwill Mission report,[2] the Gorvin report[3] and the one which we are now asked to receive. It is both significant and deplorable that no official report has been issued from any Newfoundland source and that no Newfoundland mentality has had any part in the preparation of those submitted to us. Is it any wonder that the only side of the case which Newfoundlanders have had placed before them is the case for Commission of Government? Is it not high time that we Newfoundlanders did something about this, and prepared our own report — a Newfoundland report for the benefit of our people? Surely we are just as competent to discuss and analyse the affairs of our own country as some Englishmen thousands of miles away? Must we continue to meekly accept these biased and self-motivated publications of outsiders?
In my estimation the famous Amulree Report is a publication whose sole and single aim was to pave the way and justify in advance an inexcusable act of political sabotage which had already been decided on. The Goodwill report and the Gorvin report were simply the usual valueless impressions of fly-by-night transients, whose authors wrote their reports under the admonishing finger of their masters in Downing Street. The latest of these reports, that of June past, I have before me. It was obviously written for the enlightenment and guidance of the delegates of this Convention, no doubt with the object of influencing their thoughts and decisions. As usual, the authors are graduates of the Dominions Office in London, their names being Messrs. Chadwick and Jones and as usual the report bears the imprimatur of that office.
There is one characteristic all these reports seem to have in common, and that is the complete absence of any criticism of the actions of the British government, the Dominions Office or Commission government. Calumnies there are in galore of Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders —our ignorance, our backwardness, our political corruption. Libels are plentifully interspersed throughout their pages on our religious institutions, our living and our dead. But never one single criticism or one word of censure against those people or bodies at whose instigation they were making these reports. This is perhaps only to be expected and may be regarded as good politics, but it is certainly not honest politics.
For the purpose of further illustrating what I have said about these reports in general, I propose to quote a few extracts from this latest piece of Commission propaganda. The opening lines read as follows: "In 1933 financial difficulties combined with the economic effects of a world-wide depression led the Newfoundland Government to approach the United Kingdom for assistance." These are just the first four lines of this report, but let us see how true a picture they represent. 1 call your attention to the words, "financial dif~ ficulties compelled us to ask for assistance." It fails to explain that the real assistance we asked for was bluntly refused. That a gun was put to our heads, the demand that we first commit political suicide before any assistance would be forthcoming. The report also conveniently fails to state the simple facts: that we would never have been in financial difficulties at all, but for the extraordinary sacrifices made by our, what they term backward people and corrupt politicians, when they voluntarily sacrificed our national credit to the tune of $40 million as our contribution towards the winning of World War I. It would therefore follow that, in 1933, our normal debt would have only been $60 million and this after 78 years of strenuous national existence. Would this indicate our inefficiency in handling our affairs? Does this show incapacity on the part of our public men as the Amulree Report recklessly states? This report does not even hint that, in 1933, the obvious and proper course for Newfoundland to follow under the circumstances was some form of default. In support of this I quote briefly from an authoritative statement made by A.F.W. Plumptre, of the University of Toronto, and published in the Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science.[4] Mr. Plumptre states that on June 15 1933, the British government actually paid $10 32 NATIONAL CONVENTION September 1946 million to the United States instead of $75,950,000 which her bond called for, and this therefore amounted to default on the part of Great Britain herself. Commenting on} the Newfoundland situation Mr. Plumptre says, "It appears on the evidence of the Report (meaning the Amulree Report) that Newfoundland had an incontrovertible case for honourable default — a case which was even stronger in its economic aspect than that of Great Britain a few months earlier." But Newfoundland was not allowed to take advantage of such a course because of the efforts of a combine consisting of the British government, the Canadian bankers and our own prime minister at that time. The report says that Newfoundland was led to ask for assistance from the United Kingdom. I contend the word "led" is not accurate. It should rather read we were mercilessly dragged and driven into the pit prepared for us. And above all in its significance, this report completely ignores the fact that the Alderdice government with whom they were dealing was acting in callous violation of its election pledges; that the whole thing was dripping with treachery and broken faith, and that the British government was fully aware that it was dealing with leaders who had been traitors to their country and who were agents acting without any legal authority. And it is from reports of this kind that they apparently expect us to base the discussions of this Convention.
Let me give you just one more example. The second paragraph of the report begins in this fashion: "The Commission has now been in office for twelve years. During the first half of that period the Island was in financial difficulties." In these few words the report condemns itself. We were supposed to surrender our political freedom on the clear understanding that our financial difficulties would be removed. That was both the word and the spirit of the negotiations between our government and the British government, and what happens. This report coolly admits that after faithfully performing our part of the agreement and sacrificing our national honour we were simply left to bow deeper under worse financial difficulties for six whole years. That instead of keeping their agreement, they led us into a valley of poverty and misery, which condemned 70,000 of our people to the whiplash of dole, and caused us to experience a period of national suffering never equalled in the entire life of our country. These two instances are not simply isolated examples showing the misleading and unreliable nature of these reports, they are representative of their entire content. The examples I have given, show that in our deliberations we must not allow ourselves to be influenced by writings which are neither accurate, impartial nor comprehensive. Nor can we wisely accept the opinions of those whose first duty is to protect the interests and carry out the set policies of their masters in the Dominions Office. No man can serve two masters, and no reports made by the agents of the Dominions Office can be expected to give us the information or the guidance we require to enable us to solve the problems before us. It is my belief that the first duty of this assembly is the removal of that veil of secrecy which has for over 12 years enshrouded the political history of our country - to bring in to the light of day, the things which have so long been hidden in darkness. To give the people of the entire country a full, clear, honest picture of things as they really are.
Mr. Chairman, I shall have some further remarks to make in connection with the subject matter of this report when it is received by the Convention and upon the furnishing of the information which I have requested from the various departments of government. What I have said so far represents the spirit in which I formally move that this report be received.
Mr. Fudge I second that motion.
Mr. Newell Mr. Chairman, some of us junior members of this Convention have hitherto refrained from imparting our accumulated wisdom whilst matters apparently of great moment were being discussed. We have felt, at least I have, that such things as procedure and rules could best be dealt with by older and more experienced hands.
I should like to quote from our terms of reference. "It shall be the duty and function of the Convention to consider and discuss among themselves as elected representatives of the people of Newfoundland the changes that have taken place in the financial and economic situation of the island since 1934." That is a clear enough mandate, and indicates what should be the starting point of our deliberations.
For my part, I am much more concerned about how the people of this country are going to eat during the next 50 years than with how they are September 1946 NATIONAL CONVENTION 33 going to vote; and I believe, furthermore, that that was the thought of the people who sent me here. I have hesitated to mention such a mundane affair as eating hitherto, because our discussions have been of a somewhat exalted nature, concerned with such things as rights and wrongs; but I don't think the question can belong avoided. I hold it true that political independence is based on economic independence. We had a form of political independence in this country for many years. When we lost our economic independence our political independence went too. Should we not learn something from our own history, and make sure that we are not to be faced with a similar situation? The economic independence of our country is in turn dependent on the economic independence of the people who compose it. If a man is not economically independent, what freedom has he? He may vote in a free election for the candidate of his choice every two weeks or every two years; but if he isn't free to eat three times a day, I repeat, what freedom has he? What do I mean by economic independence, you ask? Just this. In a parody of the famous words of Mr. Micawber, annual income $1,000, annual expenditure $900 — result freedom. Annual in come $1,000, annual expenditure $1,100 - result economic servitude. The man in this country who can look his neighbour in the face and tell him what's what is economically free, and if he hasn't got political freedom he'll soon start getting it. People who have money to spend are not afraid to assume their own responsibilities. Let us set our economic house in shape, let us have independent-minded men, and you and I can go home tomorrow. Let us fall short of that attainment and we may wrangle on here till doomsday.
There are those who claim this country is self-supporting, and maybe it is. But I wonder whether they also assert that our economic system is fundamentally sound. When things are going well most of us fail to see the inherent weakness of the very system that is providing the monetary prosperity. Perhaps it is because we are too conservative in our thinking. We are extremely careful how we handle a new idea. Get too many new ideas and someone might call you a radical, or even a socialist, or perhaps something even more wicked and staggering. Better to leave things as they are than risk that. I suppose that is why we are still cranking the old Model T economic system that Cabot left us when he went back to claim his ten pounds. It's archaic. It's an anachronism. It's almost medieval. Certainly our economic setup has all the earmarks of the old feudal system, with its lords and villeins. Perhaps in our case the villains are the lords.
The war, which uprooted so many things, has failed to dislodge it. True, it increased the booty as far as we are concerned, but it did nothing to change the rules. Our economic system has not changed its fundamental character, except in spots, over the past 14 years. It hasn't changed in 400 years. And bearing in mind always the extent to which we are dependent on changing conditions in the outside world, the fact remains that our economic setup is not conducive to individual freedom. And I hope, Mr. Chairman, that in putting it so mildly I have not obscured the fact. If you want something specific to argue about take our credit system, our barter trade, our individual control of credit, with all their attendant evils and inconvenience both to business and the individuals. Sentiment is a grand thing, particularly on holidays and Sundays. But in our workaday world we must be guided by hard practical considerations and for us at the moment that means economic considerations.
I come from a district that is a bit remote from the centre of things, far removed from the political arena. But we are concerned about the future of this country, and desperately anxious to do the right thing. I have received letters from constituents expressing the hope that this Convention would produce the information necessary, and not presently available to them, to enable them to make a wise decision. We want all the facts, economic and otherwise. And we want the widest possible freedom of choice. We would resent any attempt to limit the choice of this freely elected assembly.
To return to the importance of economic considerations, and taking one case in point. Yesterday I gave notice of a question about public health. I am particularly interested in the subject because I work with an outfit[1] that is up to its neck in a fight against such things as TB and beri-beri. Beri-beri, is a by-product of malnutrition, a prevalent disease in certain parts of this country 34 NATIONAL CONVENTION September 1946 (as also in China, I believe), and in many cases it is recurrent. It is a product of a wretched economic environment. We patch up the wrecked body as best we may and send it back to that environment. Is our work particularly constructive, would you say? Wouldn't it be more constructive to go after that economic environment and change it too? Meanwhile, whilst we are treating the patient there is one less producer at work; and the economy of the country suffers thereby — two ways.
Our government is spending considerable money on public health. It needs to spend much more. But where are we going to get it? We need more hospitals, more nursing services, more doctors in public health work. How are they going to be paid for in normal times? I don't know. But before I start shouting for any particular form or forms of government, I want to know. If the Convention can find an answer to questions like that, it will have achieved something of permanent value.
It is an open question how far any government can be held accountable for economic prosperity. Personally, I think the matter goes deeper than a question of constitutions. It goes to the very roots of such organised society as we have. But you cannot have political democracy, as far as I am concerned, without individual economic freedom. Meanwhile, we are here to discuss among ourselves what changes have taken place in the financial and economic situation since 1934. Let us drop the oratory and get on with it.
Mr. Keough Mr. Chairman, we are gathered here at a most solemn moment for Newfoundland. It is a moment every bit as solemn as the first moment of discovery. It is a moment every bit as solemn as that when Newfoundlanders first congregated in responsible government. For this is the time of decision as to whether this land we live in can support a community of civilised men in such fashion as civilised men expect to be supported in this mid-20th century. We must make as accurate an estimate as may be possible of our capacity to be sufficient unto ourselves, and having done so, say whether or not we think we can fuse the economics that we must live by, and such genius for the political as may be ours, into a satisfactory social and political order. It is of utmost importance that we should not err in our estimate of what the national economy will support. For if we err in that. then shall we defeat our whole purpose. It was that thought which has led me to wonder if the holding of this Convention at this time is not a bit premature. I am not at all so certain that this is such a happy moment to have to decide what we must now decide. In some future year the world would have had time to stop vibrating and the post-war pattern of life would have become distinct. We could then better judge to what extent we could be sufficient unto ourselves. Five years from now would be a much better time to determine whether we will still be able to balance our national budget, and what is still more important, whether that last forgotten fisherman out on the bill of Cape St. George, or down on the bill of Cape Norman will still be able to balance his budget five years from now. That for me is the ultimate test. The Commissioner for Finance or the Minister for Finance, whichever it might be, might well go on balancing the national budget from now till doomsday but the same would be no real indication of a satisfactory national economy if there were still those who did not eat. For me what matters is not so much budget surpluses, as that none should have to tighten his belt.
However, that which we must decide must be decided not later than in the days of the forthcoming national referendum. It is going to be most unfortunate for Newfoundland if too many people get delusions of grandeur about what we are ready for in governments, and insist upon our biting off more than we can chew. A year or so ago I would have said that there was great danger of that very thing happening, for quite a number of people seemed to think that we were ready for almost anything in government. In the meantime many have retreated from that position and are now quite content, indeed are now quite insistent, that this Convention should give precedence of consideration to the economic over the constitutional. This is, of course, as it should be. Once this Convention can come to see somewhat clearly the probable shape of economic things to come, once we can determine wherein there has been permanent change in the economic and financial stmcture of this island, then will our task be greatly simplified. However, how to see through the still effective economic distortions of war to permanent change without the benefit of a certain minimum of relevant statistics will not September 1946 NATIONAL CONVENTION 35 be easy. This difficulty was specifically admitted in the Report on the Financial and Economic Condition of Newfoundland prepared for the members of this Convention.
It was most encouraging to see that the Convention did apply itself in the first instance to consideration of the economic. I must confess to some misgivings at the beginning as to whether there would be some young men or some elder statesmen in a constitutional hurry, who would want to get over the economic hurdle in a hurry by ignoring it. I was happy to see matters did not go so. There is much talk today, much questioning of whether or not we are self-supporting. A year of so ago I would have said that there was much surety of that. There seemed to be much surety, too, that the war had brought to us a great prosperity. All that wild talk of the great prosperity the war brought us was, as far as I am concerned, just so much unmitigated rot. It was not prosperity, if by prosperity you mean full and plenty, and some left over that could be put aside. In most cases where there was anything to spare it had to go to take up the slack, to replace and to restore what had rusted and rotted away in the years the locusts ate. All that came of the war jobs and dollars was that a few more Newfoundlanders than ever before came a little closer than ever before to achieving a decent standard of living.
It is encouraging to see today this great concern with the question of self-support; and, that, gentlemen, is a question upon which we must be as absolutely certain, one way or the other, as it is humanly possible to be before we go on to the constitutional issue. On making answer we shall have this in our favour that, I feel sure, no man here present thinks that the mere balancing of the national budget is indicative of a condition of self-support. To my mind, a surer measure of the extent to which we are self-supporting is the individuals' ability to balance his budget and have something to spare. This is the acid test, is every man who makes an honest effort to make a living able to make a decent living, and will he still be able to do so when conditions are no longer abnormal? And if you say to me that is taking an extreme view, I shall have to ask you just what men you are going to require to be satisfied with just how much less? I am quite prepared to admit that we live in a sparse and an austere land. It yields a meagre, grey, ascetic existence, and that but unwillingly. I am prepared to agree that perhaps we cannot expect for our people the largesse and elaborate standards enjoyed by people richer in natural resources and accumulated capital. But there is a certain minimum standard of living consistent with human dignity. There is a little matter of three square meals a day, and a decent suit of clothes on the back, and a roof that doesn't leak over the head We cannot be satisfied in conscience with less than that minimum. And if you say that any Newfoundlander should have to be so satisfied, then again I shall have to ask just what men you are going to require to be satisfied with just how much less. I know you are not going to tell me that we must be so satisfied. And I feel that you will be much concerned that matters shall be so resolved that in this island that latter question will never have to be asked.
It is not for me to seek to forecast what will come of our efforts and after our efforts, but I have high hopes that when our work is finished and the ultimate decision taken, we in this island shall come to know more spacious days than we have ever known, and that to our children after us, and to their children after them, it will be given to walk the ways of a more prosperous land in happiness, peace, and dignity.
Mr. Smallwood At the risk of wearying you, I rise in all sincerity and with more enthusiasm than I would like to show, to offer my congratulations to the last two speakers. They have, for the first time since this Convention opened, expressed the authentic voice of the people of Newfoundland.
Mr. Brown Hear! Hear!
Mr. Smallwood I am sure that the people of Newfoundland today, taken by and large, excepting a certain limited few, are completely uninterested in far-fetched and high-faluting questions of types and forms of government. I think they are tremendously preoccupied with questions of bread and butter. It has been my experience, and the experience of these two younger men; theirs, of course has been such as to bring them constantly and almost continuously into intimate touch with the real people; for the co-operative workers have nothing else to do so far as their work is concerned but to be in constant touch with the people who make the wheels go 36 NATIONAL CONVENTION September 1946 around. That is the voice that is going to be heard in this Convention. They are not alone in that viewpoint, they will be joined by a few here in this Convention. I have no doubt whatever that efforts will be made, honest and sincere, even if mistaken, to keep the discussion on political and constitutional lines, and it is not going to be done. There are bigger things than politics and constitutions to be decided in this Convention, before ever we come around to the type or form of government. I should imagine that for the next three months that will be the matter with which the Convention will be fully occupied, and before we come to a discussion of constitutionality and the rest, I would like to put myself on record on a matter with which Major Cashin has dealt at least briefly here this afternoon. Major Cashin has said that he condemns the motives that inspired the creation of this Convention I want to say, Mr. Chairman, that in my view the whole idea, the whole conception of the recent National Convention election, of this Convention, of the national referendum to follow, constitute in the aggregate the most thorough democratic procedure in the entire political history of Newfoundland. I see in it nothing sinister. I see in it no attempt whatever to railroad this people or this Convention. I see nothing suspicious in his presence and appointment of Professor Wheare, though I heard it suggested on the air, that he, or the person appointed in his place, was to be a Dominions Office dictator to come to Newfoundland and dominate the Convention so that the delegates elected would be merely puppets in his hand. I see no evidence of it, and I do not believe for a moment that was the intention. Let us look at it for a moment. There are five documents relative to the whole political situation - the Amulree Report, the British government white paper, the joint address of the legislature of Newfoundland, the act of Parliament, and the letters patent. If I am not mistaken, there is a phrase in identical language in all five documents to the effect that responsible government would be restored to Newfoundland when Newfoundland became self-supporting again, and upon request of the people. It is therefore very clear that a contract was indeed set up between the Parliament of Britain and the people of Newfoundland, and the contract laid it down that when two conditions were met responsible government would be restored to this country: the first, that Newfoundland should be self-supporting again, the second that the Newfoundland people should request it.
At most, and then taking merely a very superficial view, we can say today that Newfoundland is self-supporting and that the first of the two conditions has been met. The Newfoundland people have never requested the return of responsible government to this moment. It is true that here and there an association, a businessmen's organisation, a public meeting, a group isolated, scattered, constituting in the aggregate only a tiny fraction of the Newfoundland people, have passed resolutions that they would like responsible government restored. But the people have not requested the return of responsible government. Up to this moment where has the Dominions Office, the Parliament of Great Britain, or the government of Great Britain violated a contract established? Have they been asked that they do it? They have not. If, tomorrow morning or afternoon, any member of this Convention stood in his place and moved that we recommend to the government of the United Kingdom, or to the Secretary of State for the Dominions, the restoration of responsible government, and the motion is seconded and voted on and carried ... we have not an iota of evidence to lead us to assume that that request would be refused. Despite accusations of malignancy, despite suggestions of nefarious purpose, we have not the slightest evidence that a request of this Convention to the government of the United Kingdom for the restoration of respon~ sible government would be refused by them in the sense that they would refuse to submit it to the people of Newfoundland. Remember we are not the people of Newfoundland, and even our unanimous asking for the restoration of responsible government does not make it the request of the Newfoundland people. Mr. Chairman, that right of the people to request the restoration of responsible government has not been removed, it is still here in the national referendum, the particular machinery which has been set up through which the people can express any wish.... Now, Mr. Chairman, if the right of the Newfoundland people to request a return of responsible government stands and is still here, where is the lack of democracy in the whole situation? Not only do September 1946 NATIONAL CONVENTION 37 we retain as a people the right to request responsible government, we have gone further, our right to request anything has been specifically recognised. In other words today this Convention can recommend through the British government to the Newfoundland people anything it likes.... Now where is there anything undemocratic? I am rather intimately familiar with government in Newfoundland from the year 1919 to the last day we had it, by reading and by studying, familiar with every govemment and every type of government since the first in its history.... I resent this as a Newfoundlander, I resent the suggestion that this Convention is rigged, that it is a bluff and a camouflage, which involves all of us in the possibility of being a pack of fools. It is an insult to the intelligence of every Newfoundland man and woman who cast a vote on June 21, an insult to every man who stood as a candidate....
Mr. Hillier Mr. Chairman, I have not spoken since the opening of the Convention, but I would not be satisfied were I to leave this room this evening without endorsing the remarks of my friends from White Bay and St. George's. They voice completely my sentiments and the sentiments of the district from which I come, and I feel they are voicing the feelings of the Newfoundland people. The great thing that worries many of our people is not so much the form of government we set up, it is the fact of being able to maintain their families and give them decent meals and clothing. We are very largely fishermen. I know all about the life and business and profits of fishermen. I have lived in many places in this country and have seen the hardships they undergo I lived through the dole period, and I hope we shall never again return to that state. I don't think there is anybody who knows better than I do the fight they have from day to day to maintain their families.... They said to me before going out, "Play your part to the best of your ability and in the best interests of the whole of Newfoundland." I am not partial, my interest extends very far beyond my own district, to Newfoundland as a whole. As my friends remarked, the economic standard of the individual is very important; how can the country be economically sound if the individual is the other way about?
Mr. Burry Mr. Chairman, I stand this afternoon very shaky, being one of the junior members of this Convention, but I wish to express myself in a few words. I come from the most northerly district of this Convention, one that has gone through years of great strain and stress. Labradorians as a people are hard-working in the great majority of cases, and they deserve a good living, a living they have not had. They have sent me in to see that they get a government that gives them a decent living. They are not concerned with constitutional government, but with a government that will give them a decent living for the labour they put into their work I want to put myself on record that I am very heartily in favour of the last three or four men who spoke so forcibly. I must congratulate them on their very fine orations, and hope that out of this Convention will come some kind of government that will give our people in Newfoundland and Labrador a decent living.
Mr. Brown Mr. Chairman, I have listened to so much oratory here this afternoon that I don't know if it is wise to speak at this time or not.... I have no prepared speech, Mr. Chairman, but I have listened quite attentively to all that has been said. I have for many years in this house listened to oratory, as you have yourself, sir, both as member and Speaker. Some of that oratory was wise words, some was dam foolishness. I have heard more about government and Commission of Government in the city of St. John's than I have heard in the north of the country for two years. I wish it distinctly understood that as one who voted out responsible government (and I am the only one in this house, and I am not ashamed of it) I have yet to find the man who could tell me what better thing could have been done at that time when the country was on its uppers. What happened in 1930? One afternoon I had in my possession $35,000 to the credit of my district. The next morning there was not a cent. No member of any district handled his own money in cash. What he did was make out a requisition and send it to the government departments and had them send outenough money to build a wharf, or a road or something. There was a reason for that. In 1932 when we came back as a legislative body we found the country could not get along. Our income could not meet our expenditures, and it boiled down to the question of giving up responsible government and letting Commission of Government come in, or letting 70,000 people, men, women and children in this country starve 38 NATIONAL CONVENTION September 1946 throughout that winter. As one who represented labour for many years I would never be one who would cast my vote to let 70,000 starve. I agree with my honourable friends Mr. Newell and Mr. Keough, but I am interested today, as a representative of the people, in the question of how we are going to get three meals a day for ourselves and our families. We must not forget that while the Commission of Government have made mistakes they have done some good things as well. I wish it to be distinctly understood that I don't like Commission of Government, although I helped bring it in. I would rather see responsible government or some other form of government if this country could afford it. I came to this Convention with an open mind and no preconceived ideas. I told my supporters that it was useless to ask me what form of government I wanted. I said, "I don't know, I must first go there, and after every form of government is examined then, and only then, will I be in a position to cast my vote for what form of government I think is best for the people of this country." And the form of government that is best for the people of this country is best for me and what I represent.
Now, some may be running away with the idea that all this country is down on Commission of Government. That is not correct. I think that if there was a vote taken among the fishermen, you would find 85% of them for it. This is the only form of government that ever did anything for the fishermen... I just bring back to your memories two or three years ago, when the government first announced the prices of codfish in the foreign markets. That was done, I think, as much through my influence and advice as through anybody's. I was after Mr. Dunn for two years to do that and, by the way, I feel that Mr. Dunn was the finest commissioner that has come here in the Natural Resources department — and the fishermen knew for the first time in the history of the Newfoundland fishery that year and since, before they put a cod trap, or a trawl, or net or line in the water, what they were going to get for a quintal of fish when it was taken out and dried. Take labour. The government created conciliation boards first. They created an arbitration board and gave labour a show, and I may say that I think that in eight out of ten cases that came before that board, labour got the benefit. Ask any of the clerks on Water Street. Labour today can thank the Commission of Government for that. Take public health, cottage hospitals, and other things carried through by the Commission of Government. We must, if we are going to condemn any form of government, give credit where credit is due. The Commission of Government has, in my opinion, done as much and more for the industry of the country than any government which has existed. As far as the government of today is concerned and the future government, sir, I have an open mind. After this Convention has got through its work and settled down to make some recommendations to the Dominions Office as to what forms of government are best for this country, then I will cast my vote according to the dictates of my conscience.
When the discussion was on in connection with Mr. Wild coming to address the Convention, and the discussion lasted some time as to whether he would address the Convention as a committee of the whole with no outsiders, or in public with strangers in the gallery, I said I thought it was better not to cross our bridges until we came to them. I said that if Mr. Wild refused to give us information in public, then that was all we could do about it. Never kick a man until you have reason. One of the daily papers reported I said that if he refused to give us the information, it was time to jump on him. That gave a wrong impression. I do not think any members, myself included, are ready to jump on anybody's back. Every man should get a decent hearing, and never condemn a man until you have reason to condemn. If Mr. Wild or any of the commissioners cross me I would not be afraid to tell them what I thought of them. The paper's statement was misleading and I ask that it be corrected.
[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.

Notes de bas de page:

  • 1 Volume II:445. [Volume II is not in The Confederation Debates Collection]
  • [1] Report on the Financial and Economic Position of Newfoundland (Cmd. 6849, 1946). This report, prepared by G.W. St.J. Chadwick and E. Jones was popularly known as the "Chadwick-Jones Report." Volume II:16.
  • [1] Newfoundland Royal Commission 1933 Report (Cmd. 4480, 1933).
  • [2] The so-called "goodwill mission" visited Newfoundland in 1943.
  • [3] J.H. Gorvin, Report on Land Settlements in Newfoundland (St. John's, 1938); and Papers Relating to a Long Range Reconstruction Policy in Newfoundland (St. John's, 1938).
  • [4] A.F.W. Plumptre "Newfoundland, Economic and Political. I. The Amulree Report (1933): A Review," in The Canadian Journal of Economic and Political Science, Vol III No. 1 (1937), pp. 58-71.
  • [1] The International Grenfell Association.

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