Newfoundland National Convention, 21 May 1947, Debates on Confederation with Canada


May 21, 1947

Mr. Penney I give notice that I will on tomorrow move the following resolution:
That this National Convention appoint a delegation of some six members, or less, forthwith, to proceed to Washington, if and when arrangements can be made, for general trade discussions and other relevant matters affecting the future economy of Newfoundland with the Government of the United States of America.
Mr. Higgins I hereby give notice that I will on tommorrow move that the Report of the Committee on Education be further considered.

Report of the London Delegation:[1] Committee of the Whole

Mr. Miller Late in yesterday's session I asked whether or not any discussion took place in London as to possible future relations between the United States of America and Newfoundland. I did not receive a satisfactory answer; in fact, I received no answer. So now I ask again:
1. Was the matter discussed? 2. If so, why was it not included in the report of the London delegation? 3. Is the delegation, having not reported on the matter, at liberty to answer from this floor? 4. If there is a "hush-hush" policy on this question, who, in the opinion of the delega tion, are the parties behind it?
I have one further remark to make, I think it very unfair for Lord Addison to pledge our delegation to secrecy on matters that concern us. I think that British diplomacy was gone pretty low when that happened.
Mr. Chairman As chairman of the delegation I have to say, as far as my recollection goes, there was no discussion as to possible future relations between United States and Newfoundland. It did come up in connection with the bases; beyond that I have no recollection as to discussions of 556 NATIONAL CONVENTION May 1947 trade, except as to the possibility of securing concessions in consideration of these bases. The matter was not discussed. That being so, there is no answer to your second question.
Mr. Hollett What was the first question?
Mr. Chairman Was the matter discussed? It was not included in the report, first, because it was not discussed, and secondly the report of the London delegation consists of the memorandum of the British government and of the delegation. I am unable to tell you why it was not included.
Mr. Miller I think it follows that the answer to the first question answers the others. The matter was not discussed in London by the delegation. What I mean by future relations of United States of America with Newfoundland is political and fiscal and other relations.
Mr. Chairman There was no discussion except on the question of the bases.
Mr. Crosbie I do not think that is quite correct. I think in connection with the base deals Lord Addison said there was a conference going on at Geneva, and that the question of trade could be discussed. I understood we had representatives there.
Mr. Chairman We have representatives to discuss general world trade relations.
Mr. Crosbie I think he said it was a question for us to decide.
Mr. Cashin In connection with that matter, you will remember the base deal came up at the first meeting; we asked if any effort was made to get tariff concessions in return for the bases. They did not say "no" or "yes". With regard to their taking the matter up further, they told us plainly that if we had our own government we would be able to take up the whole matter.
Mr. Hickman I do not wish to delay the debate... From the report of the delegation and from references made by the delegates themselves, it is quite clear where we stand now. My thoughts over the last few months, and what knowledge we have gained here, have been clarified by the report from London. It is obvious there is only one solution for us. We have to get out and fight for ourselves and stand on our own. We do not want anything from anyone; we do not want charity; we are sounder financially; our credit rating is higher than it has been for some considerable time.
The delegation report refers to the question which Mr. Miller just raised, further discussions on the bases agreement. We have been told that that is a job for our own government. I think the sooner we can get on our own feet so that we can take up the question of the base deals with the Americans the better. Those interest-free loans should be applied to the reduction of our debt and so cut down on debt services. That is important, particularly in view of the lower rate of interest we will receive next January. presumably.... We have the ability and the brains and the people.... Our future lies in ourselves, and we should get out and fight for ouselves and talk later about what we want to do.
Mr. Newell ....We know what the result of the trip to London is. We know it in clear and unmistakable terms. We have all said it is what we expected. Perhaps there was not much else we could have expected. Responsible government means we accept responsibilty for our own affairs. Commission of Government means that the British government accepts responsibility for our affairs. We knew that. But it was not a waste of time to send a delegation to London. A good many points were cleared up — points which would have been indefinite if any other method had been used to seek the information. I have just said Commission of Government means that the British government accepts responsbility for our finances. Having said that, there is a bit of a catch. Whereas the British government accepts responsibility for any deficits, it retains the power to see to it that we do not incur any deficits. In other words, the aid we receive from the British government may mean something or it may mean nothing. And if we are to rely on the impressions brought back by the delegation to London, we are inclined to believe it will mean nothing, or very little. It is good for us to be clear on that....
Throughout our deliberations, we have allowed our own personal politics to obtrude too much into the discussion, and history will remember us perhaps just as much for what we said on these occasions, as for what we did. I regret it has been found necessary in discussing the report, to have anything to say about forms of government, and that questions of politics should be dragged in again, Were it not for the fact that there has been so much political colouring to our discussions, they might have been over before this.... Since, however, the question of forms of May 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 557 government was raised, I would like to make this one brief statement. When we have reviewed the report that has come back from London; when we see where we stand as far as the British government and Newfoundland are concerned; and when we receive the report of the delegation that is to proceed to Ottawa — when we get all these reports, together with the facts we have gleaned about our own country and its finances and prospects, and the people of this country should make the decision to stand alone, though that decision should involve a certain amount of poverty — in other words they are prepared to be poor but proud — I want to say that they will earn my undying respect, and that I will do whatever I can. But there are two observations I want to make. One is, I have never been prepared to compromise that such a decision must be made by the whole people of Newfoundland, including the people to whom the future may be hardest, because it has always been our fate that when the boot has been too small it has always pinched hardest on the smallest toes. I think the people most directly concerned in any sacrifice should be heard from before that sacrifice is imposed upon them. If they take it willingly, more power and more credit to them. Secondly, ... regardless how much you or I may come here and talk of what we will do in the future, there has never been in this country any equality of sacrifice on the part of all people. If there had been, perhaps we should never be in the position we are today. When we are prepared to stand together and take that equality of sacrifice, perhaps we shall have the right to tell other people they are not what they should be. Let us not scorn any man for looking to the security of his future, when our own future is as secure as we want it to be.
Mr. Vincent Mr. Chairman, the London delegation, back from the heart of empire, brought to members of this assembly a memorandum, endorsed by only five of the seven delegates comprising that delegation....
I was much impressed to hear one of the delegates say, in effect, yesterday, "The Dominions Office told us, if you want to negotiate and discuss the matters listed in this memorandum, or this seven point program to which I referred a few minutes ago, go get yourselves a government." Strangely enough, however, the London visit seemed to give added support to the strange opinions that some of the members already held, for one of the members of the delegation yesterday implied in his talk that all was long ago decided, meaning, of course, Newfoundland's future form of government. Other implications were that we were being sold up the river, and that dark and sinister influences were at work, and some cold, grey, forbidding morning the 300,000 of us little people would wake up in a sunless world to find that we had been pawned off to some other nation. Somebody talked in platitudes to say what we need is faith in Newfoundland, but I say what we really need is faith in ourselves, faith to believe that the fishermen down in Lumsden, the good housewife in Gambo, the enterprising farmer in Eastport, all have enough ordinary common sense, enough average intelligence, to prevent anybody, even Mr. Smallwood, from selling us anywhere, and that they don't need the 44 men of this Convention to do their thinking for them.
I do not care if Mr. Fudge, proud, patriotic and loyal though he be, uses as his slogan "Thou too sail on, O ship of state, Sail on O country strong and great", or if Mr. Smallwood, fired and enthused with his federal union idea, walls his appeal to Canada to throw out the lifeline — no, I am not in the least concerned. I have one vote, and I do not have a price, and like myself there are many thousands of my fellow countrymen who, in the hour of decision, will be guided not by catch cries or slogans, not by impassioned speeches, not exactly by what this Convention thinks collectively or individually, but by what they find to be in the best interest of the Newfoundland we love. Why then should this Convention become obsessed with its own importance, worried by fears of its own imagining, so much so as to darkly contemplate outside influences, and internal traitors banding together to work our economic, financial and political collapse? Gentlemen, the main conclusion I draw from this debate is that the mother country gives us a guarantee that is at best provisional upon her ability to stand behind the guarantee. Should we then, on this very uncertain assumption, retain in power a government whose policies we all claim are not in the best interest of this island? Perhaps the main objective of the London delegation was to find out under what terms, if any, the British government would be prepared to continue the 558 NATIONAL CONVENTION May 1947 present administration. No logical person, view ing the economic and financial position in which the mother country presently finds herself, expected any handouts or favours. We are told that certain members of the delegation were highly dissatisfied....
It's time our people made an entirely new approach to their appraisal of Commission of Government: a new approach in this way, that each and every voter ask himself or herself this question — what assurance have I from the statements of Lord Addison that the British government will guarantee our economic stability should we fall upon mean times five or ten years from now? Or to put it plainer, what guarantee is there contained in this report that England will be in a position to help us with anything at any time? Now quite plainly the answer isjust this: there is, there can be no such hard and fast guarantee.
I have no illusions as to what a large percentage of our people think of Commission government, but there are many whose apathy merely causes them to shrug their shoulders and say, "This is the best government we ever had. This government brought us prosperity, higher wages, and a better price for our fishery products". It's just as much a truth to say, "Adolf Hitler was the greatest man that ever lived. He was great because he created a world crisis that brought us unheard of wealth and prosperity." The London delegation brings us just this, my friends: "Any guarantee of financial and economic aid is definitely out of the question, and we, the Dominions Office, can actually guarantee Newfoundland nothing at all." I would emphasise this now, lest ten years hence Newfoundlanders, having made their decision, may once again have desperate reminders of their choice in the form of six cents per day guaranteed dole.
In concluding, I cannot altogether agree with the sentiments expressed so dramatically by my good friend Major Cashin.... Now I am more concerned with the welfare of my fellow- countrymen of 1947, than I am with the hopes and loves of my great ancestors who, perhaps more patriotic than practical, waved a flag when they might have been better employed. Whether we like it or not, from the dust of old beliefs, old customs, old loves; from the ashes of old traditions, political and otherwise, a new order is arising. Tradition, heritage are fast disappearing, and with such disappearance is coupled a dissolution and decay of old values. We in Newfoundland are not unaffected by this historic dislocation. Only recently a motion was introduced suggesting an approach to a foreign power. A few shouted "upstart", "renegade", "secessionist", a few talked of kicking down any consideration ofsuch a motion, but this will not, this cannot do away with the conflicting and convulsive sentiment that is slowly, in the minds of young Newfoundlanders, tearing down the dams of the past, and bringing a new thought and perhaps a new vision for our people.
Mr. Chairman, I am well content to let the matter of choice of government rest in the hands of my fellow countrymen. I care not if the majority view of things differs from mine, but 1 am concerned that they be not misled in their interpretations of the reports of this Convention. To this end I submit that l cannot find in the report of the London delegation sufficient guarantee for our future well-being as a people, should we ever need help, to justify my support of the retention of the present form of government.
Mr. Harrington Mr. Chairman, ... the delegation has not accomplished as much as similar missions in the past. Reference to one such occasion in me past was made here yesterday by Mr. Butt, when be quoted the famous Labouchere despatch of 1857, which has been referred to as Newfoundland's Magna Carta, inasmuch as it laid down the democratic principle "that the consent of the community of Newfoundland is regarded by Her Majesty's Government as the essential preliminary to any modification of their territorial or maritime rights". What a shame that our Newfoundland Commissioners of the 19405 did not recall the Labouchere despatch before they collaborated in "modifying" — or "impairing" as this report says — the territorial rights of Newfoundlanders for 99 years. Sir Hugh Hoyles and P.F. Little were the members of the delegation who were associated with this famous despatch; that achievement was one of many that illumine the pages of the history of responsible government from 1855 down to almost its very end. Another instance occurred in 1886 when the House of Assembly passed the Bait Act which was to sound the death-knell of French influence in this country. When the British government refused to ratify it, May 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 559 the House of Assembly passed the second Bait Act in 1887 and sent over Sir Robert Thorbum and Sir Ambrose Shea to London on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. The result of this delegation and its conference was the ratification of the Bait Act by the British government, and the weakening of French influence, leading to their final withdrawal in 1904 after two and a half centuries. And as recently as 1927, a Newfoundland delegation to London, headed by Prime Minister Walter Monroe, presented a case prepared in Newfoundland that won for Newfoundland 110,000 square miles of Labrador, the greatest asset this country has, and which, come what may, we mean to hold. These are a few outstanding examples of what other Newfoundland delegations to London accomplished. Their accomplishments are no reflection on the calibre of the members of the delegation from this Convention. But it is certainly pertinent to point out to the country the great difference between these delegations of earlier days and that delegation of recent date. From 1857 to 1927, every delegation that went from this house to London went with authority — the authority that is vested in members of a responsible government, elected by the people to represent, talk and act for them in matters of the gravest and most far-reaching concern. That is a fact we should not lose sight of — it is the most significant fact of the London delegation's visit. It sticks out like a sore thumb.
Won't we recognise it? Can't we get it into our heads as a people that the thing that makes all the difference is authority? I repeat it — the authority that goes with being a government of the people. True, the delegates to the National Convention were elected by the people. True, the delegates to London — not counting the Chairman — were elected by the Convention, but we have no authority, they have no authority, to deal, bargain or otherwise engage in the legitimate functions of a government. Not so long ago we were told indirectly by members of the Bar and the Bench that we were what Mr. Bailey referred to as a "glorified debating society" — and our delegation went to London to hear substantially the same statement fall in curt tones from the lips of Lord Addison.
I am not surprised that Lord Addison said what he did. We know we have no such authority. In fact, some of us here have been trying to impress that fact on others. Our principal objection to sending a delegation to Ottawa for terms on which the people of this country might be asked to vote themselves into confederation — into a set-up from which there would be no backing out — was that having no such authority to bargain or negotiate we would be false to our trust by helping to lead our countrymen down a blind alley. We knew that we had no authority. The delegation knew it. My blessing to them just the same, that as real Newfoundlanders they made the most of their opportunity, when face to face with the real government of Newfoundland, the Dominions Office, to go further than in strict legality they may have been entitled to go under our much-quoted and widely-misunderstood terms of reference. At least five of them believed they were doing the right thing for their country, and were not to be hidebound by rules and regulations. I would have done the same had I been there. I have read their memorandum to the Secretary of State; and I see nothing in it that could be objected to by any Newfoundlander. To my mind the split in the ranks of the delegation is the most disappointing feature of the visit to London.
And yet even without the authority of a government, and despite disagreement in their ranks, the delegation was successful in other matters besides obtaining bald answers to bald questions. It is obvious that they have been able to speed up certain acts of the Commission of Government, which it is alleged the Commission was already contemplating, and which, no doubt when accomplished, the said Commission will take the credit for, such as in all likelihood the reduction of the public debt by the application of the interest-free loans.
The delegation was quite justified in arguing the case they did argue, even though they may not have had the authority. As Mr. Crosbie said, they asked for nothing that was not fair and reasonable. No one in this Convention was looking for gifts or handouts.... As far as I'm concerned, we've had enough of that kind of talk and attitude of mind in this country — too much.
So in actual fact the delegation has accomplished more than I expected. This Convention had a job to do to assess the financial and economic position of Newfoundland. The Convention found that it was necessary to consult 560 NATIONAL CONVENTION May 1947 with the real government of Newfoundland — the Dominions Office — to get answers to questions which their agents in St. John's could not give. This has now been done. We have received answers couched in the very best language of British diplomacy. They are very diplomatic answers in that they say a lot and say very little, and endeavour at the same time to put us very firmly in our place. But in this diplomatic language certain sentences have been written down — intentionally or otherwise — that no amount of twisting or interpretation can alter. I refer you to page 5 of my Lord Addison's memorandum, second paragraph, on the base deals: "There is no reason to think that the United States Government would be prepared to agree to any substantial variation of the basis on which the Agreement was entered into, or to give any quid pro quo for rights which were given to them 'freely and without consideration'. If, however, Newfoundland should return to Responsible Government it would be open to her to raise the question of some modification of the Agreement and in that event negotations would no doubt be carried out with the assistance of the United Kingdom Government ...." There is the answer to the many people in this country who wish for a closer association with the United States. It bears out too what I said during the last debate on the motion to send a delegation to Ottawa, that no agreements or arrangements of any kind can be expected to be made with the United States by Newfoundland until this country is once again a free agent, able to act through its own responsible government — that we will never be able to do so through either the Dorninions Office or the Department of External Affairs in Ottawa. Again I refer you to page 7, to the answer to the question on the "Financing and Control of Newfoundland Airports". After stating that Newfoundland is to be responsible for one-third of the operating deficit of Gander, the Secretary of State says: "In the event of a return to Responsible Government, the Newfoundland authorities will decide their policy with respect to the operation of the airport and they might if deemed desirable submit a request to the international organization for financial assistance...."
These are clear and plain statements. They should open our eyes — those of us who still need to have them opened — to the true realisation of what is at stake. The United States bases and the great airports in our country are our bargaining power with great nations — they are a tremendous advantage that this country has never had in the past, brought about by the march of progress and the sad accident of war. They can well be the key that will unlock the door to the future well- being of all our people. If their control passes from our hands irrevocably, then we are finished. I say that word "finished" in all seriousness. If we take back our country and its assets into our own hands, our position will be one to be envied by every country. At the moment, this control is temporarily out of our hands — it is in the hands of trustees who are not going to move very far, if at all, in utilising that bargaining power to Newfoundland's advantage.
The Secretary of State has raised the signpost, wittingly or unwittingly, for Newfoundlanders to read that they may follow the right road. He did not say that if Newfoundland retains the Commission form of government, she could do anything about these matters. He said that if Newfoundland returns to responsible government — meaning dominion status — she will be, and her people will be, in a position to use these bargaining powers to her own advantage and the advantage of her people, our people — us. It is as plain as Cabot Tower on a fine day.
To me that is the most significant fact that has come out of the visit of the London delegation, the real find of this game of power politics, this game of blindman's buff in which we and our country are involved. They have told us to get on our own and do our own fighting, for they are in no position to fight for us. They are too dependent on the United States and Canada to bargain for us about matters in which these countries are so vitally interested.
....In closing I want to tell a story, and it's no fable; it happened this very morning. There came in to see me an old fisherman, 80 years old, and as bright and keen as anybody here. He follows the Convention with greatest of interest. He told me that he knew nothing about the country, nothing about what has happened in the past 15 years until the Convention started, and he gave due credit to us all, irrespective of what form of government we espouse. But he said, "I've seen a lot of governments, and I firmly believe that our own govenment, responsible government, is the May 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 561 best thing for Newfoundland. All we want is the right men, and there are lots of them in the Convention, who are a credit to their race." That's what this old fisherman said, this old man who still wants to go on fishing. Let this be a lesson for us Let us take fate by the throat and go forward.
Mr. McCormack When this Convention was convened I understood that its purpose was the collection and digestion of facts with a view to determining whether this country was self-supporting, and for how long a period it could reasonably hope to remain so. I felt satisfied that all delegates, as well as all Newfoundlanders, would want nothing less than responsible government, if after investigation and deliberation we came to the conclusion that we were self-supporting. Since that time many extraneous matters have been introduced which tended to befog our original purpose. I realised that we had men amongst us who were not only more familiar than I with Newfoundland affairs, but also more experienced in public debate. I felt that our real job was the collection and analysis of facts, and not a political platform or an opportunity to display our oratorical qualifications. For this reason, Mr. Chairman, I observed the maxim that speech is silver but silence is golden, and I cannot but think that the radio audience often wished that some delegates did likewise. I remained silent, even when one of our most loquacious delegates practically insulted all delegates like myself who were not in love with our own melodious voices when, commenting on some letters in the public press and seeking to justify his long-winded and repetitious speeches, he conveyed the impression that any delegate with brains must necessarily speak to the different reports, and associated himself with half a dozen others as being the brains of the outfit. I don't know if the others felt flattered.... I do not make any apologies for these irrelevancies, as I have been obliged to listen to too many since last September.
In speaking to this report I had hoped for a lot more than it contains. We sent a delegation to England to obtain facts which only England could give us, and which were necessary to us if we were to be in a position to make recommendations on future forms of government. We realised that the Dominions Office was in effect the real government of Newfoundland. We realised also that the Dominions Office should have volunteered this information months ago if the English government meant this Convention to be more than a glorious stall....
We are told that we will have to take full responsibility for our sterling debt if we assume responsible government, regardless of the fact that the loan when raised was guaranteed by Britain. We are told that the delegation had no authority to discuss trade and other matters, regardless of the fact that they agreed to receive the delegation, having been fully advised of the matters the delegation wished to discuss. We are told that because of dollar shortage they cannot guarantee to take any substantial quantity of our fish or iron ore, regardless of their awareness of what it would mean to our economy, and that we would accept goods in kind and even lend them dollars to buy our frozen fish fillets. We are told that the Commission govemment in its prudence doesn't deem it wise to apply the interest-free loans to the reduction of our debt, regardless of the fact that we have a substantial surplus and that the saving in interest would be considerable. We are told that we must pay any deficit on the Gander airport up to $225,000, regardless of the fact that we have no use for it ourselves and that international airlines need its facilities.
We are told that there is no reason to think that the United States government would be prepared to make any variation or give any quid pro quo on the base deals, regardless of article 28 of that agreement and of the fact that our sovereign rights were violated by the leasing of our territory for 99 years with utter disregard for our feelings. We are even reminded that we owe our wartime immunity to the presence of the US forces in the island, regardless of the fact that they came here for their own defence rather than for ours.
We are warned that should we decide on responsible government we are on our own but that, should we retain Commission government, our financial stability would be guaranteed, regardless of the fact that when Britain was in a far better position to assist us, and when we really needed her assistance, the guarantee of financial stability amounted to the staggering sum of six cents a day dole. I say staggering advisedly, as it left us our present phenomenal expenditure on public health and welfare, with our hospitals and sanatoriums unable to accommodate a large per 562 NATIONAL CONVENTION May 1947 centage of our population who need treatment. This degrading dole left some of us so lethargic and apathetic that we have lost the spirit of independence for which our forbears were noted, and are ready to run begging someone else to do for us that which we will not do for ourselves.
We did not go to England seeking charity, rather seeking information which we had a right to expect, and this report at least leaves us in no doubt as to England's attitude toward us. Our confederates are overjoyed at its contents and feel that it is a real boost for their cause, but I would remind them that even though civics was never taught in our schools, the ordinary Newfoundlander, instinctively or otherwise, can be depended on to make a common sense decision, and is not to be swayed by the oratorical powers of any propagandists in this Convention.
Mr. Chairman, there appears to be a difference of opinion in the delegation as to its reception in England, but the tenor of the report leaves little room to doubt the feeling of the majority. Lord Addison and his colleagues would seem to have some resentment towards the delegation, and I am of the opinion that the full report of the conversations in England should be laid before the Convention, convened in private session.
Mr. Smallwood I think Mr. McCormack said that the British government has told us that if we go back to responsible government, then the British government will no longer be responsible for our sterling debt....
Mr. McCormack That is right.
Mr. Smallwood I think it is utterly incorrect. I do not see in the memoranda from the British government any such statement. I have not heard any of the delegates who went to London make the statement. I am aware there are people in this town who seem to have got the impression that if we go under responsible government the British government will repudiate the guarantee of our sterling debt. It is wrong. It is utterly untrue...
Mr. McCormack I thank Mr. Smallwood for pointing out my error.
Mr. Hollett Whilst I appreciate the excellence of the speech of Mr. McCormack, it was an error. I believe someone else made the same statement yesterday. Great Britain guaranteed in 1934 the interest on the debt, otherwise they could not have converted it and it could not have gone back to par. Whether Commission government, responsible government, confederation or any other status, it does not matter, because Great Britain has guaranteed the interest on that debt, whatever form of government.... I thank Mr. Smallwood for bringing up this point.
Mr. Smallwood lthought I had a chance to have a knock at responsible government, but I gave responsible government a boost. Really, I think Mr. Hollett should thank me a little more heartily.
Mr. Higgins It would not be that Mr. Smallwood was more worried about Commission of Government in putting in his five cents' worth for responsible government?
Mr. Smallwood I am one who wants self- government for Newfoundland but it is my opinion that the majority of people want Commission government—I say that as one who does not want Commission of Government, but as one who wants self-government. In my opinion Commission government is the most popular government in Newfoundland at this moment.
Mr. Higgins In other words, the Gallup poll is the "Smallwood poll."
Mr. Hollett I believe Mr. Smallwood is getting off on the wrong foot. Yesterday I addressed him, and looked up and found he was not in his seat, and then he cried from across the house, "Here I am." So you see Mr. Smallwood has already walked across this House.
Mr. Vardy ....This report should have been debated when the main report is brought before the Convention, and I see no point in covering a lot of ground over which we will have to retrace our steps at a later date. The information from London is exactly as I anticipated. What can reasonably be expected from the British people they have promised to do, except we feel they could purchase more from this country. What criticism we have to offer should be directed to the Commission as an irresponsible group of individuals who appear to stop at nothing except what would be in the best interests of this country.
The Dominions Office assumes no risk whatever in continuing to guarantee our bonds while there is a surplus, but the responsibility is ours to recommend or help to provide our people with a government which this country should have, and can afford....
Mr. Bailey ... I am mildly surprised that we have May 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 563 received as much information as we have, for from the first day of the Convention, it has been clear to me that information was the last thing it was intended for us to get, and I am sure it is very patent to anyone who has been listening closely just as soon as we get into anything worthwhile, we are up against a stone wall. I could not help thinking yesterday, whilst listening to the senior member from Grand Falls, how close he was to the truth when he said the only reason the delegation was received was because the powers that be wanted a delegation to go to Canada.
At an earlier date I said we were going into confederation with a pull from the front, meaning Canada, and a push from the back, meaning Great Britain. We got more from the Dominions Office than I expected, in fact, all that was intended for us to get since 1943. It makes my blood boil to think we have a body of men elected by the people of this country treated in the manner we have been treated. I cannot understand how men with blood in their veins can put up with it. Every way we turn we are up against those cursed terms of reference.... They encircle us like the scalloped shrouds the old folks used to put around a corpse in the outports. Who made those terms of reference so entangling? Those who wanted it that way. The Convention was only intended to show the world that what would happen to this country would have a show of democracy, while all the time an organised minority in the Convention, backed by the powers that be, led us, an unorganised majority, the way they wanted us to go, like a horse is led or driven with a curb bit. The time has come for us to assert ourselves. I think the limit has been reached. No greater insult could be heaped on an elected body, than that they are not men of honour and discretion, and I see no reason why the stenographic report cannot be given to the Convention in an informal session. If the whole delegation concurred in this I am sure the people would not take it lightly, but with only two of seven of that opinion, then it looks to me like a plot to keep the Convention aw misinformed as possible, to becloud and to befog the issue.... Going back a year ago, and listening to the cheers in both Houses of Parliament when Newfoundland's sacrifices in both world wars were mentioned, how hollow do they sound today to you who are in reach of my voice? Don't they sound like a travesty of democracy? Why the change from 1933, one has only to turn to RA, MacKay's book on Newfoundland, page 503.[1]
Now the following paragraph in my opinion is making trouble for us today. This is where we get the pull and push. This makes Britain and Canada partners through the ages or until swords are beaten into ploughshares. This is why today only a small minority in the Convention is in the know, and the rest of us are treated like children. The iron curtain has nothing on it. This paragraph goes on to say.
The Newfoundland region is of vital strategic importance to Canada, both for its direct defence and, if it so decides, for despatching air to Great Britain in the event of war. It would be ignominious to Canadians to leave to the United States responsibility for the direct defence of Canada's eastern frontier as would be the case were the United States alone able to operate in the Newfoundland region. And now that Canada has become a substantial air and naval power in her own right, it would be equally ignominious to Canadians to leave to Great Britain sole responsibility for protecting the North Atlantic trade routes if Canada were an active partner in war. Freedom to operate for defence purposes in the Newfoundland region is thus an important consideration of Canadian defence.
I see nothing wrong with this, being British and a believer in the old navy axiom, "Twice blest is he who has his quarrel just, but four times blest is he who gets his blow in first." The only thing wrong with it is that we are treated like children. We are the oldest colony, yet with our record behind us, ashore and afloat, we are shuffled around like pawns on a chess board. Why could not that which has been taken from us have been given back? And with a government of our own, meet both the imperial and the Canadian authorities and let us take our share of the burden. If we haven't the cash, we have the men, and I'll wager my life that we will keep up our end of the stick. We did it before and we can do it again. We manned the ships for Canada in World War I, and our record speaks for itself. Everything has been done by certain members to vilify and cheapen us in the eyes of the world. This paragraph speaks 564 NATIONAL CONVENTION May 1947 for itself. That is why I draw the attention of the Convention to it. Only one thing more I'll say, the Convention must be composed of men from the districts, so the Convention Act says. I guess that was so in order that we would have men who are not conversant with power politics — men who could have put it over them. Well, that day is past and I believe that somebody is going to get a surprise this time, and it won't be Newfoundland. You can't fool all the people all the time.
Mr. Banfield ....Today we know where we stand. Today we know what Great Britain can do for us or can not do for us, whatever form of government we may have in future. In the first place, we know that if we vote to have responsible government, Great Britain will not give us any financial help whatsoever should we ever need such help. We will be free to vote for responsible government if we want to, but we will be on our own from that moment. If the people feel sure that their country is self-supporting now, and that it will be self-supporting in the years to come; if they feel sure that this country can go ahead on her own, without any help from anybody; if they have no fears of any future depression they will no doubt vote for responsible government. Whether they feel such confidence I do not know. Only time will tell....
The delegation brought back another piece of information: that if we decide to remain under the Commission system of government, the British government will continue to guarantee our financial stability. That sounds like a lot more than it really is. I suppose the British government did not feel like saying that they would chop us off altogether if we decided to remain under the Commission system, but when we consider Britain's own very bad condition, we must suspect that if they had been free to express their real feelings, they would have said to us, "You can have any form of government you like, but it will have to be without any help from us, for we are simply not in a position to help you under Commission government or any other form of government."
Like Mr. Smallwood, I honour the mother country for her generous and gallant offer, but I cannot help remembering what I have read and heard about her own terrible condition.... I doubt very much whether Britain will be in any position to help Newfoundland for many, many years to come. Britain needs help herself — it is nothing short of selfishness on our part if we look to her for help....
To sum it up, Mr. Chairman, it seems that under responsible government we'll get nothing at all from Great Britain; and that under Commission government it'll be very little more, We might as well face it right now, that so far as the mother country is concerned, this country is on her own right now, and will be on her own in the years to come....
Mr. Fudge ....Unfortunately there were seven delegates went over. I say unfortunately, because there should have been only five, and they would have agreed. Now the position of the disagreement, as I see it, repeats itself back to the first time they sent out their three goodwill commissioners to Newfoundland. Some of you saw them, and they went back with the verdict that we in Newfoundland did not know what we wanted. The second time they sent the Prime Minister of Great Britain with two others. I understand the same verdict was marked against us. Now they have a National Convention set up, wherein the people can discuss the suitable form or forms of government they desire.
The manager of the hotel, and his wife, which housed the Newfoundland delegation, were kind to us. They did all they possibly could. They gave us all they had, but I am still convinced that had any other concern, other than Dominions Office or the Office of Home Affairs, looked after it, we would have had better accomodation than we had. As far as cars are concerned, I think we did get a couple ofcars once free, but I think I spent most of my surplus money on cars, getting back and forth to the Dominions Office.
Now you know the good book reminds us of the ten virgins who went out, and says there were five wise and five foolish. I wonder whether or not this country will think there are two wise and five foolish. That is up to them to judge. The two gentlemen who could not see eye to eye with us in signing this document, they have a perfect right, but I was surprised to find that the whole seven took an active part in making the report, and then later the division came.
On our arrival at Gander on our way over we were met by the staff at the airport. We were treated well there, and on our return we were May 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 565 treated as well as could be expected. I hope that out of the visit of the delegation to London some good will come. The referendum of course will be put to the people some time, I am not prepared to say when. In fact there is no guarantee that it will be, but let's assume that it will. I repeat the statement that I made over there, that the people themselves will be in a position to judge as to what form of government they want at the proper time.
Mr. MacDonald ....I have been listening to the speeches of the delegates and I think that 50% of the information that they gave us, and they gave us a good deal, is not contained in the report. Where did it come from? Is it in these secret meetings that we are not supposed to hear about? I think that this Convention should be in possession of the proceedings of these meetings. I would like to ask if you made a definite mling that we can't get them, Mr. Chairman?
Mr. Chairman Yes. This information cannot be divulged.
Mr. MacDonald Thank you.... I don't see anything in this report, as far as I can see, relating to item 7: "Any other matters...." Did the delegation discuss any other matters or not, and if so, can this Convention have that information?
Mr. Chairman I have no recollection of any other matters that were discussed. They may possibly have been incidentally mentioned. One thing that was discussed, which was not specify cally mentioned, was the question of frozen fish.
Mr. Smallwood There was one other point that was mentioned and replied to, the question was put to the British government, "Could there be only two forms of government on the ballot?"
Mr. Chairman That's in the answer.
Mr. Smallwood Therefore it was raised. Could there be only two forms, Commission government and responsible government? Their answer is given — they said, "No, that is not so. The Convention can recommend other suitable forms as well to be put before the people."
Mr. Kennedy ....I wish to emphasise the urgency for action in the present position into which we true Newfoundlanders find ourselves bullied. The idea of the l939-46 conflict having been waged to put an end to all tyranny has become daily more farcical. When men are condemned by a more powerful nation for merely questioning the rule of their own country, the situation calls for more than polite verbal replies. Daily — one might say hourly — what remains in our dwindling treasury is being disposed of in the same manner in which our soil was wrenched from us for 50 creaking destroyers, a considerable number of which were too decrepit to even survive the Atlantic crossing. I wager that the land wrenched from us for their payment has not deteriorated in its solidity or value. An investigation 12 months after purchase into the worth of the scrap hulks for which part of us were sold, and into the actual number of these destoyers seaworthy enough to be taken into active operation, would no doubt have had interesting results. During these transactions it was my questionable honour and privilege to be a guest of England, and the Dominions Office seemed in no haste for me to leave. I doubt that they enjoyed my company or presence to any great extent, but I was then what my country is proving now, a vassal and useful pawn. As each newly-acquired destroyer broke into pieces or failed to float, my humility was incurred by reminders from English individuals on the apparent worth of our beloved country.
I must admit I expected no more than was received from the dictators that have bled this island in recent years. Major Cashin has already told us that Britain herself is in a precarious position internationally. She is struggling, and the man in fear of drowning has little thought and less ability to save a weaker comrade, even be that comrade in far shallower water. I am consoled by the fact that the majority of the delegation possessed sufficient common sense, sufficient love of their country, sufficient faith in themselves, and sufficient pride and independence to have stood on their feet and not knelt on their knees to the big brother with a whip in his hand.
During early sessions of the Convention the general public was politely, but at the same time unfairly informed that they were only to be given those facts that the Commission decreed they should know. These same people were to stand outside locked doors while the disposal of the assets provided by them, the little people, were explained away without excuse by their servants, imported from England. Surprisingly enough Mr. Newfoundlander took this lying down, as he has learned to take quite a number of impositions 566 NATIONAL CONVENTION May 1947 during late years.
Now two members of the recent delegation have decided that, as elected members, they have the power to keep back knowledge from the very men that voted to send them to England. I was elected into a position of trust by my district as were all other members, and in such a position I demand here and now to know why two members have the right to withhold any knowledge that we sent them out to get....
Mr. Higgins Mr. Chairman, following the remarks a few moments ago by Mr. Smallwood, I wonder if you would enlighten the Convention, as well as myself, on that part of the memorandum in which the British authorities were asked as to forms of government, and the answer you brought back that forms of government other than responsible government and retention of Commission could be recommended. What I want to know is, were federal unions discussed, and did you get permission, or were you advised that federal union is a proper form of government that this Convention could recommend?
Mr. Chairman I am not certain whether the term "federal union" was mentioned at all.
Mr. Higgins Well, confederation, or anything of that nature?
Mr. Chairman I cannot remember whether anything meaning that was discussed.... Probably some other gentleman can tell you that.
Mr. Hollett The point raised by Mr. Higgins was definitely dealt with by the delegation in the conversations, and that is one of the points which I made yesterday, that you cannot get a true perspective on that report without knowing exactly what was said. It is all very well for Lord Addison to sit down and write an answer to a question. It is quite another thing when that person is asking questions thereon and getting replies. I still maintain that the Convention which sent us over there should have the right of access to the conversations which took place between the delegates and Lord Addison and Dominions Office. I say that with due regard to the rule made by you yesterday, and I have a right to disagree with any rule. I trust we are still democratic in this country.
Mr. Chairman The simplest way is to ask Dominions Office if there is any objection to the disclosure of that information. The arrangement was made that these documents would not be disclosed, and we cannot do so without the consent of the other party.
Mr. Hollett I maintain that that was only so that we could not have newspaper reporters in here. That was the meaning. It was never meant that the delegation which was sent over by this Convention should keep things from the members of this Convention.
Mr. Chairman The only way is to enquire from Lord Addison what he meant. My clear understanding is that these things were to be kept secret.
Mr. Hollett Have you read these yourself?
Mr. Chairman I have never seen them.
Mr. Hollett Might I suggest that before you give a final decision you peruse these stenographic notes? I am prepared after that to accept your ruling, if there is anything which you feel should not be put before the Convention, but not otherwise. I am not prepared to accept a ruling by anybody on something he does not know anything about, which he has never read.
There has been an impression given by some members which is wrong. Great Britain is not by any means starving. Great Britain is not on her back.... True, she is somewhat crippled and scarred and bruised, but when a country like Great Britain can, within the last two years, give out freely, and without any hope of ever getting it back, $300,000 million to various European and Asiatic countries, that country is not broke. It is merely a matter of the upsetting of currency.... I don't want this Convention to get the idea that Great Britain is so poverty-stricken as some people would have you believe. I have every faith in the British Empire. I have no doubts whatsoever that the empire to which we belong, and for which Kennedy and others of you fought, will not go down.... I referred yesterday to the treatment we got in 1933 to 1940. That is not the treatment of the English or Irish or Scotch people. It was the treatment of the people in Dominions Office, who know no more about this country than they know about Burma, India and other countries that have been under British rule. One man in that Dominions Office wanted to know where we sent our saltfish — was it to Belgium or Holland? There's nothing wrong with the English, Irish or Scotch people. They know nothing whatever about the political position in this country. We have never publicised it enough ourselves. We May 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 567 have not gone in the right way about it to tell these people, our own kith and kin, what ignominy we have been subjected to in the past years. Don't get the idea that Great Britain, whom we are all prepared to love and serve and die for, is down and out, because mark you she will rise from that crippled state in which she at present finds herself. All we need is for our people to get together and forget these petty little differences, and start to fight our own battles in our own way, and put men at the head of the government who know exactly what they are doing, good hard-headed businessmen — not mealy-mouthed politicians who think politics are so filthy and dirty that they would not touch it. No, you want hard-headed businessmen like Crosbie. I am not saying he would be any good there, but men like him, who would be prepared to fight. If you do fall by the wayside, Great Britain will be ready and willing to help. Please, I want to make that correction, Great Britain is still Great Britain.
Mr. Higgins As I was the one who brought up the matter, I would like to have your ruling. Is it right and proper to say that members who have copies of this transcript might refer to them for the purpose of refreshing their memories, and then they could answer?
Mr. Chairman They have no right to give the exact words used.
Mr. Bailey I cannot understand why we as a Convention cannot get this information. Seven members got it. ls it because our intelligence is not as good, or our honour is not as good? I am sure the Dominions Office did not specify that that information should be kept from us. If everything else is outside our terms of reference. I think this is inside. I move that this information be given in camera to this Convention.
Mr. Reddy I second that motion.
Mr. Chairman 1 rule the motion out of order.
Mr. Crosbie To settle this question I move that the Dominions Office be asked if the information can be given this Convention.
Mr. Job I second that motion.
Mr. Chairman It would be better, possibly, if this motion were made in regular session. As the matter is not of very grave importance, I put the motion now, so that we can discuss it. Is the committee ready for the question?
Mr. Higgins Is this the position, that the copy we have here is an entirely different one from the Dominions Office copy? Have they seen our copy?  
Mr. Chairman Presumably they can send out theirs.
Mr. Job We could send our copy and see if they have any objection. It seems a very grave question; either there was or was not an undertaking given to keep this private. If there was an undertaking we would disgrace ourselves if we committed a breach of confidence.
Mr. Chairman Will you permit me to read the resolution? The motion is that the copy of the proceedings now in the possession of the London delegation be sent to the Dominions Office when transcribed, with a request that permission be given to disclose this copy to the Convention and/or the public.
[The motion carried]
Mr. Chairman Mr. Secretary, will you have the necessary copy prepared so that I can take it to His Excellency at the earliest possible moment?
Mr. Starkes Mr. Chairman, the situation is getting clearer. Bit by bit we are beginning to see just where our country stands. Slowly we are commencing to see the light.
I expect to see another depression in this country. All the figures and all the talk in the world is not going to drive it out of my mind that a depression will come upon us before many years are over. I do not believe that our present earning power is going to continue. In the past few years, thanks to the war, our country and our people have enjoyed greater prosperity than they ever dreamed of. Some prospered more than others, but all shared in the prosperity to some extent. I can see the handwriting on the wall — that prosperity is going to pass away. We have heard a lot of talk about our terms of reference. The most important words in those terms of reference to my mind are these: "and bearing in mind the extent to which our prosperity is the result of the war." That is what we have to bear in mind all the time — that our present prosperity, such as it is, is the result of the war. The war is now over, or almost over, and the cause is removed, so the result will pass away also. We would not be very patriotic if we blinked these facts out of sight....
The time has not yet come for us to discuss forms of government. We are still trying to get all the facts we can, so that we can base our opinion 568 NATIONAL CONVENTION May 1947 on solid facts. That is why we sent this delegation to London We wanted to know just where we stood with the old country. Did they really mean it when they told us that we could vote for any form of government we liked? They told the delegation that we could vote for any form of government we liked. We wanted to know where we would stand if we voted for responsible government. They told the delegation that if we voted for responsible government we would be on our own so far as Britain is concerned. We wanted to know where we would stand if we voted for Commission government. They told the delegation that if we voted for Commission government they would continue to stand behind it.
Now, when a man promises to do something for you, it's only common sense to take a look at his ability to do what he promises. He may make the promise in good faith and sincerity, but he may not be able to keep his promise. And so it is with Great Britain. She promises to help Newfoundland if we need help in the future — provided we stay under Commission government. But then we take a look at Britain's condition, and we are very doubtful whether Britain would be able to give us any help for many years to come.
I have very great doubt about Britain's ability to help this country. I have no doubt at all about her sincerity.... If I had to sum it all up, I would say that so far as Great Britain is concerned, this country is on its own right now. We' ll get no help from Britain whatever form of government we may choose. We needed to have the information that the London delegation brought back to us, and at last we are beginning to know where we stand.
Mr. Higgins I move that having received the report it be laid on the table for future reference.
[The motion carried. The committee rose and reported, 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.

Notes de bas de page:

  • [1] Volume II:448. [Volume II is not in The Confederation Debates Collection]
  • 1 R.A. MacKay, Newfoundland: Economic, Diplomatic and Strategic Studies (Toronto, 1946).

Personnes participantes: