Newfoundland National Convention, 9 January 1948, Debates on Confederation with Canada


January 9, 1948

Mr. Smallwood I would like to say that it is my intention to reply to the speech of Major Cashin and, in all probability to other speeches which may be made on these terms. But, sir, just when I should do it is a matter that has given me a considerable amount of concern in the last day or two because I happen to be very anxious, very eager, that the Convention should finish its work by the end of January, so that the referendum can be held this spring. For that reason, if I were to reply to the lengthy speech of Major Cashin and to speeches made by other members of the Convention, each one as it is made, it would take a considerable amount of time and might prolong the Convention beyond the end of January. I do not want to take that risk.... What I would like to feel a little confident about is this: after Major Cashin has completed his speech, and if some other members speak attacking or criticising or analysing these terms of confederation, I would like to feel confident that I will have the opportunity of replying to them. What I am trying to avoid is this: one man after the other attacks the confederation terms, criticises them, analyses them unfavourably; and then, before I have had the opportunity of replying, a closure motion could be put and adopted which would strangle any opportunity I would have of replying to these criticisms. I want very anxiously to avoid delay. I want to get out of this Convention by the end of January. I would like to see the referendum held this Spring. But I do not want to be deprived of the chance to reply. I can be deprived by the simple means of a closure motion.... I think that the gentlemen who are critical of these confederation terms and who express their criticisms will be gentlemen enough not to bring in that closure motion and choke me off.... I put my trust in them. I put myself at the mercy of their sense of justice and fair play. After they have rapped the confederation terms. I will be given full, free and ample opportunity to reply with the freedom of debate in committee of the whole. With that understanding, I do not propose to reply to Major Cashin when he completes his speech, but rather to wait until he and others have completed their speeches, and then reply to the lot of them in one speech. With these few remarks I move the motion on the order paper.
Mr. Chairman Before I put that motion ... I want to say that I can give no guarantee that you will be permitted to speak at any given time; nor can I give any guarantee to any member that he will be able to speak to any motion at any time.... I have no authority to decide the number of times any member will speak in committee or the length of time he will speak on any subject before the Chair, as long as he confines himself strictly and in a proper manner to the business before the Chair. Therefore, if a closure motion is put to me, I will have to accept a closure motion at any time; with this qualification, that I will not accept a closure motion without notice.... And what the Chair has to keep in mind, in a closure motion, is to make sure that the rights of the minority or the rights of members who have not had the opportunity to express themselves fully, or at all, upon the business before the Chair shall not be abridged or taken away by the prompt putting and carrying of a closure motion. To put it simply, I am not prepared to guarantee to you, Mr. Smallwood, or to any other member here, that he will be permitted to address the Chair, if you will, at 3 pm next Wednesday on a certain subject. How can I?....
Mr. Hollett In view of the statement made by Mr. Smallwood, which I suppose is official in character, that this Convention has to conclude its work by the end of January if we were to have the referendum this spring....
Mr. Smallwood That is not official.
Mr. Cashin It will be, when I read my reply.
Mr. Chairman I do not know whether it is official or not.
Mr. Hollett Why all this talk about closure if it is not official? If it is official, I want to make a motion right now. If the referendum is to be held in the spring, then I am prepared to give notice of motion right now. We have only a few days left.
Mr. Chairman There is a motion before the Chair. Notice can be given when I leave the chair of committee and resume the Chair.

Report of the Ottawa Delegation Proposed Arrangements for the Entry of Newfoundland into Confederation Committee of the Whole

Mr. Cashin Mr. Chairman, I am glad Mr. Small- wood brought that matter up. With regard to closure, it is immaterial to me; but I want to point out that before the Ottawa delegation left last year, this Convention was practically assured it would reconvene again around the middle of July, but the Ottawa delegation ignored that; they did not have the decency to communicate with the Secretary telling him to advise the members of the Convention that they were sorry about the delay; we had to take it upon ourselves to communicate with them, and we were told we were committing an act of national treachery. Mr. Smallwood can reply all he likes to my remarks. This confederation issue has been before this house for 16 months. That is all we have heard. Every report has been torn abroad and told what confederation would do. The thing should never have happened. Even the Evening Telegram practically said it was a farce.
A few items have been drawn to my attention to bring up, and there are many points I omitted, particularly from the point of financial interest. A party asked me today to inquire what is going to happen to the Newfoundland Savings Bank in which there are $20 million belonging to our people at 2.5%. When the Ottawa delegation was discussing these matters, did they ask the Ottawa government what would become of the bank? It is a very important matter.... I am one of those who believes in that bank. If those savings are going to be reduced in annual interest charges, that money should be withdrawn; and for those in the country who have their savings in that bank, I am going to direct a question to the Minister of Finance. 1 will draft a question.
This so-called budget of Mr. Smallwood's[1] indicates to me that, in addition to paying an annual federal tax of around $230 per annum, every Newfoundlander, will have to find an additional $30 per year in provincial taxation. In all, therefore, the people of the country would have to find over $80 million each year to pay both federal and provincial taxation. In short, the whole thing means that the people of Newfoundland would be taxed to death — that the dole days would be considered luxurious living and opulence in comparison to the manner in which the people of our country would be forced to live in union with Canada.
Mr. Chairman, there is a saying that there is none so blind as those who will not see, and it is certain that many of us refuse to see things as they are in this country today. They cannot plead ignorance, they cannot say they have not been told that the threats to our country have not been pointed out to them. Time and time again, the call has come to them to assume the duty which as Newfoundlanders is rightly theirs. And whatever befalls us in the future, whatever disasters happen to us, the people generally cannot say that have not been asked to stave off such disasters.
I am not speaking to hear the sound of my own voice. Nor am I trying to warp the judgement of the delegates to this Convention or the people of the country, or influence their minds with any more airy rhetoric or political spellbinding. My purpose has been, at this time particularly, to give hard, cold facts which cannot be denied or talked away. What I have said emanates from my sincere political belief which is based on the solid and eternal doctrine: first, a country belongs to its people; second, it is the solemn duty of the people of that country to shoulder the responsibility of governing it. Any divergence or avoidance of that doctrine, any excuse for acting contrary to that fundamental truth is cowardly, unediical and immoral. The challenge which faces the people of this country today is the patriotic and moral challenge to do their duty and to face their responsibilities like real men and women. It is a clear-cut issue — as clear and unambiguous as the challenge of right and wrong. But again I say, there are those amongst us who have shown that they are unwilling, or have not the capabilities of facing their responsibilities and accepting obligations of democratic decency. They are prepared instead to assume the garb of mendicants and go begging at the back door of some outside country, asking to be taken in out of the rough world which they fear to face. Like Shakespeare's character, they are prepared to crawl under the huge legs of some foreign colossus and find themselves dishonourable graves. But I know that there are 1090 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 many thousands amongst us who are not prepared to form their opinions on mere moral or ethical grounds. They prefer to deal with matters from a more practical standpoint. They ask for facts. Well, I think I have given them the facts.
In my opinion, Canada is today in a position where she finds she has overreached herself. She reminds me of the frog in the fable who wanted to be as big as a bull and who puffed himself up until he burst. Canada is an ambitious country and in the thirties she got the idea that she wanted to become a big nation. She put on long pants before she became of age. She wanted an army, she wanted a navy and all the trimmings. How she might have gotten on if World War II had not come along we do not know. But like other countries, the blast of war hit her, and today she is left in an exhausted position, struggling for her life, and her financial bloodstream is fast running dry. As I said, she is begging Uncle Sam for dollars and her people are on the rocky road of austerity....
I want to apologise for being so long discussing this matter. I felt that it is of such great national importance that it required extensive study, and during Christmas recess I spent practically all my time going into the Black Books and particularly the Grey Book. I felt, as a former Minister of Finance for Newfoundland, that I owed it to you people who sent me here, particularly the District of St. John's West because when they elected me I told them that I would not let them down, and I am not going to let them down now. I felt I had to make a complete study with no one bothering me in order to work out these figures which I have given, and I have come to the conclusions which I have already given to the house and the country, which I elaborated on yesterday.... I have lived in Canada and worked there from coast to coast. I like Canada, it is a great country, but after living and working there, I want to give it as an honest opinion, that if confederation were good for Newfoundland there would not be a stronger supporter of it in Newfoundland today, but I am honest in my opinion when I say that confederation will be the worst thing that ever struck Newfoundland.... Canada is in a worse position financially than Newfoundland.... We are not begging for dollars, all we are trying to do is keep people from plundering our treasury. We can sympathise with Canada in her present plight, just as any other allies made prosperous by the war, but nevertheless we must remember that charity begins at home, and our first duty and our first obligation we owe to ourselves, our families, our children and our children's children.... Canada is well aware, as we are, that if she can take over Newfoundland she can richly benefit by our assets. For instance, if she controlled our rich Labrador possession, it would in a few years place her in a position where she could get all these American dollars which she urgently needs....
Is it not quite obvious from all the evidence available to us that Canada is definitely using her power and efforts to wrest from Newfoundland this particular part of Labrador, together with its great undeveloped waterpower? Don't let us blind ourselves with the stupid and rather naive idea that the Privy Council's judgement protects us in the possession of our Labrador territory. Don't let us get that idea in our heads, because if the agreement made by our government in 1933 with the British government can be converted into a scrap of paper, if the Atlantic Charter signed in our own Placentia Bay can become equally worthless, what dependence do you think we can place in a mere decision of the Privy Council? Let us remember that there are more ways than one of skinning a cat. Why, I myself can think of three different ways at least right now, whereby Canada can usher us out of our Labrador territory, regardless of any Privy Council, if we were to unite with Canada and become the tenth province. It is contained in this Grey Book, and it is in there for that purpose. I quoted that yesterday, that within a period of eight years a royal commission, a royal force, like they had here in 1933, would come and find that the country is bankrupt and say, "We are going to take this", and I am convinced that, in the minds of some of our pro-confederates today is the thought that Canada will rent Labrador from us in order to bolster up that so-called budget that Mr. Smallwood brought in here.
Mr. Chairman, I do not intend to take up much further time, but in closing, I would wish to summarise briefly the meaning of all that I have said. As I see it, the situation is simply this: Canada wants this country and our Labrador possession, and the government of Great Britain has given her consent to this arrangement. There January 1948 NATIONAL CONVENTION 1091 have been in this country since 1941, and are today, active agents whose business and object is to usher Newfoundland into confederation with Canada, and to induce our people to walk into the trap which has been baited. The outward evidence of the activities of these pro-confederate agents is shown in the foisting of this Convention upon us, so that the agreement made with the Newfoundland government in 1933 could be evaded. It is shown in the act of exporting from this country a great portion of the people's treasury; in the reckless and deliberate squandering of our revenues to the tune of $40 million a year; in the giving away of reckless concessions, and under disgraceful conditions, of our Labrador territory. It is evidenced by the false pictures of the fictitious prosperity which would be ours if we have confederation. It is shown by the actions of members of the Ottawa delegation, who in collaboration with the Canadian government, cooked up and brought back to us false estimates and misleading statements; by the existence of secret documents given to that delegation and the failure to produce them before this Convention; by the circumstances under which the Canadian delegation was elected. All these things indicate to me at least beyond all doubt, that Newfoundland today is being conspired against from all sides. And if there was any doubt on this score, it must be dismissed when we see that the business of negotiating us into confederation has been entrusted to a body such as this, which has no power to negotiate, no power to speak for the people, which in the last analysis has neither the knowledge, the experience, nor the qualifications to pass on this matter, a matter which any sensible person knows is one for a properly constituted and elected government. This whole business is not alone illegal, it is worse, it is immoral.
I would ask you to believe me when I say that I have not said these things merely to make a case for responsible government, or because I am against confederation with Canada. I have made my criticisms against these terms as a Newfoundlander rather than a politician — as a Newfoundlander who sees in them a threat to his people and his country, who sees hidden in their beguiling phrases nothing less than an invitation to national disaster. For I say that I was never as certain of anything in my life, as I am of the worthlessness of these so-called Canadian terms.
Now I realise that some people may not agree with me. They may see, or think they see, bright prospects for us under confederation with Canada. I cannot find it in my mind to judge them too harshly. For out of the political muddle which has been purposely created in this country, how can we expect the average man or woman to know what it is all about, when we, who have been close to the picture for over 16 months, are still looking for information? It is because I am aware of this bewilderment on the part of our people, that I feel it my duty to take upon myself the obligation of advising them to the best of my ability as to the road I think we should pursue.
To those who, like myself, recognise the fact that the only proper and decent course open to us is to become masters in our own house, no further words of mine are necessary. But to those who may be beguiled to any degree by this confederation mirage, I say do nothing further — make no new steps. Do not consider any negotiations until, as a first step, you have a duly audiorised government of your own to consider the whole matter. Any other course is sheer political madness. That is my solemn advice to you. Whether you take it or not rests with yourselves. And if we delegates have failed to carry that one message to the people who sent us here, then I say we have failed dismally in our duty.
In closing I would ask your permission to express a purely personal opinion. I am convinced that although our country and our people are at present enshrouded in a pall of political darkness, they will eventually find their way into the light. This whole matter of bribes and promises will in the end be shown up for what it really is. And I say this not because our people would shrink from the new burden of taxation which confederation with Canada will place on their shoulders, not because of the vision of the thousands of homesteads which may have to be sold to satisfy the Canadian tax gatherers. No. It will not be for these things alone, that our people will spum this offer for them to sell out the land of their birth. I say our people will win through because of other, greater things. They will triumph, emerge from this ordeal, because there are still in this country such things as pride, courage and faith. Pride in the great traditions which have come down to us through the centuries of inde 1092 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 pendent living. Courage to face up to life and hew out our individual fortunes. And finally faith in our country, and in the great destiny which I am convinced lies ahead of us.
That concludes my address, Mr. Chairman, in this respect. Now, before I sit down, I just want to read for the information of the committee a reply which I received in answer to a question. The question was placed on the order paper on January 6, and I got the reply last night.
I give notice that I will on tomorrow ask His Excellency the Governor in Commission to ascertain from the United Kingdom government the latest date on which the recommendations of this Convention must be submitted to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations in order to ensure the holding of a referendum in the Spring of 1948.
(2) In the event of the majority of the voters in the forthcoming referendum favouring a form of government other than Commission of Government, at what time and by what method will the change to the new form of government become effective.
Now here's the letter written by Mr. Carew.
St. John's, Nfld. January 8, 1948.
Dear Sir:
I have to refer to the question asked by a member of the National Convention as to the latest date on which the recommendations of the Convention must be submitted to the Rt. Hon. the Secretary for Commonwealth Relations in order to ensure the holding of a referendum in the spring of 1948.
The Rt. Hon. the Secretary of State has already informed the Commission of Government that a period of at least one month will be required for the consideration of the recommendations of the Convention.
The Commission of Government have given consideration to the question of setting a date for the holding of a national referendum and I have been directed to communicate their views to the National Convention.
It is hoped that it will be possible to hold the referendum about the end of the month of May this year. It is impracticable to hold a poll during the period from early June to late September as so many people are away from their homes and may be disfranchised. Final arrangements cannot be made for holding the referendum until the necessary legislation has been passed and steps in this direction cannot be taken until a decision has been made as to the questions to be submitted to the people.
The members of the Convention, familiar with the difficulties of travel during the spring months in sections of Newfoundland and in Labrador will realise that ample time must be allowed for the distribution of ballot papers and other materials for all polling booths. The matters preliminary to the voting will take place in the following order — delivery of recommendations by the National Convention; consideration by HM Government in the United Kingdom; communication of decision as to forms of government to the submitted to the people; final draft for publication of legislation for continent; passing of legislation; printing of ballots and other forms; setting up of polling stations and distribution of election material.
In order to permit sufficient time to complete the necessary arrangements and to ensure to all qualified electors of Newfoundland and Labrador the opportunity of voting, it will be necessary, if the referendum is to be held during the month of May, to have the recommendations of the Convention submitted at an early date. The Commission are unable to give any assurance that the referendum will be possible this spring if the recommendations of the Convention are not received by the end of the present month.
Yours faithfully, W.J. Carew, Secretary.
I will put this on the order paper, and it is tabled. There is another answer there also Mr. Chairman. It is immaterial, that's the most important.
Mr. Higgins Mr. Chairman, in addressing you and the members of the Convention this afternoon, I would like to point out that I do not intend to go over the ground which is very well covered by Mr. Hollett, Mr. Fogwill and Major Cashin in these admirable addresses which we have heard in the past few days, but I do intend to touch on the subject which I hope is noncontroversial, but at the same time is of real moment, and important to the people of Newfoundland, and to us of the Convention in particular.
Now as you probably have gathered, I am not altogether sold on the idea of confederation. However, the profession of which my learned friend the Chairman, and Mr. Bradley and myself are members, demands of necessity that whether we like a case or not, whether we like the client who brings in the case or not, nevertheless, if we are retained to do a job we do that job to the best of our ability. We work hard to prepare it, and do all that needs to be done.
Now in this particular instance, and I refer to the work of the delegation that went to Ottawa, I and my co-delegates were retained by this Convention to discuss with the Canadian government the matter of the basis of union between Newfoundland and Canada. I can say quite truthfully that no matter what has been said in or what has been said out of the House, and no matter what jokes may have been made with respect to that Ottawa delegation and the time spent in Ottawa, and I myself probably added more to such type of jokes than any other single member, I can say quite truthfully that we did as good a job as any delegation from Newfoundland under the circumstances could have done. I can say to you quite truthfully that we had no officials of any kind to help us, no officials from the government, or the civil service to help us. We were six men appointed by this Convention. I don't even say the six best men that you have. A great number of you did not even choose to be part of that delegation, probably some of you better than the men who did go up. But, even with the lack of assistance that we had, we did do as good a job as we possibly could and I trust that you will understand me when now I take a different stand. Being a lawyer, as I explained to you, and doing cases for people that we don't like, and preparing cases that we don't like to do, nevertheless when we agree to do a job we do it to the best of our ability. I am stressing that point because I hope you will judge that I am competent and fair- minded enough to give honest advice to you with respect to union between the two countries on the basis of the facts as brought back from Ottawa.
To begin my argument to you today, let me quote from the reply we received from the Canadian government to our request for these discussions. It is contained in your Black Book:
The Canadian government is of the opinion that the questions to be discussed with the delegation are of such complexity and of such significance for both countries that it is essential to have a complete and comprehensive exchange of information and a full and careful exploration by both parties of all the issues involved, so that an accurate appreciation of the position may be gained on each side.
Now you have read and heard it on many occasions, but I draw your attention to these words, and that is, that the questions to be discussed are of such complexity and of such significance for both countries that it is essential to have a complete and careful exploration by both parties; and again, at the end of that message: "so that an accurate appreciation of the position may be gained on each side". You see how important it was to the Canadian government to make their position very clear. They recognized the complexity and the seriousness of this approach. As you are aware, and as I said before to you, we had no expert assistance of any kind to help us. We applied to the Commission of Government to assist us in this matter, but the request was refused, so we went off with what we had to do the best we could....
On the Canadian side, the cabinet members designated to take part in the discussions were flanked by some of the top men of the civil service of Canada. Moreover, the problem of confederation had been under active study by this particular group since October of 1946, and actually Canada has been studying the proposition for some years past. As you are aware, our delegation had no such opportunity of preparation and certainly no such assistance during the discussions. In my opinion our delegation was not competent to fully discuss such an important matter without proper assistance, and without an adequate study of the problem.
I say quite sincerely that for any person, member of this Convention or not, to advise the people of this country to join in federal union with Canada without the necessary study of all the implications of such union, is nothing less than criminal. What, you ask, is the proper approach? In my opinion, before union should be recommended, a complete study of the Canadian system should be made by the various departmental heads of our civil service, to see and advise the effect such union would have. The heads of these 1094 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 departments would then confer with a delegation having full powers to negotiate. In other words, the case for Newfoundland would be carefully prepared and fully understood by those who are to present it, and moreover, the delegation representing Newfoundland should have with them these same departmental heads to advise and assist throughout the negotiations.
I trust my fellow members of the delegation will not take it that I am making any reflection on them when I say that the delegation was not competent to discuss the matters we were discussing. This is not intended to be a reflection on the ability of any one of them, but simply — except possibly in the case of Mr. Smallwood — that none of us had studied the matter before the appointment of the delegation, and we were at a tremendous disadvantage with no technical advice, and lastly, but most important of all, we had no power to negotiate.
I frankly confess that the offer we have received appears to be fair, but I am fully confident that a delegation properly informed, assisted by competent advisers, and with the power to negotiate, would receive a better offer from Canada than we received. I say that with full knowledge of what I am saying. From information I gathered from various sources during our visit to Ottawa, I am certain that the Canadian government would have given us a better offer had the case been properly presented. Again I repeat, with full knowledge of what I am saying, that we can still get a better offer or, if you will, more favourable terms of confederation, if the approach is made by a government elected by and representative of Newfoundland.
I do not want you to understand that our delegation did not do a good job or that we were not given every assistance by the Canadian government. On the contrary, I can assure you that the delegation did a good job and further, that we had every co-operation from the Canadian government. Every possible courtesy was extended to us, from the time of our arrival in Canada until our departure. I have nothing but the greatest of praise and the kindliest feelings for all those with whom we came in contact, from the Prime Minister down. The representatives of the Canadian cabinet with whom we held these discussions, were extremely generous of their time and more than considerate in the manner in which they treated us. These gentlemen are extremely busy, but at all times they endeavoured to meet our ideas with respect to meetings, no matter how inconvenient it was to them. Their advisers, among whom were included the top men of the civil service, were not only very kind, but at all times showed that they were anxious to assist us in every way possible. I gathered from what was said here on their return, that those who visited England did not get such a reception. However, I repeat to those of you who are inclined towards confederation, that the only proper way in fairness to Newfoundland, is that negotiations should be conducted by a Newfoundland government if we are to make the best possible deal for the country.
The facts we have brought back are a very good basis for future negotiations, and there need be no worry in your minds that if the present offer from Canada is not accepted, it will lapse. This was made clear at our last meeting when we were informed that, unless world economic conditions changed, the offer would remain the same if it was not accepted at this time, and negotiations later renewed. Therefore I say, in view of this fact, should we not first elect a government to finalise any such deal? If nothing else but from sentiment, if we are going to confederate, let us do it in the proper way. Let us go in the front door and not the back door! Let us, as befitting the dignity if this country of ours which is 450 years old, consummate union in a manner that befits such an important decision.
[Short recess]
Mr. Higgins Just before that recess, I was commenting on the fact that the report brought back by the delegation and embodied in the Black Books and the Grey Book, was in my opinion a good basis for future negotiation. That is as far as this country can go at the present time — it is a good basis for future negotiations between countries.
However, to return to the argument. It is easy to understand the reason for Canada wishing to acquire Newfoundland. To begin with, Canada is, I believe, the third largest country in area in the world, but she only has a population of some 12 millions. She needs immigrants to develop her own country and is at present engaged in bringing them in by the thousands. She has tremendous areas of territory, good rich land at present lying January 1948 NATIONAL CONVENTION 1095 idle. Why acquire more land that, in a large measure, does not compare with what they have at present? Why acquire additional territory that Canada appears to consider is merely going to be an additional drain on the pockets of her people? Various explanations have been advanced, from personal pride of the Prime Minister to complete a job his predecessors could not do, all the way down to the fact that Canada likes us and wants to help us. Tucked into the middle of all these reasons are the mineral resources of the island, but in my opinion the only real reason is our strategic geographical position. It is in this connection that I propose to address you at length today.... The United States, as well, recognises this fact. North American pressure and economic interest tend to take Newfoundland towards the United States, and it is the fear of Newfoundland's becoming a possession of the United States more than any other single factor that is motivating the evident interest that Canada has in Newfoundland.
Newfoundland, because of its position, possesses a meaning that its economic weight alone could not give it. It is on the edge of two worlds — the North American continent and the North Atlantic basin. To the continent it is an outpost but in the North Atlantic it forces itself on the attention; it is in the forefront of the sailor's thoughts. When soundings are picked up on the Banks, America is coming near, and when the first landfall is made it is Newfoundland. The island is of the continent but not in it. As long as faces on the continent were turned westward, Newfoundland was forgotten; but for some years past, events forced them to turn eastward again and so their glance had to rest on it. The island is a focus of the lines of force crossing the North Atlantic basin...
[Mr. Higgins then gave a lengthy summary of Newfoundland's history, concentrating on its strategic position in the North Atlantic]
Four centuries of history reveal rather clearly the influences that play about the island of Newfoundland. They are oceanic and continental; they radiate out from Europe and from the continent of North America. They are not constant, but vary with the variations in the forms of political organisation in surrounding lands and with the combinations or severances between those political organisations. The island is revealed by its history to be a focus of lines of force, a place where international policies intersect. As such it will always be conspicuous in the history of the North Atlantic basin and usually so in that of the North American continent.
Human history has alternated between terrestrial and maritime periods. In the middle ages, the chief centres of movement, the chief routes, were within the continents. As a result of the discoveries beginning in the 15th century, mankind became maritime and the centres moved out to what had formerly been distant frontier countries. With exploration completed humanity tended to become terrestrial once more, the interior continental masses, such as Germany and the United States, rising in importance as the maritime areas declined. Today ease of communication makes lakes of the oceans and hence the sharpness of the distinction is softened. The past war, indeed, has caused the maritime areas to take on a new importance.
The English thrust into the Americas three centuries ago afforded a striking example of the rise in significance of the maritime world. Yet no sooner had settlements been made then the oceanic thrust began to be transformed into an indigenous continentalism, solidly based on the soil. This continentalism has steadily grown and upon it is now erected the world's greatest power, the United States. The resolution of extra-continental rivalries by the English victory of 1763 left one race supreme and its later unfortunate division as a result of the American revolution has not prevented harmonious co-operation between its two parts in the threat of a common peril. Among other things, it has allowed the continent of North America to be thought of and dealt with as a unit in a way which Europe never could. This has made for a simplicity and largeness of conception with all secondary details tending to fall into a general scheme. For example, plans for the defence of Europe have not entered into European thinking, but we in this continent are busy putting into execution plans for the defence of North America.
The American "fence" through the middle of the Pacific ocean and the American thrust eastward from the Atlantic ocean, together amount to a recognition that North America is an island and that its problems must be studied as those of an island; sea communications and out 1096 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 lying positions. In terms of defence this means that the continent as a whole must think in naval terms and must advance its defence far off from shore to prevent threat of invasion or of serious damage to the island citadel.
We are concerned here with one aspect of the entire Atlantic effort— the thrust northeastward, particularly as it impinges on Newfoundland. This thrust is readily divisible into two arms, that along the coast and that coming out of the St. Lawrence valley. The Maritime Provinces of Canada and Newfoundland are the area in which the two thrusts meet. The area of meeting has not been stationary but constantly moving. In the 17th century, French (or St. Lawrence) influence extended well into the present State of Maine. In the 18th the Gut of Canso was its extreme southwestern limit. In the first half of the 19th, St. Lawrence influence was still further curtailed and was hardly visible beyond Gaspé. Then with modern communications came its rapid recovery. Confederation extended it throughout the three Maritime Provinces, and note the absorption of all local banking institutions by the large Canadian banks, and the Bank of Nova Scotia's conversion of itself into a Montreal organisation — and the economic forces of which Confederation was a counterpart worked over the political boundary into Maine, once more tying a good part of that state into the structure.
A similar extension went on to the northeastward; with the railway built to Port-aux- Basques, the way was open for an assault on the last stronghold of maritimism, Newfoundland. This assault was delayed, but when it came, the main manoeuvre in it was the establishment of the steamer route from Sydney to Port-aux- Basques, and the building of the Newfoundland railway across the island to St. John's. This of course was not the only means by which St. Lawrence influences came in, but it immensely facilitated their ingress. The Canadianisation of island finance was a subsidiary movement based on this St. Lawrence system of communication, as was the Canadianisation of two of our major denominations within recent years. Other evidences of the St. Lawrence impact will suggest themselves. In a mechanical age, the St. Lawrence holds the trump cards of transportation — steamship, rail and air. Its most serious disability is its winter closing, which forces it back to its second line through Sydney or Halifax.
Since the summer of 1940 political events have given renewed vitality to the other arm of the thrust. American influence has been vastly strengthened by the grant of the bases which has been characterised as "moving the American boundary 700 miles eastward". The American flag now flies in Newfoundland, American sailors and soldiers are to be seen on the streets and American ships in the harbour. American civilians are following, most of them as tourists and out of curiosity, some on the outlook for business. Behind this renewed Atlantic push lies the gigantic wealth and power of the United States...
If the Maritime Provinces are the continental termination of the Appalachian Barrier, Newfoundland is in its extreme end, severed from the rest of the formation by the sea. It thus affords the clearest illustration of the marginal nature of the maritime region, set as it is squarely at the intersection of the two lines of force. To put the point another way, it is within the overlapping fields of those two great metropolitan magnets which have been battling each other for three centuries past, Montreal and New York. Like other Atlantic lands, it is of course also within the magnetic field of another metropolitan area, Great Britain. The pulls of the three, as its history indicates, have never been constant or equal upon it. Newfoundland may be likened to a buoy fast to a long mooring chain in water where strong currents run; the buoy streams out from its mooring first this way and then that, dependent upon the direction of the current.
Newfoundland lies across the sea entrance to the Dominion of Canada, and may well be described as Canada's front door. If the door were closed by the island's coming into unfriendly possession, it would menace Canada's main highway with the outside world. The ports of the Maritime Provinces would remain, but their use involves an additional rail-haul of 500 to 1,000 miles. If the door were locked, as by hostile occupation, it would be difficult to keep communication going even through the ports of the Maritimes. This becomes obvious when the narrowness and difficulty of the passages north and south of Newfoundland are realised...
The situation works just as well in reverse. Given effective defence of Newfoundland by January 1948 NATIONAL CONVENTION 1097 Canada, it is difficult to see how an enemy surface vessel could get into the Gulf, or if it did, get out again, especially now that aircraft play so large a part in observation and attack. Submarines are a different story: both straits have ample water to allow submarines proceeding through submerged. The Straits of Bell Isle, with modem means of detection, could be made very dangerous to them, but no doubt they could still pass and repass Cabot Strait, but certainly not without considerable risk. If the island by some unlucky chance were to fall into hostile hands, it would be another story: shipping within the Gulf would be in constant peril. Everything considered, Newfoundland may be held to be a very effective stopper in the Canadian bottle, or in the picturesque language of Mr. Churchill, "an orange in the mouth of a sucking pig".
Strategically our possession of Labrador is also very important. Apart altogether from the airport at Goose, seaplanes may very well be secreted in the deep fiords of Labrador and by building up caches of gasoline between Quebec and Ontario, and using the innumerable lakes of that part of the world, they could work across to within easy bombing distances of the main centres of the continent, strike sudden blows and be off again. Anyone who knows that country will grasp at once the difficulties involved in stalking a raider to his lair. If he had numerous caches of gasoline on various lakes, he could keep playing hide and seek indefinitely... The coast of Labrador, the natural base from which bush-raiding would be conducted, is definitely of great strategic importance.
The great airport at Gander has changed the strategic picture of Newfoundland for it is so large and has such an enormous capacity in plane traffic that it becomes like a great fortress or battleship. It would be fatal to allow an enemy to damage it or capture it, hence the defences by which it is surrounded make the island still more like a fortress — a fortress from which the garrison can sally out at will and over oceanic distances. From Newfoundland, modern bombing planes can reach the British Isles to the east and Martinique, Puerto Rico and New Orleans to the south, Kansas City and Regina to the west... If the Newfoundland airports were in hostile hands, many important centres might thus expect to be bombed.
The vital position of Newfoundland in the approaches to North America thus clearly comes out. It covers the whole of the eastern seaboard at least as far down as New York. If it were in the hands of an unfriendly power, all exits from the Gulf of St. Lawrence would be closed and every Atlantic coast port down as far as Boston would be subject to attack from the air. Even if the power which had seized it did not have complete command of the sea, it could slip out surface raiders as the Germans did in the last war....
The constant element in all strategic studies is geography in its aspects of distance, topography, means of communication and climate. The varying element is national policy. Before specific strategic plans can be worked out, the policy of the state must be decided upon. If the state wishes to survive, the constant elements impose upon its policy a certain quality of predestination....
Let us look at what the attitudes of the chief powers interested must necessarily therefore be towards Newfoundland. The countries considered are Great Britain, the United States and Canada in the order named. The direct interest of Great Britain in Newfoundland is small. There is the historic connection, composed of sentiment, allegiance and finance, but for Great Britain Newfoundland is necessarily a minor matter, one of the infinite embarrassing problems of empire, no more. The day has long gone by when British policy towards North America had any element of the dynamic about it — that day passed with the annexation of Canada in 1763 — and today North America represents for England not a sphere of interest but a supply base. Providing the supplies keep coming, the internal matters of the continent are a matter of indifference to Great Britain. Her anxiety about supplies would lead her to try to see that there are good bases from which they may be despatched, but efforts of this sort take the form of advice and request, not of direct action. In World War I, Great Britain was still acting indirectly in British North America and there was much British naval activity in the Atlantic ports, especially St. John's and Halifax. In the last war Canada replaced Great Britain, except in the matter of conveying ships.
For the United States, on the other hand, Newfoundland is vital. The United States could not possibly tolerate a hostile power in Newfoundland. American naval thinking since 1098 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 Mahan's day is said to have desired a base in Newfoundland but there could have been no possibility of obtaining the concession except under the pressure of a great emergency, such as occurred on the fall of France. The unconditional British grant of the Newfoundland bases therefore represents something far larger than the mere panic of the moment; these bases seem to be part of a coherent, consistent pattern of American defence now of many years standing. This pattern works itself out bit by bit, either by conscious action based on long-range policy or by empiric processes enjoined by the circumstances of the moment and as opportunity offers, opportunity being political events of sufficient magnitude to scare the American public out of its ordinary indifference to matters of defence.
American expansion, of which schemes for defence form an aspect, has been continuous from the days of the first settlements and the doctrine of isolation has had little to do with it.... Since World War I at least, the motive in most of this expansion has been plain — to add to the security of the continental United States... The east coast, far the most important, for some curious reason, has been the most neglected — perhaps because of a half-conscious perception of Great Britain as a barrier against predatory Europe. Yet it must have been evident to keen students that the United States sooner or later would have to have Atlantic offshore defences comparable with those it possesses in the Pacific. That process was begun in the summer of 1940 with the acquisition of bases in Bermuda and Newfoundland and extended in 1941 with the moves into Greenland and Iceland. The United States has thus very consistently throughout its history followed a policy of securing control of all outposts from which threats to its security might be made. Its conception of outposts has grown with the increase in the range and effectiveness of the instruments of war. Where the conception will eventually lead American arms, is anyone's speculation...
Whatever the temporary problems of adjustment yet unsettled, it is impossible to go about Newfoundland today without feeling that something big has occurred; something as big as the previous American advances eastward along the coast in 1745 and 1758. This advance has cut that much more of the continent out of the dominion of a non-American power. Actually, perhaps, out of the dominion of another power into whose possession the island came many generations ago.
The nation whose fortunes are most intimately bound up with Newfoundland is Canada. It is abundantly clear that it must be a major aspect of Canadian policy to ensure the retention of Newfoundland in friendly hands and to see that even the friendliest of hands do not arrange things to her disadvantage. So long as Newfoundland was a simple British possession and there was no doubt of Great Britain's sea supremacy in the Atlantic, issues of sovereignty did not arise. Canadians were slow to grasp the changing position of Great Britain in sea power and the way in which that change might affect them. The whole issue was focused sharply in June, 1940. The fall of France and the possible fall of Great Britain was quickly reflected in Canada's assumption of responsibility for the defence of Newfoundland and in her increase of her forces there. This was the first direct Canadian intervention in Newfoundland.
Canada is as yet politically an immature country that is only slowly realising its own individuality; it is therefore not to be expected that it would have as clear-cut a policy as has the United States. Until June 1940, it was impossible to secure much attention to arguments urging that Canada should assume responsibilities in Newfoundland.
I move now that the committee rise and report progress.
Mr. Chairman The committee report that they have considered the matter to them referred, made some progress and ask leave to sit again tomorrow. The motion is that the report of the committee be received and adopted. Motion carried.
Mr. Hollett Notice of closure: I beg to move that immediately before the orders of the day are called on Wednesday, 14 January, 1948.
[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:522. [Volume II is not in The Confederation Debates Collection]

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