Newfoundland National Convention, 20 January 1948, Debates on Confederation with Canada


January 20, 1948

Mr. Chairman Before proceeding to deal with the order paper, I would like to say, Major Cashin, arising out of two matters to which you directed my attention yesterday afternoon, that I have inquired into both and I am about to report progress. With regard to the question on the New foundland Savings Bank, you will appreciate the fact that it envisages what the position of the bank and the depositors would be in the event of this country becoming the tenth province of Canada by the superimposition of the BNA Act. The question requires the knowledge, on the part of 1250 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 the person who undertakes to answer the question, as to what effect the Canadian Bank Act and the Canadian Bank and Bills of Exchange Act would have upon the institution in question. Further, it calls for a declaration by the Canadian government as to what its position would be, knowing as you do that a bank cannot start in Canada without first applying to and obtaining a charter from the federal government. It was decided by the local government that a positive pronouncement should be obtained from the Government of Canada, and, therefore I am instructed to advise you that your question has been addressed to the Canadian government through the High Commissioner here, and it is expected that the answer or answers to your questions will be forthcoming any day now.
With regard to the second question addressed to me by Major Cashin, Mr. Smallwood and Mr. Bradley, I have had a two hour conference with the Hon. A.J. Walsh, K.C., Acting Chairman of the Commission of Government.... I have to advise the House that the Hon. Mr. Walsh has taken the matter under advisement, and while I do not want to anticipate him, his attitude or at least the attitude of the government, will be communicated to the House through me within the next day or two. I do not know if there are any further questions arising out of that?
Mr. Cashin Beyond the fact that the questions regarding the Savings Bank have been in the hands of the Commission government for ten days.
Mr. Chairman It was addressed through the High Commissioner here to the Government of Canada.
Mr. Cashin Yes, yesterday, when it was brought to their attention again.
Mr. Chairman I was assured that the matter had been attended to and that the question was addressed to the Government of Canada through the High Conunissioner here.
Mr. Cashin I understand the question was directed probably yesterday or Saturday, despite the fact that it was in the hands of the Commission government for a week prior to that. It is an important question.
Mr. Chairman You will appreciate the fact. in fairness to the Attorney General, to whom the question would be directed, that because of the legal implications he had to take the matter under advisement. It is a matter upon which I cannot make a pronouncement.
Mr. Cashin I understand you cannot make a pronouncement, Mr. Chairman. I want to point out that we should have some definite information on this.
Mr. Smallwood I understand they were going to telegraph.
Mr. Cashin The last time we asked a question here it took them a long time to reply and then they gave us evasive answers. If the next one is as evasive it is worthless.
Mr. Chairman I did not find out how the question was communicated, but I was assured it had been forwarded....
Mr. Cashin I know from private information that in high circles I was condemned for even asking this question — that it is none of our business. I do know that certain steps were taken to try and curb this off. Mr. Smallwood told us that the Savings Bank will be continued. I want to see it in black and white. It is not in those books. I do not think Mr. Smallwood or any member of that Ottawa delegation or any member of this house can give us that information; the only way to get it is from the Canadian government.
Mr. Chairman I do not feel that there is anybody who is able to make a pronouncement except the Canadian government. If I were the Attorney General, I would not attempt to answer it.
Mr. Cashin It is a matter which the Ottawa delegation should have taken up with the Canadian government while they were in Ottawa.
Mr. Smallwood I will be honest about this. I do not remember whether it was at one of our plenary sessions or whether it was in conversation with the Minister of Justice, but in one of these I know that I, for one, did definitely raise the question, under confederation, who would own the Newfoundland Savings Bank and who would control it and who would get the profits.... I think the profits of the Savings Bank up to now are over $800,000 or $900,000 accumulated profits. I raised the question, under confederation who would own the profits? The answer was clear; no hesitation about it. It would be the same as now. The Newfoundland government would operate it; it will go on owning it; it will set the rates; it will own the profits. The answer was not put in January 1948 NATIONAL CONVENTION 1251 writing because the question was not put in writing. I will admit frankly that when we submitted a long list of questions which are in the Black Book ... and which the Canadian government answered in writing, when we did that, it would have been a good thing, if we had thought of it, to ask them the question in writing; they would have replied in writing and Major Cashin would have been saved the bother of getting it in writing. The High Commissioner has sent the question on to the government in Ottawa by cable, and if they reply by cable we ought to have the reply soon; and unless the Government of Canada has discovered something since talking to us, I think you will find the answer will be as I told you, namely that the government Savings Bank will not be affected, it will go right on under confederation the same as it is now.
Mr. Cashin It is all right for Mr. Smallwood to say that, but these meetings in Ottawa — there was nothing I could find covering the Newfoundland Savings Bank, which has $20 million belonging to the people of this country, averaging today 2.7%. In Canada there is no such thing as a government Savings Bank.
Mr. Smallwood Has not any of the provinces got one?
Mr. Cashin No. They are all chartered banks. They have to have a charter. $20 million is not chicken-feed it may be to Mr. St. Laurent—they took very good care to state What would happen to our surplus but they said nothing about the Savings Bank. It looks fishy to me. And if they do not answer, I am going to put my own interpretation on it.
Mr. Chairman Your concern is that there is not an official declaration, either in permanent form or otherwise by the Canadian government as to the future status and operation of the Newfoundland Savings Bank in the event of this country's deciding to federate with Canada?
Mr. Cashin Yes.
Mr. Hollett It looks to me that they have told us what is going to happen. They distinctly tell us in the terms that the surplus will be divided as to one-third which has to be placed on security in Canada.
Mr. Smallwood If we wish to put it on.
Mr. Hollett This would indicate that the rest of the monies in the Savings Bank will be transferred to the Bank of Canada. Or does it not?
Mr. Cashin I am not Minister of Finance — although I was promised to be Minister of Finance of Canada. I might enlighten the House further with regard to this matter. I had conflict before in connection with this, and I may say that I came out on top. Under the Savings Bank Act of 1937 — if my memory serves me right — the profits that would accrue were to be placed in a special fund so as to build it up until profits amounted to 25% of the total deposits in the bank as further security against any loss depositors might run up against. At that time also in that act, provision was made whereby the profits would be handed over to the Crown Agents in London for administration. That act of 1937 was never carried out. Profits were never sent to the Crown Agents because two and half years afterwards they amended that act (1939) wiping out that clause. It was still laid down that profits were to be set aside, but those profits, as a matter of fact, are not properly set aside yet; they are just shown as assets of the bank. No fund has been created. If tomorrow they should get a run on the bank (God forbid!), and they had to sell some of these bonds at a discount, the profit might be wiped out. I want to assure the Convention and the country, because I know steps have been taken in high circles in this country condemning me for bringing this matter up. I consider it my job as a member of this Convention to bring it up. I want to see the thing straightened out and unless and until it is straightened out, I am not going to be satisfied. We cannot take Mr. Smallwoood's word or the word of any member of that delegation regarding the Newfoundland Savings Bank. If it comes officially from the Canadian government, all right. As I see it, it will not come from the Canadian government; unless they are going to put a special provincial bank here, and they have none in any other part of Canada.... They have a provincial bank in Montreal, but it does not do regular chartered business, it is not anything like the one we have here — it is privately owned, not government owned. There is no government savings bank in Canada — if there is, I am from Missouri.
With regard to the other matter, I gathered from you that will be announced within the next day or two?
Mr. Chairman I had a two hour conversation with the Attorney General last night. We were 1252 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 agreed in principle as legal men as to the interpretation to be placed upon the act and while we were in tentative agreement, he wanted some time to think it over. I sprung it on him out of the clouds, so to speak. It was agreed that I would send him a transcript of that particular part of the proceedings, which I have done. Undoubtedly we will get a final opinion on the matter within a day or so, The motion is:
Be it resolved that this Convention recommend to the United Kingdom government that the wishes of the people of Newfoundland should be ascertained at the earliest moment as to whether it is their desire that responsible government as it existed in Newfoundland prior to its suspension in 1934, be restored; or that the present form of government be continued.

Motion to recommend to the United Kingdom Government that the wishes of the People of Newfoundland be ascertained as to whether it is their desire that Responsible Government be restored or Commission of Government be continued

Mr. Fogwill Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, I do not intend to take up much time in speaking to this resolution. At the onset I wish to make it clear that I am in support of it, particularly that part relating to the restoration of responsible government. I feel that in responsible government we have the best opportunity for the future. It is because I am not less interested than you are in the future of our country that I feel confident in justifying that statement. Now, sir, before all else, I think we must recognise that we are entering a new era. Things perhaps will never again be just as they were. We are moving out of old conditions and old social and economic surroundings. We are at the crossroads. Let us accept that as a fact, as simply and as categorically as we can, and let us build our house of the future accordingly. It is my conviction that the Newfoundland people are about to face a second great test of their powers of survival as a separate unit in the British Commonwealth. We have to be careful and see to it that we are not saddled with a group of experimenters and so-called planners with their intricate formulas of social and economic security under the misguided notion that economic security and freedom and liberty are one and the same thing. If you were to ask me, on what group of our people falls the greatest responsibility for the future well-being of Newfoundland, I would put my finger on those who drudge in the city, town and village, and those who toil in the forest, in the mines, on the land and upon the sea —- these are the people of labour, Mr. Chairman; these are the people who built this country, in good times and bad. It was the men and women of labour who made our cities, towns and villages and serviced them; it is they who built our churches and schools and staffed them. We are here, Mr. Chairman, representing those people, to consider the good and welfare of them all. So let us see to it that their faith in democratic government is not injured — and when we speak of faith, I say that faith can be applied to the events, problems and controversies of modern living, especially in the field of industry and the relationships of business and labour. Our problem is to restore human affairs in this country to a satisfactory state without sacrificing the essential framework of our way of life. To save what is good in our present economy based on a legitimate profit motive and the natural right of private ownership, we must first get to know entwining abuses, and then be prepared to cut those abuses away. What is basically good in this country of ours must be thoughtfully and conscientiously observed in the face of sceptical and perhaps muddled thinking — that will take time and study, and study takes time and sacrifice. We must prepare, as any alert businessman would do to save a going concern, to sacrifice whatever does not contribute to the general good. The Newfoundland people must be careful in their consideration of their domestic problems. I feel confident, Mr. Chairman, that the people of Newfoundland are not going to be prompted by any jittery impulse to grasp at some quick social formula that promises some kind of a general remedy. The toilers of this country will decide in their own good time and in their own way without any flag-waving speeches and fancy talk from anyone. That is the way I look at it, and I believe the great majority of our people look upon this question in the same way. They will decide for themselves. It is quite true that we in New January 1948 NATIONAL CONVENTION 1253 foundland have had to contend with economic factors much less favourable than some countries. Of course we ate dole in Newfoundland during the depression — the world ate dole. In Europe and in the Americas, a hundred million human beings ate dole, and there are many eating it today. Some of the finest cities in the world have their cracked pavements, sagging roofs and tumbledown shacks. These things are there for anyone to see, this position is not peculiar to Newfoundland. A political change cannot bring forth economic reform and freedom from want. The resources of this country are as God made them, and any change in the form of government will not bring a change in climate. It will not bring more fish to our shores, nor make the day longer, nor will it bring us any nearer to the great centres of supply. No, Mr. Chairman, a particular form of government will not give us economic security. It has been stressed here that there can be no political freedom without economic security. Where can this be found, this political freedom coupled with economic security? It has never existed. Are we to receive this gift overnight? Trash and nonsense! If we want political freedom with some measure of economic security, we shall have to dig and sweat for it. It is the only way. Life was more simple at one time, Mr. Chairman, it was not the tremendously complex thing we know today, and we should remember that any individual solution to a local problem is a definite contribution to the solution of national problems, which are cumulative. If we want democracy in Newfoundland tomorrow, we must live it today.
Fundamentally the Newfoundland scene has not changed, but we are slowly moving away from old methods of doing things, perhaps even without our knowing it; we are moving through a transitional period in this present century; the whole financial, government and economic structure of our island has been vastly changed; we have to adapt ourselves to new world conditions. And before we take one step forward into the future, we Newfoundland people must see to it that we have restored to us our hard-won rights as a separate unit in the Empire. In closing, sir, I say that we must find for ourselves a framework of philosophy of life that will make it possible for us to approach and solve our problems in an intelligent and therefore democratic manner.
Mr. Harrington Mr. Chairman, I have waited a long time and in patience for this day. I can still remember Friday, February 16, 1934. I had just passed my 17th birthday, and like most young Newfoundlanders of the day who had finished school the preceding June, I was more taken up with the problem of what to do next than with affairs of state. Nonetheless, Mr. Chairman, I had sufficient sense of destiny to realise on that bleak February day 14 years ago, that something momentous was happening which, though I was not aware of it at the moment, was to have great meaning in time in my own personal life. I sensed, sir, then, that it was a great historical moment, and in a way, perhaps, I was a living symbol of the belief then held by a great section of our people, that the system of government that day being inaugurated in Newfoundland was destined to open up a new era for this country. This sense of destiny and that faith — more conscious than expressed — caused me to wander that afternoon to the vicinity of the Newfoundland Hotel to gaze at the notables as they arrived in their cars, and vanished into the impressive portals of that structure on their way to the Ballroom, where the deed was to be done.
The papers said the weather was ideal, but I know better. It was cold and bleak, a grey February day as I recall it, and it has seemed to me, in every day that has passed thereafter that I think upon that scene, that a greyness comes into my soul as well. For you see, sir, I was young then, green; I knew little of governments and less of politics. The only recollection I can summon to my mind of the days of parliamentary government in this island is a recollection of the general election of 1932, when the Alderdice government was elected, whose manifesto said in effect that it would seek the appointment of a royal commission to study the situation of the country and recommend as to the alteration of the existing constitution. but that no such recommendations should be carried into effect without an appeal to the people. Well, in June, 1932, I was more interested in the Council of Higher Education's examination papers for grade ten, than I was in the personnel and manifestoes of the contending parties in that election. I can still vaguely recall the indifference with which I and my companions passed shops and offices in whose windows long lists gave the hour-to-hour results of the polling. 1254 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 And so in 1932, but more so in 1934, two crises of our national life were reached and gone through, and the ignorance and the unconcern of youth thought less of them than of summer holidays in 1932, and a job in 1934. And yet, in looking back, I sometimes wonder if some of the unconcern was more imagined than real; that the sense of destiny may have gone deeper than I thought. Else how, sir, I have often said to myself, "How can you account for this?"
This is a portion of the Evening Telegram, for Saturday, February 17, 1934. I am not going to read what's in it, but I want to refer to it for just a moment as I move on to deal with the motion before the Chair. The pages contain a detailed description of the proceedings that went on inside the Newfoundland Hotel on the previous day while I stood outside in the bleak day and wondered. I do not propose to describe that scene, which is so familiar to so many of our people, nor to list the imposing array of very important persons who attended in one capacity or another. But I wish briefly to summarise the meaning of that scene and that event as it then appeared.
The new Letters Patent of 1934 suspended the Letters Patent of 1876 and 1905, and contained in the third paragraph the statement that the new Letters Patent "would provide for the administration of the said Island, until such time, as it may become self-supporting again", and was a natural sequel to the 1933 Act which declared that when the country was self-supporting again and on request of the people, responsible government would be restored. On this celebrated occasion Governor Anderson, who opened the proceedings, said in part:
His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom has treated us generously, and has given us the opportunity of bringing back prosperity.[1]
The message from the Dominions Secretary, which the Governor read, said in part:
We recognise the courageous spirit of patriotism with which the former government and legislature and the people of Newfoundland have agreed in the interest of their country's recovery to accept a suspension of responsible government; we feel that there could be no better augury for the success of the new form of constitution. The object of the Letters Patent now proclaimed is to provide for such time as may be necessary to enable it to become self-supporting again. We hope and believe that the result will be to place its affairs upon so firm and sound a foundation that a recurrence of the present difficulties will be well-nigh impossible.[2]
Thus spoke the Dominions Secretary. The Hon. F.C. Alderdice, ex-Prime Minister, on that occasion said in part:
In return for the financial assistance extended by the United Kingdom government we agreed to relinquish temporarily the privileges of responsible government, and to place ourselves under the form of regime which has been officially inaugurated here today. Upon this point I will merely say that while our people welcome the inauguration of this temporary form of administration, unfettered by extraneous influences, and dedicated solely to the rehabilitation of Newfoundland, at the same time they recognise the necessity of striving earnestly and diligently in extricating the country from its present difficulties and thus hastening the day when we shall be able to lay claim to our former status, in the British Commonwealth of Nations.... This form of Commission government will, in my opinion, rapidly and permanently improve conditions in Newfoundland. Freed from the distracting elements of political expediency and party interest, the Commission's energies and activities will be devoted solely to the implementing of a program of expansion of the country's industries, the broader development of its trade and commerce, and the placing of its financial fabric upon a firm and lasting foundation.... The immediate objective must be to rescue the country from the peril of collapse which now threatens to overwhelm it, to instil new heart and confidence in the people and to bring about conditions in which, provided that they play their part, they will be assured at least of earning a livelihood. When the first objective has been achieved, the next objective must be the formation of a long-range plan, based on an January 1948 NATIONAL CONVENTION 1255 exhaustive study of local conditions, and calculated by the creation of and development of new sources of wealth, so to strengthen the economic structure of the Island as to prevent the recurrence ... of those periodical visitations of pauperism and distress to which it has hitherto been subject ....[1]
I ask you to contemplate just for a moment or two, just how far, and to what extent, subsequent events and history came up to such high hopes and sweeping promises.
That, Mr. Chairman, was 1934. I had a lack of understanding then. But to resume my case history. Failing a job that year, I got the opportunity of attending the Memorial College, and a new phase in the education of a Newfoundlander began. I studied economics and political science amongst other things, and for the first time in my 17 years I began to develop an interest in the history of my own country and the story of our people. I read books which I did not know had been written, and learned of men whom I did not know had existed, and of deeds and events I was not aware had ever occurred in the very city I had grown up in, and the many places that were familiar only on the map during the day's lesson in geography. And there grew in me, Mr. Chairman, a slow, impotent rage; to realise that what I witnessed and read of February 22, 1934, was not something that had occurred to meet an emergency of a moment, but was in actual historical fact the culmination of a process that covered centuries, and was as calculated and as ruthless as it could be, having regard to the various periods of history, and the sense of values that each generation of men and their governments had lived by.
Mr. Chairman, it would take all the time that is alloted to this entire debate, even to outline the cruel and bitter story of this island's history and its steadfast growth in the face of the most implacable obstacles that any white colonial people of the British Empire has had strewn in its way towards progress and fulfillment. "The visitors who came and went" says one authority,
like tides and winds, and who embodied the very spirit of mutability and anarchy, had the first century to themselves. Their being alternated with not-being; they lived like seals and thought like geologists; to them Newfoundland was little more than a sunken fishing bank with a dry top here and there, and they left indelible traces of their genius on the place. During the next century a few small groups of settlers arrived who were imbued with the ideas of permanence, home and order, but they were overshadowed by the influences which were already there .... Time with its cradle and war with its winnowing- fan proved that the future belonged not to the annuals but to the perennials. The proof was given at the close of the second century, but the whole of the third century the visitors became so unimportant, and the settlers so numerous, that it was at last unanimously recognised that Newfoundland, instead of being half colony and half fishing bank, was a whole colony like other colonies, and with a destiny of its own. The final recognition of this fact ushered in the fourth century of Newfoundland. The wheels of the chariot of history moved very slowly as though tortoises were in the shafts, and it took three centuries to arrive at the starting point of other colonies' histories.[2]
There in a nutshell, in the words of J.D. Rogers, is the history of Newfoundland.
In the records the history of Newfoundland began in 1497, when the history of North America also began. But in the actual fact, the history of Newfoundland as a country beginning to go somewhere of its own, made its first feeble steps with the granting of representative government in 1832, and its first real strides after the granting of responsible government in 1855. It cannot be repeated too often, the condition of Newfoundland up to the 1850s — the middle of the last century, just about 100 years ago — because no man, woman or child can fully appreciate or realise what happened in 1934 without that knowledge. The island was a wilderness. It had no roads, no communications of any kind. Its population, just beginning to grow after centuries in which settlement was forbidden, had only reached a figure of some 70-80,000. It was only a little over 20 years since the first white man had crossed the island from east to west, and brought 1256 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 back some knowledge of the interior and the wealth it contained.[1] Then in 1855 Newfoundlanders were given responsible government — but I shouldn't say they were given it — no, rather that they won it, which they did. Now if ever a people were politically immature, they were that. They had barely 20 years of representative government, since l832, that Nova Scotia had had since 1758, Prince Edward Island since 1769, New Brunswick since 1784, Upper and Lower Canada since 1791. And the granting of responsible government to these other British North American colonies had come anywhere from six to 14 years before Newfoundland. The Newfoundland people in 1855 had had less than 25 years to prepare for mastership in their own house, full self-government for which those others had been preparing for 60 to 80 years. Newfoundlanders began self-government with two strikes on them, as we say.
But they had the stuff. They were no better, no worse than their neighbours, even though the system of education which had been slowly and painfully built up by the various denominations had its beginnings early in the 19th century, little more than 100 years ago. On the other hand, in the neighbouring provinces of British North America, and in the new republic of the United States, schools, colleges and even universities had been in existence, from the middle of the 17th century onwards, permitted by law and encouraged, as they were forbidden and discouraged in this island.
And then, Mr. Chairman, even when responsible government was granted, it was not at all that complete and full authority some of us believe it was. Actually Newfoundland was never quite free; never wholly independent. Hence the pages of our history contain episode after episode of struggle between the oldest colony and the mother country, principally over fishery rights, which were a bone of contention, not only between England and France (witness the French Shore), but between England and the United States as well. There are dozens of instances, great events in our story, that recount how Newfoundland's political leaders went as delegations of a sovereign people to London, to Ottawa, to Halifax and to Washington, and by sheer persistence and dogged courage buttressed by shrewd and farseeing minds, gradually weakened and finally broke these outside controls on our country and its people, till in 1904 the French were gone, and in 1910 the Americans withdrew — 1904, 1910, only yesterday.
Mr. Chairman, I did not propose when I set out to speak on this motion to give the Convention or the country a history lesson. But it seems to me that without a study, even a cursory one, of that history, none of us can properly assess just what our maligned responsible governments did for this country. As I said at the beginning, our collapse of 1934 was deeply rooted in the facts of that history. As I pointed out the other day, the commission form of government was suggested for this country in 1895, when she was in financial straits after the bank crash. But the men of that time were made of sterner stuff; they rose to the occasion, and Newfoundland weathered the storm and went on to the 20th century and an age of new and greater development. Although we are still very close to the events of 1933 and 1934, it is fair to admit, and has been admitted in many responsible quarters, that Newfoundland was asked to pay too high a price for her solvency. Professor Harold Innis, author of The Cod Fisheries, declared with reference to this,
The decline of bankruptcy as a method of adjustment brought the collapse of responsible government. It was significant that a banker occuped a prominent position on the Royal Commission which recommended its abolition. When Newfoundland's dictatorship as a whole refused to accept the highly questionable policy of one of its members, Mr. Thomas Lodge, he argued that, "To have assumed responsibility for the good government of Newfoundland from altruistic motives and to have achieved economic rehabilitation might have cost the British taxpayer a few millions. It would have added to the prestige of the British Empire." But that will not do. "For those who believe in democracy the prestige of the British Empire must have suffered a blow with the destruction of its fundamental basis in the oldest January 1948 NATIONAL CONVENTION 1257 colony. We cannot base our argument on the importance of the British Empire to the maintenance of democracy when we calmly allow the light to go out in Newfoundland.[1]
These words, written in 1940 of the events of 1933-34, are full of portent today, as a more huge and menacing figure of totalitarianism advances on the strongholds of freedom everywhere.
But getting back to my case history Mr. Chairman. I studied the story of Newfoundland, and I drew my own conclusions. So much so that in 1943, when I made my first public address — a toast to Newfoundland — the sum and substance of my belief was contained in one sentence; that as far as I was concerned, "the miracle of Newfoundland was not that so little had been done here, but so much." The Amulree Report, with its condemnation of our public men, became the textbook of all those whose intention, deliberate or otherwise, was to damn with faint praise all responsible governments of Newfoundland because it was the fashion. I think the attitudes of many Newfoundlanders to our former public men, especially those who should have known better, can be best summed up in a portion of the Gospel according to St. John: "They shall put you out of the synagogues; yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth a service to God." And my own attitude on the radio, six times a week as Mr. Smallwood did before me, is contained in the two verses that immediately precede that portion I have quoted: "He shall give testimony of me; and you shall give testimony, because you are with me from the beginning. These things I have spoken to you, that you may not be scandalised."
No, Mr. Chairman, there was no excuse for the suspension of responsible government in this country. No method of cure could be as drastic as that for whatever ills beset us. They cut the legs from under us and still expected us to walk and to advance. If one could strain a point and find an excuse for the suspension of responsible government it might lie perhaps in the words of Commissioner Lodge, just quoted: "To have assumed responsibility for the good government of Newfoundland out of altruistic motives and to have achieved economic rehabilitation might have cost the British taxpayer a few millions. It would, however, have added to the prestige of the British Empire." But that did not happen.
What did happen? From 1934 to 1940 this country, this people, suffered privation the like of which was never known in her history. I was a civil servant from 1937 to 1941, in the Department of Public Health and Welfare. Every day there passed through my hands, as through the hands of many others, the harrowing story of the misery, distress, sickness and death; the Gethsemane, as someone already has said in here, of an entire people. I say there was a reason, too, for that — the absence of our traditional democratic institutions. Do you expect me to believe, that had Newfoundland retained the parliamentary system of responsible government that this country would have had to wallow in squalor and despair until a war brought unheard-of wealth to the island? Do you really believe that Newfoundlanders elected by their fellow-Newfoundlanders would sit indifferent to the cries and demands of the electorate? Do you think they would give away parts of our territory for 99 years, without seeking and demanding something in return? But there is no need to go on, you know the answer as well as I do.
I fully agree with Mr. Smallwood, that Commission of Government is not a right or permanent form of government for the people of this country; but I cannot agree that responsible government is so full of the doom and disaster that he now so ardently declares it will be for Newfoundland. In 1934 Mr. Smallwood was older than I am now, and the Who's Who of Newfoundland declares with respect to Mr. Smallwood, that he was an ardent supporter of the commission form of government in the first few years of its career. Thereafter he realised his error and become one of its stoutest opponents, and as has been pointed out, up to a few years ago, was the most redoubtable protagonist and booster of the return of Newfoundland to responsible government. I honestly believe that Mr. Smallwood in that role did more than most people to create the vague stirrings for national independence which in recent years developed to a strong demand in many sections of the island. Surely, it seems fair to ask, why wasn't union with another country suggested then either by Mr. 1258 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 Smallwood or by others as a solution for the difficulties of the poor broken-down island of Newfoundland between the years 1934-40, instead of now, when she is financially independent, economically strong, and possessed of vast potential resources and a great strategic importance?
I do not see either how the British government, whose policy in all parts of the world is to give control of their own affairs to whatever peoples of the Empire seek them, can encourage Newfoundlanders to retain the present dictatorial system, particularly in view of the straitened circumstances of Great Britain at the present time; and this would tend to give some credence to the belief still held in many quarters, despite the rather ambiguous answer received to the Hon. Mr. Job's question, that the commission form may not yet appear on the ballot paper; or that a statement of Great Britain's inability to finance the system may be issued coincident with the holding of the referendum. I think it is also right to point out that at the present time the Commission of Government does not hold office by the will of the people. However, if at the referendum it should be voted into power, it would then be in the position of a popular legislature, of a kind, and possessed of the authority to put this country into union with another country.
The foundation for the presumed solid entrenchment of the Commission government in our midst is the argument that they have extended our social services That, it would seem, is the only argument. Yet, as I have pointed out, this was not commenced in actuality until 1941, and the various reports of the committees of this Convention which went thoroughly into these matters, all indicate that up to 1941 the policy was to make both ends meet and no more, and that all extensions of such services were coincident with the influx of money from the United States and elsewhere. So their achievement is that they spent money, a lot of money, since 1941. It is fair to draw the conclusion, based on their policy of the years from 1934 to 1941, that but for the war that money would not have been spent, because they would not have had it to spend. When that money is all gone, as it will be very soon at the present rate of spending, what can we in this country expect? Surely we do not believe that Great Britain, a rich country before the war, which could only allow the Commission of Government enough money to pay the interest to the British bondholders while Newfoundland itself balanced its own accounts out of its own revenues, surely we do not believe that Great Britain, a country in dire straits after the war, can give us financial aid to support the present system of government and the services which we will be expected to maintain? Of course we don't!
What then? This Convention has now reached the end of its deliberations. A few days ago the final and conclusive Report of the Finance Committee on the Economic Position of Newfoundland was adopted unanimously by the members, thus acknowledging that the country is self-supporting, and has been for several years, and is likely to remain so in the forseeable future — for three years at least. On that basis the present resolution is before the Chair: "Be it therefore resolved that this Convention recommend to the United Kingdom government that the wishes of the people of Newfoundland should be ascertained at the earliest moment as to whether they wish to return to the form of responsible government or retain the present form of Commission of Government", or words to that effect.
I intend to vote for this resolution, as I believe most, if not all of the delegates here will do also. But I want to make it quite clear that I am voting for this resolution because it is the only thing I can do. The 1933 Act says that responsible government on the request of the people will be restored. That is, the people must express their desire for its return, as against a desire to retain the present Commission. Since they have not as yet in any concrete form expressed that desire, they will be given a referendum; the matter will be referred to them for their decision.
I want to make it quite clear and have it go in the record, Mr. Chairman, in case it's not already clear, that I am not in favour of the commission system. I never was, long before I came to this Convention. It was repugnant to me, because of the things I had learned and come to understand. It would be false to all the beliefs and ideals I have ever held or followed, if I were to recommend its retention to our people in this crisis, as we stand in the open doorway of a beckoning and wonderful future. I have stated on every occasion that constitutional matters were discussed in this Con January 1948 NATIONAL CONVENTION 1259 vention that the main choice we as a people have to make is this: "Do we want to be governed by others, or do we want to govern ourselves?" If we decide we want to govern ourselves, then the way lies open at any future date, if we are so minded, to enter into union with one of the larger countries to the west of us.
I do not agree with the opinion expressed in this Convention that people don't care what kind of government they have, so long as they have a full belly. I know that isn't true; it is in opposition to the history of mankind. Economic freedom does not come before political freedom, it is the other way about. Today all over the world, political freedom is the goal of all men — white, yellow and black. Are we to be any less than those? We, who for our size and population are in an economic and strategic position today that many peoples can truly envy?
Now, I made the statement that Newfoundland was never quite free, never wholly independent. What did I mean by this? Simply that while Newfoundland was theoretically under responsible government managing her own affairs, in reality, in the last analysis, Great Britain had the final say on any matters affecting the extra-territorial activities of this country. Hence, amongst other things, the blocking of the Bond- Blaine reciprocity treaty, when Canada went over Newfoundland's head to Great Britain, with the known results. Things have greatly changed since then, and there is in existence what is known as the Statute of Westminster, enacted in 1931 in relation to the dominions, of which Newfoundland was one in 1931, and still is, though with suspended status, as you yourself, Mr. Chairman have written in an excellent article published some years ago in the Book of Newfoundland, edited by Mr. Smallwood.[1] I have just been reading a very good book on the Statute of Westminister and its application to the various dominions, including Newfoundland, written by no less a person than our mutual friend and former constitutional expert to this Convention, Professor K.C, Wheare, whose whereabouts are still something of a mystery to most of us.[2] Now it would appear that in the interval between the conference of 1930 and the introduction of the Statute of Westminister into the House of Commons, Newfoundland requested the insertion of a clause postponing the application of sections 2 - 6 of the statute to Newfoundland until its parliament adopted any or all of these sections. Section 3 of these postponed clauses reads as follows: "3. it is hereby declared and enacted that the Parliament of a Dominion has full power to make laws having extra-territorial operation." That means, as I understand it, that if a responsible government of Newfoundland passed in its legislature that section of the Statute of Westminster, by and with the consent of the people, it could then be free to negotiate a trade or other agreement, a reciprocity treaty on the lines of the Bond-Blaine treaty, and there could be no interference by Britain, or by Canada through Britain. That is the clue to our future solution of our trade relations with the United States.
Now the position of the Commission of Government with relation to the Statute of Westminster is worth noting:
In the new constitution, issued in letters patent under the authority of this act, the former bicameral parliament of Newfoundland was abolished, and power to make laws for the peace, welfare, and good government of Newfoundland was transferred to the Governor, acting with the advice and consent of the Commission of Government. But although the Governor and Commission were empowered to amend, add to, or repeal any law passed by the legislature heretofore existing, it was nowhere stated that they were to be deemed to possess all the powers of that legislature, nor were they described as a legislature or parliament. It may be argued therefore, that no parliament exists to exercise the powers conferred by the Statute of Westminister upon 'the Parliament of a Dominion', and that the adoption of sections 2 - 6 of the Statute is impossible so long as this system of government by commission exists. In law Newfoundland would appear to be a dominion still (though in name only), since section 1 of the statute extends to Newfoundland, and has not been amended to omit the name of Newfoundland, and section 11, 1260 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 which abolished the term "colony" as applied to the Dominions, still extends to Newfoundland.
Again, Mr. Chairman, the words are those of Professor Wheare.
Therefore, in voting as I will on this resolution to give our Newfoundland people and ourselves the opportunity of choosing between the present system of benevolent dictatorship, and a return to control of our own affairs, a return to self-government, I would ask them to note what I have said about the Statute of Westminster; and would urge, though it scarcely needs urging, that if this country elects to run its own affairs again, that it insist of its leaders that the Newfoundland parliament adopt the postponed sections of the Statute of Westminster, particularly section 3, which will give us the necessary full control and independence to deal with the USA, towards which the hopes of our people have gradually turned as the solution to whatever economic difficulties we have had or may have in the years ahead.
Mr. Hickman Mr. Chairman, I would like to say first that I am heartily in support of the motion before this House. To my way of thinking, and supported by the facts which I have been able to acquire during the long session of this Convention, I cannot help but feel that the people of this country should first be given the opportunity of having restored to them their own right to free democratic government of themselves and by themselves; and this principle should, I feel, be adopted whatever the circumstances may be. As it happens, this National Convention has unanimously found this country of ours to be self-supporting and the previous Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Wild, stated also that Newfoundland was self-supporting; but even in the event of their not being so, I have come to the conclusion that this should be the first step in any reformation of our political and economic affairs. I say that I have come to this conclusion by facts and other material considerations that I have been able to acquire and carefully study since the opening of this Convention. It has been proven to my own satisfaction that a country can only decide its own future, both securely and safely, through its own government elected by and with the support of the people. It has been obvious to me in recent months, the hopelessness of endeavouring to find so-called security through methods so undemocratic and so futile of any real success — so helpless in the hands-tied-behind- the-back approach. Neither can our present form of government, however well or poorly they have governed, find a solution to our country's future. They are not our representatives in our sense of the word. Better it be that we decide our own future through our own elected government, even with the unavoidable ups and downs, and remain a people happy in the knowledge that we are our own masters and command our own destiny.
As you are aware, Mr. Chairman, this National Convention at the outset appointed committees ... and after the completion of the work by the several committees, each report was brought before the full Convention and debated and questioned in what I would consider a very thorough manner. To the members of this Convention, politically and governmentally blindfolded for some 12 years, these reports were undoubtedly of great benefit in helping them assess the present economic position of our country, as well as providing them with some foresight of at least the near future, which in this upset world today would not be possible in a great many countries. I consider that the Finance Committee's report was really in substance a summary and factual finding of the remainder of the reports, and particularly so was their report on the economic position of Newfoundland, which clearly indicated what the people of this country could expect and realise in what was quite rightly called the "foreseeable future". It has been clearly shown to me that this country is economically sound, self-supporting, and in a better position today than it has ever been in its history, and I doubt if there is a country in the world that can compare in this respect to Newfoundland. Our basic industries are in a much more sound, diversified and better economic position to face the future than they were before the war and, for that matter, any previous period in our history.
Briefly, sir, our fisheries, still the main industry of this country, have made great and rapid strides of improvement, and are stronger than ever. The foundation of the fishing industry is today more solid than at any time in our history. The saltfish branch has been greatly improved by useful help in production and curing, and particularly so in the standard of pack for each market, which has made such a great impression January 1948 NATIONAL CONVENTION 1261 on the buyers in our foreign markets and which is accounted for by the compulsory inspection of all grades including even the inferior and West Indian qualities. The marketing system has gradually become one of the finest, and has now brought the control and selling under one organisation, which works in conjunction with our Newfoundland Fisheries Board. The result has put us away ahead of our Canadian competitors both in our more diversified marketing and our selling.
I mention these few facts to show the advancement made in this branch of the industry, and so that our people can realise that we have today a more solid and closely-knit operation of this part of our primary industry. The development of the cold storage division of the fisheries, covering our fresh processing and filletting methods, is only now in its infancy, but has rapidly developed in the short period in which it has been operating. The investment of local capital monies in this branch of the fisheries has been tremendous, and with the recent acquisition of two new trawlers from the USA, is still further providing proof of improvement in our fishing methods, as well as increasing our production of not only codfish, but of many other kinds which are in demand in our fresh frozen fish markets. New developments of recent years are the fish reduction plants, such as the herring oil and meal plant at Curling, and the one in course of construction at Belleoram. Here again we have a new source of national production which bids fair to become a big factor in the economic future. Increased and improved methods of whaling have added to our volume and value of exports. There is canning of fresh codfish at Fogo and the new proposed plant at Bay Bulls, and the new herring and mackerel canning plant at Petries in Bay of Islands. These adventures are all of but a few years of age, and are extra developments and additional sources of income to our producers that we did not have prior to 1939. We live by what we produce and export, and these additional industries make our economy more solid than ever before.
Our paper industry, likewise, has not stood still. The addition of a sulphite plant in Corner Brook, together with a large, estimated $12 million extension to the paper mill at the same place, will provide labour and income for a great many more of our people than for any time in our history. There is talk of another paper mill on our southwest coast.
Mr. Chairman, add all these factors together, and you get a brighter, sounder and more solid basis for an economic future for this Newfoundland of ours. As you will realise, not only will those directly employed in these industries derive benefits, but the country generally and the people in it will share in any prosperity derived from our basic producing industries. There must be the ups and downs which every country and every nation must experience, but we were never better equipped to face the future than we are in Newfoundland today.
Financially, this country has enjoyed prosperity to an extent that has never been known before, to us or our forefathers. One has only to refer to the Report of the Finance Committee and particularly to their report on the economic position of Newfoundland. Last November, I expressed my opinion on this question of Newfoundland's finances and its future and gave my reasons, together with figures; and I feel strongly that we have a promising, hopeful and, above all, a sound future as far as one may care to see in this world; and that is as much or more as can be said for any other country. If time permitted I could considerably add to and enlarge on these brief points which I have just covered. How any man in this country which has been known for its love of independence and resourcefulness, could fear the future under the improved economy and advancement in our industries, is more than I can contemplate. We have an opportunity that never knocked at the doors of Newfoundland before. And if we do not avail of this opportunity now to speak for ourselves, govern ourselves, and be responsible only to ourselves, we will have failed in the greatest moment in that proud history.
In so speaking, and in making a recommendation to the people of this country that they should use the God-given right to restore to themselves the responsible government which is and should be ours by right, I would like to explain that once we can attain this natural status belonging to every country, we are then in a position to approach or negotiate with any country we may so desire, to further our interests with them through and by our own elected government, and through which there is no better method of arriving at 1262 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 international conclusions or results.
In mentioning this I have a particular aspect of our future in mind. I am convinced that our economic future, or some security of it, lies with the USA. I say this for obvious reasons. The USA is one of the largest purchasers of our products, particularly of our newsprint and fish products. The USA, in turn, can supply practically all, if not all of our requirements. The USA is the most powerful and richest country in this world. There is still a tremendously large undeveloped market in that country for our products, a market that, if assisted by an economic union with the United States (under which there would be reciprocal arrangements), might mean unlooked-for developments of our industries, particularly processed fish of various kinds, a development that could mean much to our country. We could buy a lot more needed goods from that great country in return. We have the Americans here now in the bases they have established, and in return for a beneficial arrangement with them, I see no reason why these bases and facilities could not be further extended, thereby providing an increased volume of employment for some of our people, and in return giving to the US a more beneficial defence system and a less restricted action in the planning of defences, which would be to our advantage as much as to theirs. This would be a negotiated agreement, only possible through a government of Newfoundlanders elected by the people. In addition to the possibility of an economic tie-up with the US, I believe it would be possible to re-open discussion on the question of the present bases which they have in Newfoundland today. It is impossible for the Commission of Government to do this, as they, through the British government, signed the original bases agreement and to them the matter is closed. Our own government would, however, be in a position to ask the consideration of the US to the question of discussion between them and our own elected government on the matter. I have reason to believe that Newfoundland, through a government of the country, would receive a sympathetic hearing, and in the light of our desire to negotiate an economic union, and to further offer them extension of or increases in bases, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that we could secure some yearly rental for the bases now already occupied. Even a rental small to them would be of no small assistance to us. The USA does not have to re-open the question of the leases, but I believe that there is a great possibility of their so doing, for the reasons I have just mentioned. Some members will endeavour to tell you that this suggested economic union is not possible, because the USA has favoured-nation treaties, whereby any facilities or benefits in duties or import restrictions of goods going into their country, must be offered to these other nations, on the same basis as negotiations might be concluded with us. That might have been true not only in fact, but in effect in 1939 and prior to that year. Today, conditions and world problems are different from those of prewar days. Newfoundland's strategic position, while perhaps realised, has never been acknowledged so openly as today. The advancement in war tactics as well as the discovery of such terrible weapons as the atom bomb, have made not only the USA but every country extremely conscious of their vulnerability, and the USA has realised and appreciated this fact for some time. Consequently Newfoundland, in its geographical position, is of tremendous importance to North America. This factor has changed the conditions of 1939 and prior to that, and for that reason alone they might very well consider, and be anxious to do so, the question of an economic arrangement with this country. There is no need for me to further outline the benefits to our industries, both in Newfoundland and the Labrador, that could well materialise from such a union with America, if we had a government of our own to make the negotiations, as the USA could not enter into these discussions until such time as the people of this country have responsible government restored to them.
Before concluding, I would like to tell you, in addition to the above benefits of responsible government, the form and the type of responsible government I would like to support. I realise that many fear, perhaps, a return to a similar type of government which they experienced in earlier years. I consider that a responsible government should consist of say, 16 or 18 members.
Mr. Chairman That would not be possible, unless the redistribution of 1933 were amended.
Mr. Hickman We do not need and do not want any government of 40 or 45 members such as we had in the past. The large number of members January 1948 NATIONAL CONVENTION 1263 was added expense, was not needed, and in fact was not wanted. I believe in the minimum number required. The next step then, would be to set up a somewhat different system of operating the government from that which we had prior to 1933. The first step would be to set up a civil service commission composed of, say, three to five members who would be independent citizens, with no political attachments; obviously they could not be a member of or connected in any way with either the government or any opposition party. The function or duties of this commission would be the governing of the civil service. In consultation with the ministers and department heads of the various branches, they would re-organise, where necessary, the workings of the departments, decide on the examinations necessary to enter the service, the remuneration, the pension systems, and the employment and discharging of civil servants through their departmental heads, which would remove once and for all that political association of the past with the procuring or losing of positions in the civil service. A person would have no fear of his job, no matter for which patty he might care to vote. He would be independent of politics and secure in his chosen profession. The standard of the civil service could thus, perhaps, be raised, the efficiency improved, and if the more responsible positions were rewarded in proportion, with higher salary in relation to services given, I feel sure that the service could become one to envy and provide a choice of a career with a future, which so many of our people may not consider it, as it exists in its operations today.
A further step would be the proper direction in which allocations to departments would be spent, eg the Public Works Department. It is necessary in this case, as in that of any and all the departments, that the allocations in each year of the government's budgets could only be made and controlled by the government itself in light of its estimated revenue and expenditure, and of the necessity of certain works to be done or public service provided or maintained. Once, however, the allocation is made, say to the Public Works Department, then the spending of the monies of each year would be in the hands of a public works commission, including the head of that department. The spending on improvement, extensions or maintenance of services would be done to serve the most people beneficially and where it would do the most good, both in respect of the welfare of the people and the general economy of the country. That it would be spent wisely and fairly could be assured by your already established civil service commission, through whom the service personnel is controlled and who would and could investigate any political implications or unfavourable methods of expenditure, resulting if they so desired, in the relieving of his position of the one responsible for the department concerned. In this respect, the civil servants taking these responsibilities would need to be reimbursed in relation to their position.
This method of public service would have a much-desired result in the elimination of political promises to voters, either by individuals or parties, and would make useless the election promises of roads to be built in any particular settlement, or the digging of a well for Uncle Tom; and unswayed by the old familiar promises, would permit the voters to elect the member, or party, in which they would have the most confidence to govern this country. It would take the political interference out of the civil service, provide for better government administration, and go a long way to assure that the best government was elected, which might not always have been the case in the past, where wild and extravagant promises persuaded the people to vote against their better judgement. Each department could be similarly handled.
Now, Mr. Chairman, I have endeavoured to give just a simple illustration of my conception of the form and manner in which our government of the future should be handled. I realise that I was perhaps generalising, but my suggestion would take a few months of close study to iron out the wrinkles and avoid the pitfalls, and time does not permit me to in any way do justice to it in the short period I am allowed in the debate on this motion. I trust, however, that I have in some measure shown the members of the Convention, as well as the people of the country, the basis on which our own government should be administered.... Along the lines of these principles, we can have a better-than-ever self-governed Newfoundland. Some people may be inclined to doubt the practicability of my suggestions, but I am convinced that it could be worked out practically if tackled in the proper manner by sensible 1264 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 men, of which there are no small number in this country.
Since entering this National Convention I have endeavoured to look at the facts we have had before us with an unbiased mind. I have been sincere; and have endeavoured to be fair in all my criticisms and findings, and to look at this whole question of our future in the light of what is best for the most of our people, and best for Newfoundland.
There were words written some number of years ago, not written for the most important time in our history, but nevertheless most fitting to this time of very far-reaching decisions:
As loved our fathers so we love, Where once they stood we stand; Their prayer we raise to Heaven above, God guard thee, Newfoundland.
Mr. Cranford Mr. Chairman, in 1934 when the Commission of Government took over the affairs of this country, a great many people, including myself, thought it was a move in the right direction. We thought it would be like a father who saw that his children had gone astray, and had made a move to put things right. The people of this country today are greatly disappointed, or may I say disgusted to find that such was not the case. It was more like a group of people who would like to hold the reins of power forever. In the light and knowledge of the actions of Commission of Government, and confirmed by this National Convention, every action of the Commission was to make the people of this country believe that we could remain solvent only under the form of Commission of Government, and that government only is honest enough to carry on the affairs of this country. That is as I see it, and I would like the people of this country to understand that I am not dictated to by any man, nor aml affiliated with any firth or corporation, either in business or politics.
There never was a government that was in a better position to do what was best for this country than Commission of Government. They were under no obligation whatever to the voters; therefore there was no pressure that could be forced upon them, and no excuse they can give for not doing everything that was in the best interest of the country. What do we find? From 1934 to 1939, the only difference between Commission of Government and responsible govern ment was that the British government recognised the Commission of Government, when they were not prepared to recognise responsible government. That is the only difference that I can see; they carried along on the same lines as all former governments, without any improvement whatever. They made no attempt to change our method of business to help the fishermen and workers, but instead made it worse for them, and for the country in general. They put us further in debt. In 1939 the Commission of Government had a deficit of $4,069,320 as compared with a deficit of $1,528,525 in 1934 when they took over. I refer you to the Financial Report, pages 20 and 30. It can be clearly seen that the Commission of Government did not handle our affairs any better than responsible government in the light of our financial standing from 1934 to 1939. If there had been no world war, what would have happened? Would there be any Commission of Government to be bothered with today? So far as I am concerned I am going to consider the stewardship of this caretaker government in the light of their actions from 1934 to 1939. Since that time illiterate women would have run the affairs of this country just as well. For my part I cannot see one act of the Commission of Government that could be commendable.
Mr. Chairman, permit me to make a few remarks in connection with just two acts of the Commission which, in my opinion, will give a fair illustration of all their acts. First, so-called free and compulsory education. I say "so-called" because there is a 60% duty on exercise books, scribblers, pencils, etc. imported into this country. Therefore the word "free" is absurd. "Inconsistency thou art a jewel!" Second, the spending of thousands of dollars preaching cooperation, and causing thousands of dollars to be lost by the same people that co-operatives would benefit. Mr. Chairman, I do not want to be misunderstood. I do not want people to think for one moment that I am against co-operation, but quite the contrary. What I want to point out is the inconsistency of the Commission of Government. Thousands of dollars were lost to the fishermen and workers of this country by the creation of the government's Supply Department, by killing the trade of the outport importer and uprooting the business that had taken them a lifetime to establish, and the fishermen and January 1948 NATIONAL CONVENTION 1265 workers of this country lost at least 30% on their purchases.
Mr. Chairman, it is a recognized fact that the government's Department of Supply picked their favourites when appointing their committees or groups, call them what you like. Perhaps these are the parasites that Governor Walwyn referred to in his farewell address, in which he said:
The cost of living here is terribly high, but I hope it will tend to fall before long. I am assured on the highest authority that this high cost of living is not due to the high duties on necessities, but is due to the high profits and the excessive profits being made locally. There are too many middlemen and commission agents, who are really parasites on the community.
This expression, coming from no less a person than a past chairman of the Commission of Government, does not speak well for that body, but rather verifies my statement of what can be and is being done with the help of governments to feed parasites rather than destroy them. It has been said that it was rather late for the past chairman to make this expression in his farewell address. Maybe it was a little late, but it was much earlier than the rest of the Commissioners.
I know that none of the Commissioners will attempt to say that they fail to see where any evil was committed. If they do, we could all rejoice that such men did not have charge of the government of England at the time when Hitler began his threat to dominate the world. If they could not see from the very day that the Supply Department was instituted and its committees formed, that it meant the domination of the trade of this country by a few, then they were too small or indifferent to realise what was going to take place; I hope we won't, as a body of Newfoundlanders entrusted by our fellow men to help to put things right. In order to put things right, we must regard this Convention as a declaration of war against domination, manipulation and intrigue, and I hope we will meet with the success that the Allied armies met with against Hitler's domination.
Mr. Chairman, again I do not want to be misunderstood. I know and agree that price control and the control of the distribution of food and other necessities for the winning of the war was essential; but the handling of the textile business by the Department of Supply was abused right and left, and the outport importer was discriminated against. If there is any person who would like to dispute what I have said, let us ask ourselves the question, "Did we know of any ceiling price on a suit of clothes, or anything in the drygoods line during the war?" No, sir, we did not, and I say without fear of contradiction that the Commission of Government did help big business, and in doing so took a delight in upsetting the business of the outport importer; and again I repeat, the fishermen and workers of this country lost at least 30% on their purchases.
Mr. Chairman, perhaps you do not grasp the means whereby monopolies were created by the establishment of the Supply Department. I will make an attempt to point it out to you. When an outport importer needed goods from any foreign country, the first thing he had to do was apply to the Supply Division of the Commission of Government for a certificate of essentiality. That application had to go before a committee of men who were that man's competitors. In other words, they were the wholesalers of St. John's. They were given the privilege of being able to dive into that man's private business, and even prevent him from getting any goods. Perhaps you may ask in what way they could do that. Well, here is an example. I know of a man who in 1942 applied for a certificate of essentiality for a quantity of goods from New York. When his goods were packed and addressed ready for shipment, an agent from Newfoundland appeared at the warehouse in New York and seeing the address on two cases of goods he inquired from that firm if they shipped to that man. When being told they had been shipping to that man for a considerable time he simply put the gun to the shipper by saying, "If you ship that man these two cases you will have to cancel our ten", with the result that that man got no goods from the firm since.
Now these are the acts of the Commission of Government, and I will leave it to my listeners to decide for themselves if it was through ignorance on the part of the Commission of Government of how business is conducted, or was it to help their favourites? Whatever it was, the people of this country had to pay two profits, one to the wholesaler and another to the retailer, which amounted to at least 30% more than if imported by the outport importer.
I know we have had bad governments in the 1266 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 past, governments that introduced class legislation to benefit their favourites and supporters. I know that, but this caretaker government outstrips them all; although I, with thousands of other Newfoundlanders, thought that by the advent of Commission of Government these evils would be remedied. But instead of the evils being remedied they made things worse for the majority of people, and helped a few to make a fortune at the expense of the taxpayers. There is no need for me to say any more about the Commission of Government, as I know their doom is sealed by themselves. They have been weighed in the balance and found wanting, and should not be considered as a future form of government.
As for myself, I am like the man and woman who were fighting in their own backyard, when a stranger passing by saw that the woman was getting the worst of it. The stranger went in to part them, when suddenly to his surprise both the woman and the man turned on him and he had to run for his life. They did not want any interference in their affairs. They were capable of settling their own squabbles together. The same thing applies to me in considering our future form of government. I do not want to see any more interference in our political life. We have had it for 15 years, and everyone knows we have had enough of it.
Now I come to the question of responsible government Mr. Chairman, although supporting the motion now before us I would support it more whole-heartedly if the words on the eighth and ninth lines were deleted, which read, "as it existed in Newfoundland prior to its suspension in 1934", because who in Newfoundland wants to revert back to responsible government as it existed in Newfoundland prior to its suspension in 1934? Who in Newfoundland cannot see the error of our ways, and has not gained wisdom and knowledge of the running of our affairs, so as to conduct it on a sound and solid business method? Who in Newfoundland would dare to say we do not need a fusion of informed co-operations and sound policies in the sphere of finance and trade, and general development of the country?
I really do believe that the majority of the people today are waiting and anxious for the time to come when they can vote for our return to dominion status imbued with new blood, to see that our country is put on a sound footing, with a determination that never again will outsiders conduct our affairs and throw out the insult that we are not fit to guide our own destiny.
Now let us be honest with ourselves. Let us face the untamished, brutal fact, as one member would like to put it, and that is, we have men in this country who can look after our affairs, and we need not import men to run our country, or appeal to any other country to rock us in the cradle. We have men who have not been asleep during the past 14 years, and have realised how essential it is that we look after our own affairs instead of allowing outsiders to do it for us. We have men in this country brilliant enough to have seen the error of our ways, and if given a chance would see to it that their country would be governed just as good, or better, than any other country on the globe. Please remember that Newfoundlanders have been classed "better than the best". We have men that have decided that we safeguard ourselves in the beginning, by seeing to it that a reformation must take place in our constitution that will eliminate all evils, and prevent monopolies which the fishermen and workers of this country, in the past, have had to support; a constitution strong enough to direct its course in an honourable manner, beating in mind that we live on a rock and our principal source of living is the fish that touch in near that rock, not in a regular manner, but in a manner that constitutes a gamble for a living. Therefore, Mr. Chairman, we must take the fishery as a guiding star in all our undertakings, and other industries will be automatically protected.
We do not care what name is placed on our future government. What we want is a government that will carry out its obligations to the letter, and will be strong enough to resist all evils, such as persons or firms that attempt to prevent competition, that would create monopolies, and would class them as parasites, and boycott their goods until such time as our principal industry, the fishery, had no competition I hope and pray that we will not be carried away with the idea that we are here only to try and make a beginning to establish a government, but that we are here to try and bring about ways and means whereby we could live on our industries, and make laws that will equally bear on all, and be prepared for any eventualities that may take place in future years, when we will be able to sing from the bottom of January 1948 NATIONAL CONVENTION 1267 our hearts, "God guard thee Newfoundland."
Mr. Chairman The motion is before the Chair. Is the Convention ready for the question?
Mr. Hillier Mr. Chairman, I listened with very great interest to the different speakers. They have shown much enthusiasm for the cause they are sponsoring. I do not propose to take up much time in connection with the report before us. I merely wish to say that I support the idea of placing before the people the two forms, if I may call them so, which are contained in this resolution, because I feel the people have a right to make one of these their choice. But I could not wholeheartedly support this resolution, Mr. Chairman, and I think that it might so happen that the other form of government, if that may be so termed a form of government, which is uppermost in the minds of many scattered throughout Newfoundland — I would not, I say, support that motion if I thought by any chance this other form, namely confederation, will be....
Mr. Chairman If you don't mind, Mr. Hillier, I don't want to embarrass you, but you are required to confine your remarks to the two forms of government.
Mr. Hillier Thank you, I do not wish to be out of order.
Mr. Chairman I am not ruling you out of order, I just want to draw your attention...
Mr. Hillier I just beg to support placing before the people the two forms of government, if they may be called forms, before the people at the national referendum. Thank you.
Mr. MacDonald Mr. Chairman, in supporting Mr. Higgins' motion now before this house, I do it because I feel it is due to the people of this country to give them a choice of possible governments. How can we do otherwise? It is not being fair to the people for me or any other member of this Convention to attempt to prevent any of the electors from voting for the government of their choice, within limits, or to put it more plainly, a government within the Empire.
Ever since this Convention started I have tried to maintain a non-partisan attitude. I have tried within my humble attainments to sift out from the voluminous reports, and the equally voluminous and not always edifying arguments of the various speakers, some information which would lead me to a decision as to the forms of government to recommend to His Majesty's Government, and indirectly to the people, that would be beneficial, and also, as I understand we are expected to do, make my own individual choice as to the particular form, that in my opinion, would be the best in the interests of our people generally. I have tried through study and my own experiences to justify my reasons for finally dealing with this question of recommendations of forms of government.
Personally, I am not greatly interested in politics, beyond seeing that the people get a square deal in their choice; I have no political axe to grind, and it is highly improbable that after this Convention is finished I will be very active in political affairs. If the Convention has taught me anything, it is that politics is not my line.
Mr. Chairman, we have in the motion before us two forms of government, responsible as it existed prior to its suspension in 1934, or that the present form of government he continued. Let us consider both in the light of the opinions of some of our people. First, responsible as prior to 1934. We had this type of government for about, I think, 80 years. During this time, we had what might be described as good, bad, and indifferent governments — it all depends on our own political leanings. We had leaders who were statesmen, not politicians; others who were politicians, not statesmen. It has been said that the difference between a statesman and a politician is that the former thinks he belongs to the state, and the latter that the state belongs to him. I am afraid we have had a few of the latter. In my own recollection of governments, going back about 50 years or so, I have seen some of our public men practically ruin themselves in their businesses, owing to the interest which they took in their public duties, as Mr. Higgins intimated. I have also heard others accused of gross incompetency and worse; I suppose it's all in this game they call politics.
During the period that Mr. Higgins refers to, when revenues were low and we carried on, he must concede the fact that the expenses of government were correspondingly low, and certainly it is no argument to compare responsible government with Commission of Government, who, while having exceedingly high revenues, also had to face exceedingly high costs of maintenance and capital expenditures.
We also sometimes forget that during the 20 years before Commission our credit was good, 1268 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 and in consequence, through continued borrowings, our public debt rose by leaps and bounds; when we ran out of cash, we simply borrowed more, thus sending our costs of government soaring. When we could not borrow more, then came the grand finale — no credit, no cash to pay our bills, resulting in loss of responsible government and the inauguration of Commission of Government. It must be conceded that some of our troubles were caused by world depression, but I think the Amulree Report intimated that not a few of our troubles were caused by incompetence on the part of our own governments. We did not like that report, which may or may not have been exaggerated in some particulars, but at least it was a report from a highly competent body of men who made an independent enquiry, and reported as they found.
We are now giving the people the choice of going back to the same kind of government we had prior to 1934, with all its failings; the kind of government which will probably carry on in the old tradition, fill positions in the civil service from the ranks of party heelers, irrespective of their abilities, who would only hold office during the tenure of that particular party, and then out; give old supporters a job for a couple of years, and then pension them with a good retirement allowance; in other words, upset the system the Commission of Government has gone to some pains to inaugurate in our civil service during the past 14 years. We will also have our old system of indirect taxation, a system which gives us a good revenue when prices of imported commodities are high, and the people find it hard to survive.
In fine, Mr. Chairman, under responsible government we have the glorious privilege of having our very own independent system of government; but can we afford this? Can we hope to stand alone, and still afford our people and the comparable standard of life as enjoyed by the peoples of the American continent? It has been said, and I think truly, that Newfoundland might carry on under responsible government if the people were satisfied to have a lower standard of living than that of the peoples I have already mentioned. The electors should give this particular form of government due consideration, and a lot of serious thought before supporting it.
The second form of government mentioned in the motion is the present one, Commission of Government. This administration has, in my opinion, done a good job generally speaking; it is not an ideal form of government to have permanently; it has the disadvantage of being a system of taxation without representation, a system that has caused untold troubles in the world, a system that lost the American colonies to Britain, and was probably the cause of the war in South Africa. In Newfoundland it has probably outlived its usefulness, and I think the time has arrived to take more of our responsibilities on our own shoulders. But let us give credit where credit is due, the Commission of Government has done some good work during its tenure of office; it has been an honest administration, it has undoubtedly put the civil service on a more businesslike basis than any of our own governments ever did; it has given our young people a better opportunity to advance in that service, and to feel that their positions do not rely on changes of government. It has increased our social services in the matter of health services and education, although much still remains to be done. It has endeavoured to give us good roads, though undoubtedly they overdeveloped the fisheries. It must be conceded that they had large revenues to accomplish all this, but it also shows they had the will to do it. They may have made mistakes, but who doesn't? We should at least be thankful to the British government and the Commission of Government for the conduct of our affairs during the past 14 years.
To conclude, Mr. Chairman, I feel it is my duty as a member of this Convention, knowing that some of our people wish it, to support the motion before the Chair, and give them the opportunity to support either of the two forms of government mentioned, should they so desire, at the same time reserving my right as an individual to question whether either of them would be in the best interests of our country.
Mr. Bailey Mr. Chairman, with regard to every minor and major event in this world there comes a time when, to use a nautical expression, "this is the pay-off", the meaning of that term being "a coming to an end". I can say for myself and a large number of members in this Convention, with cheerful hearts, the Evening Telegram notwithstanding, in retrospect one can see the mistakes, but that is nothing. We can profit by it. January 1948 NATIONAL CONVENTION 1269 If a man never makes a mistake, on investigation you will find out he never accomplished anything. I will leave that to posterity... I have done my best as I saw it. I have put quite a few yaps in it, and I suppose that people thought they could do it better. My only comment on that is that it is a shame that those people did not tell the public what experts they were, and got the people to nominate them for the election. What an awakening the people would have had! What service they would have rendered to the country! Surely Newfoundland should have had the best, but we are just a bunch of common people, trying to find a way out. Some could have done better, others, I venture to say, worse. I will excuse that, especially those of the younger generation. They have been left in a fog of political oblivion for 14 years and were never taught, and never knew how a democracy works. I wonder what one columnist would have written or thought if she had attended the House of Commons and heard the Commons, with the enemy at the gates and the world falling to pieces, take time out to debate if the women sailors' undies would be pink or blue — and other matters just as irrelevant. Perhaps it would have been OK for the Commons to have done that, being learned in the way of democracy, but for Newfoundlanders — I guess they expect the courts of Newfoundland to produce philosophers, but what a kick they got! It is only common men who came in here and I guess we will go down in history as the only codvention that ever sat!
I take this out of a poem, "The Human Nation"; I quote the first verse:
To each is given a kit of tools, A shapeless mass, a book of rules, And each must carve e're life is done A stumbling block or a stepping stone.
This I have kept constantly in mind through life, and especially since I have been in this assembly. I weigh this from every angle, and I can assure you it has been my guide. I want to leave, not a stumbling block for the generations that come after, but a stepping stone to higher heights.
I have no political aspirations, for I believe that in the parliament of the future the people should not only elect those who should rule them, but nominate them as well. This is my political belief, and I can't see anybody with common sense nominating me, and I don't see any political party taking me in. For one thing I don't take the nod from anybody in either hell, earth or heaven, only my Creator, and sometimes not from him — if I did I would be a better man.
Those forms of government, which according to those terms of reference we are to advise the home government on, I take each in turn. First, I believe this is the biggest "jumblement" that was ever foisted on a people, and I am not going to jumble it any more. But with regards to myself I am going to make it clear, the stand I am taking and why I am taking that stand. I am voting that responsible government go on the ballot, but I firmly believe that there should not be a ballot, that Britain, with or without the consent of the people, should give back that which never should have been taken away — the right that 1,400 of our finest laid down their lives for, and at least 1,400 more went to an early grave for— the right of self-government. And the hard part of it is that those in Parliament who at the time raised Cain because it was taken from us when they were in opposition, today are in power and have put into operation this cumbersome, expensive machinery, while without any fanfare they have turned loose, to full and dominion independence, nearly half the Empire. We would have got the same treatment if we had been 1,000 miles southeast of where we are... Well, as long as water runs I'll always believe that an Englishman's word is not worth the oxygen he uses up to form the word or sentence. Why has this happened? I'll whisper a secret, gentlemen. We did not take the nod, the imperial nod in the sixties, and this time by hook or by crook we are going to take the nod. Now the only thing between us and that imperial nod (in fact now it is a frown) is the people's "X". God grant they will use it wisely. For myself, never will a foreign power, no odds how friendly, hold dominion over the 152,000 square miles of this earth's surface, with my consent, that our forbears helped to claim and colonise.
I look back on the history of my own family, outlawed and under sentence of death after the Jacobite rising in Scotland. The two brothers came to the Isle of Man and from there to New 1270 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 foundland, about the 1730s. If any of you read Parson Harvey's History of Newfoundland[1] — "1812, did today visit the family of William Bailey at Little Harbour, and christened his family" — that was my grandfather's father, Newfoundland-born. William Bailey's father believed in self-government and swinging a claymore in defence of what he believed was the right form of government for him. He did not get it there, but in the woods of Newfoundland he found it far from ideologies. Today our forebear's theories are right, for apart from a minority, all the world plans for self-government — all those who can get it. I know there are certain sections of this world where a minority rules. They are behind an Iron Curtain. We are the only ones in the Anglo-Saxon world who are deprived of that right. Power politics are doing that to us. Latitude and longitude today determine the amount of self-govemment we will have if the powers that be have their way, and this is contrary to the Atlantic Charter, contrary to democracy and also to the American way. A cry was raised in the 18th century there, about taxation without representation. Britain found out to her cost that by not heeding that cry, it had to be rammed down her throat, and the operation was painful. Had power politics been forgotten then and the rights of men taken into account, I wonder if the affairs of this world would not have been different. I doubt today if we would have had the two bloody wars we have had lately and that peace would be on this earth. I believe that all people should govern themselves. It should be the right of any man to do just that. Why deny it to me? I have been deprived of that right for 14 years and a right good mess has been made of it. Of that I will speak later. I have paid a little more than lip service to democracy. That's why I joined a queue four city blocks long, four deep, to put on a uniform August 6, 1914. If anybody saw the crowd there that day you would see there was a lot of us of one single mind. It is a service that all citizens should give, and if you count the number in this gathering that have served their stint in defence of King and country and look at them when the vote is counted, you'll find out that the great majority of them believe in the divine right of self-government. Let the vote speak for itself. The world will soon have a chance to learn how it will go. Men from this island built up a name to the Germans, the "White Indians", a name Newfoundland can cherish, a name their sons can be proud of, a name equal to the Scotsmen's name of the "Ladies from Hell". You'll note the enemy gave them both names and only two classes of men in the Empire, the Scotsmen and Newfoundlanders. There must be nothing wrong with a country that can produce men that even the enemy will name — nothing that can't be cured. Scotland is turning her hand today towards making her homeland fit for her "Ladies from Hell" to live in. What are we doing? I'm fairly, shall I say cosmopolitan, and in touch with the outside — and what do I find? What is being done to make Newfoundland a fit country for the "White Indians" of both wars? Why those of us who went through the hell of '14 to '18 and who have raised our families have had 30 years of civvy street in Newfoundland, understand what those "White Indians" who have come back have to go through, who know the restlessness of settling to a different life, because war with its months of intense boredom punctuated by moments of intense fear does something to you. Can we who understand war, who understand peace, men who are at the age when men are at their best in administrative positions, have no say at all? Because, in a world torn by an economic crisis the like this world had never experienced before, Great Britain stepped into the breach. We lost self-government, but buoyed up with the hope that when the island was self-supporting, then self-government would be restored at the request of the people. Although Britain knew our resources, our liabilities, she brought us in here in a convention, had 45 of us running around from Cape Race to Quirpon collecting statistics that could have been given to us when we came in, putting in motion cumbersome expensive machinery after 14 years of political oblivion, beginning with a blackening of all statesmen and political institutions, forgetting that her own political history was not so bright. She never attained her position politically without civil war. To anybody interested in political history, the history of the Mother of Parliaments makes juicy reading, and much can be improved on yet. I'll January 1948 NATIONAL CONVENTION 1271 handle this when speaking to Commission of Government.
I must apologise to you for bringing in the history of my own family, but I did it for this reason. Each year Confederation Life puts out a calendar they give to the public, a picture of how our great sister dominion was colonised. You see that great statesman Lord Halifax, with his ex- soldier settlers, backed by British cash, planning and building the city of Halifax. Another gives the settlers wading ashore at Pictou to the skirl of the pipers, a complete unit in itself. Go north to Cape Breton Island, and at Soldier's Cove and vicinity you'll find where Wellington's veterans, some who stood in the squares at Waterloo, carved out new homes. Go to south Nova Scotia, there you'll find the Hessians, veterans of the American war. All those were settled with British cash, British organisation, and last of all with British blessing and care while they were getting on their feet. Compare that with the way our forebears settled here, not with the help of their government, but against the dictates of it. My people were here about 80 years before it was legal to build a chimney in a house. We could forget this persecution in the past, but it is carried on today. We must still take the nod and it makes no odds what government is in power, whether Tory, Liberal or Labour. We are not grown up and must be babied, must go the way they think we should go. Are those people mad? I can tell them they are playing with dynamite. Take this Convention, hardly one of us knew the other until we met here, and today although two-thirds of us are of the opinion that the agreement between the British Parliament of 1933 and the Newfoundland parliament of that date should be carried out, what do we find? Dictatorial terms of reference passed not by Newfoundland's elected representatives, no, but by remote control, something that won't allow us to even mention the agreement of 1933. It's ultra vires, beyond the scope. To boil it down, it's this. The ballyhoo about Newfoundland's effort in the two wars, her 2,000 dead — they did not die in defence of Newfoundland democracy. They died for the Czechs, the Poles, the Belgians. You have no right to mention that agreement should be carried out. It's ultra vires, beyond the scope of the death in action of 2,000 Newfoundlanders and the probable shortening of the lives of 3,000 more. While the cheers in the Commons and the Lords on Newfoundland's effort in the war are still echoing through the buildings, they were putting out those cursed terms, the scalloped shroud of Newfoundland democracy. While we have always looked upon ourselves as the keystone in the arch of empire loyalty, let Britain beware through this action she does not tumble that arch down by tampering with it.
I can only at this stage affirm my belief in a government by Newfoundlanders for Newfoundlanders, divorced from remote control. A government that should never have been tampered with. We hope that those countries, Britain and the United States, who signed the Atlantic Charter, will take cognisance of this, our appeal from the larger number of the people's only representatives for the past 14 years, and grant that dominion status be given as quickly as possible, and allow us to put before the people whatever type of government they believe in, in a legal manner. Only this will give us back the confidence that we have lost in the mother country. Only then will we believe an Englishman's word is his bond. This has been shown in the manner we have been treated and I, for one, regardless of what my fellow delegates think, believe both the country and the people have not been given a square deal. Politically in life I've carried my end of the plank, in government I want nobody to carry my end of the plank. It's my God-given right, the right man has struggled for a thousand years. Let Britain wipe the slate clean of this wrong she has done her eldest daughter and prove she is not playing power politics and paying only lip service to democracy.
With regard to this form of government that fate seems to have foisted on us, I can only quote one of our politicians when he said that a certain district left a bad taste in his mouth. This form of Commission government has always left a bad taste in my mouth. If it was the best form of government in the world I would say that, and it's not that. I cannot think how anybody with a drop of blood in their veins could say anything else. The first time I contacted Commission of Government it was a puzzle to me — that was in 1936, and in 1948 it still remains the $64 question — how it operates. I would like to meet the Rip Van Winkle who first worked out the plan, for I'm sure that only somebody who has been asleep for 1272 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 100 years and had never been aware of the changes that had taken place in human endeavour, could foist that form of government on his long- suffering human brother, because we and the English, if you undress us and we don't speak, you can hardly tell us apart. I have asked myself the question, why did our people stand for it? For you can't give away freedom and have it. There is only one answer to my mind. There were too many of our bonds held in Newfoundland. I haven't the least doubt that the constitution would not have gone only it was a choice between the 5% and 6% interest on the bonds and the constitution. So the constitution lost.
In this I am reminded of a bond poster in England during the first world war. It said, "You gave your sons, but you won't lend your money." In this case it was "You'll make sure of your percentage" — the mess of pottage. And then through promises, half truths, a heaven on earth was promised by a nation who, for a scrap of paper in 1914, went to war. That was our battle cry, '33, how nice the promises, how soft the siren's song. I have the Amulree Report; how much it says, how little it means — something like my Lord Addison, one question answered seven different ways, then coming back, the other scrap of paper treated by our sainted mother just as callously as Germany treated that scrap of paper guaranteeing the independence of Belgium — so has Britain treated us, less the loss of life and property. Let us examine the report. It starts with a history time forbids us to go into, so we'll take things that count for our period.
I'll first quote paragraph 218: "The credit system might have disappeared without direct intervention by the government, had an attempt been made to train the people to independence."[1] Let's see what the Commission of Government did to train them. Never in the history of this island was the chance better to train our people in independence. The dole could have been a blessing in disguise, for it was the first time in Newfoundland history that poor people had a regular income, and this is what could and should be done. It could have been tried out on a small scale. First, two of us were sent into St. John's by the people of Trinity South in 1939 because things had come to such a pass that life was unbearable, owing to mismanagement by those in authority. The flour was full of weevils and rope— unpalatable, nauseating. I knew what was the matter, as from 18 to 24 years of age I had been at sea, three years of that in the grain trade, sometimes at sea for 117 days. If your flour tanks weren't steamed at least once a year, the weevils would over-top you and in the flour tanks you had more weevils than flour. The flour was good but a high wheat content, which lends easily to rope and weevils. I visited the Furness sheds. The sheds in August were packed to the metal roofs with flour which had been there nearly a month, although we had nearly a weekly service to the old country, and in the summer months only a monthly supply of flour should be kept on hand. The winter it did not matter, as the cold weather would keep the flour in good condition. I contacted those in authority but could not get to see them, although 11,000 people had sent me in from the Broads to Lead Cove. That was the fatherly, beneficial dictatorship we were under! I saw a few heads of departments, but no soap. We saw the Commissioner for Natural Resources, and here I come to where our people could have been lifted out of this credit system. We had an income even if it was only six cents per day, but how did we get it? First go to the little dictator, the relieving officer, with a note; and then to the local peddler who had friends at court. Mind you, they were sure you would not learn anything, no, you weren't grown up. Consequently, you could only turn in your note at the peddler and take out the bit of pork, the bit of tea, sugar, beef and last but not least, the weevilly flour— good flour that was spoiled by the indifference and ignorance of the Department of Public Health and Welfare.
While travelling from Winterton to Hant's Harbour I came across a small party, two cars. They were boiling up. I made enquiries and found out it was the Whitfield Laite Baritone Troupe, "baritoning", singing the glories of co-operation to a starving people. I had just done about 150 miles, a lot of it on foot; I had an intimate close-up of every village from Lead Cove to the Broads, had figures on how TB had increased in each village. I was not in a good frame of mind, because the thought struck me forcibly that I was always intrigued with the idea of Nero fiddling while Rome burnt, but I never thought I would see Newfoundland starve while Laite "baritoned". January 1948 NATIONAL CONVENTION 1273 When we came into St. John's we saw the Commissioner for Natural Resources as I found out he was responsible for this campaign. I lit into him, as I was interested in co-ops; I was on the Labrador when Dr. Grenfell put one there, and I had studied it in both Bristol and Glasgow. The outcome was Mr. Gorvin asked me if I would take up fieldwork, I said, "Yes, you give me October and September cheques for Chelsea and Hant's Harbour and I'll go over and form up a committee in both places, hire a truck and go to Carbonear, buy wholesale and distribute the whack for each month, then the people will understand what cooperation means, and no other way. You'll find out the six cents will feed the larger family and the smaller family will be a lot better off." He told me he could not do it, he was trying it out on the south coast. There it ended, and the hellish conditions went on until the war came and I went away. Mr. Gorvin informed me the government was behind the co-op. I said, "Yes, but a long way behind."
Why in heaven's name was this colossal fraud worked on us? All the investigations, all the promises, and here was a chance for a people to help themselves. We had the men who were prepared to work without a cent. I wanted nothing, only the dole I was getting, for it was a pet scheme of mine; but if I was prepared to give up leading the people, a job would be found for me. No thank you! I don't take the nod. Our credit system was "an unmitigated evil, breeding dishonesty, extravagance, luxury (mind you), carelessness, recklessness regarding the future, want of energy, laziness and dependence among large sections of a naturally well-endowed hardy and able people."[1] That's the charge, but what did they do to stop it? Sent around a baritone troupe, put everything into the peddler's hands, so in January he could count his profits until next January. You can be sure nobody was going to get an outfit under these conditions. I have always said if the mother country had had our interests at heart, she would never have given this form of government, but it seems like we have got into the old girl's hair too often, and this generation was going to take it and like it. I have stated, and I'm still of the opinion, the least we should have had was a modified form of North of Ireland status, where we would have had a say in our local affairs. If our politicians were as black as they were painted by those titled nincompoops, then could you cure it by taking away from us the only school we could learn in? It's like examining a schoolboy and finding out he was behind in his grades and, because that was the case, closing up the school. Can you tell me that a country that had come up through parliamentary procedure for 1,000 years, and had a parliamentary history so juicy it would make ours look like the Lord's Prayer in comparison, now that they had a chance to put in a normal school and teach us, what did they do? They closed up the little red schoolhouse of democracy we had, and for that and the treatment we have had for the last two years, I'll never forgive a Britisher. Had they come in, given us the right to manage our own local affairs, adjusted our currency to our markets by putting in a national bank, and taking the load off the fishermen who had to carry the weight of selling in a cheap currency market and buying a dear money market — we, the fishermen, were ground down by those two opposing forces, aided and abetted by an obstinate limey bureaucracy. We have to get divorced from the dear Canadian dollar. If markets can't be found in Canada for our products, then we have got to have a currency either tied to the pound where we sell, and where we can buy when things get to normal, or else with the US, where we can buy and sell. This must be the duty of whatever government is elected, Commission or responsible, if confederation is turned down. We cannot go on turning cheap drachmas, lira and other cheap currency into dear Canadian dollars, and only buy for cash in one market. Remember it's not going to be a seller's market all the time, and we'll have to trim our sails to suit the breeze. Barter will be coming more and more. Had we turned to barter in '33, things would not have been so hard with us. Ten years from now you are going to find a different world.
Paragraph 634, subsection 3. "It is essential if this object is to be achieved that the country would be given a rest from party politics for a period of years...."[2] In other words, close up the 1274 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 school. Now let us ask ourselves some questions. We have had five years, ten years, 50 years without representative government, what then? Is the imperial government so naive that a group of citizens is going to grow up in Newfoundland that are going to jump in and after 14 years under the dictates of a dictatorship, be Sir Robert Bonds, Gladstones and Lloyd Georges? Even those Commissioners took some of those politicians they blackened and who, if the people had to elect, would not have elected them. What in heaven's name was going to happen when this rest period was over? I suppose the smiling lord envisaged such a good government, that when the period was up we would be all saints, and after this 14 year period we would automatically, like a child, copy our elders. But what have we had? I'll admit the Commission of Government has done some good — Napoleon did that, so did Hitler — and I want every red-blooded Newfoundlander to weigh it up. Did the bad outweigh the good, or vice versa? I am the last one in Newfoundland to pat our old politicians on the back. Parliamentary procedure won't allow me to say what I thought about them. A lot was good according to their time and place. They did a lot with a little. That you got to hand to them, but as fit to govern, no, and in the United States and Canada today the same old game is going on. I have seen some juicy things that would open your eyes, and things in Britain that were not so hot. There was the little story of our bonds, and this National Convention would not be held today if the Swedes had been as foolish as other governments. The world would be likely singing "Deutschland Uber Alles". You know there is no Iron Curtain for a sailor, he gets inside it. Now come back home, we suffered from too much selfishness, that both in the high and low. In fact to put it mildly we got the type of government we deserved, and I believe the Commission of Government has done some good in that they have taught us a lesson. But did we get a rest from politics? Although none of those men had to face the electorate, yet we find public wharves built where there were only two boats, while other wharves, one costing $80,000, went into discard. It cost $1 million to build a railroad from Whitbourne to Heart's Content under those politicians playing dirty politics, yet it cost $223,000 to build a road on the railroad bed and they have no road there yet. I was told in England one of the finest rows in Parliament was because up to that time, 1939, every mile of road in Newfoundland had cost $20,000 for labour and $10,000 for machinery. They asked if it was golden roads, so my informant told me. We did not find any great amount of machinery on the Transportation Committee. We don't know how this works. I don't... There isn't anybody to question it and after it's done there is no questioning it.
The Department of Natural Resources recently sold two loads of herring, one 278,000 pounds, the other 268,000 pounds, to a Canadian fishing firm, to catch fish in competition with us, with bait from bait depots built and kept up with Newfoundland taxpayers' money; and it's no use for the department to say they made a profit, because you could not catch fish enough to pay for the bait when you come to consider what it costs to construct and run a bait depot — frenzied finance!
I have before me two documents — one a report on Public Health and Welfare, which never was debated because we have another which is sub judice. I don't know what this hambone Latin is, but it looks sub juicy to me. We were promised when we took it that there was an investigation on and that we, in time, would hear all about it. Well, it is dated March, 1946. Two years is long enough to have something like this cleared up. I cannot recommend this form of government to the people. There are all sorts of rumours out about it running anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million adrift. The Auditor General says a final and definite opinion cannot be recorded by him, as to the causes of errors and omissions without investigating matters which are outside his proper functions. The Auditor General says it is his duty to inform the Commission of Government that in his view the time has come for an enquiry to be made. Well, we were informed an enquiry was going to be made and we would know the outcome of it, but that's as far as it has gone. I think myself it's unfair for this stuff to be around charging people. If an investigation has been held we should be told about it, the innocent cleared, the guilty punished — or the Auditor General told he was getting off a lot of hot air. It's not possible that any graft is going on in a government the country believes is clear of those things — that could only happen under crooked January 1948 NATIONAL CONVENTION 1275 politicians and in responsible government. Perhaps we did not get such a bargain in giving up responsible government after all. I always looked upon this government as being as our Indian friends would say, pukka, but I must admit I have been terribly disillusioned since coming into the National Convention.
Take the supplies. It's no secret that some sections of the country could not get sugar enough to fill their rations, while others could buy it by the sack. If this is the best the Commission of Government could do, then I don't think we did much better by not following the old way, for the Good Book says, he that is faithful in the wee things will be faithful in the greater. That can go just as well in reverse. Anyway, I would like a look at St. Peter's private log on the Commission of Government. Only then would I be satisfied that everything is oak and copper-fastened. I think one should have an opposition in a government. At least you would learn how it was working, and sometimes you would find out about the minor graft, even if the big got away on you.
We'll not forget the construction of the bases — 60 cents for a Newfie driving a truck, if he had no accident; and 50 cents per hour if he had an accident; while his opposite number from the US was doing the same job for $1.10. Now the powers that be could not get around that. They had to keep the Newfie down. It's a crime for a Newfie to have or get a dollar. How easy to let him get all the traffic could bear and then clap on a 20% income tax. If traffic was dislocated on the railroad or along the street, the income tax could take up the slack. Today all over the world, it is talked about how the Newfoundland government treated their people, and would not have money in their country when it was to be had for the asking. I expect any day now to see one of those vaporous terms that Newfoundland won't take only $5 per quintal for fish. It may dislocate something — brains, common sense, conspicuous by its absence.
I have tried to show, Mr. Chairman, that to my mind anybody that votes for this form of government really has no knowledge of men, let alone of government. I'm sorry I've got to adopt it or whatever we've got to do with it, for I'm still at sea, but I guess with those famous terms of reference, I have to do something with it; but it won't be to vote for it, for I have never recognised it as a body governing me, and I never will. It is undemocratic, it is contrary to the laws of God and man what Great Britain did to her own; she did little worse when Pitt charged her with turning loose the tommyhawk and the scalping knives of the Indians on our own blood in the war of the American Revolution; and until she repairs the wrong she has done, mother or not, she will always be to me Perfidious Albion.
I put in from 1931 to 1933 in the depression days in the United States. I was fishing and my wages as a fisherman were $387.78 a year. My family ate dole under responsible government. Then I went to Halifax. It was the same thing there. I came back here. We had an insurance policy. We ate that. In 1937 I headed three miles for the dole. I expect I am the only man on the floor who ate the dole. I went through it. I had spent my lifetime at sea. As long as there was any place where I could make a living, I did not care where it was, whether it was Patagonia or Georgia, I felt that the world was behind me. There came a time when every part of the world was alike and wherever I went, the most I could hope to get was $25 a month, if I got that. I was fishing out of the United States and we had 88,000 pounds of fish in the hold waiting for a chance to dump it. I had to take a crust of bread out of the gum box and dry it on the stove and eat it. I have seen it done. When I came back here, I struck the same thing. I had never looked after my land or anything else. Our family was small. My land was down, but I said, "If I can live so long, nobody can starve me now." I went to work on the land. I know the feeling of getting up in the morning and taking two slices of that black mink and wash it down with switchel tea; then swing a pick on the rocks, trying to clear the land. I tell you, after two hours of that, I have seen the flying saucers before anyone else ever saw them. It is no laughing matter. This is the reason I am here — that is why I came in through that door — if I do not go through it one of those days. I am in earnest. I know what it is like. I cannot only stand up here and tell about John Doe's beri-beri. I know what it is myself. I know what the fishermen went through. The Commission government lost us $2 on every quintal of fish we caught, through the rate of exchange. It was power politics. We went through it. I went on until the war broke out. I came over here with 50 cents in 1276 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1948 my pocket, and there was 50 cents in the house. I went to the Newfoundland Hotel; I knew Mr. Stafford and I got my dinner. Then I got out of the country, and thank God, luck has been with me ever since. But I had to go aboard a Greek ship to get a job.
The other day we had here one of the best bargains in a ship that Newfoundland ever had, and I do not need anyone to tell me anything about ships. I went up and I saw the Commisioner and I said, "Why not get her?" I was told that they would investigate the matter. We have a deficit on the Railway, and here was something that for the next five years, three at least, would take $200,000 off the deficit. But, no, that was not worth bothering about. One of the members of a firm here who gave me my first job, got the ship and is repairing her here in Newfoundland. This is what we are up against. There are roughly 4,000 seamen here and not 500 of them can get a job. One of these days depression will strike and we will have nothing; and when it does, God help whoever is in charge of this country — whether it is confederation, Commission or responsible government. I can assure you, you are not talking to Newfoundlanders like you had in 1939. You have Newfoundlanders now who know what it is to have had a dollar. Let us prepare this country so that we can earn a living. That is why I am here. And if we do not have a better Newfoundland in the future, I will stretch rope for it.
Mr. Cashin I move the adjournment of the debate.
[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] Mr. Harrington's emphases.
  • [2] Mr. Harrington's emphases.
  • [1] Mr. Harrington's emphases.
  • [2] J.D. Rogers. A Historical Geography of the British Colonies: Vol. V-Part IV Newfoundland (Oxford, 1911), p. 109.
  • [1] W.E. Cormack.
  • [1] Harold A. Innis. The Cod Fisheries: The History of An International Economy (Toronto, 1940), pp. xiii-xiv. The Lodge quotation is from Thomas Lodge, Dictatorship in Newfoundland (London, 1939), p. 265.
  • [1] John B. McEvoy. "Our New Constitution", in J.R. Smallwood (ed.), The Book of Newfoundland, Vol. 1 (St. John's, 1937), pp. 43-46.
  • [2] Kenneth C. Wheare, The Statute of Westminster and Dominion Status (Oxford, 1947).
  • [1] Moses Harvey and Joseph Hatton, Newfoundland, the Oldest British Colony and Its History, Its Present Condition, and Its Prospects in the Future (London, 1883).
  • [1] Newfoundland Royal Commission 1933 Report (Cmd. 4480, 1933).
  • [1] Newfoundland Royal Commission 1933 Report (Cmd. 4480, 1933), p. 80, quoting Mr. Adolf Nielsen, Superintendent of Fisheries.
  • [2] Newfoundland Royal Commission 1933 Report (Cmd. 4480, 1933).

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