Newfoundland Stands Aloof

An authoritative explanation of the Senior Colony’s disinclination to enter Confederation

PATRICK MCGRATH November 1 1929

Newfoundland Stands Aloof

An authoritative explanation of the Senior Colony’s disinclination to enter Confederation

PATRICK MCGRATH November 1 1929

Newfoundland Stands Aloof

An authoritative explanation of the Senior Colony’s disinclination to enter Confederation


THE decision of the Privy Council in March, 1927, confirming Newfoundland in the possession of Eastern Labrador, an area of 110,000 square miles, subsequent press reports that Newfoundland contemplated selling this territory to the United States, and, more recently, conferences between Canadian and Terranovan cabinet ministers with the object of effecting a trade pact between the two countries, have revived interest in the question: “Why does not Newfoundland join the Canadian Confederation?”

Historically the record is that Newfoundland sent two delegates—Hon. F. B. Carter and Hon. A. Shea—to the original Confederation Conference, and their Government advocated union in the General Election of 1869, but was signally defeated. The late Judge Prowse, historian of the Colony, a young man at the time, questions whether even if Canada had offered Newfoundland a railway, as British Columbia was offered, and a steam ferry, as Prince Edward Island was offered, our people would have accepted union. Its defeat was achieved by arguments against allowing the control of our fisheries to pass from St. John’s to Ottawa, appeals to the prejudices arising from FrenchCanadian raids on Newfoundland in previous generations, and incitements of the hostility of the Irish element—then nearly half the population— to union because of what it had meant for their sireland.

Not for eighteen years was the question revived.

Then in 1887, Sir Charles Tupper, on his way to England from Halifax via St. John’s suggested another attempt, but such resentment was aroused that delegates who had started for Ottawa had to be recalled. Another eight years, however, saw a delegation actually visit Ottawa, seeking terms, after a financial convulsion had brought down the Colony’s two banks—it has had Canadian Banks since—and wrought havoc among people of every class.

That effort, the only occasion when federation might have been secured without an appeal to the electorate, proved fruitless, because the Canadian cabinet of the day was unwilling to concede the financial terms which our representatives considered essential. In the general elections from 1900 to 1913, while confederation was not officially an issue, one of the parties was accused of leanings thereto; indeed, in the contest of 1904 it was emphasized so strongly that the thirty-five candidates of the suspected party signed a declaration that they would not, under any circumstances, make any move in this direction. But each time the party posing as Anti-Confederate carried the country, and it is significant in view of the claims of some Canadian writers that our West

Coast is pro-union, that the major portion of that area returned every time a spokesman of the party professing hostility to such a policy.

Public men in the Colony have, on the whole, been unfavorable to the project, but the holding of pro-union views is no bar to political preferment. Mr., later Sir Frederick, Carter, defeated in 1869 as a Confederationist, became premier again in 1875, and closed his political career as chief justice in 1880. Mr., later Sir Ambrose, Shea, remained a leading figure in our legis-

lative halls until 1887, when the British Government appointed him governor of the Bahamas, a most unusual honor for a colonial statesman. His brother, Mr., later Sir Edward, Shea, also defeated in 1869, held portfolios in ministries afterwards, and ultimately became president of the Legislative Council. Mr., later Sir William, Whiteway, who succeeded Carter, was an undisguised Confederationist, yet was premier, with one or two breaks, until 1897. Mr., later Sir James, Winter, attorney-general and leading spirit in the Thorburn Government (1885-9) was another. He afterwards went on the Bench, resigned subsequently, and became premier in 1897. Hon. Donald Morison, his attorneygeneral then, and afterwards a Supreme Court Judge, likewise avowed a leaning toward Confederation during a political career of twenty-five years, and Mr., now Sir Alfred, Morine, has filled nearly every cabinet post in different administrations over forty years, though perhaps the most unqualified union advocate in the country for most of this time. Finally, I might add that the late Archbishop Howley, the Roman Catholic primate in his day, was equally outspoken as a unionist, though he would ruefully explain that this was almost the only matter on which he could not get his people to see eye to eye with him.

Hostility to Union is Deep-rooted

AT THIS stage the reader is entitled to ask how •L*it comes that the electorate is so hostile to a policy which has had distinguished advocates? Irishmanlike, I answer it by asking two other questions. How is it that Nova Scotia remained Liberal for forty years and Ontario nearly as long? How is it that Quebec, preponderate^ Conservative till Laurier’s day, swung to the contrary opinion then and has remained so ever since? Different people will supply different answers, and all of them may be more or less right. My own reply is that our people are convinced, for various reasons which I shall endeavor to develop hereafter, that our country is better off as it‘is, and no arguments have been advanced which suffice to dispel this feeling, or prejudice, if you will.

Some Canadian visitors, writing recently on the subject, blame the “St. John’s gang” or the “St. John’s Government” for our antagonism to union, in that it would “destroy their control of affairs,” but this does not, I submit, meet the case. Both terms are new to me, though I have lived there all my life, and I await further evidence to show that they represent West Coast sentiment. But even if used, they are not perhaps so sinister as might appear. One can imagine people in the remoter portions of Ontario railing against the “Toronto gang,” or the “Toronto Government,” for precisely the same reasons; indeed, if my memory serves, there has been an agitation in recent years for the conversion of these districts into a new province, for some such reasons; and, similarly, the settlers in the Peace River District might inveigh against the “Edmonton gang” on similar grounds. Naturally, where the seat of control is there will be the political dominance; as in St. John’s, so in Halifax, or Toronto or Winnipeg. It is perhaps even more so in a country where there is but a single large town, as with Newfoundland; for one of the problems in selecting candidates for the constituencies outside St. John’s is that they will, in the main, prefer men sent from the capital, because if a man from one small settlement in a district is chosen, all the other hamlets are prone to resent it. Even in the general election last October, the West Coast, despite the suggestions of some Canadian visitors that it is in veiled rebellion against “the St. John’s gang,” actually elected St. John’s men for two of the four districts there and the Southwest Coast chose St. John’s men for two of its three constituencies.

“Cutting Down Establishments?’’

■pURTHERMORE, at the same general election, although, according to these observers from outside, there exists a “governing clique” and also the “traders, professional men and officeholders,” who control things and oppose union because it would harm their own interests, the fact is that the St. John’s area returned four men for Alderdice and three for Squires; the Ferryland-Placentia area, adjoining it on the south, returned two for each, and the Conception Bay area on the north returned two for Alderdice and five for Squires—altogether eight for Alderdice and ten for Squires; surely a division that disproves the claim that any “gang” is running the country. As for the criticism of “the horde of officeholders,” one of the strong arguments against Confederation is that it would greatly increase them. Under union we would still have our provincial cabinet and legislature, as today, and also probably four senators and ten M.P.’s at Ottawa, besides staffs in the province for federal services. Today we have a Supreme Court of only three judges; under union, on the example of i Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, we probably would have seven, and even Prince Edward Island, with only 86,000 people—-less than at Confederation— has three judges already, and is apparently to have a fourth after getting along for sixty years with the small establishment. Moreover, if I am right, the reason for the Maritime Provinces’ long agitation for federation into one province, to be called Acadia, is largely that thereby i two provincial governments and legislatures, with all the “overhead” they involve, would be got rid of.

That Newfoundland has too many officeholders I admit, but that it is singular in this I deny. Complaint of such a condition of affairs in Canada is not unknown. The Griffinhagen enquiry of some years ago advocated reforms that would have saved millions of dollars had they been carried out; the Customs enquiry of yesteryear advised the abolition of scores of ports of entry as needless; alleged attempts of “machine politicians” to wrest from the control of the Civil Service Commission the appointment of various classes of officials are denounced by the press as schemes to introduce the “spoils” system again; while the visitor to Ottawa, who is concerned with the problem of national administration, can hardly watch the various departmental buildings “unhive” themselves twice a day

without wondering if an efficient private concern could not operate these services with a much smaller staff and a great saving in expenditure.

Nor do I dispute that, as these critics observe, life is hard for the mass of our people or that the cost of living is high. Unfortunately this is so, but nevertheless the savings banks contain about $25,000,000, and the material well-being of the masses is vastly above what it was even a decade ago.

The West Coast Question

A RECENT Canadian writer commits himself, in good faith I agree, but without an understanding of the facts, to the statement that “the West Coast is old French territory, and the English-speaking natives had no political rights until a treaty in 1907 restored the coast to them and to Newfoundland,” adding, also, “in fact, at that time United States citizens had equal rights with the English-born natives.” The truth is that on the West Coast, previously in the wardship of the British Government, the right to appoint magistrates and collect customs duties was conceded to Newfoundland in 1877, and in 1882 the territory was allowed two members in the Colonial Legislature, where it has thus been represented for nearly half a century. The writer in question has given a confused idea of certain international complications which the stranger does not readily grasp. In bygone days the West Coast, from Cape Ray up to Cape Norman in Belle Isle Strait, formed two-thirds of what was known as the “French Shore.” The remainder ran down the east coast to Cape St. John, the northern extremity of Notre Dame Bay. The situation was that while the region was British, the French had been conceded certain rights of catching fish in the waters off that shore and of drying the same on the land; wherefore they had built fishing establishments ashore, which they occupied during the summer months, returning to France in the autumn, as the region was icebound every winter. The Americans also enjoyed fishing and landing rights on the southwest coast from Ramea Islands to Cape Ray, and fishing rights only from Cape Ray to Cape Norman, as the landing rights there had already been conceded to the French. These “liberties” were the result of treaties that terminated wars between these countries in an even remoter past, and this is but the barest outline of the problem. It is undeniable that these “liberties” hampered the development of the region and provoked much international friction, but to say that the territory was French, that the settlers had no political rights, or that the Americans were on an equality with them, is certainly not the truth. For the latter half of the past century the use of these areas by both French and Americans steadily diminished, and in 1904—not 1907—when France and Britain were making some territorial readjustments in Africa, the latter induced France to withdraw from Newfoundland in return for an increased area in Morocco; and the North Atlantic Fisheries arbitration at the Hague six years later, between Britain, Canada and Newfoundland on the one side and the United States on the other, so limited American fishing activities in West Coast waters as to render them negligible.

Schools and Roads

rT"'HE same writer refers to our schools and roads in terms which, if they mean anything, can only mean that under Confederation we would have better schools and better roads. But such a conclusion is belied by the fact that both services are provincial, not federal, so that Confederation, if carried tomorrow, would not benefit either the West Coast or the rest of the Colony in either respect. Moreover, even the Provinces already federated are not without school troubles. The Manitoba School question proved a grievously disturbing problem to Canadians of the last generation; and Ontario’s “Regulation 17” has disturbed her relations with Quebec for some years, while only a few months ago, the Jews of Montreal appealed to the Privy Council for a decision on one school issue, and the Catholics of Toronto, for the Township of Tiny, on another. So, too, with regard to roads. Everybody in the Colony sympathizes with the claim of the West Coast for better roads. But a large section of the residents there want them to run from settlement to settlement, which means paralleling the railway and depriving it of traffic, while others want new roads more or less at right-angles to these, penetrating the valleys and opening up new farmlands; whereas the Highroads Commission, the authority which controls this service, has surveyed a new motor highway largely back from the coast altogether, and claimed to traverse much more attractive sporting and tourist areas, but which the settlers oppose on the ground that it will be useless to them. I have but recently returned from a tour of Canada with the Empire Parliamentary Party, and I observed everywhere that the best roads radiated from the cities, and that in the remoter areas the standard was decidedly lower. No doubt the West Coast will get better roads in time, but Confederation would not assist her in securing them.

I cannot understand the argument of the same writer about Labrador being “a white elephant,” or Newfoundland’s having to sell it to Quebec because of lack of capital to develop it properly. My view is that if we have a good thing we can get all the capital necessary, as well as Quebec can. The Bell Island mines were developed by Canadian capital; the Grand Falls mills by British capital, and those at Corner Brook are now controlled by American capital. If Quebec, or any other province of the Dominion was able to call upon local capital only, I doubt if its progress would be anything like what it is today. Besides, Quebec has a Labrador of her own—that portion of the North Shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence extending west from ours, and I have yet to learn that she has done more for it in any way than we have done for our portion. Lest it be thought I am boasting, I would point out that the Privy Council, in the judgment two years ago which held Eastern Labrador to be ours, observed that “no evidence was given (to the Tribunal) of any exercise of a Canadian jurisdiction in any part of the territory in dispute,” and Quebec’s interest in the portion admittedly hers is not very strongly manifested.

The Case of the Maritimes

"VTOW, in considering in detail the chief objections of our people to Confederation, it is necessary to institute comparisons with Nova Scotia, our nearest neighbor, and one which seems most comparable to Newfoundland in the character of its population and industries. Its politicians, probably fearing a hostile vote, did not submit the issue to the electorate as was done in the case of Newfoundland, so that resentment was caused by the country “being put into Confederation overnight,” which engendered an agitation for repeal lasting until after Laurier won in 1896 and Mr. Fielding, then premier of Nova Scotia, became his finance minister. When Confederation was effected, Nova Scotia, with its East Coast, like ours, facing Europe, had a fine fleet ef sailing craft, of which any country might be proud, trading with every maritime nation. That fleet is now but a memory. Some argue that its extinction is due to the changeover from sail to steam, from wooden to iron hulls; but others ascribe it to Con-

federation. Its South Coast, also like ours, faced the New England states, with which it did a large and prosperous trade, exporting its natural products—coal, fish, etc.—under reciprocal conditions. That trade is now practically extinct, and again one hears this condition ascribed, rightly or wrongly, to Confederation. In later years growing discontent, which found expression in a demand for “Justice to the Maritimes”—New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island joining in—resulted in the appointment of the Duncan Commission, which in due course made a series of recommendations for the redress of the grievances from which it held the Maritime Provinces to be suffering.

The people of Newfoundland, observing this discontent and agitation, not unnaturally asked themselves why it should exist if Confederation was a successful experiment for the Maritime Provinces, and what prospect there was of betterment for this Colony if it joined the Union; and the Duncan Report was held by them to prove the wisdom of our continuing to “plow a lonely furrow.” But even the Duncan Report, and the measures taken to implement it, have not sufficed to still the voice of Maritime complaint. Only a few months ago, on November 21, 1928, the Maritime Board of Trade, composed of representatives of these organizations in the cities and towns of the Maritime Provinces, held its annual convention at Halifax; and the proceedings are reported very fully in the Halifax newspapers. The keynote of the addresses they made was that while the provinces had made material progress in recent years, this progress had been less than that registered by any other part of the Dominion.

The Colony’s Industries

NOW to close with a few examples in detail.

Fishing is our main industry, employing most of our people. Therefore the appointment by the Dominion Government, only two years ago, of a special Commission, under the chairmanship of Chief Justice MacLean of the Exchequer Court of Canada, to investigate the particular grievances of the fishing industry in the Maritime Provinces, was regarded by our fisherfolk as a further evidence that the fellows in these Provinces were no better off than themselves and that Confederation was no remedy for Newfoundland’s ills. Take, again, an announcement in the Halifax papers of January 5, 1929, that the fishermen of Canso, Nova Scotia, at a public meeting the previous night, adopted resolutions calling on the Ottawa Cabinet to provide help for them in renewing their boats, no longer usable because of several lean years. This also interested our fishermen, suggesting the argument that if Nova Scotia fisherfolk, paying lower taxes (according to Canadian writers) and having ready access to the whole Canadian market, cannot ply their calling without Government help of this sort, what inducement is there for the Newfoundland fisherman to vote for union with Canada?

Similarly, mining is a foremost industry with us, and steadily becoming more important. Hence, when our miners read in the Halifax papers an official statement from the Besco staff that its collieries will operate three to four days each week during the winter months; and when the same papers on January 18 told of a delegation from the Nova Scotia mining towns being about to proceed to Ottawa to urge a special freight rate of two dollars a ton for the carriage of coal by rail to Qurbec and Ontario during these months, in order to stimulate production and increase employment, our miners can hardly be blamed for asking what there is in Confederation for them?

Our farming industry is not a large one, but some of those engaged in it travel occasionally, and are unfavorably impressed by the many deserted farms in the

parts of Nova Scotia traversed by the railroad, and by the fact that most of the counties of that province, apart from Halifax with its factories and the like, and Cape Breton with its steel mills and coal mines, showed a decline in population by the last census; and as a result, they see few advantages for the Newfoundland farmer in Confederation.

Our paper-making industry is, of course, far in advance of that of Nova Scotia, since there are two large mills already in operation in the island, producing nearly 800 tons of newsprint daily, with a prospect of another mill in the near future, while Nova Scotia’s first plant is only now under construction. It is, therefore, hardly necessary to remark that all engaged in this industry, from loggers to mill-hands, have little liking for Confederation, while I might add that Nova Scotia seems to have found it as difficult to get capital—even Canadian capital— for this industry as some critics think it will be for us to get capital to develop Labrador.

Then, our shopkeeping “industry,” if one may use the word, “views with alarm” the spread of the chain-store system in the Maritimes, which “alarm” other Boards of Trade accentuated by a declaration published on January 10, that to meet this growing menace it might be necessary for smaller communities to create co-operative organizations. Our small army of shopkeepers—for this Colony has nearly 1,600 settlements, fourfifths of them with less than 200 people— reasons that if the chain stores are already threatening the Canadian trader in a small way, Confederation is unlikely to improve the lot of the Newfoundlander of the same class.

Then there is an over-riding consideration that disturbs every element among us, the fact that under Confederation the control of our fisheries would pass from the provincial to the federal government, and their administration would be transferred from St. John’s to Ottawa. It will hardly be disputed that all is not well with the fisheries of Canada’s Atlantic seaboard. Complaint and criticism are widespread, and only recently a new Deputy Minister of Fisheries with a separate jurisdiction was appointed, while even more recently one has seen reports that the already large Dominion Cabinet is to be increased by the creation of a Department of Fisheries with a fullfledged minister at its head. Newfoundland feels that an unintelligent, unsympathetic administration of our fisheries by people nearly 2,000 miles away, would be disastrous to the country’s future, and therefore stand firmly to the doctrine, “What we have we’ll hold.”

Finally, our people seem to have more faith in the future of their country and a greater readiness to stick by her, if I may say so without offense to our Maritime friends. The Canada Year book for 1927-28, (page 102), shows that in the fifty years between 1871 and 1921 Nova Scotia’s population increased from 387,800 to 523,837, or 35.08 per cent, and that of New Brunswick from 285,594 to 357,876, or 35.82 per cent, while that of Prince Edward Island decreased from 94.021 to 88,615, a reduction of 5.75 per cent.

The Newfoundland census figures, on the other hand, show that in the fifty-two years from 1869 to 1921, (we only conformed our census periods to the rest of the Empire in 1891), our population increased from 145,596 to 263,033, or 79.50 per cent. Thus in spite of all handicaps this Colony has increased its population at more than twice the rate of the Maritime Provinces in the past fifty years—and that without any such immigration, assisted or not.

Would Confederation better our record?

I wonder !

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Sir Patrick McGrath shortly before his death, which occurred in J une.