Backstage at Ottawa

We play Newfoundland poker. The prize: a tenth province — Civil Service hatchet men send 23,000 heads a-rolling


Backstage at Ottawa

We play Newfoundland poker. The prize: a tenth province — Civil Service hatchet men send 23,000 heads a-rolling


Backstage at Ottawa


We play Newfoundland poker. The prize: a tenth province — Civil Service hatchet men send 23,000 heads a-rolling

WHEN NEWFOUNDLAND delegates sit down to enquire what terms Canada will offer them to enter Confederation, they may find themselves looking at a ring of poker faces around the Canadian Cabinet table. But the truth is, as the Newfoundlanders probably suspect, that Ottawa is extremely anxious to have Newfoundland a part of Canada, and will go any reasonable distance to make it possible.

This attitude is by no means new—indeed, it is as old as Confederation. The British North America Act specifically provided for the inclusion of Newfoundland at her Legislature’s request; the Quebec Resolutions made her the flat offer of four seats in the Senate, eight in the House and $150,000 a year for her natural resources.

Substantially the reasons then were the same as they are today. Sir John A. Macdonald summed it up in a letter to the Colonial Secretary 69 years ago: “It would complete the great scheme of British North American Confederation begun in 1867 . . . and it would throw upon Canada the burthen of (Newfoundland’s) defense. That defense would necessitate the creation of something like a naval force by our Government.”

In the view of some officials here this consideration is heavier today than it has ever been. They think that if Canada does not assume the defense of Newfoundland, inevitably the United States will. And if that happens, said one of them, “Canada is finished as a grown-up nation.”


Because we’d be completely enclosed in an American hothouse. With the bastion of Alaska protecting us on the Pacific, and the bastion of Newfoundland on the Atlantic, Canadians would never have to face the international facts of life.

“Heaven knows, we’re irresponsible enough already,” said one man who has given a good deal of study to the matter. He may have been thinking of Senator Dandurand’s famous metaphor: “Why pay fire insurance on a fireproof house?”

NO DOUBT about it, Canada wants Newfoundland in as a province. So the question arises: Why be poker-faced about it? Why not campaign for it openly?

Two reasons. One is that the Newfoundlanders themselves are notoriously skittish on the subject. Opinion there now, as in 1867, is rather precariously balanced between pro and con. If the wary antis got the impression that Canada wanted to gobble them up they would be very likely to shy off.

Not that Newfoundlanders have any reason to be suspicious of our intentions. In every material respect, Newfoundland would be better off entering Confederation under the kind of deal Ottawa is now offering to Canadian provinces. Moreover her tax system is out-of-date; she has few direct taxes of any kind, depending for revenue mainly on a tariff schedule a good deal higher than ours.

On the other hand it’s undeniable that union with Canada would do things to the Newfoundland economy—unpredictable things. And Newfoundlanders want to be very sure that they will get the maximum of protection from possible ill effects. Newfoundland has, after all, the same kind of basis for anti-Confederation feeling that the Maritimes had in 1867, and 80 years of accomplished fact have not eliminated the Maritime sense of grievance.

That’s one reason why Ottawa’s keeping its cards close to its chest. The other reason is political.

Naturally Newfoundland delegates would like to have specific terms offered them—a firm bid that they could take home. They are not likely to get it. The Canadian Government is most anxious to avoid getting into an auction, not with Washington (that’s not thought to be very likely), but with the other political parties in Canada.

If Newfoundland does come into Confederation she would have seven seats in the House of Commons. Seven seats might mean the difference between office and opposition after the next election. So no matter what the King Government were to offer the Newfoundland people, the Progressive Conservatives and CCF and Social Credit would

inevitably cry, “Shame, shame; vote for us and we’ll get you a better deal than that.”

So, what the Newfoundland delegates are likeliest to get in Ottawa is something like this:

Firm assurance that they will have at least the full benefit of the current or any future arrangement Ottawa might make with other provinces.

A strong sales talk about the benefits of Canadian citizenship, the strength of the Canadian nation, and the common interest of all North American British subjects.

Agreement to negotiate special, separate problems such as the disposition of Newfoundland’s debt. The debt is not very large and it’s all in sterling, so Canada could take it over without any major financial commitment in its net effect it would be a mere bookkeeping operation in our balance of payments with the British. But this view is not regarded as sound in the more orthodox Ottawa circles, and Newfoundland will have to do some very hard bargaining to persuade the Canadian Treasury to take on a really solid share of the debt.

What the final upshot of the Newfoundland negotiations will be nobody knows and few here will hazard a guess. The Newfoundland delegates seem to have got a pretty brusque brush-off in London, which may make them more interested than before in any offers Canada might put up. Whether they’ll be interested enough remains to be seen.

* * *

OTTAWA’S army of bureaucrats may still look swollen to Opposition critics and impatient taxpayers, but it has gone through a pretty drastic wringer in the past few months.

Dr. McCann told Parliament in May that the civil service personnel totalled 121,000 as of April 1, down from a war peak of 142,000. A month later it was down by another 2,300, with further reductions scheduled in certain departments.

Veterans’ Affairs, for instance, still has more than 20,000 people on its payroll. This figure is bound to shrinksome men in other departments think it ought to come down a little faster than it’s coming, but in any case the trend is downward in the general direction of the 2,800 the Pensions Department had in 1939.

Health and Welfare’s 2,261 employees include a lot of temporary help who have been setting up the machinery for Family Allowances, but who won’t be needed to keep the wheels rolling. The Toronto office, for example, will be cut in half within the next few months.

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Backstage at Ottawa

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Trade Board still has 3,200 workers, the dying Reconstruction Department has a residue of 707 still drawing pay, and it would seem a reasonable assumption that the Defense Department won’t need all the 15,000 civilians it employs once it gets down to peacetime establishment.

But with those exceptions, and perhaps some further cuts in the Unemployment Insurance Commission personnel, the Government is beginning to feel that it’s close to rock bottom. Moreover, several of the newer departments are in sore need of more help and have a fair chance of getting it, once the head-chopping campaign is concluded. When the firing and hiring is all done the Government will be employing at least twice as many people as the 50odd thousand it had in 1939.

That doesn’t include, either, the various Crown Corporations that have been created, or have grown, during the war years. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is bigger than it was; agencies like Central Mortgage

and Housing didn’t exist at all in 1939.

Why do we have to count on such an increase in the number of our bureaucrats?

Because Parliament, in its wisdom, has enacted laws setting up a great number of new state services. We now have a Health and Welfare Department with a Family Allowances Administration—the law says we’re to have it, and we must have people to run it. The laws says the Agriculture Department shall give a number of brand-new services to the Canadian farmer, hence the increase of a thousand or so in Agriculture’s personnel. Parliament has criticized the Defense Department, not for being too big, but for being too small—yet it employs exactly five times as many civilians as in 1939, without even counting service personnel.

Maybe we can’t afford all these things. But the harried Civil Service Commission, and the extremely hardboiled Cabinet committee (unofficially known as the head-chopping squad) which have just finished squeezing their personnel lists as hard as they know how, would be glad if critics in future would specify which services they’d like to have discontinued. ★