A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[LINK] “The lessons of Newfoundland’s 1948 referendum”

Suffragio features an article by Kevin Lees looking at Newfoundland’s 1948 referendum. I think the author much too sanguine about the economic chances of Newfoundland–independence would have come at the price of continuing austerity, and no automatic access to the Canadian labour market–but the points made about the dynamics are worth noting.

Confederation’s champion was Joey Smallwood — a Liberal radio show host who embraced Canada and who nearly single-handedly pushed the cause through the Confederation Association. The cause of merging into Canada attracted support mainly from the Protestants of rural Newfoundland and Labrador; less so from the urban business class of St. John’s. After successfully pushing confederation, Smallwood (pictured above) would become the province’s first and most long-lasting premier, serving until 1972 and shaping Newfoundland’s transition as a part of federal Canada.

Peter Cashin, a one-time Newfoundlander finance minister, was a member of the 1947 commission to London that so disappointed Newfoundland’s leaders when the UK government refused to commit to financial assistance. Disillusioned by British intentions, and rightly suspecting that the British and Canadian government were colluding to favor confederation, Cashin led the Responsible Government League throughout the referendum campaign. In a famous 1947 speech to the national convention on Newfoundland’s future, he condemned what he called:

a conspiracy to sell… this country to the Dominion of Canada. Watch in particular the attractive bait which will be held out to lure our country into the Canadian mousetrap. Listen to their flowery sales talk which will be offered to you; telling Newfoundlanders they’re a lost people….

At minimum, Cashin believed that a return to responsible government would give Newfoundland a stronger hand in any potential talks on confederation, including the terms on which Newfoundland might join Canada — with respect to debt, provincial assistance and Newfoundland’s rights vis-à-vis the national government with respect to fishing and resources.

The most beguiling option came with the Economic Union Party, the brainchild of businessman Chelsey Crosbie. Though you might not be able to tell it from the name, the ‘economic union’ meant union with the United States — not with Canada. Crosbie’s group, which became even more popular than the Responsible Government League, hoped that independence would allow closer ties with the United States. US statehood was never presented on the ballot, even though there’s a plausible case that it might have won in light of the Newfoundlandish good will to the Americans during World War II. Though US president Harry Truman never seriously considered annexation, it’s conceivable that after a decade of closer economic partnership, Newfoundland could have become the 51st American state in 1959 alongside Alaska and Hawaii.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 27, 2015 at 7:35 pm

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