In July 1992 the Thirty Third
Conference of the Canadian Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association
will take place in Newfoundland. To mark the occasion we are reprinting one of
the most famous pieces of Newfoundland political writing a 1946 speech by Joey
Smallwood urging that Newfoundland join Canada. Originally a voice in the
wilderness, he worked tirelessly toward this objective until, after many trials
and tribulations, his efforts were rewarded. On March 31, 1949 Newfoundland
became Canada's tenth province. Joey Smallwood died in December 1991. His words
continue to speak directly to the concerns of contemporary politicians as they
wrestle with the constitutional and economic problems of 1992.
Our people's struggle to live
commenced on the day they first landed here, four centuries and more ago, and
has continued to this day. The struggle is more uneven now than it was then,
and the people view the future now with more dread than they felt a century
The newer conceptions of what life
can be, of what life should be, have widened our horizons and deepened our
knowledge of the great gulf which separates what we have and are from what we
feel we should have and be.
We have been taught by newspapers,
motion pictures, radios and visitors something of the higher standards of
well-being of the mainland of North America; we have become uncomfortably aware
of the low standards of our country, and we are driven irresistibly to wonder
whether our attempt to persist in isolation is the root cause of our condition.
We have often felt in the past,
when we learned something of the higher standards of the mainland, that such
things belonged to another world, that they were not for us. But today we are
not so sure that two yardsticks were designed by the Almighty to measure the
standards of well-being: one yardstick for the mainland of the continent;
another for this island which lies beside it.
Today we are not so sure, not so
ready to take it for granted, that we Newfoundlanders are destined to accept
much lower standards of life than our neighbours of Canada and the United
States. Today we are more disposed to feel that our manhood, our very creation
by God, entitles us to standards of life no lower than those of our brothers on
Our Newfoundland is known to
possess wealth of considerable value and variety. Without at all exaggerating
their extent, we know that our fisheries are in the front rank of the world's
marine wealth. We have considerable forest, water power and mineral resources.
Our Newfoundland people are industrious, hard-working, frugal, ingenious and
The combination of such natural resources
and such people should spell a prosperous country enjoying high standards of
living. This combination should spell fine, modern, well-equipped homes; lots
of health-giving food; ample clothing; the amenities of modern New World
civilization; good roads, good schools, good hospitals, high levels of public
health and private health; it should spell a vital, prosperous, progressive
It has not spelt any such things.
Compared with the mainland of North America, we are 50 years, in some things 100
years, behind the times. We live more poorly, more shabbily, more meanly. Our
life is more a struggle. Our struggle is tougher, more naked, more hopeless. In
the North American family, Newfoundland bears the reputation of having the
lowest standards of life, of being the least progressive and advanced, of the
We all love this land. It has charm
that warms our hearts, go where we will; a charm, a magic, a mystical tug on
our emotion that never dies. With all her faults, we love her. But a metamorphosis
steals over us the moment we cross the border that separates us from other
As we leave Newfoundland, our minds
undergo a transformation: we expect, and we take for granted, a higher, more
modern way of life such as would have seemed ridiculous or even avaricious to
expect at home.
And as we return to Newfoundland,
we leave that higher standard behind, and our minds undergo a reverse
transformation. We have grown so accustomed to our own lower standards and more
antiquated methods and old-fashioned conveniences that we readjust ourselves
unconsciously to the meaner standards under which we grew up. We are so used to
our railway and our coastal boats that we scarcely see them; so used to our
settlements and roads and homes and schools and hospitals and hotels and
everything else that we do not even see their inadequacy, their backwardness,
We have grown up in such an
atmosphere of struggle, of adversity, of mean times, that we are never
surprised, never shocked, when we learn that we have one of the highest rates
of tuberculosis in the world; one of the highest infant mortality rates in the
world; one of the highest rates of beriberi and rickets in the world.
We take these shocking facts for
granted. We take for granted our lower standards, our poverty. We are not
indignant about them. We save our indignation for those who publish such facts.
For with all our complacency, with all our readiness to receive, to take for
granted and even to justify these things amongst ourselves, we are, strange to
say, angry and hurt when these shocking facts become known to the outside
We are very proud of our
Newfoundland people. We all admire their strength, their skill, their
adaptability, their resourcefulness, their industry, their frugality, their
sobriety and their warmhearted, simple generosity.
We are proud of them, but are we
indignant? Does our blood boil when we see the lack of common justice with
which they are treated? When we witness the long, grinding struggle they have?
When we see the standards of their life? Have we compassion in our hearts for
them? Or are we so engrossed, so absorbed, in our own struggle to live in this
country that our social conscience has become toughened, even case-hardened?
Has our own hard struggle to realize a modest competence so blinded us that we
have little or no tenderness of conscience left to spare for the fate of the
tens of thousands of our brothers so very much worse off than ourselves?
In the present and prospective
world chaos, with all its terrible variety of uncertainty, it would be cruel
and futile, now that the choice is ours, to influence the handful of people who
inhabit this small island to attempt independent national existence.
The earnings of our 65,000 families
may be enough, in the years ahead, to support them half-decently and at the
same time support the public services of a fair-sized municipality. But will
those earnings support independent national government on an expanding, or even
the present, scale?
Except for a few years of this war
and a few of the last, our people's earnings never supported them on a scale
comparable with North American standards, and never maintained a government
even on the prewar scale of service. Our people never enjoyed a good standard
of living and never were able to yield enough taxes to maintain the government.
The difference was made up by borrowing or grants-in-aid.
We can indeed reduce our people's
standard of living: we can force them to eat and wear and use and have much
less than they have; and we can deliberately lower the level of governmental
services. Thus, we might manage precariously to maintain independent national
status. We can resolutely decide to be poor but proud.
But if such a decision is made, it
must be made by the 60,000 families who would have to do the sacrificing, not
the 5,000 families who are confident of getting along pretty well in any case.
We have, I say, a perfect right to
decide that we will turn away from North American standards of public services
and condemn ourselves as a people and government deliberately to long years of
struggle to maintain even the little that we have. We may, if we wish, turn our
backs upon the North American continent, beside which God placed us, and resign
ourselves to the meaner outlook and shabbier standards of Europe, 2,000 miles
across the ocean.
We can do this, or we can face the
fact that the very logic of our situation on the surface of the globe impels us
to draw close to the progressive outlook and dynamic living standards of this
Our danger, so it seems to me, is
that of nursing delusions of grandeur. We remember the stories of small states
that valiantly preserved their national independence and developed their own
proud cultures, but we tend to overlook the fact that comparison of
Newfoundland with them is ludicrous.
We are not a nation. We are merely
a medium-size municipality, a mere miniature borough of a large city. Dr.
William Carson, Patrick Morris and John Kent were sound in the first decades of
the 19th century when they advocated cutting the apron strings that bound us to
the government of the United Kingdom. But the same love of Newfoundland, the
same Newfoundland patriotism, that inspired their agitation then would now, if
they lived, drive them to carry the agitation to its logical conclusion of
taking the next step of linking Newfoundland closely to the democratic,
developing mainland of the New World.
There was indeed a time when tiny
states lived gloriously. That time is now ancient European history. We are
trying to live in the mid-20th century, post-Hitler New World. We are living in
a world in which small countries have less chance than ever before of
We can, of course, persist in
isolation, a dot in the shore of North America, the funks of the North American
continent, struggling vainly to support ourselves and our greatly expanded
public services. Reminded continually by radio, movie and visitor of greatly
higher standards of living across the gulf we can shrug incredulously or dope
ourselves into the hopeless belief that such things are not for us.
By our isolation from the throbbing
vitality and expansion of the continent, we have been left far behind in the
march of time, the "sport of historic misfortune," the "Cinderella
of the Empire." Our choice now is to continue in blighting isolation or
seize the opportunity that may beckon us to the wider horizons and higher
standards of unity with the progressive mainland of America.
I am not one of those, if any such
there be, who would welcome federal union with Canada at any price. There are
prices which I, a Newfoundlander whose ancestry in this country reaches back
for nearly two centuries, am not willing that Newfoundland should pay. I am
agreeable to the idea that our country should link itself federally with that
great British nation, but I am not agreeable that we should ever be expected to
forget that we are Newfoundlanders with a great history and a great tradition
of our own.
I agree that there may be much to
gain from linking our fortunes with that great nation, but I insist that as a
self-governing province of the Dominion, we should continue to enjoy the right
to our own distinctive culture. I do not deny that once we affiliated with the
Canadian federal union, we should in all fairness be expected to extend the
scope of our loyalty to embrace the federation as a whole. I do not deny this
claim at all, but I insist that as a constituent part of the federation, we
should continue to be quite free to hold to our love of our own dear land.
Nor am I one of those, if there be
any such, who would welcome union with Canada without regard for the price that
the Dominion might be prepared to pay.
I pledge myself to this House and
to this country that I will base my ultimate stand in this whole question of
Confederation upon the nature of the terms that are laid before the convention
and the country. If the terms are such as clearly to suggest a better
Newfoundland for our people, I shall support and maintain them. If they are not
of such a nature, I shall oppose them with all the means I can command.
In the price we pay and the price
we exact, my only standard of measurement is the welfare of the people. This is
my approach to the whole question of federal union with Canada. It is in this
spirit that I move this resolution today.
Confederation I will support if it
means a lower cost of living for our people. Confederation I will support if it
means a higher standard of living for our people. Confederation I will support
if it means strength, stability and security for Newfoundland.
I will support Confederation if it
gives us democratic government. I will support Confederation if it rids us of
commission government. I will support Confederation if it gives us responsible
government under conditions that will give responsible government a real chance
to succeed. Confederation I will support if it makes us a province enjoying
privileges and rights no lower than any other province.
These, then, are the conditions of
my support of Confederation: that it must raise our people's standard of
living, that it must give Newfoundlanders a better life, that it must give our
country stability and security and that it must give us full, democratic
responsible government under circumstances that will ensure its success.
I believe that this move will lead
to a brighter and happier life for our Newfoundland people. If you adopt this
resolution, and Canada offers us generous terms, as I believe she will, and
Newfoundland decides to shake off her ancient isolation, I believe with all my
heart and mind that the people will bless the day this resolution was moved.
With God's grace, let us move forward for a brighter and happier Newfoundland.