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Friday, December 16, 2005

Canada's Colonial Rule in Newfoundland and Labrador

I recently wrote an commentary in which I speculated on whether Ottawa viewed Newfoundland and Labrador as an occupied colony than as a true province. The idea was mentioned in reference to the fact that the federal presence in the province has dropped by around 30% in the past couple of decades resulting in very few federal employees or services existing here. The comments were also spurred on by the fact that even though nearly all of Canada's eastern coastline, 17,500 kms of it anyway, is contained in the province yet there is no military presence to speak of.

Since writing that piece I’ve decided to look back into history a little bit in order to see just how the province really does compare to the colonies of old. To take a look at our own history and see just where we fit inside the great Canadian family or if indeed we do.

As you may or may not be aware, Newfoundland entered confederation on March 31, 1949 after years of heated debate that pitted religion against religion and family against family. Although Newfoundland had once been an independent nation, just prior to joining Canada it was a British Colony, under the rule of the King so to speak and was in essence a colonial outpost of the British Empire.

In the late 1940s, with WWII having just ended, Britain was in grave financial difficulty due to a massive rebuilding effort that was underway. As a cost saving measure the British government decided to divest itself of many of its costly colonies in places like India, Africa and yes, Newfoundland. These activities basically signaled the end of British colonial rule which had been in a decline around the world for many decades.

While most colonized lands were returned to the people who had historically ruled them, this was not a part of the master plan for Newfoundland. When a delegation from the island visited England and requested an opportunity to work out specific terms for a return to sovereignty they were met with a very cold and unfriendly reception. In essence they were led to understand that this was not a topic that would be discussed.

What the delegation didn’t know was that secret plans were already underway behind the scenes, in partnership with the Canadian government, to annex Newfoundland. Any other course of action was simply brushed aside by the leadership of the day and treated with utter contempt.

By the time Joey Smallwood was identified as the man who could successfully lead the confederation movement forward, the outcome was already a foregone conclusion in some circles. As a result of quiet, yet substantial, political and financial backing from both England and Canada, the movement to promote confederation found its wings and in a very heated and closely fought public referendum Newfoundland was brought kicking and screaming into the dominion.

With barely better than 50% public support, it was at that point in history that Newfoundland signed on as a Canadian province, at least on paper. Official records and political rhetoric identify the province as an equal partner in Canada, but did Newfoundland really become a province in the true sense of the word, or is it still nothing more than a colony being governed from afar?

A quick scan of several dictionaries leads one to the following commonly accepted definition of Colonialism:

a policy in which a country rules other nations and develops trade for its own benefit; a country or area controlled politically by a more powerful country; belief in and support for the system of one country controlling another

Does any of this sound even vaguely familiar to anyone in Newfoundland and Labrador, a land that was once an independent nation, but is now controlled by a much larger country? A land that has little, if any, real political power within the ruling government and a land where resources have been utilized and traded for the greater good of the nation, sometimes to the detriment of Newfoundland and Labrador itself.

Newfoundlanders often question why they were considered less important to Canada than Quebec was when it came to permitting the province to sell billions of dollars worth of Upper Churchill power to the nation? Why did it take years of fighting and maneuvering to change a situation were resources located under ground, such as in Alberta’s oil fields, are considered the domain of the province while those under water, on this province’s continental shelf, were considered to be in the federal domain? People often ask themselves, why foreign fishing fleets have been given quotas off this province’s shores? Quotas that were denied to local fishermen but were issued to foriegn nations in an effort to improve international trade for the benefit of Ontario textile mills.

These issues are of great importance to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. So to are the words often spoken by federal politicians who tell the public that by joining Canada Newfoundland gained many benefits it would otherwise never have had. Benefits such as roads, hospitals, improved education and so on. “Where would you be today if it weren’t for Canada?” they often say.

What follows is a quote from the “History of the Indian Sub-Continent”. Does this sound familiar to anyone in Newfoundland and Labrador today?

“While few educated South Asians would deny that British Colonial rule was detrimental to the interests of the common people of the sub-continent - several harbor an illusion that the British weren't all bad. Didn't they, perhaps, educate us - build us modern cities, build us irrigation canals - protect our ancient monuments - etc. etc.”

The document goes on to describe how, although still a developing nation, the reality of the situation was that as an independent Country, the people of the land ended up much better off than they had been under Colonial rule and in fact, after 50 years of freedom they have improved their lot in life well beyond where they were when colonial rule ended in the late 1940s.

In Newfoundland and Labrador today, we indeed have hospitals, schools, roads, etc, but at what cost and to what benefit? Our hospitals are seriously under funded, our province’s literacy rate is still one of the lowest in Canada and anyone who has traveled the roads of this province, including the TCH, will attest to the fact that they are in deplorable shape and worsening every year.

The province once had a railway from one end of the island to the other. This is gone.

The province’s fisheries have been destroyed while under a federal watch.

Newfoundland and Labrador has practically no representation in the nation's centralized government.

The province is physically cut off from the Country that governs it by a province that continually vacillates between nationalism and separation. As a result of the federal government not wanting to tip the balance by ruling against the larger province, Newfoundland and Labrador can’t even move its resources across Quebec’s borders.

After more than 50 years under Canadian rule, Newfoundland and Labrador continues to be the butt of countless Canadian jokes half the time and the grease that turns the wheels of the foreign affairs department the other half.

Is Newfoundland and Labrador a province or a colony? I’ll let you make up your own mind on that. As for me, all I have to say is welcome to my old colonial home.

10 comments:

Brian said...

If it was not Christmas I would say words like” Jesus H Christ, when are you guys going to get it, only a small part of the province is physically cut off from the rest of the country”.

NL-ExPatriate said...

I agree Brian. The use of the term mainland is not a term NL'ians should be using since Labrador is apart of the Mainland I've taken to using the term Upper Canada because in reality all of the Atlantic provinces are being treated the same in this Colonial/Federalist country which we belong to. With it's Democratic deficit, and Fiscal imbalance between the Provinces and the Federal government.

Now as for being cut of from Upper Canada that isn't such an unrealistic term because Quebec continues to separate us from Upper Canada by refusing to allow us to wheel power across their territory and will continue to do so as long as Ottawa is afraid to step on Quebecs toes because they don't want to be known as the PM who caused the country to break up.

We would actually have more of a chance to get a power corridor across Qubec if it were a separate country than we do now.

I really have to question Todd Russels intentions with reference to Labradors place in Newoundland and Labrador. Notice how he never refers to this province as Newfoundland and Labrador but only as Labrador?

I would like for someone to ask him if he had the chance would he rather see Labrador separate from Newfoundland and Labrador and become a territory or Province of it's own?

He might be better suited to the Labrador separation party IMHO! Rather than mascarading as a Newfoundland and Labrador federal minister.

Anonymous said...

Todd russel is a federal member not minister, there is a differnce

WJM said...

Newfoundland and Labrador has practically no representation in the nation's centralized government.

NL has seven MPs and six Senators.

This is far from "practically no representation".

The province is physically cut off from the Country that governs it by a province that continually vacillates between nationalism and separation.

Quebec is part of the country; the province is physically connected to Quebec; therefore the province is NOT physically cut off from the country.

As a result of the federal government not wanting to tip the balance by ruling against the larger province, Newfoundland and Labrador can’t even move its resources across Quebec’s borders.

Should NL be forced to move Quebec's resources across NL's borders, without NL's consent?

Patriot said...

First of all, the references to NL being cut off from the rest of Canada is in reference to Quebec being between the two. This is a fact and since Quebec's always on the brink of separation forces the Fed to bow to their wishes, I believe my point is valid.

Secondly, 7 seats out of 308 means we have 2% of the vote in the house. Add to this the fact that most MPs tow the party line and that our senate is an appointed one that is beholding to those who appointed them and as I said, we have little or no representation.

Finally, the answer is YES. If a province like Quebec had a power resource that they needed to cross NL with in order to reach a market then they should be allowed to do so even if NL wanted to rob them of it.

I always find it interesting that the contingent on this site who hail themselves as pro Labrador always find a way to turn statements about the province that attempt to show the disparity in how this province is treated in Canada into a vote of confidence in Ottawa and a kick for the island.

Very telling. I could get resort back to my psychology training and make some observations on what that really means, but I don't believe this is the proper venue. Let's just say it is very, very telling.

Brian said...

How about a heading like ‘Newfoundland’s colonial rule in Labrador’.

I am pro NL, but it is some hard at times to rationalize that. It is a fact that without direct federal monies we would be in real third world conditions here in Labrador. I repeat, that is not politics, it is fact.

Patriot said...

Brian,

I can't say I disagree with your point. Labrador has indeed been treated about as well by NL as the entire province has been treated by Ottawa, and that isn't saying much. I have never denied that and never will.

There needs to be some major changes in the type of Colonial rule exhibited by St. John's within Labrador and I can appreciate that fully. What bothers me is that some people will, time and time again, hurt themselves by taking commentaries and articles intended for the good of the entire province and twisting the contents so that it causes harm not only to the island but to the Labrador region as well.

It is one thing to want reform inside our province, but in the context of dealing with the fed, what is good for the province is good for the province (generally speaking).

Some people just never seem to be able to separate the two and realize that these are separate levels of government and the individual issues relating to each need to be addressed as such, not continually mixed and matched.

When discussing a particular federal activity that is not in the best interest of the entire province, what good does it do to keep taking Ottawa's side and attacking the provincial government?

These people may think they are keeping their Labrador issues front and center, but in reality this tactic only muddies the waters and makes it more difficult to accomplish anything all.

WJM said...

I believe my point is valid.

I don't.

Newfoundlanders have to stop viewing Labrador's being connected physically to Quebec as a threat or liability, and start viewing it as an asset. It's our only provincial land border. Let's make best use of it.

Secondly, 7 seats out of 308 means we have 2% of the vote in the house.

And?

We have 2.3% of the House, with 1.6% of the population.

(Harper wants to change it to 7 out of 327, by the way...)

Add to this the fact that most MPs tow the party line

And? Actually, we have a high rate of rank-breakers in NL, at least among the non-Conservative MPs.

and that our senate is an appointed one that is beholding to those who appointed them

That only goes so far; I don't think the Senators who were put there by Trudeau or Mulroney still take their directions from them!!!

and as I said, we have little or no representation.

How would you fix this?

How would you give NL more representation?

Finally, the answer is YES. If a province like Quebec had a power resource that they needed to cross NL with in order to reach a market then they should be allowed to do so even if NL wanted to rob them of it.

Okay. So we'll know where you stand when those firms want to run rail or slurry pipelines down from the Labrador Trough north of Schefferville, then.

I always find it interesting that the contingent on this site who hail themselves as pro Labrador always find a way to turn statements about the province that attempt to show the disparity in how this province is treated in Canada into a vote of confidence in Ottawa and a kick for the island.

Why not? The hypocricy really p!sses me off, and a lot of others.

Patriot said...

In response to the slightly reasonable portions of WJM's comments. I would give the province more representation in a triple E senate where each province is represented by the same number of elected members and all have an equal say.

On another point. You don't seem to have a problem with our representation in Ottawa while at the same time you complain about your treatment by the island. Perhaps one way to resovlve your issues would be to elect representatives who will work better for you.

Is it possible that you are not heard in the provincial legislature because the MHAs you have elected over the years are not doing enough. In that case it is something you CAN do something about going forward rather than simply complaining about the island.

Anonymous said...

Hello bloggers,

I am looking for people who are serious about independence for Newfoundland and Labrador. If you are interested in helping build a real nationalist movement here please respond to adschwar@dal.ca.