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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Newfoundland & Labrador, De-Confederation?

In what might be termed as a twist of fate, a quirk of history, or perhaps more accurately, as a major political shift, the two most popular leaders in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador appeared on the scene nearly six decades apart and represent completely opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Occasionally political leaders appear who naturally galvanize the spirit of an entire people. Newfoundland and Labrador has borne witness to two such leaders, in just under sixty years, in the form of Liberal premier Joey Smallwood and PC premier Danny Williams.

In their time both men captured the overriding sentiments of their people in a way few can, yet their actions and ideologies are so diametrically opposed that the support they each garnered speaks volumes about changing attitudes of voters since the Province entered Confederation.

It’s a fortunate fact that both leaders didn’t arrive on the scene at the same point in history. The fallout of such an event, the very impact of two such strong wills colliding and the flash that most assuredly would have resulted might have irreparably blinded every man, woman and child in the province, if not the Country itself.

Joey Smallwood, known to many in Canada as the last living Father of Confederation, is said to have led Newfoundland and Labrador into Canada kicking and screaming. Whether this is accurate or not, most assuredly he accomplished his objective by the shear power of his will and by the slimmest of margins.

Joey Smallwood was the most popular of leaders in his time but, make no mistake, the province’s entry into Canada was by no means a given. It was a bitter dog fight all the way and even today many open wounds remain. There are still those who question the validity of the referendum result and the very legality of the event itself.

In his day perhaps no leader on the face of the planet was more popular with his people than “Joey”. He reigned supreme in a time when the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador was at a low point and when the perceived benefits of entering Confederation could easily be trumpeted as manna from heaven, especially to those living under the worst of circumstances. Even so, the final tally on referendum day saw only a 2% majority opt into the Canadian experiment.

Fast forward sixty years and we find the people of Newfoundland and Labrador on the cusp of the brighter future espoused by Joey and his supporters so eloquently back 1949.

Generations have grown up, Smallwood himself has long since shuffled off this mortal coil, and still many in the province patiently await the dream their beloved leader spoke so generations ago. Even after sixty years the province still lags behind the rest of Canada in many ways but finally a glimmer of light has appeared on the horizon, thanks largely to resource revenues from the offshore and years of stubborn tenacity.

Many of the old scars from long ago, including those incurred during the tumultuous referendum battle, have yet to heal and many people blame the outfall of entering Canada as a major factor in the province’s painfully slow and very limited turn around.

Today oil revenues are flowing like a mighty river, the economy is leading the Nation but the Newfoundland and Labrador still has almost no voice on the federal scene and the highest unemployment rates in the Country.

Over the decades the federal government has presided over the collapse of the world’s greatest fishery, the backbone of Newfoundland and Labrador for five centuries. Ottawa promoted the removal of the province’s island wide railway and it left a land once recognized around the worlds as an international crossroads for shipping, military positioning and air travel with almost no international presence.

Ottawa refused to support Newfoundland and Labrador during the development of the Churchill River power project, in deference to Quebec, and in doing so allows the Province to struggle, until 2041, under a lopsided contract that sees billions flow to Quebec while Newfoundland and Labrador barely manages to keep the turbines turning and the dollars flowing westward.

Even today, as offshore oil flows like water and as the provincial economy leads the Nation, Newfoundland and Labrador finds itself battling Ottawa to gain much needed value from the resource.

The federal government refuses to allow the province to set time limits on oil developments, time limits that would prevent companies from sitting on valuable finds for decades. Ottawa has also remained silent on the future of the new Churchill River hydro project now in the early stages of planning. The federal government has yet to confirm whether or not it will support the development or even help ensure that Quebec does not hamper the transmission of this much needed power across the Country.

Joey Smallwood believed that Confederation would see a new and prosperous future visited upon his people. Today, generations later, thousands remain unemployed and thousands more leave every day, to work in the oil fields of Alberta or the factories of Ontario, splitting families apart. The fishery is a pitiful shadow of what it was in 1949 and most of those who still cling to it for survival do so for a pittance. Newfoundland and Labrador struggles under a crushing provincial debt and its crumbling infrastructure is costing provincial coffers hundreds of millions each year to maintain.

Enter Danny Williams. Like Joey Smallwood before him Newfoundland and Labrador’s newest Premier is a household name, every bit as popular as Smallwood himself. Unlike “Joey”, “Danny” does not spend his days extolling the virtues of Mother Canada, not by a long shot. Instead he has tapped into the long standing resentment and feelings of distrust that have stewed in the former Nation of Newfoundland ever since that oh so close vote six decades ago.

Williams, to all appearances, is nobody’s “federalist”. In fact he is not the least bit shy about attacking the actions (or inactions) of the federal government, of politicians and even of the Prime Minister himself. It’s an approach that has solidified his support and, while opening up many old wounds, appears to have also had a healing effect on many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

No longer is it acceptable in many circles when the term “Newfie” is flippantly tossed into the conversation. No longer are the people of Newfoundland and Labrador content to wait patiently for Ottawa to “do the right thing”. Today a renewed pride and sense of strength that has begun to emerge among a people long used to standing quietly on the sidelines with hat in hand.

By openly tossing out terms such as, “Autonomy” and “Masters of our own house” or by describing the people of Newfoundland and Labrador as “nation”, Danny Williams is sending a clear, direct and unmistakable message to Ottawa.

The message:

Newfoundland and Labrador was brought into Canada just an instant ago in the great expanse of history. It was delivered at the hands of a strong, focused and determined leader. Today, for better or worse, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are once again standing firmly behind a new leader with the same sort of strength, focus and determination. Like Smallwood before him Williams’ message is resonating in the hearts and minds of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Unlike his predecessor however, this Premier appears to have a very different view of the Canadian federation.


Michael Williams said...

Same old stuff, devoid of imagination bud.

Canada is at its heart: was the partitioning and synchronizing force that had come to pass over Britain’s remaining loyalist assests in North America. No matter how these entities of British North America were divided. The overlapping heritage and history of British North America and it’s settlement since the discovery of the new world is undeniable, even if political synchronization had not yet occurred the lines and bindings of British North America were well in place. In its original reverence to the monarchy and later as commonwealth emerged and was eventually transcended into the modern Canadian state a continuity was formed. Such symbols and ideas forged a collective well identity which facilitated an environment similar to the Pan-Hellenistic mechanisms of Ancient Greece.

In March of 1949 the anomalous partitioning of British North America had been corrected and Newfoundland now has the distinction of cementing and exploring Canada’s foray into post modernity in the 21st century.

babe in boyland said...

myles - you forgot the part where joey flipped the switch and started the fine old tradition of fulminating against the federal government and using words like betrayal. by the time his premiership was over, joey was as well-versed in ottawa-bashing as any premier since. one might say that he invented the genre.

my real, lasting and overwhelming problem with premier williams' rhetoric is that by saying we are BECOMING masters in our own house and FINALLY fighting for our rights within canada, he is casting newfoundlanders and labradorians - all of them, at least since 1949 - as victims, fools and weaklings, who need to be saved from ourselves by a heroic leader.

i dont know what HIS forefathers were like, but MINE dont fit that bill. and i'm pretty sick of being told that they did.

Ussr said...

October 15, 2007 12:16 AM - AHHH,its nice to see the Big Red Propaganda machine that is Ottawa, light up Patriot!!!

Very nice article Myles,to bad I cannot agree with the first poster.Lie's deciet and half truths.It can't be "EDDY" so it must be a Liberial MP.

Anyway keep them coming.The truth has to be told by someone.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about yur forefather Babe but just a hair over 50% of all our forefathers were indeed fools and weaklings. How else do you explain a nation agreeing to give up its independence without a bloody battle?

Ben Frankline wrote:

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

I can guess what Ben's estimation of our forefathers would have been.

Mike said...

Good point Anon but I disagree with your comment that "a hair over 50% of all our forefathers were indeed fools and weaklings"

In my estimation that number is more like 100%. The 50% that voted to give up their freedom and the rest who did not take up arms to put down what was really a surrender of one nation to the will of another.

If it had happened in most places in the world, (only half the people wanting to give up their freedom) you can bet there would have been a civil war.

Stephen said...

I don't think it's that simple anyone. Confederation was sold as "British Union". Most people back then felt very attached to the idea of the Empire and Britishness - no matter how foolish it was. Also, we didn't have liberty in 49 - we had the Commission of Government - we actually ceded our democracy in 33. One last point is that we were never really free, we had never ratified the Treaty of Westminster and never had any responsibility for our own foreign affairs - treaty negotiations were carried out by London, etc. In fact at least one treaty negotiation that was carried out by an nfld'er - PM Robert Bond - the free trade deal with the US was shot down by London.

If we want to talk about true liberty and sovereignty for Newfoundland and Labrador it would have to be in a future context only, not as something that we had.

Anonymous said...

I think Canada's reaction to the concept of NL NOT being poor says it all. Newfoundland and Labrador's best interest does NOT lay in the Canadian confederation. NL needs to correct a mistake made in 49. If we are going to join up with another confederation, it needs to be negotiated on it's own terms, this did not happen on the last go round. Get clear of Canada for now, tomorrow is a new day.

babe in boyland said...

Anonymous said... "I don't know about yur forefather Babe but just a hair over 50% of all our forefathers were indeed fools and weaklings."

ok, lets cede that *your* forefathers were fools and weaklings.

but really - what all of our forefathers, those on both sides of the confederation debate, were people making the best choice they could in the circumstances they were in, what their judgement told them would make for the better life.

they were exercising a very similar judgement to the one that took THEIR forefathers out of england and ireland, but not to the US or Upper Canada. or do you think those emmigrants were cowards and run-outs to have left their home countries? shouldn't they have stayed and fought for religious freedom or political rights or a just share of property and the economic system?

what do you mean by "without a bloody battle"? would you be willing to die for a separate and independent newfoundland? think carefully - that kind of hyperbole shouldn't be used without deep reflection.

make the comparison to yugoslavia. was it right that that country (albeit cobbled together by force and international politics) dissolved in one of the ugliest wars of the 20th century? was all that really *worth* it? would we be willing to go through that for our putative nationhood?

that is the kind of thing we're talking about when we say newfoundland gave up its freedom without a bloody battle, and that we were cowards and weaklings.

come the f**k on.

nope - my forefathers were adventurous, flexible, creative, resourceful people who knew what was worth fighting for. they left the west country of england for newfoundland sometime before 1798, but they weren't deserters. my father voted against confederation, but he didnt see it worth going to war over and he didn't spend the rest of his life whining about it.

ussr said...

"what do you mean by "without a bloody battle"? would you be willing to die for a separate and independent newfoundland? think carefully - that kind of hyperbole shouldn't be used without deep reflection."

Babe,your Pro-Canada view point is shining thru like the lighthouse on Baccalieu Island.

Deep reflection.I would give my life with-out qestion for my home.Like my forefathers befor me they ran forward into machine gun fire to defend thier familys and homes,and thier way of life.Not because some rich men wanted to fight a war,but because they seen the german U-boats ripping up thier traps.Get a grip.

your version of what happened has to be the farthest thing from reality and the truth that I have read from any book.Why not stand-up for what your family has given you befor you too are gone.

“First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew."

"Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist."

"Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist."

"Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Can you not see that "your" the weekest link in Canada's chain.If you think that canada is not going to move agaisnt the people of St Johns when the Out-ports are empty then i truley think you need re-education.

You and the people on that Island are the problem.And ,by the looks of it ,Ottawa is a pretty good extermination expert!!!

babe in boyland said...

"Deep reflection.I would give my life with-out qestion for my home.Like my forefathers befor me they ran forward into machine gun fire to defend thier familys and homes,and thier way of life.Not because some rich men wanted to fight a war,but because they seen the german U-boats ripping up thier traps.Get a grip."

ok, chum. no problem. i'd give your life too. i just wouldn't give mine or my children's lives, or in fact the life of anyone i've ever met.

you seem never to have met anyone who actually fought in either ww1 or ww2. they weren't fighting for the defense of their homes. they never expected the war to get to them. some of them were fighting to keep the shipping lanes reasonably safe. there were an odd few u-boats that cropped up in our waters, but it's a stretch to say that any substantial number of newfoundlanders joined the various services to protect their gear from evil germans. also, you're mixing up wars - uboats reached our shores during ww2; newfoundlanders famously rushed into machine gun fire during ww1. the machine or gattling gun was not widely used in the theatres of war entered by newfoundlanders in ww2. it had already been superceded by other weapons, and frontal assaults on machine gun nests had been demonstrated to be miserable failures in ww1, so they weren't all that often done.

i am not "pro-Canada". i do not need "re-education" (do you even know what that MEANS? it usually comes in the form of sleep deprivation, extreme environment control and other tortures used to break down the social and cultural mores of captives and re-establish mores acceptable or useful to the controlling body. are you SURE you want to be advocating a tool of the chinese communism and the CIA??????).

you cannot accept any view that differs from yours without labelling it as negative. get over it - i'm a newfoundlander. i love this place and (generally speaking) its people. i respect us and our history more than to buy into a revisionist story that says we were all fools and victims until recent days. MY newfoundland, MY nation, is marked by courage, flexibility, ingenuity, wisdom, and thoughtful action.

yours doesn't sound much like that. too bad.

Ussr said...

"ok, chum. no problem. I'd give your life too"

Naw ,babe allow me to say i'm sorry .i'm a pretty sh&$$# writter.No WERE NEAR the talent that does come on this blog,so I'm out of my pond.

What I shoud have stated is that "yes" I would give my life for my Province.I have stated that several times and have put that too practise by serving her in the Canadain Armed Forces for over eight years.

I did not do this as a canadain but rather as a Newfoundlander.As long as she has her umbrella in the same basket of confederation as Canada then we must protect and serve her here.

I think the point that i was trying to get across was that if a person preeches certian values,and morals .Should they not stand by those morals and beliefs.Does a man or woman ,who preeches such said beliefs deserve to have them if they are not willing to stand up for them.

My apologys patriot ,i dont want to turn your Blog into a Forum for Idiots and Arm-pits.

If I have offended anyone here including "EDDY" I would now like to stand as the better man and offer my apologies.Yes,wally,even you.Because in the end ,when politics ends and our familys start we all still have to live together.Its just nice to see that Newfoundland and Labrador is still loved so much that she installs such passion and de-bate in her citizens.

Anonymous said...

I found this entry much too kind to Mr. Smallwood, a total stooge who was in way over his head and lacked the wits and self-knowledge to know it. Whitehall and Ottawa wanted one outcome and one outcome only and that little gnome was the tool used to manufacture it. Once the deed was done, the line-up of sundry other users formed, every one of them knowing a world class sucker when they saw one. The best that can be said is that Joseph Smallwood was a dreamer; the worst of it is that he fulfilled the dreams of so many others, most of them proper bastards.

A Big Black Dog with Two Tails
Leduc County AB ex St. John's

Starrigan said...

Holy Smoke Babe et. al., hit the showers!!!!

What we all need to do is stop looking at the past. Period.

You all espouse to be patriotic Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Most excellent. Why don't we stop the "we've been swindled out of what's ours". Let's forget about 49 and Canada and the loss of the fisheries. Let's steer towards the future. Why not look at what is to be, not what has gone before. How do we rebuild the worlds greatest fishers? There's a challenge for us all. If we could direct all of that energy into that think tank maybe we could have a future in that industry and a future for the next generation. Let's be serious, look at what we can do for our children. We're all grown up, let's try to figure out what we can give to youth so they can stay.
Too much about the past and that's not a bad thing but we need to learn to use our past to build a better future. We have to get over the whole confederation thing and decide whether or not to move on. Maybe we can be a part of Canada, maybe we can't. But that's our decision to make as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. The first comment at the top, by, Michael Williams, "Canada is at its heart" is a prime example of someone who does not understand the history and culture of our wonderful and unique nation.
Let's look toward the future.

babe in boyland said...


i think we agree that the future should be our focus.

we can't change the past. we can't control (though we can influence) the future. however, we *live* in the present. let's make it worthwhile and not waste it obsessing over past wrongs, real or imagined.

Ussr said...

October 17, 2007 2:42 AM - someone said that if you forget your past ,your doomed to repeat it in the future.

I think that too much time has been spent on the past starrigan.But ,it is not with cause.

I think that i would have to take a page from both your book as well as Babe's.Now that we can afford to think this why ,we should be concerned with development in Labrador and job creation there.

The world is our oyster.With shipping lanes opening in the artic for trade ,and minerail prices going thru the roof we must be ready to meet the demands of the world.

I think that is why Williams is so popular.He personafies confidence
not only with those that he works with but those that share his vision of a better tomorrow .

Lets see the sun shine on Newfoundland and Labrador once again!!!