‘Who actually decided on Newfoundland’s union with Canada?’
A supporter of the 1949 conspiracy theory, asked by Randy Simms on “Open Line” recently to give one fact supporting the truthfulness of the theory, replied that “Canada and Britain appointed the delegates who negotiated the terms of union and Newfoundlanders had no say in it.”
Among the partial facts, fiction and fancy that make up the essence of the theory, this would fall somewhere between fiction and fancy.
The people of Newfoundland elected the members of the National Convention and these members elected the delegates to negotiate terms of union for Newfoundlanders to consider. The terms negotiated by the delegation were brought back and publicly debated for seven months before the final referendum. Newfoundlanders knew well the issues and what they were voting for by referendum day.
So, who actually decided on Newfound- land’s union with Canada?
Was it England, Canada, or both? Neither; it was the little man in the fishing boat, on the farm, or working in the factories, the stores, on the waterfront, etc., who seized control of his country’s destiny by exercising his choice for his future, with the marking of a simple “X” on a ballot paper. That simple “X” ended 450 years of servitude to a system beyond his control.
If Newfoundlanders had voted by districts based on those represented in the National Convention, the outcome would have been a landslide Confederate victory of 29 to 9. Among the 47 per cent voting against Confederation were 12 to 15 per cent pro-Confederates who voted responsible government as a step towards Confederation. Had they voted directly for Confederation, the margin of victory would have been higher.
The next step towards Confederation was to sign the terms of union. The Newfoundland Commission of Government appointed a (second) delegation to finalize union.
Gordon Winter, a strong anti- Confederate, and Joe Smallwood, pro-Confederate leader, served on this second delegation to Ottawa. Afterwards, Winter said that Smallwood “...fought tenaciously and continually for every advantage and benefit that could be obtained.”
These second set of negotiations improved upon the first. As the original terms of union, the majority of Newfoundlanders were satisfied enough with them to choose Confederation. Democracy had been served.
Jack Fitzgerald writes from St. John’s