60th Anniversary of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada Newfoundland and Labrador signed away our independence on March 31, 1949, so as not to wear the badge of the April Fool. There are many of course who feel that the signing could have been done on any day of the year, the very terms of confederation mark us as fools regardless.
In speaking with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians it is interesting to hear the varied opinion on becoming Canada’s last adopted child. “The best thing we ever did was join Canada” a young professional has said. Another political gentleman says “[he] doesn’t want to get Newfoundland and Labrador out of Canada, [he] wants to get Canada the #$%& out of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Newfoundlandincanada posted a graphic labeled “Almost Canadian” two years ago. Today the phrase seems a little too optimistic. The updated graphic reads “Not Quite Canadian”, the colours of the pink white and green showing through a faded Canadian Maple Leaf. It is easy to lament the loss of a nation, but to embrace a new nation that has never truly embraced us, this is a different quintal of fish.
The royal commission report on Our Place in Canada, from which Newfoundlandincanada draws its name, speaks of Newfoundland and Labrador’s expectation upon joining Canada. It is certain that in that time we had amassed a tremendous debt, largely from our war efforts. It is also a point of history that we were beginning to come into our own. Investment into the Newfoundland and Labrador dominion by Canadian and especially the American war effort was creating a new wealth and employment throughout. It was expected that in joining Canada we could have our debt load reduced, without a burden of excess taxes and a standard of living mirroring that of the Maritime Provinces and in keeping with our sister provinces throughout Canada. Ferry services to be an extension of the highway system whereby taking the ferry across the gulf would be no more expense or burden than if by land. That was the clear intent.
Reflecting back with sixty years of vision it is all questionable. Marine Atlantic has been a great cost to travelers, with delayed shipping of goods and services, tourism greatly restricted because the hassle of these ships makes coming to the island or coastal Labrador just not worth the effort. We have for most of those sixty years the highest taxation, highest debt load and highest unemployment in the nation.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s debt load has meant that it must make decisions based on short term sustainability over long-term growth. The hill of gravel, which snakes across the island that once was a railway, is a testament to this shortsightedness. Our debt was one of the largest factors in our determination as a nation, and the expectation that Canada would untie that albatross was very real in the heads of the 1949 voters. Today though that debt remains. The battle to hold Canada to the commitment of Term 29 was lost. It would have allowed us some relief from that debt - some assemblage of equality with our fellow Canadians. Term 29 grew to become a convoluted system of Robin Hood ethics where all provinces were included in the stew and an allowance made based on an abstract and confusing system that few can understand or qualify. Term 29 became Equalization. Equalization morphed into the Atlantic Accord/Equalization scheme. We continue to this day to negotiate our terms of union with Canada. From our brotherhood and sisterhood in the rest of this dominion they only know that from Term 29 to equalization to the Atlantic Accord, we have been the bastard adopted child of confederation, always going to mother Ottawa with our hand extended.
On this diamond anniversary of Newfoundland and Labrador’s place in Canada do we mark the birth of a province? The true vision of Canada from Pacific to Atlantic? Do we instead morn the loss of a nation? A loss of a cultural identity, a vibrant heritage blended into the gray of Canadian culture? Are we a province within a nation/ a nation within a nation/ or a nation without a nation? Time will tell the true story of this Newfoundland and Labrador, the Dorset Eskimo, Maritime Archaic, the Vikings, Beothuck, and Mi'kmaq, the European settlers, Canadians and new Immigrants. They are thrown into the experiment that is Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. Sixty years in the house of Canada and still we are not quite Canadian. Will we ever be?