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PM King considers Confederation

Joey Smallwood said it was the narrowest of escapes. Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949 by a referendum result of 52 to 48 per cent. Smallwood, a small but tough man with horn-rimmed glasses, fought stellar orator and anti-Confederate Peter Cashin. Many benefits came with joining Canada; a university, better highways. But average income still hovers near the poverty line. Today, a commission investigates whether Canada broke its 1949 funding promise.

Sharing the perils of two world wars and allegiance to the British crown, Newfoundland and Canada have a good deal in common. "Newfoundlanders are no strangers to Canada, nor are Canadians strangers to Newfoundland," says Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King with a whistle in his voice. In this 1947 CBC Radio recording, the prime minister is speaking to members of Newfoundland's National Convention who are visiting Ottawa.

The Convention of Newfoundlanders considers the future of government in the colony. Delegate and journalist Joey Smallwood lobbies for Newfoundland to enter Confederation with Canada. The Convention will spend the next three months debating Smallwood's motion.
. On March 29, 1867, the British North America Act Confederated the Dominion of Canada with the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. Although Newfoundland declined union at the time, the BNA Act included a provision to allow for entering at a later date.
. Joey Smallwood began his Confederation campaign with 11 letters to the editor. The St. John's Daily News published them starting on April 6, 1946.

. Smallwood originally proposed the letters as articles but the anti-Confederate editor preferred not to make a political statement in the regular pages.
. In the summer of 1947, the National Convention discussed terms for union and recommended the British government hold a referendum on Confederation. The convention members were 45 delegates from 38 regions in Newfoundland.

. Britain was in favour of Confederation. Debt-stricken from the Second World War, they welcomed attempts to unload the empire.
. The British government put two referendums to Newfoundlanders. Anti-Confederates won the first one on June 3, 1948: responsible government 45 per cent, Confederation 41 per cent, Commission of Government (administered colonial rule) 14 per cent.

. The result of the second and deciding referendum on July 22, 1948 was: Confederation 52 per cent (78,323) and responsible government 48 percent (71,334).
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: June 25, 1947
Guest(s): William Lyon Mackenzie King
Duration: 7:42
Photo: National Archives of Canada

Last updated: February 2, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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