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Newfoundland and Confederation: 'The school boat'

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.

To get to school in Grade 8, Donald O'Keefe faced perilous pre-Confederation conditions. He walked one mile, then took an open boat in open weather, then walked another two miles. And he did this all over again at lunch. Sitting at a kitchen table in 1972, O'Keefe tells journalist Rex Murphy that today his kids have a much easier time. O'Keefe says his son and daughter take a bus to school thanks to the Confederation initiatives of Joey Smallwood.

The former premier's government built highways and gave Newfoundland its first university. O'Keefe says conditions since 1949 have markedly improved. Youth attend university. "Before children never could have even dreamed this," he explains. But he says the province needs further development if it's going to keep its young and educated from leaving.
. Since the Second World War, Newfoundland youth have emigrated at a rate of about 5,000 a year. Subsequently, the province's population has all but stagnated with a nominal increase from 568,349 in 1986 to 568,474 five years later.
. In another 1972 report, Rex Murphy points out the irony of improving education for Newfoundlanders. He calls it a double-edged sword because education gives youth the necessary tools to leave the province.

. Rex Murphy was student council president at Memorial University, the institution which gained university status under Smallwood's Liberals. Murphy went on to become a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, along with former U.S. president Bill Clinton.
Medium: Television
Program: Tuesday Night
Broadcast Date: March 14, 1972
Guest(s): Donald O’Keefe
Reporter: Rex Murphy
Duration: 2:36

Last updated: February 2, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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