19 July 2008

Confederation 60

The Bond Papers mast head for the next week marks the 60th anniversary of the two referenda in 1948 that paved the way for the Confederation of Canada with Newfoundland and Labrador.

Over the next few months, we'll periodically bring you a post on the
Confederation anniversary culminating with the 60th anniversary of
Confederation on April 1, 2009.

There may be celebrations marking 400 years of Quebec City this year and well there should be, however, the 60th anniversary of the 1948 votes should not go unnoticed, as it seems to be.

First, the votes are a triumph of democracy. The people of Newfoundland - and Labrador for the first time - voted to determine the future of their country.

They weren't given the chance in 1933. Responsible government disappeared on the basis of a simple resolution of the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council, the old upper chamber.

Second, the people voted for a return of responsible government, of self-government. They clearly rejected commission rule in the first referendum. In the run-off, held on July 22, they were given a choice between two forms of self government.

"Responsible Government", as it was called at the time, meant a return to whatever had existed prior to 1933. Confederation with Canada meant exactly what it said. However it is important to realise that both are forms of self-government.

In 1948, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador opted to become part of Canada. They voted by secret ballot to merge their country with its neighbour to the west. They created, in the process an entirely new country, both for themselves and their children as well as for the people who were already Canadians.

Third, Newfoundland and Labrador is thus far the only country to opt to join Canada. It is the only political entity - colony, country or province - to do so by democratic vote.

There is a message in that experience 60 years ago which should resonate with today's generations.