Thursday, April 1, 2010

Confederation has its grassy knolls

This being the 61st anniversary of Confederation, it's the one time of year I can revisit the shadowy events that got us here without being labeled a wing nut.

People are always giving me old documents and papers, asking me to delve a little deeper into the conspiracy theory.

Confederation has its grassy knoll, I spose you could say.

Or knolls.

Lee Harvey Smallwood didn't act alone.

I'm in Halifax as I write this, but before I left the house this morning to catch a plane I grabbed an old paper from one of my bookcases.

Confederation Revisited: New Light on British Policy was written in 1983 as a public lecture to the Newfoundland Historial Society by Dr. Philip McCann, an education professor with Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Before I get to the real juice, an interesting tangent in McCann's paper.

On July 22, 1948, three days before the vote on the second referendum, Philip Noel Baker, Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, issued a memorandum to the Cabinet, pointing out that the vote was expected to be close, and that a great number of supporters of Responsible Government, who might be committed to Confederation against their will, were concentrated in and around St. John's, and there was thus a risk of civil disturbance.

This is a direct quote:

"As a precautionary measure, and after discussion with the Prime Minister, I have thought it right to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he can arrange for a warship to be available in Western Atlantic waters at the time of the referendum and able to move in to St. John's at short notice on call. I hope very much in fact there will be no disturbances; but we must be prepared to maintain order as long as we are in charge of the island."

As McCann wrote: "It was a fittingly symbolic ending to the British connection with Newfoundland, which 365 years earlier had begun with Gilbert's ship approaching the Narrows.

So, what conclusions did McCann draw from the last six years of British rule and Commission Government.

First, that the validity and integrity of the Confederate compaign, led by Smallwood, is in no way diminished, although it must be seen as the final act in a long process.

Second, the belief of Peter Cashin and other advocates of Responsible Government that Britain was engaged in a "plot" or "conspiracy" must be given greater credance.

And I quote:

"There can be little doubt that Confederation was engineered by the British, almost entirely in secret and largely by the Treasury. Newfoundland - and Labrador in particular - were used as pawns in a deal with the Canadians. A.P. Herbert, the nearest thing in Britain to a Newfoundland nationalist, wrote, perhaps prophetically in 1950: 'A Frenchman said that Labrador was the country God gave to Cain. History may say that it was the country that Britain gave to Canada.'"

Question is, did Canada appreciate the gift?

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