The 10th Province, 1949-1972


Melvin Baker

From 1949 to 1972 the history of the new province is closely identified with Smallwood who, during the tenure of his premiership in this period, won six general elections, and the seventh, in 1971, resulted in a tie. As historian Peter Neary has observed, his premiership can be divided into three distinct periods. The first, from 1949 to 1957, saw the consolidation of both Newfoundland's integration within the Canadian union and of Smallwood's political power. Smallwood identified himself with the "toiling masses" of the outports, the fishermen who had voted so strongly for Confederation in the referenda and who in the 1949 provincial election accepted the urging of the Liberal Party to "let Joe finish the job." The drawing of electoral boundaries after 1949 gave a greater preponderance of seats to outport Newfoundland, where Liberal strength lay.

Joseph Roberts Smallwood in 1930

Smallwood's first election campaign in 1949 saw him with many electoral advantages over his anti-confederate opponents who identified themselves with the national Progressive Conservative Party; the well-organized confederate association was converted into the provincial Liberal Party and had all the financial and political support it needed from the federal party which had formed the government of Canada for much of the first half of the 20th century. As premier, he devoted himself to achieving many of the prophecies he had made both in his publications and as host of the Barrelman radio program of the late 1930s. As he told journalist Ron Pumphrey in 1979, "some of them came true on their own, but I had to MAKE some of them come true. When your reputation as a prophet is at stake, you should have to go out and make your prophecies come true, as I did." Through his restless energy and drive, Smallwood was able, in the words of a visiting British civil servant in 1950, to dominate his various cabinets--he "towers above the rest of his colleagues." "Mr. Smallwood obviously enjoys his position as the head of `one-man government,'" Sir P. Alexander Clutterbuck wrote, and "commented to me on the benefits of `democratic dictatorship' which he said was only possible in a small place like Newfoundland" (Peter Neary, "`A More than usual ... interests': Sir P.A. Clutterbuck's Newfoundland Impressions, 1950," Newfoundland Studies, vol. 3, 1987, p. 256).

These prophecies had foreseen industrialization and substantial educational and public works reforms and improvements. The building blocks to industrialization for Smallwood in the early 1950s were the exploitation of the huge iron ore deposits in western Labrador, the construction of a third pulp and paper mill using hydro power to be developed in the Bay d'Espoir area on the island's south coast and, the construction of a cement mill near Corner Brook. As he told the House of Assembly in 1950, "people are not going to wait forever for this development; if we don't give it to them tomorrow, they get more and more out of jobs and pull up their stakes; you can't blame them ... Our job is to back them; go right out, boots and all, make or break" (quoted in Peter Neary, ed. The Political Economy of Newfoundland, 1929-1972, p. 198). Despite the industrialization of Newfoundland after 1949, there were never enough jobs for all and out-migration, especially to Toronto, continued to be a marked feature of post-1949 Newfoundland.

The fishery from the early 1950s changed from being primarily based on salt fish production to a fresh, frozen fish industry by the early 1970s dominated by centralized, capital-intensive plants in the larger outports. Over this period salt fish production declined from 45,000 tonnes to 10,000 tonnes, while that for frozen products increased from 30,000 tonnes in 1956 to 150,000 tonnes by the late 1970s. Smallwood's identification with the fisheries is generally associated with a phrase from the early 1950s that is usually identified with him, "burn your boats." Whether he actually uttered it or not, Smallwood was fully aware that modernization of the fisheries was important to the province's economic wellbeing. During the 1949 provincial election campaign, he declared it was his party's policy "to encourage the continuing development and improvement of modern fish-processing plants ... which must be encouraged if our fisheries are to keep up with the times ... The fisheries are NOT finished. Anyone who says they are, is wrong. To say that the fisheries are finished is the same as saying that Newfoundland is finished" (Evening Telegram, May 16, 1949). From the 1950s there were numerous studies of the fisheries, by both federal and provincial authorities, and their conclusions generally pointed to fishery reforms within the context of fewer fishermen and large, frozen fish processing plants, but both levels of government, instead, yielded to the more attractive alternative of maintaining a social fishery rather than an economic one. A recent study on fishery policy in the 1950s noted that "massive unemployment would inevitably have resulted if a large number of fishermen had been forced out of the industry to create an elite body of fishermen operating modern and efficient boats to supply the needs of mechanized saltfish and fresh-fish processors. Other opportunities for working did not exist in Newfoundland... Ottawa also came to realize that fishing in Newfoundland was not just a means of livelihood. It was also a way of life that could not be changed overnight. In the end, the federal policy amounted to little more than a subsidy to increase the incomes of fishermen" (Raymond Blake, "The Problem of Newfoundland: the Fisheries and Newfoundland's Integration into Canada, 1948-1957," in James Hiller and Peter Neary, eds., Twentieth Century Newfoundland, St. John's, Breakwater Books, 1994, p. 263).

Since the local business community was not prepared to invest substantially in industrial development, Smallwood turned, first, to Europe in the early 1950s for capital. A key adviser to Smallwood in his early industrial search was Alfred Valdmanis, a Latvian-born economist, whose strategy was to attract European capitalists with both funds and industrial equipment for what became known as the new industries. When the investment help did not substantially materialize, in the 1960s Smallwood turned to the United States for financial help, especially to two investors (John C. Doyle and John Shaheen) who each would build two controversial projects with substantial government assistance. Doyle, who had successfully arranged funding for the opening of the iron ore mines at Wabush, constructed a linerboard mill at Stephenville in the early 1970s, while Shaheen built an oil refinery at Come by Chance, also in the early 1970s.

Joey's industrial strategy prompted several members of his cabinet in the early 1950s to quit the government--Edward Russell, Harold Horwood, and Herman Quinton--but the subsequent political fallout was minimal. In 1951 he easily won re-election and except, for Horwood's newspaper column, there was little criticism of the government and befitting the informality of his political style, he now preferred to be called Joey instead of Joe. Gordon Bradley (Newfoundland's representative in the federal government as Secretary of State) was also displeased with Smallwood, whom he believed hindered good relations between Ottawa and the Newfoundland government and wrote him in 1951 that "I have told you time and again that is one of your great failings. You go ahead and on your own, make decisions and proceed to implement them without consulting others who have a stake in the matter and who can perhaps give you some sound advice" (Blake, "The Problem of Newfoundland," p. 256). Smallwood, in turn, had lost faith in Bradley and wanted an individual he could trust and who could deliver the political goods for Newfoundland. In 1953 he found his man in Jack W. Pickersgill, a Manitoban-born civil servant with aspirations to be an elected politician. Among their most notable accomplishments in the 1950s was making fishermen eligible for unemployment insurance.

The second distinct period of his premiership was from 1957 to 1968 when Smallwood's political hold on the province was threatened: first, from the election in 1957 of a Progressive Conservative government nationally led by John Diefenbaker; and, the following year, from the organizational efforts of the International Woodworkers of America (IWA) and its leader H. Landon Ladd from British Columbia. For Smallwood, the economic wellbeing of the province took precedence over any sympathies he had long espoused for the labour movement. The IWA was branded, Neary has observed, as "a subversive outside influence incompatible with the Newfoundland way of life." Ladd's IWA was branded as "outsiders" and his shameless appeal to local patriotism had its effect; in a general election held in 1959 Smallwood easily won re-election, and legislation was subsequently enacted decertifying the IWA. Loggers now could join a union that had been formed by Max Lane, Smallwood's minister of welfare. The IWA strike tarnished Smallwood's previous claims to being a socialist; simultaneously, he had stepped prominently on the national stage as the little guy battling the federal government over Prime Minister Diefenbaker's refusal to accept revisions to term 29 of the terms of union more favourable to Newfoundland's desperate financial situation. Smallwood gave public lectures and interviews critical of Diefenbaker; in doing so, he helped to prepare the political ground for the return of the Liberals to power in 1963 under Lester Pearson.

For the remainder of the 1960s, Newfoundland benefitted greatly from federal funding for public works. A substantial public works building programme was begun that included new public office buildings, the paving of the Trans-Canada highway across the island (the slogan was "finish the drive in 65"), and numerous municipal water and sewer projects. The development of hydro power at Bay d'Espoir was possible through such assistance; consequently, Smallwood was able to undertake an active rural electrification programme and establish an island-wide transmission grid that made for greater industrial diversification. He attracted new foreign investors to the province; a phosphorous plant at Long Harbour, an oil refinery at Come By Chance, and a proposed linerboard mill for Stephenville for instance, and the rapid expansion of the fresh frozen fish industry through the establishment of new plants.

His cherished goal of developing the hydro power of the renamed Churchill Falls (formerly Hamilton Falls) was finally realized in 1969 when Brinco (the British Newfoundland Corporation) through its majority ownership of the Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation signed a long-term power contract with Hydro Quebec. Brinco had been established in 1953 as a result of a Smallwood visit the previous year to Britain where he appeared before the Fleet Street press to announce that Newfoundland was open to development by British investors. Brinco was a consortium of such investors that included the financiers N.M. Rothschild and Sons. With low world energy costs at the time, the 1969 contract signed by the Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation with Hydro Quebec appeared to be a good deal for Newfoundland, especially since it created thousands of construction jobs for several years for Newfoundlanders. But with the rapid escalation in the mid-1970s in the price of oil, the contract quickly became financially unfavourable to Newfoundland and Smallwood was widely condemned by his fellow citizens for having allowed such a contract to be signed with Quebec, a "sell-out" they claimed.

Smallwood, on the eve of the 1966 general election, was at the peak of his power and the election was to be his swan song retirement from Newfoundland politics, an opportunity for him to leave politics with dignity as an elderly statesman. The Liberals won all but 3 of the 42 seats, and among the newly elected Liberals were a group of young, ambitious politicians--Ed Roberts, Bill Rowe, John Crosbie, and Clyde Wells, for example--who were each being groomed to be Smallwood's successor as party leader and hence premier.

The third distinct period of Smallwood's premiership is from 1968 to 1972. Despite the electoral success in 1966, cracks were appearing in Smallwood's political armour. In 1967 the Liberals lost a provincial byelection in Gander to the Conservatives, while in the 1968 federal election Smallwood failed to return but one of seven seats in the federal election, the seat belonging to the popular and politically powerful Don Jamieson. Smallwood took these electoral setbacks as personal rebuke from voters. Journalist Ray Guy strongly condemned and satirized the premier in his column in the Evening Telegram and has generally been credited in having a "decided influence in undermining the Premier's standing with the electorate" (Patrick O'Flaherty, "Literature," Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, vol. 3, p. 329). The government's resettlement policy commenced in the mid-1960s received considerable public criticism and universal condemnation from academics at Memorial University, where the academics and field workers from the Institute of Social and Economic Research and the Extension Service mobilized rural Newfoundlanders to stand up for their social and political rights against the government.

There was opposition from within Smallwood's own cabinet at a time when the provincial economy was experiencing a downturn and the premier being determined to maintain construction jobs. Cabinet ministers Crosbie and Wells objected to Smallwood's intention to provide interim bridge financing for John Shaheen's oil refinery at Come By Chance and found themselves being outmaneourved by a premier who dismissed them from the cabinet before they could claim they had resigned. They became alienated from the Liberal Party, which the premier had decided to revive through a leadership convention in 1969. The convention would choose his successor, widely expected to be veteran politician and supporter Frederick Rowe. In 1969 his supporters paid homage to the retiring premier by publishing a collection of essays entitled Just Call Me Joey.

Crosbie refused to surrender his membership in the Liberal Party and was allowed to remain, thereby being eligible to be a candidate for the leadership convention scheduled for October 1969. Few really believed that Smallwood intended to resign, especially with Crosbie's leadership candidacy. To Smallwood, no doubt there was the reluctance, born of years of near autocratic political power for 20 years, to retire voluntarily from the political field. Then again, he may have been emulating Richard Squires who in 1928 returned from the political wilderness to become prime minister once more. And, then, there was Smallwood's public reason; he did not want the "great Liberal Party" he planned to rebuild to be captured by the "wrong hands." For Smallwood, Crosbie was not a Liberal in the political tradition of Liberal politics in which he had long believed since the 1920s. Indeed, the premier had created a political myth that he and his party were the direct inheritors of a Liberal lineage that dated back through Squires, Bond and Whiteway to Carson and Morris of the 1830s. To remind Liberals and Newfoundlanders who had brought them personal and financial security over the past 20 years, his "Action for Joey Committees" organization published To You with Affection from Joey, a compilation of facts and figures on that prosperity along with a set of prophecies of future economic growth and new industries--"Jobs, Jobs and More Jobs."

The leadership became a contest between Smallwood and Crosbie, a campaign which saw the latter representing the hopes of a generation of Newfoundlanders educated since 1949 while Smallwood was portrayed as a tired political relic unwilling to relinquish political power. Smallwood easily won the leadership race, but many Liberals opposed to Smallwood subsequently left the party for the Progressive Conservative Party and its new leader, Frank D. Moores elected in 1970. Crosbie and some supporters in 1970 formed the Liberal Reform Group, but the following year they also found a political home with the Conservatives.

In the October 28, 1971 general election, a weakened Smallwood led his tattered Liberal Party in a political climate characterized by the need for a political change. As one of Smallwood's stalwart supporters later noted, the Liberal Party's political handlers under Andrew Crosbie changed Smallwood's political support to that of a "statesman-like Joey; gone was the free wheeling, outspoken orator that Newfoundlanders were accustomed to hearing. It seemed that Joey's campaign advisors looked upon him as a liability to the Party." The outcome presented no clear majority; there were 21 PCs, 20 Liberals, and one member of the New Labrador Party, Tom Burgess. Judicial recounts for several districts were held because of the narrow margins of victory.

Smallwood refused to resign the premiership, arguing that there was no certainty which party could command a majority in the Assembly, especially since the results in one of the districts held by the PCs was being contested in the courts. Depending on the court decision and who Burgess would support, Smallwood hung on to power tenuously as was his right under the rules of British parliamentary democracy, a position endorsed by Canadian constitutional expert, senator Eugene Forsey. He claimed that his fate would be decided by a vote in a new session of the Assembly, while behind the scenes supporters of both the Liberals and Conservatives finagled to recruit Burgess and to entice elected members from opposite parties to defect. Later in a television address on November 11, 1971 he stated that he intended to resign as both party leader and premier no matter what would be the outcome of judicial recounts in several districts. When the Supreme Court confirmed a Conservative victory in the contested St. Barbe district, Smallwood resigned the premiership on January 18, 1972, and at a convention to elect a new leader held on February 5, 1972, Ed Roberts won easily. The election of the Moores government in 1972 represented a final break with the politics long associated with the alignment of party politics resulting from the 1948 referenda campaign and signalled the emergence of a new generation of political leaders, of those raised in post-confederation Newfoundland.

Newfoundland, between 1949 and 1972, also underwent major changes in post-secondary education. In 1949 Memorial University College had been elevated to university status by government legislation, an act in which Smallwood took great pride along with that of Confederation itself. There was in 1949 considerable duplication in the number of schools in small communities. There were 1187 schools of which only 778 had only one room. According to educator and politician Frederick Rowe, 700 of the 778 teachers in these schools had only one year at university. And of the 2375 teachers in total only 57 were university graduates. In 1949 boys and girls tended to leave school at age 14 years (or even less). With compulsory attendance the averaged registered attendance in 1949 was 73%. The total number of students in 1949 was 75,000, 2400 of whom were 16 years and the number in Grade Eleven was 1600.

As part of the terms of union with Canada in 1949, Term 17 confirmed the right of the churches to own and operate their own schools. The Smallwood government had retained the denominational education system because of the strong opposition from Roman Catholics to Confederation. Term 17 was meant to mollify this opposition. Smallwood's government established a department of education along the lines of other departments, with the churches being represented by denominational superintendents in place of the denominational executive officers. There was also a director for amalgamated schools in recognition of the growth of such schools.

Under 1950 legislation, the powers of the superintendents (Roman Catholic, Anglican, United Church, Salvation Army, and Pentecostal after 1954) were confirmed and they along with the minister and the deputy minister constituted a Council of Education. The Minister of Education was responsible for administering and directing the department, but the Council had authority for all educational policy concerning the school boards, schools and teachers. In 1954 the education rights of the Pentecostal Church were also recognized; those of the Salvation Army had been recognized in 1892 and the Seventh Day Adventists in 1912. The superintendent acted as the official channel of communication between the Council and his denomination.

A regional high school program was begun in the early 1950s to provide newer and larger facilities. High schools were opened first in 1954 at Foxtrap and Corner Brook; ten years later this number had grown to 90. The low qualifications of practising teachers along with the general shortage of available teachers remained endemic, however. In early 1957 the government held the Teacher Shortage Conference to identify measures that could be taken to improve the professional standards for teachers and to increase their remuneration. In November 1958 the Education Conference brought to St. John's about 100 delegates who passed 71 resolutions for improvements to the system. These included better facilities and additional programs at Memorial University, and financial incentives for teachers to upgrade their qualifications.

Change was also taking place quietly in the delivery of services. During the 1950s, consolidation of schools had long been recognized as being necessary, especially with the introduction of regional and central high school programs, which demanded large scale financial and managerial and administrative resources. During the 1962­63 school year, the province had a total of 361 Roman Catholic schools, 391 Anglican, 307 United Church, 86 Salvation Army, 53 Pentecostal, 4 Seventh Day Adventist, and 47 amalgamated schools. The number of school boards as of September 1964 was 280. Between 1954 and 1962, the major churches in St. John's consolidated their internal educational services whereby one board looked after all the needs of that particular church. Before this, each church had two boards, one to look after their "college" and the other to administer the ordinary schools. The Anglican and United Churches also began to examine what educational areas they could act cooperatively. The Roman Catholic church within the province reduced the number of its boards; in 1962 there were 80, but within a few years this number was reduced to 12.

In 1964 the government appointed a Royal Commission on Education and Youth under the chairmanship of Philip Warren. The Commission operated under the implicit assumption of a denominational system, but quickly the Commission faced mounting public criticism of the system. In January 1967 the Royal Commission's report attacked the denominational system through proposing a reorganization of the Department of Education along a functional basis. The Commission believed that the churches should play an advisory role and leave the department to deal with instruction, administration, and other services. Roman Catholic members of the commission disagreed and submitted a minority report, and were supported by the small but influential Pentecostal Church. Negotiations were held to head off a major confrontation between the Catholics and the government, and between Protestants and Catholics. A compromise was reached which saw the churches move out of the department and the posts of departmental church superintendents abolished, but the government agreed to legislation setting up two advisory committees--one a denominational committee for each church, and a joint advisory denominational committee to government. The churches, through their committees, retained control of their rights regarding school district boundaries, training and certification of teachers, and various other matters, including religious education in the schools.

The Commission also recommended that a consolidation of school boards where possible be expedited. In March 1969 the Anglican, United Church, and the Salvation Army went further by creating a completely integrated system, and were soon joined by the Presbyterian Church. Hence, 229 Protestant schools boards were reduced to 22. The financing formula for schools was also changed in 1969 from one based on the amount of space maintained by school boards to one determined by the number of students registered in schools under their jurisdiction. Further educational reform would await another generation of Newfoundlanders.

The high cost of providing public services to many of Newfoundland's small and isolated communities has been a political conunundrum that has confronted local politicians since the island received representative government in 1832. Indeed, as the Amulree Commission observed in 1933, Newfoundland "has always been, first, and foremost, a fishing country; the settlements are, therefore, situated in places from which fishing could most easily be conducted. The original settlers, in making their homes, paid little attention to what they considered relatively unimportant factors, such as the quality of the soil, the distance from other settlements or the lack of amenities." In the mid-1940s, P.D.H. Dunn, the Commissioner for Natural Resources, had proposed to deal with the cost of public services in these settlements through a reorganized fishery by providing new filleting, freezing, and cold storage facilities for a frozen and fresh fish industry that government would promote. In 1944 Dunn suggested to Newfoundlanders that "while we want to centralize our population and get rid of those settlements which make administration expensive and add so greatly to the cost of health and all other services, there is a limit to such centralization.... It should be possible to concentrate new industry in about fifteen centres and by this means we will ensure a reasonable prospect of prosperity" (Nordco, It were well to live mainly off fish. The Place of the Northern Cod in Newfoundland's Development, 1981, p. 44)

As noted earlier, resettlement was one of the most controversial issues of the Smallwood era. In his efforts to promote industrial development, Smallwood had to deal with the rising expectations of the local populace for a higher standard of living concomitant with Newfoundland's new status since 1949 as a province of Canada. The challenge for government was to get public services into many of the smaller isolated communities. As for Smallwood he observed in 1957 concerning the public's demands for rural electricity, the "people are up in arms demanding hydroelectric development." The vicissitudes of Newfoundland's geography and the wide dispersal of its communities were impediments and challenges for the provision of services generally, and for electricity in particular. In 1949 only 50.4% of households had an electrical service. One way in the 1950s Smallwood's government attempted to bring people electrical power and other services together was through the controversial resettlement assistance programme which, beginning in 1954, was intended to move the people to centres where services could be concentrated. The government's resettlement programme indirectly would help with rural electrification by moving residents from the more isolated small outports where the cost of providing government services was highly prohibitive (see Melvin Baker, "Rural Electrification in Newfoundland in the 1950s and the Origins of the Newfoundland Power Commission," Newfoundland Studies, vol. 6, Fall 1990, pp. 190-209).

At a public conference held in March 1956 at St. John's to discuss the social and economic problems of the island's south coast, Premier Smallwood told delegates from that region that the province should eliminate 1,000 of its scattered 1,300 outports in order that more people could live in fewer settlements and have a better life. Indeed, as late as 1961, 815 of the province's then 1,104 communities had less than 300 inhabitants. According to sociologist Ralph Matthews, many politicians and officials "saw the isolation and dispersion of much of the population as an impediment to economic development...and centralization became a major thrust of Newfoundland's social planning" (see Ralph Matthews, The Creation of Regional Dependency, Toronto 1983, p. 172).

In the early 1950s the Newfoundland government had received numerous requests from residents located on islands in Bonavista Bay for financial assistance to move to nearby communities on the mainland. The first resettlement program launched in 1954 was administered by the provincial Department of Public Welfare. It lasted until 1965 during which time approximately 110 communities were resettled involving some 8,000 people. Provincial assistance of $150 for each household (it was later increased to $600) was available. Assistance was given to householders only if there was 100% agreement among community residents to be resettled. In 1965 both the federal and provincial governments initiated a resettlement program specifically designed to move people to larger towns designated as growth centers. Federal involvement developed from its desire to rationalize and modernize the fishery that was based on offshore fishing and processing plants located in larger, urban centers. Provincial responsibility for the program was transferred to the local Department of Fisheries and in 1967 to the newly established Department of Community and Social Development. 116 communities were resettled between 1965 and 1970, consisting of 3,242 families or over 16,000 families. A community was resettled only when 90% (lowered to 80% in 1966) of residents agreed to move to one of the several reception centers approved by the two governments. The head of a household received a basic grant of $1,000 towards the cost of moving and $200 each for other family members. Most of the fishery growth centers were located on the south coast where there were several towns with a strong economy based on the modern offshore fishery.

Resettlement remains a strong, emotional issue that tugs at the hearts and souls of Newfoundlanders. A song by Placentia Bay songwriter Joe Byrne describes how far removed the St. John's and Ottawa bureaucrats were from understanding the needs of outport people in the 1960s.

Those men who quote figures and count the cause lost,

They see only the high seas and the lives it has cost;

They don't see the life as we know it to be,

Like the sea gulls who follow on freedom.

So they cheat us and they rob us and continue to say

That our only salvation is leaving the Bay... (quoted in Bonaventure Fagan, "Images of Resettlement," Newfoundland Studies, vol. 6, 1990, p. 4).

In his 1976 article "Newfoundland's Traditional Economy and Development to 1934," economic historian David Alexander wrote that "the price of being a country is willingness to bear a cross... The burden which Newfoundland has carried is to justify that it should have any people.... Newfoundland's economic history has centred on valuation of its natural resource endowment in relation to the size of its population. The particular object of debate has been (and still is) the size and wellbeing of the traditional or rural economy, and the likelihood that it could expand extensively at acceptable standards of life, or that other sectors can be developed to absorb labour exports from the traditional sector." With the rejection of Confederation in the 1860s, Newfoundland statesmen constantly struggled to lessen the burden; following Newfoundland's union with Canada in 1949, that burden has remained well into the 1990s as Newfoundlanders once more must address their economic alternatives with a future where the fishery's survival itself is in question. (Source: Melvin Baker, "History 3120 Manual: Newfoundland History, 1815-1972", Division of Continuing Studies, Memorial University, 1994, revision of 1986 edition)