How Newfoundland Nationalism Can Improve Our Place in Canada
By: Ryan Young
What is Newfoundland nationalism? That is the question that has been on my mind ever since I attended a public debate on the issue at MUN last month. Are we a nation? Greg Malone certainly made a good case based on the Oxford-Dictionary definition of the word. But what does nationalism really mean? Each and every person with Newfoundland roots certainly feels a sense of pride at being a Newfoundlander, but what is it that really makes a person a nationalist? If nationalism is a tangible thing, how can we use that sentiment for the greater good of the people of this province?
Our uniqueness, distinct culture and history are certainly the main drivers behind the heavy nationalist sentiment in this province. Many people are still alive that were born as Newfoundlanders and not as Canadians, and they still hold true to the pride that came with nationhood. Even the most ardent supporters of Confederation could not help but lament on the loss of something profound on that fateful day in 1949. Subsequent battles with Mother Canada over resource rights throughout the decades have ensured that these strong nationalist sentiments have not only been allowed to linger, but have been encouraged to grow into something very real.
The questions raised by people like Greg Malone and others about the legitimacy of our entry in to Confederation may very well be a moot point at this late stage in the game, but as the old adage says; “We must learn from the mistakes of our past, lest we be doomed to repeat them.” I personally hold no doubts about the fact that Newfoundland was maneuvered into Canada more than it was brought into Confederation under its own free will. The facts as they have been presented seem very clear on that issue. Knowing these facts, however, give us little consolation when we consider our current place in Canada.
All Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans will admit that the quality of life has greatly increased since Confederation, but at the same time we developed at a much slower rate than the rest of Canada, despite our massive national resource wealth. Surely not all of the blame can be placed on Canada, it was our own government, led by Joey Smallwood, that facilitated most of the resource giveaways in return for very little gain to the people of the province. The issue of blame for these blunders does not fall on the shoulders of Canada, but when it became apparent years later that indeed, very bad deals had been made, it was the Canadian courts that ruled against Newfoundland and the case for equality between provinces.
The subsequent battles over Churchill Falls, greater control of the fishery, and offshore oil and gas resources have only solidified Newfoundlanders in the idea that we are not seen as an equal partner within Confederation. It is these feelings that lead to such a strong nationalist sentiment in Newfoundland and Labrador, and it has led to many people considering themselves as Newfoundlanders first and Canadians second. It is not that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are not proud Canadians, in fact quite the opposite is true, but when forced to make the choice, most people identify as Newfoundlanders first.
So how can we use this nationalist sentiment to our advantage? In Ryan Cleary’s statements at the debate he said that he is not a separatist, but it may be time to think about leaving. In essence he said that we must take a budget-line approach to the issue and determine once and for all what the realities would be for an independent Newfoundland. I completely agree with the idea. If we are ever to really understand our place in Canada we need to look at the history of our union in broad terms of dollars and cents. Does all of the iron ore and hydro-electricity shipped to Canada equal the real cash benefits we receive each year from Ottawa? What else needs to be considered? Should the social impacts also be taken into account? These are all very good questions and to the best of my knowledge there has never been a comprehensive study done to determine the real value of Newfoundland and Labrador as a partner in Confederation. The time has come for us to take a real look at the numbers and settle the issue once and for all.
Some may argue what is the point? We are part of Canada and if we do not plan to separate then why even bother with the trouble? They are valid questions, but the real question that we need to ask is how we can be an equal partner if neither side understands what the real relationship really is. By determining our true place in Canada we will not only be proving to Canadians what we bring to the table, but more importantly we will be proving to ourselves that we more than hold up our end of the deal. Indeed, I am often forced to question the motives of academics who are much quicker to point out the benefits we receive from Canada than the benefits we send the other way. This is an idea that has been perpetuated since the Amulree Report more than 80 years ago and the time has come for Newfoundlanders to realize their own worth and potential.
For those who think such revelations are irrelevant, they need only to look across the Atlantic to Scotland, where a separatist referendum very nearly succeeded in breaking away from the U.K. While the separatists may have lost the referendum, the case they made for an independent Scotland was very clear, and the close results forced the U. K. government to take serious notice of the consequences. Ultimately the whole process led to the U.K. giving Scotland much greater control of its territory and how it spends its money and manages its resources. The U.K. still maintains superiority in matters such as national defense and security, but Scotland gained much greater control of how they manage their own affairs.
So what lessons can we learn from Scotland? Despite the loss, they gained greater respect from the U.K. and the EU and were able to have greater control over their own destiny. The case they made for independence was a factual presentation of the value that Scotland brought into the U.K. and even with a victory for the “no” vote, more people than ever before, both in Scotland and around the world, realized what Scotland was really all about. I believe that is the goal we must keep in our minds as we pursue the knowledge that will liberate us from our traditional self-depreciating views.
If we want to stand beside the other provinces as equals we must stop waiting for them to recognize us. We must instead build a case to show our province and our nation the value that Newfoundland and Labrador brings to Confederation. Only with that knowledge can we ever expect to be respected as an equal partner in Canada. If we do not believe in ourselves how can we expect Canadians to believe in us? In our hearts we all feel that nagging question. The time may have come to finally answer it.