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Gilbert Higgins Lecture

Raymond B. Blake

Joseph Smallwood

Raymond B. Blake presents “An Eighty-Five Year Odyssey: The Voter and Newfoundland’s Rocky Road to Confederation, 1864–1949”.

This paper considers the issue of Confederation in Newfoundland politics from the early 1860s when, like the other British North American colonies, it too seriously turned its focus to union, to 1949, when it became a province of Canada. Building upon the existing historiography, it moves the interpretation on union with Canada away from notions of conspiracy to focus on the Newfoundland voter. It views democracy as a competitive process where politicians weave competing narratives, and it argues that Newfoundlanders should not be seen as ill-informed, illiterate, and easily swayed by prejudice and hysteria or by the emotional appeal of demagogues, not in 1869 and not in 1948. It challenges the idea that Confederation was rejected in 1869 and accepted in 1948 because of the stupidity and ignorance of the voter or because the electorate was uneducated and poor and, hence, did not really understand the issues and easily misled. It argues that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians made informed and rational choices both in rejecting Confederation in 1869 and in choosing Canada in 1948. Moreover, by 1948, the appeal to political citizenship and nationalism that had been instrumental in the first debate over Confederation in 1869 was replaced by an appeal to social citizenship, and that, combined with the votes of women, contributed to the union of Newfoundland and Canada.