The view from 1948
Excerpts from the speech by Rev. Lester Burry, the Labrador delegate to the National Convention, and a member of the Convention’s Ottawa delegation, January 13, 1948. Extracted from Hiller and Harrington’s Debates of the National Convention, McGill-Queen's, 1995.*
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I believe with all my heart that we’ve seen the best days of government in this country under the Commission of Government, they’ve done some very, very fine things, but I”ve always thought that it is not the form of government that we should continue to have. While we were under the Commission and before the National Convention was thought of, I was thinking that when the time came to thinking of getting back to a more democratic form of government, that at least we should give this federal system an opportunity to be surveyed […] I have made the study, and as I say, as faithfully and as carefully as I can, and I have come to the conclusion that my thoughts along that line have many things to justify them. Our destiny, our future, if we are to have anything better than we have had in the past, is definitely tied up with a federal system of government.
I’m encouraged by the fact that some of my friends within the city and around this country, men and women who could not be said to be biased in any way, who are detached from politics and business life, whose minds have been trained to think things through objectively, many of them think the same as I do. My mind is made up. It has been made up for a few months now, since I have been able to study it with the Ottawa delegation. I will admit that it is not made up in such a way, closed in such a way that it is incapable of being changed. If anyone can show me why we should not to into federal union with Canada, and if anyone can show me that this country will be worse off, that our people will suffer more under confederation, I am perfectly willing to change my mind and to work just as hard for that form of government which will give our people the very best that they deserve. […]
I would say to my fellow delegates that we ought to see to it, whatever our opinions are, that the people get the opportunity to express themselves on this matter. And not only that, but we ought to see to it that they get the opportunity to express themselves on other forms of government as well. They are the final judges and they have a right to have the final say. […]
Now it’s been said that we didn’t get very good terms; we didn’t get the financial end of it very generous. But in my estimation, take it for what it’s worth, we got just as good terms as we could possibly get, recognising that the federal system is made up of different provinces that have their claims; they came into the union, and they were brought in on certain terms, and we had to come in on certain terms, and if we had been given more generous terms… It wouldn’t be fair for the federal government to go to far to give us special services, special concessions when they have to consider that there are other members of the family who have to live within the family. To go in at all, we must go in on equal terms, and we are going to need to go in with these terms. […]
But I don’t see that it can be an ideal state, or that we will have unlimited prosperity. I don’t see the road ahead of us as too straight, with too many roses. I feel that we have a hard uphill climb to make. We have got a hard country to live in. We haven’t got the natural resources that other countries have, don’t let us kid ourselves. We’re not too generously supplied with natural resources, and the means of making them a good living. It’s going to be a hard job for us to do it. But I am of the opinion that we can do it better within the federal system of Canada, than we can do it on our own… Our people will have the morale and the spirit, and respect for themselves, when they find that they’re getting somewhere. I feel that we’ll get somewhere under confederation, and our people’s respect for themselves will be forthcoming when they see that.
* Dear McGill-Queen's: re-issue those volumes. Thanks.