Old salts licking their wounds

Republished on VDARE.com on November 30, 2003

The Times (London)

December 26 1987

Boxing Day is rarely celebrated in
America that many Americans don`t even recognize the
term. But it is alive and well in Canada. By the time
readers see this column, I hope to be confirming its
health in the tiny fishing port city of St John`s
Newfoundland, which for very good reasons looks a little
like a weatherboard version of a Devon fishing village,
and whose population appears to be about half made up of
my wife`s friends and relations.

God and Air Canada willing, that
is. The island of Newfoundland is the eastern-most point
of North America, so far out in the Atlantic that it has
its own unique time zone, 90 minutes ahead of New York,
three and a half hours behind London. Its rugged
grandeur suggests how the west of Scotland must have
appeared before the conifer forests were cut down in the
Middle Ages. But around St John`s, the pine trees are
bonsai-sized, stunted by the same relentless climate
that makes winter air travel difficult. It is not
unlikely that we will be spending Christmas stranded in
some fogged-in intermediate airport.

Newfoundland bills itself as
Britain`s oldest colony. Fishermen from the West Country
were almost certainly wintering there by the time of the
Spanish Armada. The Newfoundland Regiment was the only
unit from the Empire to

go into action
on the worst single day in British
military history, the first day of the Battle of the
Somme in 1916, where it was

. Until this generation, St John`s
merchants regularly sent their children to school in
England rather than to Montreal of Toronto.

British wanderers in North America
continually come across evidence of these far-flung
links with their land of origin, abandoned as abruptly
and mysteriously as the temples of the Mayas. But I find
the case of Newfoundland particularly poignant.

Until 1949, Newfoundland was quite
separate from Canada. It had evolved differently, its
people a curious but surprisingly successful mixture of
West of England and West of Ireland. There is a
distinctive Newfoundland dialect – the subject of a

full-scale dictionary
co-edited by

JDR Widdowson
, a scholar from Sheffield University –
rich in colourful words for innumerable varieties of ice
and for `useless, good-for-nothing fellow`.

Newfoundlanders, in short, were on
the verge of becoming another British nation, like the
New Zealanders or Australians. But in 1949 Newfoundland
was in essence manipulated by the Labour government into
joining (`confederating`) with neighbouring Canada, a
fate it had resisted for generations. The story is too
complex and disgusting to be summarized briefly, but the
combination of executive coercion and staged referndum
had distinct parallels to the similar campaign to get
Britain itself into the EEC some twenty years later. A
distinguished opponent in Britain was AP Herbert, the
humorist and MP for the old Combined Universities seat,
itself about to fall victim to Mr Attlee`s gentlemen
from Whitehall.

Confederation has been a poisoned
chalice for Newfoundland. In the short run, it brought
transfer payments from the mainland in the form of
various social programmes. These unquestionably
transformed life in the cruelly poor `outports` – the
scattered fishing villages along the hundreds of miles
of coast. But in the long run, these transfer payments
have created dependent populations and interfered with
price mechanisms that could have stimulated
self-sustaining enterprise. Canadian tariffs, by
wrenching the economy away from the Atlantic trade, have
done hidden damage far outweighing the benefits of
Ottawa hand-outs.

In retrospect it`s clear that
Newfoundland could have flourished without Canada.
Iceland, which chose not to affiliate with Denmark at
the end of the Second World Ward, has achieved a per
capita gross national product twice that of Newfoundland
– and it lacks Newfoundland`s natural resources (the
development of which, ironically, has been seriously
hampered by Canadian politics).

Many Newfoundlanders seem resigned.
Like Dr Johnson`s Irish, from whom so many are
descended, they are a fair people: they rarely speak
well of one another. Their collective self-confidence
has been profoundly shaken. But they are not the last
victims of the mid-century bankruptcy of the political
culture of the British world.

Peter Brimelow`s The Patriot
Game: Canada and the Canadian question revisited, is
published by the Hoover Institution Press.