When you talk of separatism in Canada, most Canadians think of Quebec, but there has always been a smaller, but no less passionate, separatism sentiment in Newfoundland. (I am excluding Labrador on purpose; when someone in Labrador talks about separation, they talk about separating from Newfoundland, not from Canada). For the first fifty years or so after confederation when we were perennially the poorest and least respected province in the country, there was always a group who would argue that if we are going to be poor, we might as well be poor on our own than controlled by Canada. After the cod fishery collapsed, separatist sentiment spiked as people blamed Ottawa for mismanagement of the cod stocks, even though the federal government stepped in with a rather generous compensation program during the moratorium.
When oil and oil revenues surged a decade ago and have not finally did become no more, with the province becoming a contributor rather than a recipient of equalization, there were many who started to think that separation from Canada might be a viable. A very public battle with two successive prime ministers that lead to Danny Williams taking down the Canadian flag at the confederation building served to further inflame the small but growing separatist sentiment. Though there was no organized separatist organization, you could not sit at a bar anywhere on the island for any amount of time before you would hear people talking about how we would be better off if we were our own country. Then came 2016.
If you sit at a bar these days, you won’t hear anyone complaining about Ottawa. You will hear people arguing of whether Dwight Ball, Kathy Dunderdale, or Danny Williams is responsible for the mess we find ourselves in, but nationalists and federalists alike agree that we have made the bed we are currently lying in. You would have to spend a lot of time at a lot of bars before you’d come across someone arguing that we would be better off with Prime Minister Ball instead of Premier Ball.
Newfoundland separatism was always based more on emotion than logic. The fact is there is strength in numbers. Being part of a large, diverse country means lowers the risk of being obliterated by a downturn in a particular industry. The next time you complain about the hit that the Canadian dollar has taken in the past year, take a moment to think how the Newfoundland dollar would have fared during that same timeframe.
2016 has been a rough year; taxes are up, the economy is struggling, and a lot of people are worried about losing their jobs, but if there is a silver lining is that the threat of a viable separatist movement developing in this province has been extinguished forever. If we were to hold a referendum this summer, Commission of Government would get more votes than Responsible Government.