House of Assembly
May 30, 2011
Release of the Debates of Legislature, 1932-33
His Honour The Honourable John C. Crosbie, PC, OC, ONL, QC, Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, hosted a ceremony today to commemorate the release of the 1932 and 1933 debates of the Legislature, which included the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council.
A significant turning point in our province’s political history occurred in 1933 when the Legislature voted to suspend democratic government because of an economic and financial crisis. The suspension, effective in 1934 and meant to be short term, lasted for 15 years.
The debates of 1932 and 1933 provide first-hand accounts of the state of the Dominion at that time. The 1932 session was raucous due to the accusations of corrupt practices leveled against the government of Sir Richard Squires. This culminated in a demonstration outside the Colonial Building on April 5, which turned into a serious riot. The 1932 volume contains press reports of this event.
There were two sessions in 1933: the first was a regular working session; the second was consumed by the debate on the recommendations of the Amulree Royal Commission. In the second session the legislators of the day were acutely aware of the enormity of their decision to suspend responsible government, but they concluded there was no choice but to take the actions they did. During the debates, Prime Minister Alderdice made the following poignant statement:
“We know what we give up; but when we have to choose between self-government on the one hand, and a release from financial abyss into which we are plunged on the other, who would for a moment hesitate in his choice? When we have had a chance laid open to us to maintain our people in comfort, to release them from the state of semi-starvation which is their lot today, would we not give up almost anything?” (1933, 2nd session, p. 490)
The debates of these final three sessions of the Legislature prior to Commission of Government have never been fully published. Meticulously reconstructed by Dr. J.K. Hiller from various sources, including the Evening Telegram and the Daily News, the volumes released today present the most complete version available of the 1932 and 1933 debates of the House of Assembly and Legislative Council. His Honour congratulated Dr. Hiller for his important contribution to the historical record of our Legislature.
A limited number of sets of the 1932 and 1933 debates are available from the Office of the Queen’s Printer by contacting 709-729-3649 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Policy and Communications Officer
House of Assembly
In 1932-33, the population of Newfoundland was estimated to be 289,588 (Census, 1935) with 40,000 people in St. John’s. Labrador had no representation in the House, though it had an estimated population of 4,000 persons.
The Newfoundland Royal Commission (often called the Amulree Commission), was appointed by the British government in 1933 as a response to the severe financial crisis in which the Dominion found itself during the Great Depression. It found that one quarter of the population was in receipt of relief prior to the fishing season and that the island’s extreme financial difficulties were deemed to have been intensified by the world depression, but “due primarily to persistent extravagance and neglect of proper financial principles on the part of the successive governments during the years 1920-1931.” This was a controversial judgment.
1932 – Corruption and riot:
The 1932 session was the fourth and last for the government of Sir Richard Squires. The financial situation demanded serious attention, but the session was dominated by the sudden resignation of the Minister of Finance (Peter Cashin), who accused Squires and others in the government with a variety of corrupt practices. Demands that the changes against Squires should be properly investigated led to a demonstration outside the Colonial Building on April 5, which turned into a serious riot.
1933 – Leading up to the suspension of responsible government:
The first session in 1933 contained mainly regular business and opened with a strong focus on the financial crisis of the country. In his Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, Mr. Earle, Member for the District of Fogo, remarked that Newfoundland was “not hovering far from the edge of a financial precipice.” (1933 1st session, p. 13)
Another matter of concern was the need for the standardization of fish, which called for consistency in the curing, culling, grading, handling, and packing of fish. Cod was still the mainstay of the economy in 1933, but Newfoundland had suffered some loss of markets, and successive poor seasons.
Extracts from the Debates – First and Second Sessions, 1933:
Reading the debates provides a fascinating perspective of the political context of the time in which the debates took place. It is interesting to note how some issues remain the same over time.
On the Right of Police to Stop Motor Cars (routine business): (Compare to the 2010 debate in the House of Assembly on the Act to Amend the Highway Traffic Act, Hansard June 15, 2010 - www.assembly.nl.ca/business/hansard/ga46session3/10-06-15.htm)
Acting Minister of Justice: “Another provision in the Bill which he feared was going to give rise to adverse comment…was the right of the police to hang up motor cars on the highroads. It was decided then the police did not have the right to stop a motor car at nightfall with lights on, and did not have grounds to suspect that it was carrying alcohol illegally.” (1933, 1st session, p. 168)
Acting Minister of Justice: “The only question left now is whether we will give the police power to search all vehicles. I know it is a very great inconvenience…I own a car and when I am driving along the roads I come to a place where the police are watching. The policeman signals me to stop, he comes up to me and sees that I am a very respectable citizen, and I am allowed to go on. If I were a suspicious person, would it be very much wrong if he searched the car? If I have no liquor, what objection can I have to his searching?” (1933, 1st session, p.176)
Leader of the Opposition: “Why should I be subject to the indignity of being held up on the street, and my property searched by a policeman looking for liquor, unless that policeman has some grounds, some reasonable grounds for suspecting even that I may have liquor?” (1933, 1st session, p. 177)
On Newfoundland Royal Commission (Amulree Report):
The work of the Royal Commission was already underway when the House opened in 1933. Concerning the Royal Commission, the Leader of the Opposition said: “The very fact of strangers coming in here making an investigation, made it impossible for them to feel any degree of true intimacy with the breathing background of the country, or the normal mentalities of the people. It was quite impossible for them to get inside the skins of the great mass of individuals, and I seriously doubt that they penetrated the company manner of witnesses. They could not look through the keyhole and see what was going on behind the door.” (1933, 2nd session, p. 492)
On the Loss of Responsible Government:
Leader of the Opposition: “If in the opinion of this House and the Legislative Council, the British House of Commons and the House of Lords, these proposals ought to go into effect, then Newfoundlanders are no longer citizens as the word citizen is understood under the British flag…every Member of this House realizes now…that the burden and responsibility that will be cast upon him is such as was never cast upon legislators or a legislature in the history of Newfoundland since 1832.” (1933, 2nd session, p. 489)
Prime Minister: “She (Newfoundland) will be entrusted again with the management of her own affairs. Newfoundlanders are a good, hardy, thrifty courageous and long-suffering people. They have had enough of politicians.” (1933, 2nd session, pp. 503-504)
Mr. Shea: “Therefore some of us who have not suffered as they have suffered, must forget for the time being our pride in self-government, disrobe ourselves of the dignity of Dominion, and feel exalted in our humility, that our sacrifices shall result in happier conditions for the people. The Mother Country has promised help, and the Mother Country shall keep its promise. The economic recovery of our people is far more important to us than the status of self-government” (1933, 2nd session, p. 547)
Mr. MacNamara (Legislative Council): “The financial assistance tendered up by Great Britain in this, the darkest hour in our history, should awaken a thrill of gratitude in the breasts of the entire population of Britain’s oldest colony. I…would like to go on record as being enthusiastically in favour of this commission form of government, rather than risk the degradation of default and its dire consequences. (1933, 2nd session, p. 699)
2011 05 30 10:20 a.m.