|1st Premier of Newfoundland|
April 1, 1949 – January 18 1972
|Preceded by||Position Established|
|Succeeded by||Frank Moores|
|Born||December 24, 1900
|Died||December 17, 1991
St. John's, Newfoundland
Joseph Roberts "Joey" Smallwood, PC, CC (December 24, 1900 – December 17, 1991) was a politician from Newfoundland, Canada. He was the main force that brought the then Dominion of Newfoundland into the Canadian confederation in 1949, becoming the first Premier of Newfoundland, serving until 1972. As premier, he vigorously promoted economic development, championed the welfare state, and emphasized modernization of education and transportation. Smallwood abandoned his youthful socialism and collaborated with bankers, turning against the militant unions that sponsored numerous strikes. The results of his efforts to promote industrialization were mixed, with the most favourable results in hydroelectricity, iron mining and paper mills.
Smallwood was charismatic and controversial. Never shy, he dubbed himself "the last Father of Confederation." While many Canadians today remember Smallwood as the man who brought Newfoundland into the Canadian Confederation, the opinion held by Newfoundlanders and their diaspora remains sharply divided as to his legacy.
Joey Smallwood was born at Mint Brook, near Gambo, Newfoundland, to Charles and Minnie May Smallwood. His grandfather, David Smallwood, was a well-known maker of boots in St. John's. Growing up in St. John's, as a teenager Joey Smallwood worked as an apprentice at a newspaper and moved to New York City in 1920. In New York he worked for the socialist newspaper The Call. Joey Smallwood returned to Newfoundland in 1925, where he soon met and married Clara Oates. In 1925 he founded a newspaper of his own in Corner Brook.
In 1928, he acted as campaign manager for the Prime Minister of the Dominion of Newfoundland, Sir Richard Squires. He also ran as a Liberal candidate in Bonavista in 1932 but lost. During the Great Depression, he worked for various newspapers and edited a two-volume collection titled "The Book of Newfoundland." He also hosted a radio program, The Barrelman, beginning in 1937 that promoted pride in Newfoundland's history and culture. He left the Broadcasting Corporation of Newfoundland in 1943 to operate a pig farm at the Newfoundland Airport at Gander.
National Convention and Confederation
Smallwood at this point was a well-known radio personality, writer and organizer; he was a nationalist who long had criticized British rule. In 1945, London announced that a National Convention would be elected in Newfoundland to advise on what constitutional choices should to be voted on by referendum. Union with the United States was a possibility, but London rejected the option and offered instead two options: return to dominion status or continuation of the unpopular Commission. Canada issued an invitation to join it on generous financial terms.
In 1946, Smallwood was elected a delegate to the Newfoundland National Convention, which was organized to make recommendations to London about the future of Newfoundland that would be placed before the people of the country in a constitutional referendum. Smallwood supported joining Canada, arguing that union with Canada would bring prosperity. His skills as a radio broadcaster served him well; he was able to use the proceedings of the Convention, which were broadcast over the radio, to publicise the benefits of union with Canada. He founded and led the Confederate Association that supported the Confederation option in the Convention during the 1948 Newfoundland referendums.
At the convention Smallwood emerged as the leading proponent of confederation with Canada, insisting, "Today we are more disposed to feel that our very manhood, our very creation by God, entitles us to standards of life no lower than our brothers on the mainland." Displaying a mastery of propaganda technique, courage and ruthlessness, he succeeded in having the Canada option on the ballot. His main opponents were Peter Cashin and Chesley Crosbie. Cashin, a former finance minister, led the Responsible Government League, warning against cheap Canadian imports and the high Canadian income tax. Crosbie, a leader of the fishing industry, led the Economic Union Party, seeking responsible government first, to be followed by closer ties with the United States, which could be a major source of capital.
Smallwood carried his cause in a hard-fought referendum and a runoff in June and July 1948 as the decision to join Canada (rather than restoration of independent dominion status) carried 77,869, as against 71,464, or 52.3%. A strong rural vote in favour of Canada overwhelmed the pro-independence vote in the capital of St. John's. The Irish Catholics in the city desired independence in order to protect their parochial schools, leading to a Protestant backlash in rural areas. The promise of cash family allowances from Canada proved decisive.
Smallwood was a member of the 1947 Ottawa Delegation that negotiated the Terms of Union with Canada. He also created yet another newspaper, The Confederate, to promote Confederation. The 1948 referendums resulted in Confederation being approved, and in 1949, as leader of the Liberal Party, Smallwood was elected Premier of the new province.
Smallwood ran Newfoundland virtually unchallenged for 23 years. He governed with large majorities for virtually his entire tenure; during his first six terms he never faced more than eight opposition MHAs.
He vigorously promoted economic development through the Economic Development Plan of 1951, championed the welfare state (paid for by Ottawa), and attracted favourable attention across Canada. He emphasised modernisation of education and transportation to attract outsiders, such as German industrialists, because the local economic elite would not invest in industrial development. Although he had had socialist leanings in his youth, he often sided with bankers and became hostile to the militant unions that sponsored numerous strikes. He relied heavily on the expertise of German industry in his repeated attempts to industrialise Newfoundland in the post-Confederation period. His efforts to promote industrialisation were a mixed bag, with the most favourable results in hydroelectricity, iron mining, and paper mills. He was also willing to side with corporations in his drive to industrialise the province. He granted foreign companies concessions to encourage development and even intervened in a labour dispute in 1959. The International Woodworkers of America had struck to get higher wages and better working conditions in the logging camps. In a controversial move, Smallwood decertified and effectively made the union illegal, replacing it with a government-sponsored union.
During his long career as Premier, Smallwood was often accused of being autocratic and self-aggrandising. He brought libel suits against The Telegram and would threaten to pull government advertising over stories. His autocratic tendencies increased as the 1960s wore on. Smallwood announced his retirement in 1969, only to change his mind and run for the leadership against John Crosbie. In the ensuing contest, Smallwood would send Cabinet ministers to delegate selection meetings with notebooks, detailing who voted for which slate of delegates and who would bring Crosbie delegates to his residence, forcing them to sign affidavits supporting Smallwood's leadership. The affidavits would later be published in local newspapers.
By Newfoundland's seventh general election, in 1971, Smallwood's government had become tired and complacent. The election resulted in a hung parliament, with Smallwood's Liberals winning 20 seats to the Progressive Conservatives' 21. The Labrador Party's lone MHA, Tom Burgess, threw his support to Smallwood, resulting in a three-month deadlock. However, under the threat of a revolt in his own caucus, Smallwood was forced to resign in January 1972 in favour of the PCs' Frank Moores. Smallwood was voted out as Liberal leader soon afterward. In 1975, he took most of his followers into the Newfoundland Reform Liberal Party, which elected four candidates in that year's election. He retired for good at the end of the term.
Life after politics
In his retirement Smallwood resumed writing; publishing several books including an autobiography titled I Chose Canada. Late in life he began an ambitious project compiling a comprehensive Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador. The five volume set was completed by a charitable foundation after Smallwood's death. Smallwood's publishing firm, Newfoundland Book Publishers (1967) Ltd., published Volumes 1 and 2; the Smallwood Heritage Foundation completed and published Volumes 3, 4, and 5.
In 1986, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, after hesitating because he felt that he should be more honoured for bringing Newfoundland and Labrador into the Canadian confederation and would have liked to have had the "Right" Honourable added to his name as well as a knighthood.
On December 17, 1991, only a week before his 91st birthday, he died and was buried with his wife, Clara, at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in St. John's, Newfoundland.
In popular culture
Smallwood was featured in two National Film Board of Canada documentaries: In 1970, he was the subject of Julian Bigg's documentary film A Little Fellow from Gambo; in 1974, he was featured alongside Newfoundland media mogul Geoff Stirling and director Michael Rubbo in Rubbo's Waiting for Fidel. In 1998, Wayne Johnston's novel The Colony of Unrequited Dreams presented a fictionalized portrayal of Smallwood.
Smallwood is referenced in a line in the Newfoundland folk song, "Thank God We're Surrounded by Water" by Tom Cahill and Joan Morrissey.
- Jeff A Webb The Voice of Newfoundland: A Social History of the Broadcasting Corporation of Newfoundland. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.
- Gene Long, Suspended State: Newfoundland Before Canada (1999)
- James K. Hiller, Confederation: deciding Newfoundland's future, 1934–1949 (1998)
- Richard Gwyn, Smallwood: The Unlikely Revolutionary (1972)
- Joseph Roberts Smallwood, I chose Canada: The memoirs of the Honourable Joseph R. "Joey" Smallwood (1973) p. 256
- Richard Gwyn, Smallwood: The Unlikely Revolutionary (1972)
- J. K. Hiller, and M. F. Harrington, eds., The Newfoundland National Convention, 1946-1948. (2 vols. 1995). 2021 pp. excerpts and text search
- The Catholic schools would later be nationalized in 1998. See John Edward Fitzgerald, "Archbishop E. P. Roche, J. R. Smallwood, and Denominational Rights in Newfoundland Education, 1948." Historical Studies: Canadian Catholic Historical Association 1999 65: 28-49. Issn: 1193-1981
- Sean T. Cadigan, Newfoundland and Labrador: A History (2009), ch 10
- Biggs, Julian (1974). "'A Little Fellow from Gambo". NFB.ca. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2009-03-16.
- Rubbo, Michael (1974). "Waiting for Fidel". NFB.ca. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2009-03-16.
- Gwyn, Richard. Smallwood: The Unlikely Revolutionary (1968)
- Hiller, James K. "Smallwood, Joseph Roberts (1900–1991)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition
- Howood, Harold. Joey (1989)
- Smallwood, Joseph R. I Chose Canada: The Memoirs of the Honourable Joseph R. "Joey" Smallwood (1973)