“Free Newfoundland” is not a coupon or a buy one, get one free deal. It was a light-hearted marketing piece that touched a few nerves. The “Free Newfoundland” (my quotation marks) movement isn’t a movement per se like the the very real separatist group in Quebec. Rather it is more of an attitude. Yes, there are those who still believe confederation should have never happened. And of course there are opposing views. The slogan itself was penned by Wallace Ryan in 1982 to promote and encourage Newfoundland nationalism. It is however currently seen on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and more around the island.
That the slogan has endured some thirty years is an indication of some still simmering dissatisfaction with confederation. It might just as well speak of a free Newfoundland or a freeing of Newfoundland from confederation.
In its history, Newfoundland has been an independent country and a colony of Great Britain. In 1949, Newfoundland voted to enter into confederation with Canada by a 51-49 vote. And culturally, it was probably closer than that. (Sort of like Gore-Bush.) Obviously, the suitors in this merger (not quite a blind date) hadn’t sought out the wisdom of a counselor – marriage or otherwise. This was the brainchild (hare-brained for some) of then Premier Joey Smallwood. Since then, it has been a source of friction between the parties – sometimes humorous, other times, ehhh, not so much.
Newfoundlanders believe that some of the source of their problems with the disappearance of fish is due to government meddling and mismanagement. Government is always an easy target and oftentimes correctly so. Being a fiercely independent people, there is an inherent skepticism about government and its efficacy. Funny how most people feel their country has a lock on those things. When things are beyond one’s control, it’s easy to see why the government is blamed – sometimes rightly, other times wrongly so.
But this is not really about government or blame, it’s about a Free Newfoundland.