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Provinces and Territories

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Commission of Government

Newfoundland's political affairs were in disarray after the 1932 election. Beset by a crippling public debt and a high rate of unemployment, the island's government appealed to Britain for assistance. Britain responded by appointing a Royal Commission to investigate the matter. The members conducted their study during 1933 and presented their findings in a report to the British government later that year. They strongly recommended that responsible government be suspended in Newfoundland in favour of a Commission of Government, which would oversee the island's affairs until such time as it could again be self-supporting. The Newfoundland government agreed to the suggestion, and the Commission took office on February 16, 1934.

The new governing body consisted of six commissioners, three from Britain and three from Newfoundland, headed by a governor. Great care was taken with the Newfoundland members to ensure equal representation among religious denominations. The first appointees were F. C. Alderdice, J. C. Puddester and W. R. Howley from Newfoundland, and E. N. Trentham, Thomas Lodge and Sir John Hope-Simpson from Britain. The first governor was Sir David M. Anderson. New members were appointed as older ones retired or passed away. Each commissioner was responsible for a portfolio covering a broad aspect of Newfoundland life. The British managed the areas of Finance, Natural Resources and Public Utilities, while the Newfoundlanders covered Education and Home Affairs, Justice, and Health and Welfare.

While in office, the Commission initiated a number of reforms meant to prevent any future collapses from occurring. These included a restructuring of the civil service, a land resettlement plan and an attempt to modernize the fishery (including the formation of the Newfoundland Fisheries Board to improve marketing practices). However, the degree of control that the British government retained over the colony, particularly regarding finances, made it difficult to effect any long-term policies for change. With the declaration of World War II in 1939, the Commission's actions became primarily concerned with the war effort.

Although the Commission initially met an enthusiastic reception, this feeling gradually faded as its term continued. The body became merely a caretaker for Newfoundland's affairs. More and more people began criticizing the Commission for failing to take a more active role in improving conditions. By the time of World War II, many believed that it was time for a return to responsible self-government. This feeling grew stronger during the war years, as Newfoundland experienced an unprecedented degree of prosperity, and increased prominence in world events. Nevertheless, the Commission of Government continued to manage the island's affairs until Confederation in 1949.

Sources

Baker, Melvin.  --  "Government".  --  Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador.   --  Ed. Joseph R. Smallwood.   --  St. John's, Nfld.  : Newfoundland Book Publishers Ltd., 1967.   --  Vol. 2, p. 580-661

Chadwick, St. John.   --  Newfoundland : island into province.  --  London : Cambridge University Press, 1967.   --  268 p.

MacKenzie, David C.  --  "Commission of Government".  --  The Canadian encyclopedia : year 2000 edition. -- Ed. James H. Marsh.  --  3rd print ed.  --  Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 1999.  --  P. 515-516