Why did Newfoundland not join the Canadian Confederation until 1949?
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Newfoundland's relationship to the British colonies of North America was complicated, as many citizens of that province remained convinced that their future would be better assured by remaining independent. Ambivalence regarding a stronger association with British North America manifested itself in an 1864 decision to attend the Quebec Conference and become a signatory of the agreements leading to the 1867 establishment of the confederation but accession being delayed by another 80 years. An 1869 vote in general elections rejecting confederation further highlighted the continuing divisions in Newfoundland regarding its relationship to the British Crown.
As with many countries, provinces or regions contemplating a stronger, and legally-binding association with a broader political entity, certain segments of the population were resistant to change. French and Irish residents in Newfoundland's ethnically diverse population, during the mid-19th Century, were unsurprisingly unwilling to hand over their fates to the English. While Newfoundland had by then been a British colony for several hundred years, French, Portuegese and Spanish settlers accounted for a significant proporation of the population leading into the 19th Century. With the 18th Century French withdrawal from much of Canada, British sovereignty over Newfoundland was more securely established, but tensions between the French and the British remained.
The remainder of the 19th Century saw continued British usurpation of Newfoundland and, as the demographics of the province changed, the politics of the region changed with it. Conservatives in Newfoundland's governing establishment were staunchly opposed to independence and to the "responsible government" that had been formed. Meanwhile, the Catholic-based Anti-Confederation Party (as opposed to the Protestant-based Conservatives) possessed sufficient political strength to continue to block the province's accession into the confederation. Over the ensuing years, as the politics of the province continued their back-and-forth swings between political parties, sentiments regarding association with British North America remained dormant.
The eventual decision to discontinue formal opposition to the confederation was a product of decades of internal debates regarding Newfoundland's long-term status. Support for the so-called "respondible government" that was a product of Newfoundland's quasi-independent status gradually eroded, and the politically turbulent atmosphere in the province was accompanied by the deterioration of the main political parties. The suspension of the "responsible government" in 1934 paved the way for formal membership in the confederation. Pro-independence factions lost support among the public following the devastating experiences of the First World War and the financial costs associated with Newfoundland's participation as an independent entity. Combined with the effects of the Great Depression on its economy, independence became increasingly unmanageable. While formal accession to the confederation would wait until the post-World War II era, its commitment to the confederation was secure following the "responsible government's" collapse fifteen years before.
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