The Effects of Transition to Confederation on Public Administration in Newfoundland


107 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-919400-89-2




Reviewed by Gildas Roberts

Gildas Roberts is a university professor of English at the Memorial
University of Newfoundland.


J.G. Channing writes with authority on the subject of public administration in Newfoundland; he entered the island’s civil service in 1934 and in 1972 was appointed Deputy Minister of the Office of the Premier and designated the province’s chief civil servant. He was the 1978-79 research fellow of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada.

His monograph is divided into three parts of increasing length: the Newfoundland civil service under responsible government, 1855-1934; under Commission of Government, 1934-49; and after confederation with Canada. The civil service in the period of responsible government is portrayed as a ramshackle affair demoralized by political patronage and religious discrimination. Under the benevolent despotism of the Commission of Government, things improved considerably; and by 1948-49 the Newfoundland civil service was the equal in morale and ability of “any comparable service in any jurisdiction.” This happy state of affairs has continued in the years of confederation, especially after the advent of a P.C. government in 1972.

Of perhaps even more value than Channing’s careful account of the development and present state of public administration in Newfoundland are the insights into recent history which he provides in numerous digressions and asides. While he says nothing that has not been said elsewhere, his position as a senior civil servant disinterestedly participating at the heart of events gives a unique authority to his observations. Chief among these is his argument, accompanied by convincing evidence, that union with Canada was something into which Newfoundland was maneuvered by a war-weary and dollar-depleted British government eager to be rid of its responsibilities to its oldest colony and a Canadian Prime Minister (Mackenzie King) obsessed with the idea that if Newfoundland did not join Canada it would eventually join the United States and thus ultimately endanger Confederation itself. His account of the negotiations held in Ottawa in 1948 to finalize the terms of union with Canada (at which he was Secretary of the Newfoundland delegation) makes compelling reading.

The last section of the monograph is concerned with “Canadian unity — the perspective of a civil servant involved in union.” He rebukes the federal government for several shortcomings in its dealings with Newfoundland, and is particularly bitter about its “singular silence and neutrality” in the face of Quebec’s intransigent refusal to remove the barriers which prevent the development of Labrador’s immense hydro-electric potential. After this display of patriotic fervour Mr. Channing’s final pious affirmation of the benefits of confederation sounds somewhat perfunctory and unconvincing.


Channing, J.G., “The Effects of Transition to Confederation on Public Administration in Newfoundland,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,