A Partial Review of the Book ‘Lions and Jellyfish ‘ by Raymond Blake

Some readers will not be that interested in this entry given as it deals with a specific time in the history of Newfoundland when I was a Minister of the Crown and Premier. I was going to publish this partial review when it was written in September 2015 but held off and got busy at other things . I have scanned the content of the book  dealing with the details of Federal Provincial Relations during my time and will be dealing with that content  in a few days . Nothing that I have read following the completion of this partial review has changed my mind about what I have written so it remains as written last year.

The Review

Raymond B. Blake is a professor in the history department of the University of Regina. He has published several books on Canadian History and has just published ( July 2015) a new book entitled ‘Lions and Jellyfish–Newfoundland-Ottawa relations since 1957.’

Of course, this period covers my time as Premier( 1979-1989) and hence I am immediately interested in what people like Mr. Blake has to say in reviewing the Federal Provincial file during my tenure . This is more acute for me in recent years given the mangled record by so called experts in writing about the patriation of the constitution , leading partly to the reason I wrote my book in 2012 entitled ‘Some Day the Sun Will Shine and Have Not Will Be No More.’ As I record in the book many prominent writers and even a Supreme Court Judge got Newfoundland’s position about its place in Canada wrong on a number of very important issues.

Part of the Book

Now to come to this book. I have only read the introduction and the bibliography . I will be reading the rest of the book and commenting on those parts of which I feel competent i. e. sections dealing with my time in office. Obviously, I leave it to the other Premiers to comment or not on what is written about Federal Provincial relations during their period in office.

Of course , the introduction sets out themes and ideas to be carried forth in detail in the rest of the book and hence it is important in its own right for that reason. And , of course, the bibliography; what books, documents and articles are highlighted and what ones are not, because it is using those resources that positions are taken, opinions formed.

1. Bibliography.

I note that there are primary and secondary sources described . So there is obviously some discretion by the author of what constitutes primary and secondary sources. It is interesting , and somewhat puzzling , what material makes each list. But, I will not emphasize that now.

During my tenure , the Government produced several important documents none of which I see identified as such in the bibliography in either the primary or secondary sources. There is reference to my opening statement at the Federal Provincial Conference of November , 1981 , but just the opening statement . No other opening statements at other conferences are referenced , for example economic conferences or other constitutional conferences . Perhaps the author is relying on my book .

These documents are crucial because they set out in detail the Government’s position , very often in matters of Federal Provincial Relations , and hence bear directly upon the subject of this book. Yet, there is no reference specifically to :

The first is the document published in August , 1980, entitled ‘Towards The Twenty First Century –Together , The Position of the Government of Newfoundland Regarding Constitutional Change .’ This is all about Federal Provincial relations.

The second is the document ‘Heritage of the Sea —our case on offshore mineral rights’ which even predates the first document. In the book the statement is made that Newfoundland position was what it was ‘ only because we brought the offshore into Confederation.’ This is a very simplistic interpretation that speaks of a very cursory reading ( if one at all) of the Province’ s position in this document and does a disservice to the legal and constitutional scholars ( for example Professor Bill Gilmore of the University of Edinburg) and their research involved in this case.

oThe third is the document ‘Managing All Our Resources ‘ published in October 1980. Once again in this document there is a significant amount of discussion of the Province ‘ s position on subjects that involve Federal Provincial relations.

I submit that in any discussion of Federal Provincial Relations from 1979 to 1989 involving Newfoundland and Ottawa that these are primary sources that must be analyzed to get a full appreciation of the Newfoundland position.

It is out of these documents that arose the Supreme Court of Canada decision on offshore resources. It is from these documents that the Government passed the Water Reversion Act , later to be adjudicated by the Supreme Court of Canada and it is from these documents that Newfoundland almost succeeded during the patriation discussions in having more balanced powers in the fishery. These are all significant issues of Federal Provincial relations since 1957 and given that two reached the highest court , and the third constitutional negotiations , surely they represent some of the most important Federal Provincial events of the era under study.

And resulting from all this were two agreements between the two Governments, one, The Atlantic Accord , breaking new ground in Federal Provincial Arrangements in an area adjudicated by the courts to be exclusively Federal jurisdiction and The Fishery Restructuring Agreement , establishing a new company with Federal and Provincial money which at the time changed the whole corporate structure of the industry . These were truly revolutionary in the area of Federal Provincial Relations at the time of their signing , and I am unaware of any similar or as groundbreaking as these two were anywhere in the country to this day. Oh yes, Nova Scotia has an offshore accord , but only after Newfoundland had secured its accord and because in an earlier inferior agreement with the Federal Government ( no doubt signed to put pressure on Newfoundland) Nova Scotia ensured there was a provision that if another Province gets better deal then they they get it too.

Supporting these three were five other documents :

Discussion Paper on Major Bilateral Issues , Canada -Newfoundland , May , 1980 .

Discussion Paper on Major Bilateral Issues , Canada -Newfoundland , September 1984 .

The Document ‘ The Energy Priority of Newfoundland and Labrador , Fairness and Equity in the Utilization of the Churchill Falls Hydro Resource dated November , 1980

Restructuring The Fishery : A detailed Presentation by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to the Government of Canada, dated May, 1983.

Strength From The Sea : Newfoundland’s Position on Northern Cod , 1986.

I would have liked to see David Alexander’s book ‘The Decay of Trade ‘ listed , as well as Nordco ‘s ‘It Were Well to Live Mainly Off Fish’, Herbert Pottle’ s ‘Dawn Without Light’, David Burcuson ‘ Burden of Unity’ , S.J. R. Noel’s ‘ Politics in Newfoundland’ , J.P. Andrieux ‘s ‘Newfoundland’s Cod War ‘, Paul Phillip’s ‘ Regional Disparities ‘ and Dean Bavington’s ‘Managed Annihilation’.

This might seem like a small matter to some , and perhaps even petty of me to raise it. But I don’t see it that way given that what is written becomes part of the public and historical record.

It is not a matter of how many documents are recorded or not in the bibliography per se , it is a matter that crucial, fundamental documents should be recognized where it can be established that their import greatly affected Federal Provincial Relations . And I submit such is the case with the three documents referenced. And in the case of all three issues : fish, Churchill power, and offshore resources , they continue to be important factors in Federal Provincial talks. This is especially relevant , need I say, disturbing , when one sees documents like the Quebec Liberal Party’s Constitutional Committee Report in primary sources , a Saskatchewan document on equalization reform , and a TV Ontario clip on a phoney Patriation event. There is only one primary source document listed on the fishery authored by the Province and that was in 1963. There is mention of selected documents on constitutional reform but no description of them.

2. Introduction

Much has be made of the different visions of the country espoused by the Newfoundland Government and the Federal Government during my tenure. The press loved to emphasize this distinction. And while the author here tries to be more even handed , the distinction is obviously highlighted.

What is most important , and what many fail to emphasize, is that it was not a vision of a looser Confederation that led to the positions my administration took, but rather specific positions by the Federal Government relating to fish, offshore resources , and hydro electricity transmission that led to our more aggressive stance on theses issues.

Our positions flowed from an uncaring Federal Government when it came to Newfoundland and Labrador issues: trading fish from offshore Newfoundland and Labrador without any provincial input or refusing to any meaningful consultation on fishery issues that affected the Province, refusing to engage in any talks with Quebec regarding possible alternatives relating to hydro developments or transmission, and a stubborn refusal to see that oil and gas royalties from oil and gas in Newfoundland and Labrador should be treated the same as oil and gas royalties were treated in the other Provinces.

So, the Province ‘s ‘difference’ , if one wants to call it that , was one born out of Federal indifference , and one seeking fairness and equity , rather than a grand vision for a fundamental realignment of federal provincial powers in some new Confederation.

Once again one of the documents referenced would enlighten as to our vision of the country , the ‘Towards the Twenty First Century —–Together ‘ document. It highlighted our four fundamental principles for the country: parliamentary democracy, balanced federalism, equality of opportunity for Provinces and people and consensus.

As can now be seen, the Atlantic Accord did not Balkanize the country as Trudeau predicted . And it was this PM who , with the press and others’ acquiescence , pushed this really division. And our position on the fishery , so very reasonable as it was, was dropped in the interests of getting a patriation deal ( and the Restructuring Agreement later) , not the characteristic , I would submit, of one interested in dividing the country. Of course. our involvement in getting the final patriation deal , puts a lie to that anti Canada idea in any case.

The ‘bad boy’ of confederation description was the headline of a MacLeans Magazine article ( 1980) not something that came from my peers . Levesque, Lougheed could easily have been so described at that time. Even Blakeney of Saskatchewan had his moments. But being small and suddenly taking principled positions and steadfastly holding them produces media characterization. Once again Federal apologists were quick to adopt such a characteristic. It was Federal unilateralism and misrepresentation ( both factually proven), as practised by the Federal Government at the time , that led many of us to frustration .

The author states that in 1989 my administration was ‘ on the verge of collapse.’ I don’t know what evidence the author has for this description. None is given . I had done a poll just before my resignation which showed the Government significantly ahead of the opposition. That the press and certain other elements were negative is true , but that was also true when in elections with strikes by teachers or nurses underway we still won the day, a majority. To trust a press account , or some academic ‘expert’ is not a reliable source . The poor Supreme Court Judge unfortunately did just that when he used the Globe and Mail as source for Newfoundland’s position on ‘rights.’

There are many characterizations and statements which are rather simplistic as often happens in giving the broad sweep that one sees in this introduction. For example, in the Smallwood era the author attaches to Smallwood the same philosophy as Pearson in the role of the state. Smallwood , from my interaction with him, was ego driven way beyond even the norm for politicians . He just wanted more money to spread around to enhance his position and image. It was not philosophy of government , but rather a brutal pragmatism of self promotion. . I suspect Pearson would be embarrassed with such a philosophical friend. But that’ s a subjective assessment , I agree.

6. On a more positive note I do agree with the author’s description of executive federalism and its role in Federal Provincial Affairs.


Often academics like to make comparisons and create words and concepts to capture a relationship , a policy or event , or even a style. It is often only partly valid and sometimes not at all. It misses frequently the ‘on the ground dynamic. ‘ They like to force trends and coin phrases. Politics ,like life , is dynamic betraying easy pigeon holes , full of variables . Federal Provincial Relations is no different. And while detachment and objectivity are the hallmarks of historical scholarship they must consider carefully documents produced by the parties involved to get a true sense of the relationship . Additionally, other media and second hand accounts should be considered with a critical eye.


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