Challenge of the West Indies
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 23 Oct 1958, p. 46-59

Adams, Sir Grantley, Speaker
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Item Type:
The challenge presented by the new Federation of The West Indies. Some of the human and political features of The West Indies. A description of the government of each of the countries in the Federation. History and background to the Federation. A discussion of the Constitution. The intention that the Constitution would be an interim one. Trade and economics. The West Indies as a market for Canadian flour, dairy products and manufactures. The weakness of the West Indies economy, and reasons for it. Ways to improve the economy. Strong indications of an upsurge in the entrepreneurial spirit in some territories. The spread of education and existing plans for its growth, especially in the technical field. A patchy pattern of development. The challenge to the new Federal Government of welding together unequal economies into a whole that will be stronger than its component parts. Aid from Canada. Details of the Agreement in the Aid Programme. Some remarks on the Commonwealth link. The West Indies making a positive and unique contribution to the Commonwealth ideal. West Indian students at Canadian universities. A personal note from the speaker.
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23 Oct 1958
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An Address by SIR GRANTLEY ADAMS, C.M.G., C.B.E., Q.C., D.C.L. Prime Minister of the West Indies
Thursday, October 23, 1958
CHAIRMAN: The President, Lt.-Col. Bruce Legge.

LT.-COL. LEGGE: We are happy to welcome as our guests of honour at The Empire Club of Canada, Lady Adams and Sir Grantley Adams, the Prime Minister of the West Indies. Although he is now the first Prime Minister of the new Commonwealth Federation, Sir Grantley had a long and successful political career in the Barbados where he rose to be Premier before Federation. Since 1934 he has sat for St. Joseph's Parish and has earned the enjoyable lament of his opponents that 'Nobody has ever been able get him out'.

As the son of a schoolmaster, Grantley Adams excelled as a student of classics and as a cricketer at Harrison College where he won the Barbados Scholarship to St. Catherines, Oxford, and there became the Captain of the college cricket team. After leaving Oxford he entered Gray's Inn, London, and was called to the Bar in 1923.

On returning to the Barbados he supplemented a young barrister's income as a journalist for several papers. He won his first spectacular success at the bar when he obtained an acquittal for a man charged with murdering his common law wife and from then on he achieved a series of triumphs as a criminal lawyer.

In politics Sir Grantley has been a courageous reformer with a passion for improving the welfare of his people. In his early political days it was rare for a brilliant lawyer to work with union leaders at the expense of a lucrative law practice. From the beginning he battled with opponents who had the audacity to refer to politics as a game because Grantley Adams regarded politics as a serious business on which depended the very lives of his people.

Our speaker began his career as a reforming Liberal but one of his creeds has always been 'I do not believe in breaking down something unless I have something better to put in its place'. During the war Sir Grantley was converted to Socialism in the hope that it could bring material and social benefits to the Islands. When he first entered the House of Assembly in 1934, he felt that it was oppressed by a spirit of feudalism but with the reforms leading to a ministerial system, and adult suffrage, power passed to the people and to their leader, Grantley Adams.

Internationally his fame has spread. He represented Britain at the United Nations in Paris in 1948 where he startled the Communist satellites by saying, 'Give me the British way of life!' He detests dictatorships and has taken an active part in the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and has served on the British Section of the Caribbean Commission.

Our speaker's service to the law, the Commonwealth, the West Indies and his people, has not gone unrecognized. He has been knighted by the Queen, created a Queen's Counsel and given a Doctorate of Civil Laws by Mount Alleson University. Above all, he has been acclaimed by his people who elected him the first Premier of the Barbados and then the first Prime Minister of the West Indies. Ladies and gentlemen we are privileged to hear a great Commonwealth statesman, Sir Grantley Herbert Adams, who will describe to The Empire Club of Canada "The Challenge of the West Indies".

SIR GRANTLEY ADAMS: When Mr. John L. Bonus wrote to me a short time ago inviting me to address the ,' Empire Club of Canada he not only did me a great honour, but he almost frightened me into declining it, since he started his invitation by referring to the fact that your Club is composed of 2,500 of Toronto's leading business and professional men. How is a mere politician to do justice to such an exalted audience? However, I feel sufficiently at home in Canada to face the business leaders of Toronto if not with equanimity, at any rate with the knowledge that I am speaking to members of a community which has historical and trading links with The West Indies that mean a very great deal to even the most humble members of our new Caribbean nation.

You have asked me to speak on the challenge presented by the new Federation of The West Indies, and I propose first of all to say a few words about some of the human and political features of The West Indies before turning to the economic aspect.

The Federation of The West Indies consists of ten major islands, nine of which lie in a 500-mile arc stretching from the north-east tip of the South American continent to the United States Virgin Islands, east of Puerto Rico. The tenth island, Jamaica, lies far to the west, being due south of Cuba, the distance, as the crow flies, from Trinidad to Jamaica being over 1,000 miles. These major islands, which constitute the individual units of the Federation of The West Indies, vary a great deal in size. The total land area is only 8,000 square miles, of which Jamaica has 4,700 and Trinidad 2,000. Montserrat, which ranks as a separate unit, is thirty-two square miles in area. Nor are all these islands adjacent to one another. The French island of Martinique lies between St. Lucia and Dominica, which is in turn separated from Antigua by the French island of Gaudeloupe. Even the smaller islands which are administered from the larger ones are inextricably mixed up. For instance, Anguilla, which is part of the Colony of St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla, is separated from St. Kitts by the Dutch islands of St. Eustatius and Saba, the French Island of St. Barthelemy and the strange phenomenon of St. Martin (only a few square miles in area), which is half Dutch and half French.

Nor have the individual islands of The West Indies Federation identical histories, except in so far as they were all prizes in the struggles between European countries eager to exploit the profits of sugar and slavery. Some colonies, like Barbados and St. Kitts, were settled by Englishmen in the early seventeenth century, and have remained very English to this day. Others like St. Lucia, were conquered by the English from the French or the Spanish--and sometimes changed hands a number of times in the process. The result has been a lack of homogeneity in culture and political institutions which even today presents a major challenge to the new institution of Federation. Disparity in size and strength of the constituent parts of a Federation is not a new phenomenon. It faced Canada nearly a hundred years ago, and even today it still presents problems to you as well as to Australia. The disproportion is far more acute in The West Indies than it has been elsewhere.

Barbados, like Bermuda and the Bahamas, has had representative government for more than three hundred years composed of a Governor, an upper house and a lower house to compare with the King or Queen, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Jamaica, which today has achieved a position of practical internal self-government, reverted to Crown Colony rule in 1865. Trinidad, which only passed from the Spanish to the British at the beginning of the last century, has only recently seen the emergence of political parties. St. Lucia has inherited a number of patterns from its French past, including the use of the Code Napoleon, which involves the quotation of Quebec law reports in the St. Lucian Courts. British Guiana, which is not yet in the Federation but which we all hope will one day join, still uses Roman-Dutch law.

It would therefore be hard to find any series of territories which a priori would seem less likely to come together in a Federation. Nevertheless, they have joined to form a new nation, and, despite the differing backgrounds and the geographical handicaps to which I have referred, I am convinced that historically there was no other course open to them.

In the first place, since the Napoleonic Wars these islands have all been British Colonies, with the British Government and the Colonial Office serving to maintain common patterns of administration and holding out the ultimate aim of self-government within the British Commonwealth. In The West Indies we all have the same respect for British traditions of parliamentary democracy and the supremacy of the courts of justice. When we say that we wish to break away from colonialism and secure the right to order our own affairs as we choose, we are all thinking about the same thing--the creation of a free society based on respect for one another. There is no danger of independence bringing with it the emergence of violent inner conflicts which, in some other parts of the world, have come to the surface with the removal of imperial government. In the second place, and I propose to revert to this aspect of the matter later, we are linked together by a common faith in our ability to create a nation in which race and colour cease to have significance. We are well on the way to being a truly multi-racial community, a people with diversity of racial background but with identity of outlook and purpose.

This Federation upon which we have just entered is therefore not something which has been thought up suddenly. Indeed, some of the friends of The West Indies criticise us for having taken so long to make up our minds about it. But, as you in Canada would be the first to recognize, Federation is just not a question of writing a constitution and agreeing to it, although that in itself is difficult enough. There must be the urge to operate the institutions for the overall common benefit and not for parochial or partisan ends--what Professor MacIver has called "the will for the state". For this reason I think we have been right to begin with a Federal Constitution which preserves a great amount of power to the Unit Governments. It must be recognized that we have started off in much the same way as the United States, with the intention of keeping the central government weak until it has proved itself. Our Constitution contains a very modest list of matters on which the Federal Parliament has exclusive authority to legislate; a longer, but still modest, list of concurrent matters on which both the Federal and Unit Governments can legislate. Residual powers lie with the individual Territories. We can therefore be said to have followed the Australian model rather than the Canadian. As a matter of interest, the list of exclusive powers, allowing for modern terminology and technical developments, bears a marked resemblance to those which the Articles of Confederation conferred upon the Confederation Congress between the years 1781 and 1789. The Confederation Congress could carry on war, make treaties, coin money, issue bills of credit and settle disputes between the states. The Parliament of The West Indies is exclusively competent to legislate for defence, for the implementation of international obligations, for exchange control and for legal proceedings between the Federation and a Territory or between Territories. It has, of course, other powers, notably in regard to currency, immigration, postal services and telecommunications and industrial development. These are on the concurrent legislative list, but in the event of conflict between Federal and Territorial law, the Federal law will prevail. But it is significant that agriculture in all its branches, which is the basis of the economy of the Federation and the livelihood of the vast majority of its inhabitants, is not mentioned in the Constitution. The role of the Federal Government in this field must therefore at present be confined to providing advisory and research services and fostering trade negotiations with countries outside the region.

It may perhaps be asked at this stage whether those who framed the West Indian constitution really expected it to last. The answer is that they did not. They had no intention of making more than an interim constitution, and they specifically included a provision to the effect that the Constitution must be reviewed not later than five years after it came into force. This is an eminently sensible provision, since it combines a recognition of the initial difficulties with an expression of determination to overcome them. Of these initial difficulties, the question of the free movement of goods and persons constitutes the greatest challenge. We now have to merge ten separate customs tariffs and ten separate sets of immigration and labour legislation into a unified whole that will apply throughout The West Indies. It is only natural that there should be some reluctance on the part of specially affected interests to give up local freedom of action in these matters. For instance, a member Island with a high protective customs tariff may legitimately fear the effects of a lower unified tariff on its local industries. An area of comparative prosperity may fear a sudden influx of labour from outside, threatening existing wage standards and creating serious housing and other social problems. However, we are pledged to press forward with the creation of a full customs union and full freedom of movement within the federation. Difficult as the task may be, I myself am confident that we shall deal with these matters successfully.

Turning now to questions of trade and economics, and, in particular, our links in this sphere with your Dominion, I need not remind you that every schoolboy in The West Indies knows about the traditional trade in fish from Canada and sugar and molasses from The West Indies. This trade has existed for centuries, and has brought with it transport links which are vital to the economy of our scattered islands. Every West Indian cane farmer also knows the help which Canada has long given to our sugar industry. It is sixty years now since Canada unilaterally instituted tariff preferences for The West Indies and forty-five years since these were embodied in the first Canada-West Indies Trade Agreement in 1912. Currently one-quarter to one-third of British West Indian sugar exports are sent to Canada.

Nor are Canada's interests in modern times limited to the exchange of saltfish for sugar products. The West Indies constitute an important market for Canadian flour, dairy products and manufactures, a market which we all hope will expand rapidly as dollar trade is liberalised. The region also provides an area of activity for Canadian banks and insurance companies. Canadian capital is playing an increasingly important role in developing the internal resources of The West Indies, particularly in regard to public utilities, the development of tourist resorts and, above all, the exploitation of the very large bauxite deposits in Jamaica, where the Aluminum Company of Canada has a $100,000,000 investment.

These developments are of the utmost importance to The West Indies, since ours is essentially a weak economy. Our economic basis is extremely narrow, and, like nearly all primary-producing countries, we find ourselves dependent upon overseas demand to an excessive degree. It is true that the West Indies is no longer a one-crop economy; sugar has been supplemented by bananas, coconuts, coffee, cocoa, nutmegs, arrowroot, vanilla, limes and sea island cotton on the agricultural side. We have oil and asphalt in Trinidad and bauxite in Jamaica. But we are still very weak in regard to internal production and trade, since the diversification I have mentioned all involves the export of West Indian goods to people outside the area.

As I have explained, the Federation of The West Indies consists of ten scattered islands, and less than 4% of the exports from these islands goes to other units of the Federation--over 96% goes to the outside world. I mention this not to suggest that there should be any slackening in our efforts to expand exports. The West Indies is poor in terms of certain materials and resources, and gains the normal advantages from international exchange. Indeed, it is only the possibility of such exchange that provides the very modest standard of living actually enjoyed. But it is essential that efforts should be made to develop the internal economy so that The West Indies can supply itself with more of its own needs. This can be done over a period in a number of sectors of the economy. For example, by the provision from indigenous sources of more of the food consumed, and by the growth of manufacturing industry to meet more of the West Indian internal demands. Such a policy is in no way inconsistent with our desires to encourage trade with Canada, since only an expanding economy can provide the market for which your exporters are seeking.

Another important weakness in The West Indies is that productivity is low, in particular in certain agricultural spheres. For a variety of reasons, there has in the past been a lack of entrepreneurial spirit and of technical know-how. Over the whole area of the Federation there is a considerable amount of unemployment and underemployment. Finally, the already dense population is increasing at nearly 2-1/2% per annum, far more rapidly than are new employment opportunities. This rapid population increase is undoubtedly our most serious problem. Considerable alleviation has been provided in the past by emigration, and especially in recent times to the United Kingdom. In Jamaica, particularly, the movement outwards has provided very considerable relief in recent years, and made for greater improvements in the standard of living and those remaining. There is no easy answer to this population problem, but from the purely economic aspect the outstanding necessity is to push ahead as fast as possible with the provision of new employment opportunities within the Federation. There are certain offsetting factors to the weaknesses which I have described. Although the economic basis is narrow, it has been widening considerably in recent years, particularly in Trinidad and Jamaica. Apart from bauxite in Jamaica, there are at present no signs of over-production, and by and large The West Indies is selling all it can produce, and could probably sell a good deal more of some commodities if supply could be increased.

Again, there are strong indications of an upsurge in the entrepreneurial spirit in some territories, which, together with the spread of education and the existing plans for its growth (especially in the technical field) and the increase in technical know-how which has already taken place, bodes well for the future. The efforts being made by Governments in the field of economic planning, both on the Federal level and in Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados, are promising. These efforts are directed at creating the right social and economic climate and conditions for further investment and developmental activity in the private sector including far-reaching tax incentives and direct assistance to manufacturers in the form of leased factories, import duty concessions in respect of raw materials and machinery, and so on.

Nevertheless, it must be admitted that the development that has occurred is patchy. In Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados investment represents a relatively high ratio of national income, but this is far from being the case with the poorer islands of the Windwards and Leewards groups. Six of these are actually unable to balance their normal budgets without regular grants from the British Treasury. Perhaps the greatest challenge to the new Federal Government on the economic plane is the problem of welding together such unequal economies into a whole that will be stronger than its component parts. At a different level, you have had this sort of problem in Canada, and it exists in Australia. But both you and the Australians have one single land mass to contend with, whereas we have ten island groups, with, as I have said, 1,000 miles of water separating the capital in Trinidad from Jamaica in the west. You can well imagine what this implies in terms of the mobility of capital, labour and goods.

Against this background, nothing could have inspired the people of The West Indies more than the offer of the Government of Canada to provide as a free gift two ships for our inter-island shipping service. This is not only help of a remarkably generous kind, it is help where it is most needed, and tangible evidence that your Government understands the basic problems of The West Indies and is concerned specifically to help us in a manner which will enable us to help ourselves. As you know, I have recently had the privilege of conveying personally to your Prime Minister the thanks of the Government and people of The West Indies for the encouragement which Canada has given to the new Federation of The West Indies by setting up the $10,000,000 Canada-West Indies Aid Programme. I should like to repeat here how deeply we appreciate not only the aid itself but the faith in the future of the West Indies which it represents. I should also like to emphasize again the essentially practical nature of this Aid Programme. In the Agreement between the two Governments it is stated:

"Goods and services supplied by the Government of Canada to the Government of The West Indies will be designed to strengthen and support the Federation.

"To that end priority will be given to projects which make the most effective contribution to the Federation as a whole.

"Priority will be given, insofar as practicable, to projects and programmes which can be expected to benefit the Federation within a reasonably short period."

This emphasis on early and tangible results is a businessman's approach, and some of you may perhaps be surprised to find it set out clearly in a Government document. As one who has had considerable experience of the circumlocution of Governments, I can only say that one would wish that they were all as down to earth as we have found the Canadian Government.

Whilst on the subject of official documents, I might mention that we in The West Indies attach very beat importance to something that appears in the middle of the Report of the recent Commonwealth Economic Conference at Montreal. This is the statement that:

"The Canadian Delegation had discussions with the United Kingdom and West Indian representatives with a view to exploring the possibilities of closer and freer trading relationships between Canada and The West Indies. As a result, it has been agreed that joint consideration should be given to all measures designed to improve and strengthen existing trade ties and to ensure the closest possible trading relationships between The West Indies and Canada."

"Exploring possibilities" and "Giving joint consideration" may not be phrases that ring with conviction. But I want to assure you, as I assured Mr. Diefenbaker, that my Government has no intention of dragging its feet in this matter. The problems on both sides are complex. It must not be forgotten that we in The West Indies still have to achieve a customs union of the various Territories, which is a prerequisite for any far-reaching inter-governmental arrangements for closer and freer trading relationships between our two countries. But we are anxious to attack these problems without delay, and, here again, I think we shall find that the basically practical approach we have come to associate with our dealings with the Canadian Government will operate to prevent our becoming lost in a maze of pious generalizations. And if we are in danger of being so lost, I have little doubt that the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Delegation, to whose visit early next year we look forward, will firmly put us back on the right lines.

So far I have been speaking in terms of politics, constitutions, trade and economics. However, I am far from unmindful of the fact that your Club is closely concerned with Commonwealth affairs. Indeed, I understood that its official purpose is to advance the interests of Canada within the strong ties of the British Commonwealth. It is therefore only right that before I close I should say something about the Commonwealth link that binds our two countries together. Unlike the former American Colonies which, as the United States of America, achieved independence in defiance of Britain, British West Indians have united, and are on the threshold of self-government, under British guidance and with Britain's blessing. The West Indies, like Canada, have for generations followed the British way of life, and the Commonwealth tie is as strong with us as it is with you. We have the same respect as you for British traditions of parliamentary democracy and the supremacy of the Courts of Justice. Thus the constitutional advance which is now taking place in The West Indies will serve to strengthen our attachment to the Commonwealth. An association which is now taken for granted because of our colonial status will become a conscious, and therefore more valuable, act of deliberate choice.

It is on this, I might almost say spiritual, plane that we think that Te West Indies can make a positive and unique contribution to the Commonwealth ideal. As you know, we constitute one of the most remarkable multi-racial communities in the world, and it is no accident that we have chosen as a motto for our new Federation a phrase that epitomises the Commonwealth ideal--"To dwell together in unity". Our people have their origins in Africa, in Europe, in India, and in China, to an extent that today a West Indian cannot say "I am a European or an African"; he can only say "I am a West Indian". The very existence of The West Indies is a refutation of the myth of racial superiority, and we pride ourselves that we can bring to the Commonwealth community a successful demonstration that race and colour are matters of no significance in the context of human dignity and endeavour.

In this field also, the field of human material, as well as in that of trade and economics, we in The West Indies owe a very great deal to Canada. It is over eighty years since the first West Indian student enrolled at McGill University. Since that time a large number of West Indians have passed through Canadian Universities, providing some of the outstanding talent which has helped to build our new nation. Yesterday I talked with the younger generation which is now studying at McGill, and here in Toronto I shall be meeting West Indian students at Trinity College who number over 200. In all, there are nearly 1,000 of our boys and girls enrolled in your universities. It can be said with justice that the direct economic help which Canada is giving to The West Indies is more than matched by the human investment undertaken by Canada's institutes of learning. We therefore place especial value on the Canada Council fellowships which have been offered to us, and welcome the recent announcement by the United Kingdom and Canadian Governments of a new educational scheme of annual awards of scholarships and fellowships in the Commonwealth. In our own small way, we are trying to reciprocate by offering two fellowships to Canadians at our own University College of The West Indies in Jamaica, and I hope that before long it will prove possible to enlarge the scope of this scheme so as to provide a genuine two-way educational traffic.

Before I close, may I introduce one personal note? I myself am no stranger to Canada, and my experiences here during the past week have only served to confirm by previous knowledge of your friendliness and the fund of goodwill which you bear towards The West Indies. West Indians also are friendly and hospitable people, and although some of you will doubtless at some time or other have visited our part of the world, there must be many of you to whom we are no more than a number of small dots on the map--with their names written in microscopic print. I would hope therefore that the increasing closeness of relations between our two Governments will be matched by even closer relations between our two peoples; and that those of you who do not as yet know The West Indies in person will rectify the position at the first opportunity. As a good Barbadian, it is difficult for me not to urge you to visit Little England to the exclusion of the rest of the Federation. Unfortunately we decided not to put the Federal Capital in Barbados. It is therefore in Port-of-Spain that I shall hope to see members of the Empire Club, and be able to return their hospitality.

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. John Bonus.

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Challenge of the West Indies

The challenge presented by the new Federation of The West Indies. Some of the human and political features of The West Indies. A description of the government of each of the countries in the Federation. History and background to the Federation. A discussion of the Constitution. The intention that the Constitution would be an interim one. Trade and economics. The West Indies as a market for Canadian flour, dairy products and manufactures. The weakness of the West Indies economy, and reasons for it. Ways to improve the economy. Strong indications of an upsurge in the entrepreneurial spirit in some territories. The spread of education and existing plans for its growth, especially in the technical field. A patchy pattern of development. The challenge to the new Federal Government of welding together unequal economies into a whole that will be stronger than its component parts. Aid from Canada. Details of the Agreement in the Aid Programme. Some remarks on the Commonwealth link. The West Indies making a positive and unique contribution to the Commonwealth ideal. West Indian students at Canadian universities. A personal note from the speaker.