From the title of this post there are many who will think that this will be a diatribe against the overreaching power of Ottawa and Central Canada given the dark and sinister connotation generally atatched to the concept of Empire. Nothing could be further from the truth for I come to praise the Empire of Canada -- not to condemn it.
Empire is inescapable. There will be those nations, states or cities with power, population and wealth and those with relatively less of some of all or each of these things. Inevitably the political units with less will tend, over time, to gravitate toward, be drawn into or be annexed into the political sphere of the more powerful. Sometimes that unification is complete, as was the case until quite recently with Scotland and Wales in their relationship with England, while on other occasions it is more peripheral but it does happen.
This is not entirely, or in many cases mostly, a bad thing. Being part of an empire allows a smaller state to be part of something larger and not necessarily give up its disctinct identity. This is not a trivial matter. Smaller places whether tightly bound to the empire or not suffer from the loss of their people -- particularly young people -- to the allure of the big city (the empire). The question then is how does the smaller state maintain its tie to its migrant population so that they will either return (bringing with them the skills, knowledge and wealth they developed in the centre of the empire) or at least continue to be mindful of home and try to ensure that its interests are well regarded proptected. Being part of the empire aids that.
I left Newfoundland when I was seventeen and except for two years in the mid-1980's have lived in British Columbia or Ontario ever since. Despite this I have very much had the sense of having a continuing stake in Newfoundland and its well being. In obvious ways Newfoundland's leaders and commentators have walked on a much larger stage in that period than they would have had they not been part of the Canadian stage as well as the Newfoundland stage. Clyde Wells' pivotal contribution to the Meech Lake debate is a small example of that. Similarly, in an era of close minority Partliament's in Ottawa, the outcome of elections in St. John's East and St. John's West may very well play a critical role in determining my national leader (and my taxes) for the next few years. Finally, I can easily return to Newfoundland without passport, security or taxation hassles in a way that I could not were my home Yorkshire, Laguna or the Northern Territories. Thus Newfoundland has lost me as a resident but in a very real way it has not lsot me as a citizen.
This is the great role of Imperial Canada -- it offers choices to the people of Newfoundland without forcing them to renounce citizenship or loyalty. It is this that the Little Newfoundlanders with their cries for independence or autonomy do not see; if they were ever to prevail they would force the young, the unemployed and curious to choose. Do I pursue my dreams (however tentative elsewhere) and renounce my citizenship, loyalty and engagement with Newfoundland or do I accept the more limited opportunities and horizons a small island in the Atlantic offers? The choice to often would be to choose the first even more sharply accelerating the decline in Newfoundland's population and wealth. For Canada the benefits are equally clear, it benefits from the human wealth of Newfoundland, whether that welath comes to the centre or stays in Newfoundland, it strengths the intellectual, economic and cultural capital of the empire as a whole.