There are no cuts looming for Labrador’s Canadian Air Force base following this week’s federal budget, according to the province’s cabinet representative.
“The good news is that there’s not going to be any cuts for 5 Wing Goose Bay,” said Peter Penashue, speaking with reporters after giving a speech to the Rotary Club of St. John’s Northwest at the Holiday Inn Tuesday.
The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and president of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada was in St. John’s for his first visit since being elected to office on May 2, defeating incumbent Liberal Todd Russell by a mere 79 votes.
Penashue said he confirmed the news recently after speaking with Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay.
“We’re going to work really hard to improve 5 Wing Goose Bay and bring more programs to (the base).”
Concerns have been raised for years regarding the future of the base, which hosts training activities for several foreign military units.
Last spring, a European private military contractor, E.C.A. Program abandoned plans to set up a $1 billion project at the base because of what it called red tape preventing use of 5 Wing. During the federal election campaign, Russell said the Conservative government has failed to follow through on multiple commitments to add troops to the base.
Penashue spent the majority of his address to the 110 guests at the Rotary event talking about the benefits of the most recent federal budget, highlighting tax cuts and investments made to aid seniors and families, amongst other budget measures. But concerns have also been raised on expected cuts stemming from the budget that will impact several government departments with close ties to Newfoundland and Labrador, including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Marine Atlantic, and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).
Penashue attended a funding announcement in Conception Bay South earlier in the day. The project received money from ACOA.
The cabinet minister said government needs to act responsibly at this time to reduce the deficit, and doing so while avoiding cuts to essential areas such as education and health is a good move in his view. He added that many of the pending cuts will be made through attrition.
When he began his quest to become MP for Labrador earlier this year, Penashue thought he would be joined in Ottawa by fellow Conservative candidates Fabian Manning and Loyola Sullivan. He expected to be an MP calling them for advice and favours.
“The good news is that there’s not going to be any cuts for 5 Wing Goose Bay." - Peter Penashue
“Now I have Fabian and Loyola calling me,” he said to the laughter of those in attendance at the Rotary Club event.
As the province’s lone Conservative MP, Penashue said he intends to put in the hours required to do his work.
He recalled his last visit to St. John’s during the election campaign, which coincided with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s announcement that the Conservative government would commit to a loan guarantee or equivalent financial help in aiding the provincial government’s plans for the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project.
Penashue is hopeful money will come prior to the provincial election this fall. While the project was mentioned in last Friday’s Throne Speech by Governor General David Johnston, funding was not included in Monday’s budget.
“It’s very important for the province. It’s very important for Labrador. There’s a lot of jobs going in that project, and the prime minister made a commitment to the loan guarantee. ... Now we have to negotiate the terms of how that would work.”
Penashue also said he’s optimistic the Labrador Innu Nation’s June 30 vote on the New Dawn agreement will allow the Lower Churchill project to go ahead. The deal covers land claims issues and compensation for the Upper Churchill project. The provincial government’s plans for the Lower Churchill hinge on the ratification of the agreement.
Penashue served for 12 years as president of the Labrador Innu Nation, and is also the first Labrador Innu elected to represent the region in Ottawa.
He said his time as president represents his greatest contribution to Newfoundland and Labrador through efforts to build connections between the Innu Nation and outside parties. He said those moves to create a sense of trust have served economic development in Labrador well.
“I was able to bring change within my community, I was able to encourage change politically within my community. I was able to encourage people to deal with governments differently, and I was able to encourage people to sit down with industry in my community.”
— With files from Colin MacLean