“They absolutely do not believe that we own Labrador. … I really, firmly believe that.”
That recent phrase uttered by Premier Kathy Dunderdale, in response to news of Hydro-Québec’s court action against the Muskrat Falls project, shocked and angered many Labradorians.
An 11-second CBC clip, which first aired on July 23, was quickly uploaded to YouTube.
The video received 3,533 hits in the first one week and many posts in the comment's section came from Labradorians critical of Dunderdale’s choice of words.
“It’s Newfoundland AND Labrador, not Newfoundland OWNS Labrador. We’re part of the province and it’s about time they treat us that way,” reads one comment.
Reaction was just as critical on other social media sites, particularly Facebook.
“Dunderdale says Newfoundland ‘owns’ Labrador. As long as I live and breathe, nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody will ‘Own’ me,” says one Labradorian Facebook user.
“I guess she clarified the myth that we’re one province!!” said another.
It didn’t take long for people in the political world to start criticizing Dunderdale either.
In a news release, Labrador MP Yvonne Jones blasted Dunderdale for showing “disdain” towards Labradorians.
“In all my years of dealing with Labrador issues and bringing Labrador concerns to the forefront, I have never heard such careless and thoughtless use of the English language,” said Jones. “To think, that in this day and age that the leader of our province feels that Newfoundland has entitlement over the people of Labrador, shows archaic and misguided leadership.”
However, two Labrador PC MHAs — Keith Russell (Lake Melville) and Nick McGrath (Labrador West) — are defending Dunderdale.
They insist the premier's words were taken out of context.
“This is what you have. You have an entire interview and you have 11 seconds taken out of it, and taken out of context at that,” said Russell. “I didn’t think it would be blown so out of proportion as it is, but it is what it is.”
McGrath believes Jones took the words out of context in her news release and caused the confusion.
“I don’t think people are offended by the premier’s comments. I think what people are offended by is the (misunderstanding) of words by the MP, who took a snippet of a conversation and changed the meaning of it,” added McGrath.
“I personally heard the premier’s words myself and I listened to the whole conversation. So I felt the message the premier was getting out was not about Labrador being owned by Newfoundland.”
Both Russell and McGrath insist Dunderdale was trying to say that Labrador is a part of this province, and is not to be exploited by Quebec.
“It was never about Newfoundland owning Labrador,” said Russell. “I mean it was a commentary on the fact that Quebec doesn’t want to accept the fact that Labrador is part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
In her release, Jones points to Dunderdale’s lack of presence in Labrador to show that the premier has been ignoring the Big Land.
“Where is the premier? I would like to ask the premier: why did you not visit during the fires in Labrador West? Why do we not see you at our wonderful festivals and events happening all over Labrador?” Asked Jones.
Russell defended Dunderdale by saying her busy schedule keeps her away much of the time.
“She’s got a hard, busy job, and she’s got a lot to take care of, including things across Canada, in terms of representation of Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Russell.
“You simply can’t be everywhere at once.”
McGrath went even further in his defence of Dunderdale. He claims he hasn’t seen a premier who has visited Labrador more than Dunderdale.
“The premier has had more visits, in the last 20 months, not just to my district, but all of Labrador … on more occasions than I’ve seen any other premier,” said McGrath.
Russell believes Dunderdale’s comments should never have become such a major controversy.
He said the province needs to focus on real issues, such as health care, education, and resource development.
“People need to grow up and move away from focusing on chaos where there is none and trying to create a problem where it doesn’t exist,” said Russell. “We have enough real challenges. We don’t need people manufacturing them as we go, in order to suit their own purposes.”