Summer has not quite arrived in Labrador, but the weather im-proved enough to allow Michel, a quarry-company worker from Quebec, to take a peaceful and restful canoe paddle on Lake Melville.
Michel hadn't expected a day on the water, but after a tiresome plane trip to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, he couldn't pass up the opportunity. So, instead of doing his part to dynamite rocks out of a hillside at Kilometre 500 on Route 500 (with dust in his breath and explosions in his ears), Michel could enjoy the play of his paddle in the waves and listen to cries of seabirds in the air.
Premier Danny Williams had given him the day off - him and a lot of other people who had been planning to start their yearly work on the Trans-Labra-dor Highway.
When a premier of Newfoundland gets annoyed at Quebec over hydro development on the Churchill River (and what premier doesn't?), vitriolic tirades soon follow. Admittedly, the tirades do have some practical use. They let the premier feel good about himself and get him valuable media time.
That always seems to boost domestic popularity (as if the current premier needs that) and it could bolster Newfoundland's negotiating position with Quebec over the proposed Lower Churchill project - an argument that is theoretically true, but one that has never been proven in reality.
However, the anti-Quebec campaigns can do a lot of harm outside of the narrow realm of the hydroelectric elite.
Two decades ago, the George River caribou herd, which has rang-ed from time immemorial across the full breadth of the Ungava Peninsula, numbered 900,000 animals or more, and was by far the largest herd in North America. The high population was a boon to hunters, but it alarm-ed wildlife biologists in both Lab-rador and Quebec. From their perspective the herd was simply too big for its habitat. The more numerous the caribou became the further they had to roam to find food and the less food they found.
Biologists feared a crash. Some even warned of the possible extinction of the herd. They said government scientists and officials from both sides of the provincial border had to work together to save this common heritage.
Unfortunately, politics would prevent that from ever happening. The Newfoundland government had a beef with Quebec over the Churchill River and so all official co-operation between all levels of government were discouraged.
Biologists worked on the problem of the herd, but they could only communicate across the border on the sly and no co-ordinated action could be undertaken.
Today the population of the George River herd is in free-fall, plunging rapidly towards 100,000 with no sign of deceleration. Otherwise, little has changed. Poisoned relations between the highest levels of government continue to hinder any common efforts to deal with the herd (and with poachers). Few are willing to predict it will all end happily.
And now, Newfoundland's official rancour against Quebec seems to be holding up at least one Quebec-based company that's supposed to be involved with improving the Trans-Labrador Highway.
A hitherto routine travel permit granted to a truck loaded with explosives needed at the Kilometre 500 quarry was withheld for at least two days without explanation. The truck was stuck at Bloom Lake, a dozen or more out-of-town workers were denied work, and necessary road improvements are again being delayed.
To be fair, Michel was thankful to Danny Williams for his unexpected holiday. He really enjoyed seeing the scenic beauty Labrador offers outside of its granite quarries. However, Michel (no more than all the people waiting for decent roads) was not responsible for the adverse decision Quebec's energy regulator gave to Newfoundland's demand for a power corridor. In fact, Michel wasn't taking any sides. He loved playing tourist, but he just wanted to finish his job and return home to his family.
Likewise, Labradorians just want the premier to set politics aside for once and let everybody get back to work.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.