Something seems to be missing from the official welcome-to-Newfoundland-Labrador signs on both ends of the Trans-Labrador Highway — besides a little conjunctive word that should be between the two proper names.
Three masts fly the Maple Leaf, the Union Jack and the Golden Shaft (a pretty nickname for Newfoundland’s pennant), but nowhere is Labrador’s spruce-adorned tricolour to be seen.
Similarly, what with this, that and t’other, people living in Labrador are discovering they never really lost the strong voice they won with the New Labrador Party in the 1970s, despite some setbacks with the NLP and other regional political parties and with the Combined Councils of Labrador.
But something is still missing: an attentive audience. It’s the old, old lesson of Newfoundland colonialism: yell as loud as you want, but if they ain’t listening, they ain’t listening.
Witness Labrador MP Todd Russell’s attempts to meaningfully include Labradorians in the debate over the proposed Lower Churchill hydro development.
Until recently, the people who live closest to the resource have only been given the opportunity to discuss the project on the narrowest of premises. The dams will be built no matter what, no matter who objects and no matter what good reasons exist for not building them.
Right now, in yet another series of official hearings, Labradorians are being allowed to demand a few jobs for themselves and to poke at the project with their environmental concerns, but that’s about it.
When the big decisions are to be made, the big boys and girls in St. John’s will do the making. Thank you very much, Labradorians will be told, but no further comments are required.
However, now Labrador’s MP has asked the big question that the big folks at Nalcor are afraid to even imagine: should the Lower Churchill project not be built?
Russell’s survey, which required effort on the part of the surveyee to complete, indicated a strong dislike for the project.
Predictably, the results were dismissed as insignificant.
Likewise, Russell’s followup conference call (that amazingly attracted more than 2,200 participants) has received little or no attention outside of the region, probably because most of the callers did not agree with official plans.
This is nothing new. The Upper Churchill went ahead without even a glance at Labrador’s needs and it’s a wonder Labradorians were even allowed to vote for Confederation with Canada — a proposal that, by the way, won by a landslide north of the Strait of Belle Isle.
So here, without much further ado, is the Top 10 list of why Labrador would be better off independent of Newfoundland. Conveniently, Points 10 to 6 all share the same description: if Labrador is independent, Labradorians and not Newfoundlanders will be foremost in deciding whether or not BLANK shall proceed on Labrador territory.
The BLANK would be filled, in order, by the dredging of the Churchill River and other Labrador sands for rare minerals, the Height of Land windfarm, the Postville uranium mines, the Gull Island generating station and the Muskrat Falls generating station.
No. 5: When public money is handed out to help artists, writers and craftspeople, some of it might actually end up in Labrador.
No. 4: Big telecommunications companies, like Aliant for example, might try to satisfy the needs of the Labrador market, rather than treat it like an inconvenient appendage to the island.
No. 3: The huge airport at Happy Valley-Goose Bay could become the international Eastern Canadian hub it should be, rather than just an adjunct to the lesser airfields at Deer Lake and St. John’s.
No. 2: When one of the region’s vital wilderness highways gets into such a poor state that it becomes too dangerous for school buses, the Transportation Department might repair it right away, rather than leave it for a year or two or more.
No.1: The top reason why Labrador would be better off alone? Labradorians would finally be able to remove the Newfoundland flag from the region’s welcome signs and put up the one they prefer — their own.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.