The name “Labrador” didn’t appear even once in the policy platform the now-governing Parti Quebecois published before their recent election.
Labradorians, however, should pause before releasing that sigh of relief they’ve just inhaled.
The omission doesn’t mean the region won’t escape the consequences of a separatist government in the neighbourhood.
The region wasn’t mentioned because the Labrador Question is so deeply entrenched in Quebec political culture that even separatist politicians hesitate to name it for fear of sparking a fire they can’t stamp out.
The biggest issue has always been the border between territory and province — an issue that recently resurfaced over a Hydro-Québec plan to flood some of Labrador.
Governments of Quebec have been claiming Labrador territory ever since it was an international dispute.
They originally argued that Newfoundland’s colony should only consist of a thin strip of land along the coast and nothing more.
Canada went to court on Quebec’s behalf, but lost to Newfoundland in 1927 before the Privy Council of the British Empire — a court that set the boundaries of Labrador as currently drawn on Newfoundland maps. In defiance of the council’s ruling, that’s still not how the boundaries appear on Quebec maps.
This is a problem for Quebec separatists because when they leave Canada, they’ll want Quebec’s borders to remain unchanged — thus denying aboriginal peoples, particularly in the north, the right to separate their territories from Quebec in order to stay within Confederation.
For Quebecers to demand that part of the border with Labrador could change would be to admit that every part of it can.
The last thing any Quebec politician wants is to lose Nouveau-
Quebec, since the north still has many resources worth exploiting. That was one issue that was much on the minds and in the speeches of campaigning politicians.
All parties want to dam rivers, dig mines and cut timber in the province’s northern territories, but there was some disagreement on how to go about it.
The now-not-governing Liberals had formulated and were implementing their Plan Nord — a
$2.1-billion program for building airports and roads in northern Quebec. Resource extractors loved it, calling Quebec “one of the world’s friendliest mining jurisdictions” because of it.
The Parti Québécois hated it, dismissing it as a public relations exercise designed to get the Liberals re-elected.
They called it a multibillion-
dollar giveaway to large corporations.
“A Parti Québécois government won’t pay the whole bill for building new infrastructure,” the party proclaimed last March.
The Parti Québécois was most concerned about money spent to help open some new iron ore mines near Schefferville, calling the arrangement “scandalous.” The developers, a partnership between the Canadian company New Millennium and the Indian company Tata Steel, has plans for mines on both sides of the Quebec-Labrador border and they want to construct a new railway to a new deepwater port now being built in Sept-Iles.
“There will be no refining in Quebec of 22 million tonnes of iron extracted by the Indian multinational Tata Steel,” the PQ’s mining critic complained in June. “Quebecers will see this iron shipped by boat directly and entirely to Asia.”
While mining company executives say nothing the Quebec government can do will effect operations in Labrador, they claim the PQ will make development too expensive in Quebec. The PQ has proposed a five per cent minimum royalty and a 30 per cent tax on profits.
And more …
That could mean a slowdown in Labrador, too, but it’s another PQ policy that wasn’t mentioned during the election that could have the most impact on the region: the party’s opposition to Ottawa’s promise to guarantee the $6.2-billion loan Newfoundland needs if it’s going to build another dam on Labrador’s Grand River.
Last year, the Parti Québécois claimed that the loan equals what Quebecers pay to Ottawa in taxes and that therefore Quebecers are being asked to subsidize a company that competes in hydro markets against their own beloved Hydro-Québec. The Newfoundland government isn’t trying in the slightest to get on the good side of the new rulers in Quebec City, so the PQ has no reason to back down.
If all sides dig in on this issue, there’s no telling what could happen next.
Michael Johansen is a writer
living in Labrador.