I wanted to make a plea to the people of Labrador, but then I thought, what gives me the right to ask them to stand up for me?
After all, for years it seems we’ve taken people in the Big Land for granted. We’ve pillaged the ore from the ground and the water from their rivers. We’ve considered cutting their forests for mills on the island, and plunged drills deep into the waters off the Labrador coast, looking for petroleum.
I’ve travelled to Labrador. I recall flying over the wilderness and mountains and marvelling at what God created. During those visits, in places like Labrador City and Wabush, Nain and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the people I met were kind, caring and politically astute. On more than one occasion, I noticed an undercurrent of discontent that Labrador was not getting its fair share from its resource bounty.
So, as an islander, to ask something of the people who live there may be a bit much, but here goes.
Please say no to Peter Penashue.
I know that won’t be easy. After all, no less than Prime Minister Stephen Harper has spoken the way people often speak at funerals, telling the House of Commons on March 19, “This is the best member of Parliament Labrador has ever had.”
I won’t get into the election irregularities that prompted Penashue’s resignation and led to the byelection. Most of us don’t understand how those things happened, not to mention that the same candidate is running again.
Here is what I do know. This version of the Harper government has been in power for two years this month, and they have not been kind or honourable or fair or reasonable. They have been ignorant, uncaring and arrogant.
On April 21 last year, I wrote a column urging Penashue’s staff to “tell him that some people are saying Peter Penashue is the most ineffective minister who has ever represented this province in Ottawa. I’ve heard stronger words, including incompetent, but I won’t go that far.”
The list of punishments to our province was already the length of my arm. Where was he on the closure of the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John’s? Well, our then federal cabinet representative told the CBC, “That decision is final. That’s been made, so we’re moving forward.”
Even the outcry over the Burton Winters tragedy barely sparked action. Penashue should have made the case for a dedicated search and rescue base for Labrador.
The minister who represented us at the federal cabinet table watched as we lost federal jobs at Canadian Border Services and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency lab, Parks Canada and DFO. How about the Canadian Coast Guard reductions, including the marine traffic centres in St. John’s and St. Anthony?
The base at Goose Bay has had its future bandied about for decades. Two years at the cabinet table and little changed, just the continued promise that it will play a role in protection of Canadian sovereignty.
And let’s not forget that the government Penashue has been part of implemented changes to Old Age Security, meaning most of us will have to work longer before collecting those benefits. The Harper crowd also made substantial changes to employment insurance.
I guess things could have been worse, but I don’t think we gained a lot from Penashue warming that cabinet seat. I don’t want to think it was his fault; I’ve always had the greatest respect for Penashue’s negotiating skills, determination and willingness to stand for a cause. We just didn’t see it in Ottawa. He may be a victim in all this, part of the way the Harper crowd runs things.
On May 2, 2011, the Conservatives stole the Labrador seat from the Liberals. But Monday is report card time. It’s hockey season, and if Peter Penashue was a goalie, he’d have been pulled long ago.
The decision rests with the people of Labrador.
I trust their wisdom. And I know which way my mark would not go.
Gerry Phelan is a journalist
and former broadcaster.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org