Labrador’s choice

Gerry Phelan
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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

Organizations: House of Commons, Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre, CBC Canadian Border Services Canadian Food Inspection Agency Parks Canada Canadian Coast Guard Labrador.I trust

Geographic location: Labrador, Goose Bay, Labra Wabush Happy Valley Ottawa DFO St. Anthony

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Recent comments

  • harold
    May 11, 2013 - 13:13

    to jay::you should take your own advice dude.

  • Pierre Neary
    May 10, 2013 - 16:12

    The fact that Harper has guaranteed a cabinet seat to some one who is under investigation for election fraud says it all.

  • harold
    May 10, 2013 - 11:32

    jay i believe there is a third name on the ballot.. jay if mr. phelan wrote the truth about peter penashua then whats the problem?? if mr . penashua did anything to benefit Newfoundland or Labrador i'm still waiting to hear about it. was mr penashua sitting in his warm comfortable seat when Burton Winters was alone on the Labrador ice for 2 nights and days and froze to death??

    • Jay
      May 10, 2013 - 13:26

      To Harold, Duh! I know there's a third name on the ballot. Maybe he's the one Labradorians should vote for, he seems to be the most honest. I didn't suggest anyone should vote for Penashue. My point is that we have to stop voting for untrustworthy individuals, or we'll continue to get unsatisfactory representation, regardless of the party. Go ahead and support Jones if you want, but read the post before you shoot off.

  • Just Sayin
    May 10, 2013 - 11:14

    You trust the wisdom of the people of Labrador!. If only wisdom of the voters mattered, would we now be saddled with the Dunderdale government? 60 percent of nflders still support Muskrat Falls. Are these the wise ones? Wisdom comes from knowledge, and then acting on it. What is more abundant here, knowledge and wisdom or ignorance, apathy and indifference?

  • Jay
    May 10, 2013 - 10:28

    We all know about Penashue, but are you forgetting that Jones double billed the provincial government for over $12,000.00 from her constituency allowance, and had to pay it back. You could have written a decent article about all politicians in all parties needing to be more accountable and less entitled. Instead you took the cheap, easy route and dove into partisan politics. Unfortunately, voters get what they deserve. When we wallow in the gutter of partisan politics, we usually lose. Jones will win this district, it is a safe Liberal seat, and only Todd Russell could have lost it for the Liberals in the first place. However,don't be surprised if you don't get a highly ethical person to replace Penahue.