The reincarnation of Joey Smallwood

Michael Johansen
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Joyfully stunned. That’s just the best way to describe the look on the face of Premier Kathy Dunderdale last week when she made her bubbly rant against the evil neighbour to the west — and unthinkingly uttered this bound-to-be-immortal phrase: “They (Quebec) absolutely do not believe we own Labrador! That…that…it…it’s…to…I really, firmly believe that.” Well, maybe the stumbly part won’t become immortal, but the bit about Newfoundland “owning” Labrador (assuming her “we” was not referring to the Progressive Conservative/Nalcor/SNC-Lavalin partnership) definitely will. Her ill-advised remark has already dug itself deep into the Big Land’s political psyche, where it joins the colonial-style utterances of past premiers like Clyde Wells and Joseph Smallwood. Premier Dunderdale, who is not known for her diplomatic or intellectual acuity, seems unaware she’s said anything to cause offence to many of the province’s citizens — not just Labradorians. Dunderdale, isolated as she is at the pinnacle of a blinkered government, likely doesn’t realize that her blunder is big enough to validate every complaint that separatist-minded Labradorians have been listing against Newfoundland at least since Smallwood made his much more forthright statement of ownership: “This is our river, this is our waterfall, this is our land,” he declared as he stood with a shovel in his hands near the now much-lamented Grand Falls in central Labrador. “We are developing it mainly, chiefly, principally for the benefit of Newfoundland.… If we are not big enough, if we are not daring enough to colonize Labrador, then someone else will, and we won’t deserve to own it.” Smallwood, like Dunderdale, wasn’t just blustering in order to push through a money-losing plan for an as-yet unfinanced megadam in Labrador. He was certainly doing that, but he was also reiterating the Newfoundland government’s Labrador policy for all his predecessors to enforce. If anyone doubts this, they just have to remember how Premier Clyde Wells bolstered the policy with his depiction of Newfoundland-Labrador relations in the 1990s. He said Labrador was no more a separate or distinct part of the province than any other named piece of geography within Newfoundland’s jurisdiction — like, for instance, the Burin Peninsula. In responding to calls from Labrador for more regional autonomy, Wells borrowed from France’s historic approach to similar demands from Algeria. The French tried to silence discontent in their North African colony by saying that Algerians were not Algerian; they were French citizens like any other and nothing more. Algeria, consequently, was not distinct from France, but was instead an integral part of the country with no right to separate. Naturally, Algerians disagreed, but it took a bloody war of independence to make the French concede to their arguments. With such a constitutionally legalistic approach, Wells hoped to erase the power any anti-colonial sentiments might lend to the strength of Labrador’s grievances against Newfoundland’s rule. Now, along comes Dunderdale once again confirming the base rationale beneath the Newfoundland government’s arrogant exploitation of Labrador, its peoples and resources. At least, that’s what it looks like she’s done, but she hasn’t yet come out to publicly clarify her remarks so as to contradict this interpretation. In fact, she left it to her Labrador Affairs Minister Nick McGrath to offer an explanation. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem up to the task. Rather than making a denial, he confirmed it. He claimed Dunderdale’s words had been taken out of context and that she hadn’t meant to be derogatory about Labrador. In fact, he explained the premier is actually proud that Newfoundland owns the Big Land. Dear Nick: that won’t help calm the outrage. People don’t like being treated as property in any circumstances. Disgruntled human chattel are rarely mollified by learning that their masters are proud to own them — no matter that their masters feel their pride is a noble sentiment. What Dunderdale has done, quite literally, is to add insult to injury. Not only have Labradorians taken one blow after the other (harmful developments financed by severe cuts to public services), but now they’re essentially being told again that they have no real say on their land because someone else owns it. Let’s hope it takes something less than a civil war to convince the Newfoundland government of the error of its colonial ways. Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Progressive Conservative/Nalcor, SNC-Lavalin

Geographic location: Labrador, Quebec, France Algeria Grand Falls

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Recent comments

  • John Gurnham
    August 04, 2013 - 20:14

    Muskrat Falls is inching toward a complete disaster- Newfoundland and Labrador- for its own good- should swallow its pride and make a compromise deal with Quebec and develop the whole lower Churchill as per 2002 and 2006., Be pragmatic.

  • Ewalk
    August 04, 2013 - 11:57

    Minister of Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Affairs. That's what buddy is there, the townie from lab city. Is that the same as Minister of Labrador Affairs?

    August 04, 2013 - 11:48

    You will never convince the government to acknowedge error. If you refer to yourself as human chattel and exploited, and still fear the ghost of the Joey, you are already defeated. Like the tribes of Britain, Labrador Is too divided to resist neocolonialism. The Innu have made their deal with your devils. Why speak of the dead and dumb, it is Daniel E. Williams that sold you out like you were a cable tv package this time. Labrador people are the same as Burin people. Weak crybabys expect govt to fix everything. Labrador has all the tools for self determination but little will for it. The bargaining demand is "somebody gave us a bobo, fix it" , not "we have our own solutions, stand aside." If you want to own Labrador, own it, don't bemoan it. Get rid of the portugeuse name would be a start away from colonial baggage towards self respect. Master your own politicians first. Respect, justice and peace can be if big land ruling class interest is there. A civil war of words are truly needed, not a spattering of nationalism in the papers every 10 year, unless you want to just sell blue white and green republic tshirts. What does the mandatorily retired bill romp key think of all this and the new dawn of the sovereign state of development without representation. I rather hear from him than frank fagan or John Crosbie.

  • david
    August 03, 2013 - 13:50

    You misspelled Danny Wiiliams.

  • Winston Adams
    August 03, 2013 - 09:53

    My father , Capt Esau Adams, wrote in his journals, about 1950, about the millions being sent for aid from Canada and the USA to Africa, while the people of Labrador were much more deserving, but were neglected. The colonial attitude in Nfld remains. And coastal Labrador have poor services and high costs and little opportunity to advance their standard of living. Nova Scotia wants 60 percent of the Muskrat falls power while our ratepayers absorb 80 percent of the uneconomic high cost for 50 years. Meanwhile coastal Labrador remains on high cost diesel power. Surely ,low cost hydro to coastal Labrador should have been linked to any scheme to export Labrador power. But the powers that be , on the island, see Labrador as the British did of their colonies. And presently they plan to squeeze you some more on electricity rates.

  • S Redgrave
    August 03, 2013 - 08:09

    I immigrated to Newfoundland from Alberta four years ago(I feel like I'm in another country). It seems that everytime I see Dunderdale on the news, she's opening her mouth, only to embarrass the entire province. I find her difficult to watch--very painful, knowing we can do so much better. Please---lets get rid of her at election time---please!! Stop the insanity.