The question has been asked for centuries: who actually owns Labrador, or more specifically, who owns the Labrador Peninsula?
Premier Kathy Dunderdale found herself in hot water with some Labradorians last week by claiming the province owns it, despite claims to the contrary by the Quebec government.
French Canada has always argued that the entire Labrador Peninsula belongs to them. Modern Quebec claims we are merely interlopers, granted rights by a British Privy Council back in 1927 that has little relationship to today’s reality.
Dunderdale’s comment was innocent. She was discussing a court challenge launched by Hydro-Québec over water rights on the Churchill River. “They absolutely do not believe that we own Labrador,” she said. “I really, firmly believe that.”
Despite her assertion being correct, the reaction was over the top.
People in Labrador, opposition MHAs and MPs all jumped on the bandwagon. Like the senators who murdered Caesar, they piled on and verbally accosted the poor lady over and over again.
The people of Labrador took strong exception to her use of the word “own,” with some social media commentators declaring how offended they were. Citizens of Labrador made it crystal clear that they are not owned by anybody.
Rookie MP Yvonne Jones even issued a news release calling Dunderdale’s use of the word “own” as thoughtless and careless.
“To think that, in this day and age, that a leader of our province feels that Newfoundland has entitlement over the people of Labrador shows archaic and misguided leadership,” she said.
Dunderdale was not arguing that the people of Labrador were owned. Her comments had nothing to do with people, their constitutional rights or obligations.
She was arguing merely that the lands granted to Newfoundland and Labrador by that Privy Council decision back in 1927 are “owned” by the province and, if we wanted to take it to a logical conclusion, the province is “owned” by the people who live here.
The premier’s comments were not offensive and interpreting them as such is a form of political deceit we should not tolerate.
So, back to the original question. Who really owns Labrador? There are at least three groups that can lay claim to some of the territory.
Quebec has administered a portion of the Labrador Peninsula for well over 200 years.
As a province of Canada, it can claim some ownership to those lands. They administer them, invest in them and maintain them. It’s fair to say they own them.
Newfoundland and Labrador can make the same claim to the lands we have been occupying for so long. It was that claim that won the day back in 1927 and granted us all of the territory from the height of land to the coast of Labrador.
At that time, the Dominion of Canada argued we should only be allowed a strip of coastline one mile wide so that our traditional fishery could be maintained, and that everything else belonged to them.
Surprisingly, Quebec was not directly involved in the boundary dispute. This was a case fought by the Dominion of Canada and the Colony of Newfoundland.
The Privy Council observed that we had settlements, industry and involvement well beyond a small coastal strip of land, including a circuit court that regularly visited those areas of Labrador we claimed to own, and it was this involvement that won the case.
Aboriginals in Labrador, including the Innu, Inuit and Métis, probably have the best claim, given the time they have been there and used the land.
We can all make some claim to Labrador. I was married there. My son was born there. Do I “own” Labrador? As part of the collective group that identifies itself as Newfoundland and Labrador, yes. Labradorians are part of the family, and the land they live on, like the island I live on, belongs to us all.
To accuse Dunderdale of saying anything beyond that is a lie.
Randy Simms is a political commentator and broadcaster. He can be reached