A Labrador manifesto

Michael Johansen
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Call this, more fully, A Manifesto for the Territorial Independence of Labrador.

Demands for the political separation of Labrador from Newfoundland have been appearing with increasing frequency, but few of them have come anywhere close to being met, or even being taken seriously.

The early proposals did not come out of Labrador, but were instead formulated in Newfoundland and were therefore (perhaps ironically) the ones that had the best chance of success.

Twice, Newfoundland tried to sell the territory to Canada, specifically Quebec — the latest time being in 1924 when the government wanted $15 million for everything except the coastline.

If the sale had gone through, by now Labrador would probably

have become fully integrated into another province, a mere electoral district inhabited by several non-francophone minorities all struggling to be heard in a faraway capital.

However, both times, Labrador’s prospective buyers found the asking price too high.

In neither case were the people living in Labrador asked for an opinion, or for the most part even informed of what was happening. Ironically, again, the Labradorians of the time might have preferred the transfer of their territory to Canada over the status quo, despite the obvious drawbacks of joining Quebec. Their overwhelming support for Confederation in the 1948 referenda makes this clear.

It is no coincidence that local protests against the neglect the Newfoundland government habitually displays towards vital services in Labrador and towards the rights of Labradorians often take the not-quite-serious form of an invitation to the government of Quebec to come on in and take control.

The tactic, which exploits the provincial government’s greatest irrational fear (of the big, bad Québécois bogeyman), proved effective a couple of times by generating publicity about serious problems and so spurring the government’s attempts to solve them.

What has proven even more effective for provoking government reaction, however, is the call for an exclusively Labrador referendum on the question of whether or not to separate from Newfoundland.

Only once did such a plebiscite almost happen, when the Combined Councils of Labrador (a once vocal pan-Labrador organization made up of municipal councillors from almost every community in the region) were minutes away from officially resolving to organize and hold such a vote.

However, following a closed-door meeting with a government representative, the councillors abandoned their resolution.

The Combined Councils were subsequently granted generously stable public funding and have since quieted their criticisms of government policies and actions.

Despite that setback, a referendum continues to be the most popular idea among Labradorians for advancing separation — the reasoning being that a majority vote in favour of the proposal would lend the cause moral support and give it considerable momentum.

Unfortunately, the one thing a referendum is most unlikely to achieve (no matter which way it goes) is actual separation.

At best, a “yes” vote will lead to a temporary rise in government funding of selected Labrador services and numerous promises of better treatment. At worst, a “no” vote could cripple the movement for years, or decades — if not forever.

If a vote is to be organized, perhaps it should be held for something other than a referendum.

The simple truth is that if Labrador tries to follow regular channels to win a Constitutionally recognized autonomous territorial status, it will need the agreement of the Newfoundland government — and that it will never get, no matter how many Labradorians vote in favour of it.

The meaning of democracy is that sovereignty rests with the people. They need only exercise it.

If Labradorians wish to be independent of Newfoundland, they need only act independently. If Newfoundland, for instance, won’t give Labradorians home rule, perhaps they should set it up for themselves through the election of some kind of pan-Labrador assembly. That could be done without government involvement or interference. All it needs is a lot of money and a lot of people across the territory willing to enlist candidates and volunteers in every community and to organize the necessary polling stations.

At the end of such a vote, Labrador won’t just have an expression of an opinion, but an actual constituent assembly elected by the people. What that assembly does after that will be entirely its sovereign choice.


Michael Johansen is a writer

 living in Labrador.

Organizations: Pan-Labrador organization

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Quebec, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Dream on
    January 13, 2013 - 17:20

    I think it was Chretien who once said about Quebec separation, that if Canada was divisible then so was Quebec. Well, if this province is divisible then so is Labrador.

  • Unfortunate Son
    January 12, 2013 - 20:25

    If you guys seperate, will you still rely on Filipino's to run the show up there? Please write a column about that phenomenon. It's a good sign of spoiled rotten if you ask me.