Finally, the Labrador byelection is officially underway, so now is not the time for any more partisan bickering.
Well, OK, yeah, it is — but let’s leave all that name-calling, mud-slinging, character-assassinating, belief-belittling, record-denouncing and experience-denigrating to the (at present) three candidates, whose job it now is to claw each other’s eyes out as they scramble to the top of the ballot heap.
The rest of us (that is, the citizens of the riding of Labrador) can concentrate on making sure the flawed Canadian electoral system does what it’s supposed to do, which is to reflect the democratic will and to secure the democratic rights of all Canadians, no matter which party they support.
This byelection belongs to Labrador, not to candidates Yvonne Jones, Harry Borlase or Peter Penashue — no matter which one wins. Nor does the byelection belong to federal party leaders Thomas Mulcair, Stephen Harper or (presumably, but subject to change) Justin Trudeau — just as it doesn’t belong to the Conservatives, the Liberals or the New Democratic Party.
This election belongs to the people (voters or not) who live in all the varied and wide-flung communities from Nain to Labrador City to L’Anse au Clair to Cartwright (and to all the communities in between) in this unique, highly misunderstood and much-overlooked territory on Canada’s northeastern seaboard.
It is not for the federal parties, the federal party leaders, or even their local candidates to decide what this byelection is about.
That’s up to the citizens who live in Labrador and who know better than anyone what role they play in this rare democratic exercise.
While it’s tempting to concentrate on one candidate or another (especially if a candidate embarrasses himself publicly by blaming his underlings and the media for his own mistakes) all the candidates deserve equal opportunity to respond to the same questions and the equal duty to address the real concerns of the constituents they want to represent in Parliament.
Answer me this
Here then are some of the questions Borlase, Penashue and Jones could be hearing when they meet the riding’s voters door-to-door:
• What do you think about the arrest of NunatuKavut elder Jim Learning and of NunatuKavut president Todd Russell, among others? Is their cause just? Should dams be built at Muskrat Falls and Gull Island against the wishes of
many Labradorians? Should the federal government recognize NunatuKavut as an aboriginal organization and start land claim negotiations with the NunatuKavut people? Should those negotiations include the question of title for all the land around Muskrat Falls?
• Do you think the Department of National Defence bears any responsibility for the tragic death of
Burton Winters, a 14-year-old Makkovik boy who got lost on sea ice last year? Do you think the federal government should call an inquiry into the incident? How will the federal government make sure its search-and-rescue services will actually be able to search for and rescue the next person who goes missing in Labrador? Is a single extra helicopter enough?
• What do you think about home rule for Labrador? What do you think about Labrador gaining a more direct relationship with Ottawa by severing political ties with Newfoundland and becoming some kind of semi-self-governing federal territory? What will you do to make sure that Labrador receives the same level of services enjoyed by other Canadian territories, namely Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon? Does Labrador need Newfoundland for anything it can’t get directly from Canada?
• What will you do to improve Labrador’s poor and expensive transportation options — not just the dirt roads and highways, but also the bad marine and passenger air services? What will you do to improve the livelihoods of the people who still fish the sea? How will you protect the Labrador coast from oil spills and the Labrador interior from other forms of pollution? What are you doing about the possible extinction of the George River caribou herd? How will you ensure the health of salmon in Labrador’s rivers?
• Finally (for this short and incomplete list, at least), how will you guarantee that when you stand in the House of Commons you will not be reading a script written by your party leader, but instead you will be speaking for all the people of Labrador?
Michael Johansen is a writer
living in Labrador.