Labrador had its own MHA once. That is, Labradorians twice elected candidates under the Labrador Party banner, both in the early 1970s.
Labrador nationalism is a perennial affair. In 2003, feelings of alienation resurfaced with the forming of the New Labrador Party, led by Ern Condon. In two subsequent elections, candidates made healthy showings. Then, in the 2007 general election, the party agreed to step aside to avoid splitting the vote against the ruling Tories.
Labrador, as a part of Newfoundland, in many ways mirrors Newfoundland in Canada. It is perpetually disgruntled, claiming to be ignored and exploited by distant overlords, often voting against the existing administration to make its point. It has minimal population and little political voice, and fantasizes periodically about becoming part of Quebec or becoming a separate Canadian territory — or even just going it alone.
There is a kernel of truth to it, of course. Infrastructure has typically been neglected. Resource exploitation always seems to occur over everyone’s head, orchestrated by external powers that be.
It’s no wonder, then, that politics has become something of a grubby, old-school affair in many Labrador circles. No one gives them a fair break, so locals are happy to treat elections like cynical horse-trading, extracting the best deal they can without much concern for broader principles.
This may seem like a pretty wide brush to wield, but little else could explain Peter Penashue’s astounding comments this week when he opened his campaign to regain his seat as federal Conservative MP — and, presumably, cabinet minister.
Highlighting funding he brought into his district, Penashue bragged about holding up federal funding for the Newfoundland government until the province coughed up millions for the Trans-Labrador Highway.
Whether or not this is true, it’s hard to believe a political candidate would admit to what amounts to intergovernmental blackmail to bolster his popularity at home.
Wait a minute. Let’s parse that out a bit.
Danny Williams — not to mention a few other premiers — certainly exploited intergovernmental tensions to shore up his support. To whit: taking down Canadian flags; the Anything But Conservative campaign.
But whether Labradorians were happy with him or not, Williams at least spoke for the whole province.
Penashue, on the other hand, appears willing to polarize issues along almost any line — from partisan to regional to alleged media bias.
Sadly, it’s a strategy that may just work.
Some may remember former Liberal MHA Wally Andersen campaigning alongside candidate Danny Dumaresque in the 2007 general election.
Andersen represented the Torngat district in Labrador until he was accused of fraud in the constituency scandal (and eventually jailed). Nonetheless, Andersen had pull with voters, even after he resigned in disgrace.
Why? Well, almost all of the money he filched from the general coffers was handed out in his district.