Buying Labrador

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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.

Sound familiar?

Organizations: Labrador Party, Trans-Labrador Highway.Whether

Geographic location: Labrador, Canada, Quebec

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Recent comments

  • Corporate Psycho
    April 12, 2013 - 15:20

    Penashue is done. How many people were at his meeting? 10?

  • Peter Principle
    April 12, 2013 - 12:28

    Peter, do the honourable thing and spare us the embarrassment. Stay home and stay quiet; that way you can keep them guessing; once you open your mouth, you remove all doubt.

  • Good Job
    April 12, 2013 - 11:47

    Peter did good. So what if Newfoundland had to wait a few months for Labrador to get funding. In the end, both got what they needed. Newfoundland just had to be a little altruistic and wait for the common good.

  • Jay
    April 12, 2013 - 11:30

    Who write this stuff? Federally, Labrador is a safe Liberal seat. Since Confederation, it has voted Liberal consistently except for the Penashue win, and will go Liberal again after this election. Only Todd Russell could have lost that seat in the last election for the Liberals. Provincially, the voters in Cartwright-L"Anse au Claire are still voting for Joey Smallwood, the north coast was Liberal until Garfield Warren crossed the floor to run for the Tories. He didn't last long and it went Liberal again, except for a short run after Wally Andersen quit. Lake Melville usually goes Liberal, and will again in the next election. The only district that might be up for grabs is in LabWest. Sure they complain. Everybody in Canada does. I lived in western Canadaand they hate Ottawa. Quebec hates everybody. The bottom line is that Penahue knows he's in deep trouble and is playing the only card he has.

  • Richard
    April 12, 2013 - 08:37

    ''Williams at least spoke for the whole province.'' He certainly didn't speak for me.

    • Christopher Chafe
      April 12, 2013 - 09:56

      No but I bet Lorraine Michael speaks your language!

    • Brian
      April 12, 2013 - 11:08

      ...and you're not the whole province. It's a turn of phrase.

  • North West River
    April 12, 2013 - 07:48

    Labrador has enough resources to survive very successfully on it's own , similar to the Yukon. We have had enough of the gouging by the government of the island portion of the province whom feel that this place is only here for their profit.