Let the Labrador flag fly

Published on August 23, 2014

The provincial government doesn’t seem to like the Labrador flag much. Surprisingly, the man speaking out on behalf of the province is MHA Nick McGrath, who represents Labrador West.

He was vocal this week in condemning a plan to have the flag raised at two Labrador entry points: L’Anse au Clair and Labrador City.

This tempest was stirred up because the Labrador West branch of the Labrador Historical Society suggested flying the flag as a way of celebrating its 40-year history.

McGrath opposes the idea. “Newfoundland and Labrador is one province and the government sees it as unification under the provincial flag, which was adopted in 1980,” he said.

He implied that the white, green and blue Labrador flag represents a division between the Big Land and the island and that flying the flag at entry points into Labrador would be a step backward.

“Labrador is not a separate entity of the province, no more than the Northeast Avalon is a separate entity,” McGrath said.

His thinking, and the provincial government’s position, is so wrongheaded that it boggles the mind.

The flag is made up of four components. The white section across the top represents snow. The green represents the land — of which there is plenty — and the blue represents water. The twig in the left-hand corner represents the three founding peoples: the Innu, the Inuit and white settlers. It’s hardly a symbol of insurrection but it is a unifying symbol for the people of Labrador.

What makes this situation ironic is that the flag was adopted by Labrador in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Newfoundland and Labrador becoming a Canadian province.

This flag has meaning for the people of Labrador and was designed to let people know they are a distinct and unique part of this province. While McGrath is right when he says Labrador is not a separate entity, there can be no denying its unique place in our country.

Back when I was president of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, I abandoned my seat on the national board of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities and

designated a representative from Labrador to sit in my place.

Why? Because Labrador needed to be heard from when Canada’s Northern Territories lobbied Ottawa on everything from transportation networks to health care. The Combined Councils of Labrador filled that role for the two years of my term. During that time, our provincial organization pushed hard to get Labrador a permanent seat on the national board. Sadly we failed — a story for another time.

My point is this: even back then we recognized that Labrador was

distinct. It is a special part of our province and its culture, heritage and connection to the land, especially its unique aboriginal makeup, gives the place a life all its own. As islanders, we should embrace that history and culture as a part of ours.

Letting the Labrador flag fly proudly across the Big Land is not something we should fear. People visiting Labrador who see it flying for the first time will ask about it. What a great answer we can give.

Jordan Brown, president of the Labrador West branch of the historical society, made the original request to fly the flag.

“Everything that is Labrador is represented in that flag,” he said. “It is something we all know and cherish.”

Had the society asked that we lower the provincial flag and fly the Labrador flag in its place, I’d be singing a different tune, but that’s not my understanding of the request. To her credit, Labrador City Mayor Karen Oldford joined in a small ceremony to raise the flag over the town hall this week. Lab City makes me proud.

Brown thinks the government will change its mind and honour his request. Let’s hope so.

Denying the request was silly, and to the people of Labrador, it was probably hurtful, too.

Randy Simms is a political commentator and broadcaster. He can be reached at

rsimms@nf.sympatico.ca

Twitter: @RandyRsimms.