Mr. Speaker, my thanks go to my colleague, the Minister of Industry and regional minister, and to all members of this great and honourable House. I am the very first Labrador-born member of parliament in this great Chamber and I am indeed very proud to serve in this Chamber with my colleagues and of course to serve the people who put me here, the people of Labrador.
For as long as I have been involved in political life, and especially since becoming member of parliament for Labrador, I have always had certain goals in mind. One of these goals has been to drive home the point that Labrador has unique needs and challenges.
Labrador has enormous geography, enormous potential and an enormous role to play in this country. Labrador also has a very strong identity. No one could ever deny that.
Many years ago Mrs. Elizabeth Goudie wrote in her autobiography, Woman of Labrador , that the name Labrador went deep within her being. All of us who read that phrase knew exactly what she meant. We knew it when we adopted the blue, white and green Labrador flag. Even though the constitution until now did not recognize our name, we knew who we were. There has never been any doubt in our minds that we are Labradorians.
There are many things that other Canadians and even Newfoundlanders do not know about Labrador.
Labrador is two and a half times the size of Newfoundland. Labrador is larger than the other 31 ridings of Atlantic Canada put together. It is one of the largest ridings in Canada.
Ever since I was elected I have been trying hard to educate my colleagues in parliament. I even have the Prime Minister saying Labrador these days, which I am very proud of.
I look at a member here who had a great time in Labrador. This past summer I had the honour of hosting my Atlantic Liberal colleagues along the south coast of Labrador and a very noteworthy time was had. We had a great time, absolutely phenomenal, down in Battle Harbour and along the straits of Labrador.
Labrador has some of the richest history in Canada: the 9,000 year aboriginal pre-history in evidence at Point Amour, Ramah and Rattler's Bight; the remains of the Basque whaling premises at Red Bay and throughout southern Labrador; the historic sites of Hopedale, Hebron and Battle Harbour; the stories of the trappers of North West River, the Hudson's Bay Company; and the Moravian church at Makkovik and the Grand Falls “Bottle”. We are only now beginning to tell our story to the world.
Our people came from all over: the Innu and Inuit inhabitants whose ancestors were there when European cities were still swamps; the settlers who came from England, Ireland, Scotland, the Channel Islands, Canada and Newfoundland to build new lives in the freedom of Labrador; the Metis, whose heritage goes back to the blending of these traditions centuries ago; and the skilled and energetic people who helped build the modern industrial Labrador in our interior resource towns.
Our unique settlement patterns and our distinct history have given us our identity. We have maintained a deep and even spiritual attachment to our land. Centuries of isolation and crossing of cultures have led to a distinct Labrador spirit. We treasure that spirit, that attachment and that identity.
The latest chapter of our history is the great military and industrial development in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Wabush, Labrador City and Churchill Falls, which contributes greatly to the provincial and national economies.
With developments such as Voisey's Bay and the Trans-Labrador highway, we will continue to make our place in Canada.
Unfortunately over the years these developments have not always been in the best interests of Labradorians. We have been too often overlooked and forgotten. Our people and our land have not been respected. Our needs were often ignored. Our identity was denied.
We should never again have to feel that someone else is taking our mineral and energy wealth, our fisheries and forest resources and even our name away from us. In its own way, this symbolic change in our constitution will recognize Labrador and help ensure that we will never again be forgotten.
There are still some who believe and will say that Labrador is just a part of Newfoundland. They fail or refuse to recognize our special character and our unique place. However, when we see the broad expanse of Lake Melville, nearly as large as Prince Edward Island, stretching through the horizon, when we stand at the bottom of the Saglek Fjord with 3,000 foot cliffs towering overhead, when 25,000 caribou come streaming over a barren hill in back of Double Mer, when we drive across the seemingly endless iron hills of the interior, a landscape that inspired the Group of Seven, or when we find an arrowhead or chip that was left by our aboriginal forefathers 5,000 years ago, it is hard to accept that this is just another part of Newfoundland.
Our land and our people make us unique, not better, just unique. Our identity, just like that of Newfoundland, Quebec, Nunavut or Alberta, is worthy of celebrating and recognizing.
We are recognizing that Labrador is not a mere appendage of Newfoundland but that we have our own traditions and our own identity. We are recognizing that the Strait of Belle Isle, where I was born in a small community called L'Anse-au-Loup, sets us apart even as the constitutional evolution of Canada has brought Labrador and Newfoundland together.
We as a parliament recognized Quebec's distinct character in 1995 through a resolution and we recognized New Brunswick's bilingual character in 1993 through a constitutional amendment, and so today we are recognizing the dual geography and dual nature of Canada's newest province. There is nothing divisive about this. It is common practice throughout the world.
What is divisive is to gloss over and deny the differences and distinctions between us instead of celebrating and recognizing them. In fact the use of the name Newfoundland and Labrador goes back many centuries, to 1763 when Labrador and Newfoundland were first placed under the same government. It was in official use through the 19th and 20th centuries. Everyone, at least in Labrador, knew that the name Newfoundland, proud as it is, applied only to the large island off our southern shore.
Even during the debate that led to Confederation in 1949 there was some discussion of making Labrador part of the name of the new province. It was not done at the time. However, over the years the words Newfoundland and Labrador became more common and more widely used, if only unofficially. That usage was not uniform, however. Labrador was too often included where expedient and excluded the rest of the time. That will change starting today.
Our founding document as a society and as a government will no longer try to tell us that we do not exist. The oversight from 1949 will be corrected and the constitution will at last recognize the identity, history and culture of Labrador. I would like to thank the industry minister who as premier put the resolution through the House of Assembly and who as minister today introduced it in the House. Hopefully we will be beyond this in very short order.
Thirty years ago an elder in Cartwright, on the southeast coast of Labrador, told Lawrence and Laura Jackson “I guess you'd have to live here a lifetime--always with that left-out feeling--to know what it feels like to be included in something”.
I have known that left out feeling. I think almost every true blooded son and daughter of Labrador has known that feeling. Our land was too often the subject of colonial and economic power plays. Our people were too often ignored. The attitudes and mindsets have prevailed too long that Labrador is only recognized for what there is to be gained from megaprojects, from resource extraction, from development by and for the benefit of other people. In other circumstances, when it is time to put back into Labrador or to realize our unique challenges and needs, it seems to be “how quickly they forget”.
It is a small thing, a simple thing, but from today on there will never again be any reason for forgetting.
The introduction of the name Labrador into the constitution is not compensation for the wrongs of the past and it is not a magic pill that will prevent them in the future. It is not an end in itself. What it is, though, is one step on the road that sees Labrador gaining pride of place.
We will soon have aboriginal self-government in Labrador and with it greater self-reliance. Our community and economic leaders are taking a more active role in development and policy and in making sure our best interests are represented.
A new generation of entrepreneurs and promoters are doing things in Labrador that I could never have imagined 30 years ago. People are more active than they have ever been and have common visions that they are working toward.
Recognizing Labrador in the constitution says that our time has arrived, that we are here and we exist as a community and a region and that we are willing to contribute to our province and our country, just as we have always done.
We are often quiet in Labrador. That does not mean we are complacent. We have certain needs and certain demands. We want equality and dignity in public life. We want fairness and justice in our economic and social development. We want recognition and respect from our fellow citizens.
In our own way we have achieved a milestone today. There are many more to come.
I hope that I can count on the support not only of Labradorians but of Newfoundlanders and all members of parliament in making sure that Labrador, even if we do have second billing in the provincial name, should never have to make do with second best.
We have taken one small step today. We have many more to go. The road ahead will be difficult, it will be exciting and it will be challenging. We do not always know where it may lead us. I lay down a challenge to my colleagues and my friends, both in the House and beyond, a challenge to support us, to work with us and to join us on that road.