Mr. Speaker, I thank both my colleagues for their eloquent speeches on the subject. I will begin my remarks by saying how strongly I agree with the notion of providing for the symbolic recognition of Labrador's role in Newfoundland and its place within Newfoundland.
This encapsulates a spirit that is important in the country, a spirit of recognizing that just as Canada is a country of regions our provinces are provinces of regions and have a great deal of diversity and heterogeneity. In this respect they need to reflect the fact that they are not homogeneous wholes.
The fact that in the past this country and other countries have sometimes failed to achieve that recognition is demonstrated by the fact that in some provinces of Canada and some subnational jurisdictions of other countries we have seen the rise of separatist movements.
In Canada northern New Brunswick at one time had a separatist movement. There was a partitionist movement in Quebec at one point. There was a movement for an independent northern Ontario and at one point there was a movement for Labrador to become a separate province.
This kind of recognition, while only symbolic, is nonetheless important. Symbols are important as are the practical policies a government must undertake to promote the inclusion of parts of a province that are not part of a regional metropolis.
The inclusion of Labrador in the name of Newfoundland and Labrador strikes me as a wise move. It has already happened in many respects in Newfoundland's policy on an unofficial basis. For example, licence plates from Newfoundland say Newfoundland and Labrador.
Labrador is a unique part of Canada in a number of important respects. It is not only an area of enormous size and extraordinary beauty. In some respects it is both the oldest and the newest part of Canada. According to archeological evidence it was settled by the Innu at least 7,000 years and possibly 9,000 years ago. In the north it was settled by the Inuit about 4,000 years ago.
Labrador is the first part of the North American mainland that was visited by Europeans. I would seek the indulgence of the House to read into the record the first description of Labrador ever recorded in print.
This is from the Graenlendinga Saga , the saga written to record the discovery of Greenland by Erik the Red and then of Labrador and Newfoundland by his son, Leif Eriksson. It describes their departure from what they called Helluland, which we now believe to be Baffin Island:
They returned to their ship and put to sea, and sighted a second land. Once again they sailed right up to it and cast anchor, lowered a boat and went ashore. This country was flat and wooded, with white sandy beaches wherever they went; and the land sloped gently down to the sea.
Based on this description and on the subsequent description of Vinland, scholars believe this is a description of southern Labrador. This is the area which has subsequently been settled and has become a fishing area. Northern Labrador is a great deal more rugged. It is possible that the description of Helluland is a description of northern Labrador. Helluland means the land of large rocks.
Labrador is in some respects also the newest part of Canada. Landsat Island in particular, an island off the coast of northern Labrador, is the most recently discovered part of Canada. It was discovered in 1976 by Dr. Frank Hall Sr. of the hydrographic service. At that time it was under the ministry of energy, mines and resources. He discovered the island while surveying in a helicopter off the coast of Labrador.
I have spoken to Frank Hall Sr. and he told me a fascinating story about the moment of discovery. He was strapped into a harness and lowered from a helicopter down to the island. This was quite a frozen island and it was completely covered with ice. As he was lowered out of the helicopter a polar bear took a swat at him. The bear was on the highest point on the island and it was hard for him to see because it was white. Hall yanked at the cable and got himself hauled up. He said he very nearly became the first person to end his life on Landsat Island.
Based on the experience he suggested the island be named polar island. However the name Landsat Island was given to it because the island had first been spotted by the Landsat satellite, something which was regarded as quite an accomplishment.
I can still remember listening to the radio as a small boy and hearing with some excitement, because I had dreams of being an explorer when I grew up, of the discovery of the new island off Canada's east coast. It was a discovery of practical importance to Canada because it allowed Canada to expand its territorial waters quite substantially. It was quite a remarkable accomplishment.
I have an other connection with Frank Hall if I might indulge the House in pointing it out. I am good friends with his son, and his daughter-in-law works as my office manager.
I will turn from this to another question the hon. minister raised in his comments, a question which has been raised in recent newspaper reports regarding the reaction of the Parti Quebecois and Bloc Quebecois to the proposed constitutional amendment. This relates to the Quebec-Newfoundland boundary dispute over the sovereignty of Labrador.
I will quote from the commentary that was given by those two parties. Marie Barrette, spokesperson for Quebec intergovernmental affairs minister Joseph Facal, said the amendment was purely cosmetic because there would be no change to the borders. She therefore indicated the Quebec government would have no opposition to it.
The Bloc Quebecois intergovernmental affairs critic stated in an interview that since the amendment had no legal consequence it did not keep them from sleeping at night.
This leads me to believe there is an underlying statement being made to the effect that because the amendment does not affect some sort of legitimate claim of the province of Quebec to the territory there is no objection.
I will review the history of the boundary dispute to make the point that the underlying thesis is incorrect. There is no question that all the territory currently designated as Labrador is entirely and unquestionably constitutionally protected as part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and that no one else has any claim to it.
The history of the territorial dispute stems back to unclear draftsmanship in the original definition of the boundaries of Labrador. There was no question that the original European settlers of Labrador were to be under the jurisdiction of Newfoundland. They settled along the coast. The description of the area they would inhabit and which would be under the jurisdiction of Newfoundland was that it was an area of coastline extending from Cape Chidley in the north to Blanc-Sablon in the south. Those two points were not in question. What was in question was what was meant by coast.
A dispute developed between the governments of Canada and Newfoundland, which at the time was not part of Canada. The Government of Canada claimed that the term coast meant a one mile wide strip of land along salt water. The government of Newfoundland argued it should be the entire watershed draining into the Atlantic.
The dispute was eventually sent to the privy council in London. The privy council made a decision in 1927 delineating the boundary substantially in Newfoundland's favour. The entire watershed flowing into the Atlantic Ocean would be considered part of the territory of Newfoundland.
This continued to a certain point in the south from which a line was drawn due east to a point directly north of Blanc-Sablon. This was then joined by a direct north-south boundary line drawn north from Blanc-Sablon.
There was some question at the time as to why the straight line was drawn. It took some of the upper watershed of several rivers that flowed into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and placed it within Newfoundland territory, in particular the Little Mecatina River which would not have fitted with the earlier description.
One could dispute whether that was a wise addition or change to the original formula. Whatever the case, the boundary was agreed to by both parties. It was written into the Constitution of Canada when Newfoundland and Labrador joined Canada and it is not subject to any form of dispute. There is no legal argument that any of the territory is not clearly and distinctly a constitutionally protected territory of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
I say this not merely based on my own reading of the facts. I say it based on the authority of the government of Quebec which produced in 1970 and 1971 a detailed study on all the boundaries of Quebec.
I am talking here about the commission studying the territorial integrity of Quebec.
Document 3.2 of the study dealing with “La Frontière du Labrador” states that while Quebec might have had a claim at some point in the past the privy council decision put it absolutely and unquestionably to rest.
The report acknowledges that there is no constitutional way that Quebec could have any claim to any part of the territory of Labrador. I think that also reflects the will of the people of Labrador.
In 1927 there were very few settlers in the interior. That has changed. The interior is no longer an uninhabited area, uninhabited from a European point of view, because it always had aboriginal elements of living and hunting.
People who live in Labrador express no interest in becoming a part of Quebec. When there is such a clear indication of popular sentiment reflected so clearly by constitutionally entrenched legal rules, no question can be disputed.
I turn finally to some closing comments, with regard to Labrador and the character of the place.
Labrador is an extraordinarily large area geographically. My colleague, the hon. member for Labrador, made this point in his comments. If we think of this from a European perspective, Labrador is larger than any of the countries in Europe, with the exception of Ukraine and Russia.
It is full of not only extraordinary scenic beauty, but also mineral wealth and rivers, some which have been tapped for hydro and some have not. They all are appreciated by the people who draw resources from them.
In some respects, Labrador is to the east coast of North America what Alaska is to the west coast of North America: a vast northern land of almost unimaginable wealth, extraordinary beauty and an extraordinary challenge for all of us.
To get a sense of what would characterize Labrador the best, I contacted my friend, John McGrath, who was the Reform Party candidate in a byelection in Labrador in 1996. He now resides in my constituency and will be well known to the current member for Labrador. I asked him what best expresses, in a nutshell, the character of Labrador. He suggested to me that I ought to consult the Ode to Labrador , by Dr. Harry Padden of Northwest River.
The Ode to Labrador reads in part as follows:
Dear land of mountains, woods and snow... God's noble gift to us below... Thy proud resources waiting still, Their splendid task will soon fulfill, Obedient to thy Maker's will... We love to climb thy mountains steep... And paddle on the waters deep... Our snowshoes scar thy trackless plains, We seek no cities streets nor lanes, We are thy sons while life remains, Labrador, our Labrador.