Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand in the House to speak to the debate that is ongoing here and to talk about my riding and the economy in that part of our country.
First of all, I want to thank the people of Labrador for electing me as their member of Parliament and for allowing me the great privilege of representing them in the House of Commons of Canada. I also want to acknowledge and thank my colleagues within the Liberal Party and our leader of the Liberal Party for having such a dynamic vision for Canada, for being part of a team that is out there promoting the Liberal values and morals that are the foundation of our country.
I live in a very beautiful and vast region of this country. Even to this day, very few people know of its beauty and the value of its place in our country. It is known as “the land God gave to Cain”, which was coined by an explorer, Jacques Cartier, in 1534. It is a land known for its rugged beauty and distinct culture and as the resource energy house of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is a vast landscape that has spiritual beliefs steeped very deep within its roots, and these roots are far-reaching and wide.
Let me give that statement a bit of context as I tell members about Labrador. Labrador's land mass is roughly 300,000 square kilometres. To look at it another way, we could fit the entire provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and the island of Newfoundland within Labrador's borders. This is a good reason so many people call Labrador “the big land”. I do not have to tell my colleagues what it is like trying to travel through my riding when I have to cover that kind of distance over so many different communities, some that are completely isolated, others that are connected by road.
For thousands of years, the indigenous people, including the Innu and the Inuit, harvested the land and the sea for the sustenance and longevity of their communities without much involvement or interference from anyone, including governments. However, as time passed, and through the late 1700s and early 1800s, trading with European companies increased. We have heard a lot of talk about trade with Europe in recent days.
Even back in the 1800s, trading with European companies was starting to increase. More and more, the English and the French began to settle in Labrador, as well as missionaries, including the Church of England, the Methodists, the Moravians, and the Roman Catholics. All of those faiths shared a belief with the indigenous people. To this day, the Moravian and the Roman Catholic churches remain an important piece of modern-day aboriginal culture in many parts of my riding.
Labrador's history is indeed rich and indeed has been very challenging over the years. Labrador was under Quebec jurisdiction between 1774 and 1809, when it was returned to Newfoundland. Quebec disputed the decision until 1927, which is actually just less 100 years ago. It was the British Privy Council at that time that defined the western boundary of Labrador and deemed Labrador to be under the jurisdiction of Newfoundland. There was no vote. There was no referendum. In fact, at no time in our history did anyone ever ask the people of Labrador what they wanted.
That is how the evolution of the great riding I represent came to be today. The political drama of who was to own Labrador did not end there, however. In 1932, the then bankrupt Dominion of Newfoundland was embroiled in a political vote and scandal that saw the resignation of its prime minister, Sir Richard Squires, and the attempted sale of Labrador back to Canada. The deal to sell the big land fell through, and once again, without any input from Labradorians, Labrador was given back to Newfoundland.
As part of the youngest province in our great country, our history's future began to speed up with the onset of World War II. The Canadian Forces base in Goose Bay, now forever known as 5 Wing Goose Bay, was built in 1941. It was used by the United States and Canada during the war that saw thousands of military personnel change the landscape and identity of Labrador forever.
Central Labrador is now the hub of that region. It is where south meets north and west connects east. Labrador is home to roughly 30,000 people, with approximately two-thirds of them living in western and central Labrador. Western Labrador is where some of the largest and richest iron ore deposits in our country are. In fact, it has some of the largest deposits of iron ore in North America.
The natural resources available in Labrador have caught the world by storm. At no other time in history has there been so much international attention and interest in the region, from iron ore to nickel to hydro-electric power, not to mention the natural gas and oil that is being discovered off the Labrador coast. All of this development and exploration has had many effects on Labrador and on Labradorians, some of them positive and some of them negative.
What this progression has done for our province on the world stage is have a direct and undeniable effect not only in world markets but on the future of our aboriginal people.
Labrador is home to three distinct aboriginal cultures. This adds to the colourful tapestry of our history and our lineage. As I alluded to earlier, for thousands of years, the Inuit and Innu travelled throughout Labrador, hunting and fishing and later trading with Europe.
Today the indigenous people have made many positive strides in self-governance and preservation and promotion of their own culture. In 2005, the Labrador Inuit Association, the political advocacy group that represents the Inuit in Labrador transitioned to self-government with the formation of the Nunatsiavut government.
Now under the leadership of their president, Sarah Leo, the Nunatsiavut government has direct control over Labrador Inuit lands and has regional governance over five communities in northern Labrador. In fact, the impact of the Inuit in Labrador is far-reaching. In southern Labrador, there is evidence of Inuit settlements and documentation of English and French traders working with and engaging in social activities with the Inuit people.
Today, the NunatuKavut community council, which is led by former member of Parliament, Todd Russell, represents some 6,000 southern Labrador Inuit and continues to press the provincial and federal governments for their own land claims, self-government, and recognition. I will push for them, as well, under Canada's aboriginal self-governance model, because they deserve to be represented as part of the aboriginal Inuit population of Labrador.
We reference Canada as a multicultural country. Labrador being one of the most unique regions of this nation could be considered a multicultural body in its own right. Like the Inuit and Innu of Labrador, we have a deep spiritual and strong practical connection to the land and to the sea. The Innu first nations people, numbering over 2,200, are formally represented by the Innu Nation. They live mainly in two communities in Labrador: Sheshatshiu in central Labrador and Natuashish in the north coast of Labrador.
Since the formation of the Innu Nation, the Innu people have benefited greatly from many natural resource developments in the region, and like the NunatuKavut, the Innu Nation has land claim agreements and impact benefit agreements with both the provincial and federal governments.
The aboriginal peoples, along with the white settlers, who date back nearly 400 years in that area, and the Basque whalers who came from Spain over 1,500 years ago, are the people who chose Labrador as their home. They have all gifted us with their knowledge and colourful history and have shown Labrador respect, demanding only the best from those who govern and real attention from those who choose to be the decision-makers in their land.
This last year, Red Bay, which was the home of the early Basque settlers who came from the old country, was designated a world UNESCO district. I want to congratulate all those involved in making this happen for the community of Red Bay. It puts Labrador on the map of the world so that many people may learn who we really are, not just as Labradorians and Newfoundlanders but as Canadians.
Labrador is also home to Torngat Mountains National Park, which lies in the sacred lands of the Inuit and borders Ungava Bay in the north. I have had the opportunity to hike and camp in the Torngat Mountains. I have witnessed the melting of the glaciers and have seen first hand the impact of modern-day industry on our environment. Those who defy that such things are happening are living in a land that will continue to suffer because of their attitude.
In my treks through the Torngat Mountains, I have had the opportunity to learn the trails of the early Inuit who crossed over from Labrador to Quebec, and yes, I have been to the highest peak in Labrador. The view from there is breathtaking, as it is from all across our country.
Today we are focused on two other famous Canadian landmarks that lie in the heart of my riding of Labrador: the Mealy Mountain national park, which is currently in the planning and implementation phases at Parks Canada; and Battle Harbour, the 17th century fishing village that represents our fishing industry and trade with Portugal, Spain, and France as well as the link for the Newfoundland floater fishery for more than 200 years.
Battle Harbour is currently designated a national historic site, yet it is run by a non-profit board that finds it difficult to continue without core funding. This historic piece of Canada is at risk without the financial support and recognition of Heritage Canada and the Canadian government.
We are a country that takes pride in who we are and in our history. Therefore, we should always make way to ensure that it is preserved and continues to tell the story of a great nation.
As rural Canadians and distinct aboriginal cultures, our challenges as a society are compounded. We have some of the largest developments and exports of minerals, such as iron ore, nickel, and copper, and the largest energy development project in history, on the Churchill River, with another development ongoing that will add 850 megawatts of clean energy to Canada's energy warehouse. We have a fishery with export and harvesting partnerships that we share with the Arctic and other foreign jurisdictions.
We have a tiny population of 30,000 people over 300,000 square miles, but we employ at least 3,000 or more people, other Canadians who fly in and out of Labrador, on a daily basis. We are very proud of our industrial record and of what we are able to contribute to this country from such a small group of people in a corner of rural Canada.
We are Labrador's resources. We are the second largest contributor to the GDP of Newfoundland and Labrador, next to oil and gas, but we lag far behind the rest of the province and country in infrastructure. I ask you why. How could a land of such abundance be lacking in so many ways?
In the 21st century, Labrador is only now being connected by highway. While the northern portion is not yet built and the southern portion is bad, gravel-top road, the Canadian government today that governs this country has not seen its way to designate the Trans-Labrador Highway as part of our Trans-Canada Highway system. This in itself shows the real disregard for our people who live in a rural and northern society of our country.
We are one of the most industrialized regions, contributing millions in tax dollars to the country. We have the largest exports of iron ore of anywhere in North America, yet we do not have cellphone coverage in most of our communities. We do not have broadband or even Internet access. Companies say that this is an investment for governments, for there is no return for them as a private company to build the infrastructure in these northern areas.
The government opposite talks about a break on roaming fees, which is all good, but what about those who have no place to roam in the digital age? What about all of those communities in the rural and northern areas that cannot connect? As Canadians, if we cannot connect, we cannot be full players in the 21st century in this country.
Earlier in my speech, I talked about 5 Wing Goose Bay, the Canadian military base in Labrador whose assets and geographic position make it the primary location for search and rescue and training for the north, including the Arctic regions. This base, 5 Wing Goose Bay, is a valuable Canadian asset that, if mandated appropriately, could be one of the major response bases for training the military and our Canadian Rangers and for search and rescue operations. It could be the staging area to launch our jurisdictional claims to sovereignty in the Arctic. I am asking the government opposite to stop using this military base as election bait and start using it to create real opportunities for the Canadians in this country.
The government opposite has been clouding 5 Wing Goose Bay with false promises, promising the moon but delivering darkness. Show people real respect, I say to the government opposite. Follow through on commitments. Start investing and measuring up to the expectations that it has left with people. They are people who work hard on the ground in the country every day.
I will not relent on this issue because I know the potential is there. If only the naysayers within government would remove their blinders and see the real opportunity that comes with a gift such as 5 Wing Goose Bay.
I could go on extensively on many of these issues. As the House knows, I have spent my life in Labrador. I am the proud daughter of a fisherman and of a mother who crafts from seal skin in a very elegant way. I am the granddaughter of an Inuit woman, and I know the significance of being in a culture that is dependent on the land and the sea for survival. I represent people who are strong supporters of this country and who have contributed so much in building the country we know today. We are northerners. We are rural people. We deserve the same benefits in this country as all other people.
I will work hard to ensure that the economy of these regions is recognized by the government opposite and ensure that these people get the investments they so deserve.