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Jordan Brown Lela Evans Newfoundland Labrador Progressive Conservative New Democratic Party

“Pulling on the Same Oar”: Meet Labrador’s Unlikely Alliance

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Though we have been fused by court order since 1927, Labrador remains a mystery to Newfoundland. The Big Land is out of sight and out of mind for many on the Island—most notably, the major decision-makers in St. John’s. Historically, Labrador has been governed less like a real place with real people than a wide-open projector screen for petty dreams of empire. The icy waters in the Strait of Belle Isle can run as deep as any rift dividing les deux solitudes.

But there are signs that things are changing. In May’s provincial election, voters returned the first hung parliament in nearly 50 years. And at the centre of the upheaval was a political earthquake in Labrador.

Up in Torngat Mountains, the province’s most northerly district, Progressive Conservative Lela Evans unseated long-time Liberal Randy Edmunds. Meanwhile, in Labrador West, New Democrat Jordan Brown beat Liberal Cabinet minister Graham Letto by a razor-thin two-vote margin—and a judicial recount affirming “yes b’y” is too ambiguous to write on a ballot.

In the early days after the election, some earnestly hoped the minority outcome would lead to a more collaborative House of Assembly. (Guilty!) But after a Fall sitting dominated by several Cabinet-centred circuses, I have scaled back my expectations.

It’s hard to find many leading lights on the floor of the House these days—except some very bright sparks in the corners from Labrador.

I had noticed MHAs Jordan Brown and Lela Evans seemed to have an excellent working relationship despite different partisan stripes. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear that there was some kind of cross-party Labrador Bloc shaping up on the Assembly floor. What was really going on?

So when the House of Assembly closed, I caught up with both Brown and Evans for an hour before they left St. John’s. I wanted to find out if there was anything behind this apparent Labrador alliance.

What follows is a transcript of that conversation, edited for length and clarity.


[This conversation took place on 6 December 2019.]

Drew Brown (the Indy): So you two are both new MHAs. I’d love to hear about how that’s been going. How did you find your first official sitting of the House?

Jordan Brown (NDP, Labrador-West): Lela, do you want to start off? You’ve had quite the journey. [laughs]

Lela Evans (PC, Torngat Mountains): How do I find it, in terms of what I expected? I’m pretty experienced on answering that now. [laughs]

I was disappointed. I just kept thinking, you know, if people could see the day-to-day behaviours, the politics that give rise to the behaviours…

I’m trying not to lower my standards. I’m trying not to lower my expectations. So I’m relying on our new members, like myself and Jordan, and Alison [Coffin], and Helen [Conway-Ottenheimer]… like, we got to keep saying, “this is unacceptable.” As opposed to getting… what’s the word for when you change your views?

Co-opted?

Evans: Exactly. Or cynical, you know.

Yeah. I imagine it’s very easy to get sucked into the atmosphere on the floor— 

Evans: And then without realizing it, lowering your expectations. Then all of a sudden you’re working from a lower level, right. 

I’ve heard [people say]: “you can’t be holier-than-thou.” And that’s kind of like saying, “we’re all human.” 

But when you’re elected as a MHA, you’re given the title of ‘Honourable Member.’ You should be holier-than-thou. You should hold yourself to that high standard. And if you fail you have to admit it, and try and do better. If it means being punished, you should be. Because if not, we can’t deliver to the public.

Brown: One of the things I found interesting is what people in the House get riled up about. I stood and spoke about people in Lab West—winter is coming on—and who are now homeless, and living in a car, and it was just crickets. And then someone says something that is just political fodder, and the place goes right up. And I’m going… this is backwards. Shouldn’t we all be getting riled up about people living in cars? That was kind of a shock to me. I’ve been talking to the other new MHAs, and they all seen the same kind of thing.

Now we’ve struck up this committee on democratic reform—and this committee is a first in the history of this province, that no party has control over this committee. So this is going to be a real test of whether we’re ready for change. 

Yeah. That’s been a question many people have been thinking about since the election. We now have the first minority government in this province in nearly 50 years. So one thing everyone’s wondering is, will the minority government situation make it easier for parties to work together and get along? Or will this actually make it more difficult?

Having witnessed both the pre-election and post-election House this year, I’m not convinced that this is as collaborative as we were hoping it might be. But you’re right, the committee will be a good way to test whether the House is ready to move along to something new and better. 

But it doesn’t seem so far that there has been a lot of collaboration and co-operation so far between the government and the Opposition.

Brown: There is and there isn’t. To be fair, we did pass a lot of interesting stuff unanimously.

Evans: But there was no controversy with any of that stuff.

Brown: Yeah. The stuff that doesn’t have controversy, the stuff that’s the day-to-day running the province, things that we genuinely need, we seem to be unanimous. Like Clare’s Law, [giving police the ability to disclose details of a romantic partner’s violent past,] that’s a big one for this province. We’re actually getting ahead of provinces that started before us. So that’s a fair one. We collaborated on that. And getting cameras on the highways.

The biggest lack of collaboration now is anything around finances, and anything to do with the conduct of a member of the [government] side. And that’s the two places where we figured collaboration would be the easiest thing. But it looks like a government who believes they still have a majority. They have to accept the minority situation.

I think after [the vote on Chris Mitchelmore’s reprimand] last night, we might have put them down a little bit. So hopefully now in the spring, with the budget coming around, we’ll see a bit more collaboration than that. But for the big stuff, they still want to govern, unfortunately.

Well, I guess you can’t blame them for that.

Evans: What I find is there’s a lot of talk about collaboration, but there’s not a lot of sign of collaboration. If they get in trouble, they’ll say things like: “now, now, we’re supposed to be collaborating.” But in actual fact, we’re shut out on a lot of things. 

But what I notice is new members, we collaborate a lot with each other. So for example, Jordan and myself are MHAs from Labrador. But we also talk a lot more with some of the other members. Between the two parties, the PC party and NDP, we seem to have a really good relationship because there’s trust there. Between Ches [Crosbie] and Alison, and—

Brown: And Paul. We’ve got Paul in there too.

Evans: What Paul are you talking about?

Brown: Lane! Independent.

Evans: [laughs] Ohhhhh yes, that Paul. I was thinking of Paul Dinn, you know, him and Jim are brothers.

Ah yes… the Brothers Dinn.

Brown: Yes, we’ve got the Brothers Dinn. We have that conduit there, which is interesting. They had that sweet moment the other day where they both had members’ statements for their mother.

Very wholesome.

Evans: And with a minority government, we can maybe enact a little more change. Because we can press the changes we want. Between Ches and Alison working together, we can make changes. That’s all part of a minority government.

It’s just too bad that we’re not in total control of the minority government, we have two Independents who vote independently.

Brown: I really do like having Independents in the House. It’s a good sign of democracy. If you can get in there without the backing of a party or anything like that, in my opinion that’s a good sign. That’s a sign you can run on your own name. I like that. Having Paul there is a sign it can be done and you can be an excellent MHA on your own name. You can do things differently and it’s perfectly fine.

Evans: What makes him and [Eddie Joyce] successful is the fact that they’re experienced. They’ve been elected and re-elected, they know the ins and outs of government. I think it would be a little bit more overwhelming to a new MHA who is not familiar to come in.

So when I ran, I decided to run before I decided which party I was going to run with. A lot of people were saying: “you should go Independent.” And even after I got elected, people were encouraging me to go Independent. And I said no, I need too much help. I would never run as an Independent because I wouldn’t be effective. 

And my district needs too much help. [laughs]

Brown: So an interesting fact on Independents. The first ever elected Independent MHA was in the 1960s out in Labrador West, when Joey [Smallwood] had the district created. So he created it and was going to put one of his own people there, and they ran a parachute. For a long time, Labrador was nothing but parachute candidates. So this newspaper owner in Labrador West said he wasn’t going to have any of it. His name was Charlie Devine, and for four years he was completely Independent. They always called him “the thorn in Joey’s side.”

Then in the next election, we elected an Irish socialist. [laughs] So we’re very independent-thinking people up in Lab West.

Yeah, Labrador has always had a very interesting political history. Especially near the end of the Smallwood era. You gave that guy a lot of problems.

Brown: It always goes back to the fact that Labradorians think completely differently, our politics are completely different. We’re a unique part of the province. There’s no point for me and Lela to bicker about political jazz because we belong to different parties. We have to take time to work together. We’re a small group of people, but we have massive challenges. We have no choice but to get along.

That’s like myself and the Liberal MHAs from Labrador. We get along, we had a dialogue in this very boardroom a few weeks ago. All of us sat down… one of my staff poked his head in like, “did you guys separate yet?” [laughs] Because all four of us were in the same room.

Evans: Watch out! [laughs]

Brown: But we all sat down, and we talked about stuff that was facing all four of us and that we needed to talk about. We have very unique challenges in the Big Land. Very big challenges! That’s why we have to continue to have a good dialogue between the four of us. We have no choice but to do it.

Evans: The way I finds elections goes in Labrador now, a lot of times they vote based on the candidate. Like their honesty and integrity, and also their confidence in the candidate. That’s why you notice it switches back and forth now. This isn’t back in the old Joey days where everyone is either PC or Liberal. That’s the case in Jordan’s district, and also in mine. 

I ran against the incumbent. So did Jordan. These are people who were entrenched in the government, right. The fact that we defeated them speaks volumes to the voice. So we got to be accountable to the people. Hence our relationship.

Like, when Jordan was elected… I never met him before. But man I tell you, I was so happy. I went right over and it was just like we were best friends.

Brown: It’s been great.

Evans: Awesome.

You definitely have a lot in common. Not just as two Labradorians in the House, but almost as the ‘Labrador Opposition.’

Brown: Yeah. The last four years, Labrador was all Liberal MHAs. There was a point where we had three Cabinet ministers out of Labrador. [Perry] Trimper was a Cabinet minister before becoming Speaker. Lisa Dempster was a Cabinet minister from day one. And then Graham [Letto] was a Cabinet minister for a few months. So Labrador, on the government side, was punching pretty high with the Cabinet-minister-per-capita ratio.

But now Labrador actually has an opposition. So it’s not only that we’re ‘the Opposition,’ but we’re ‘the Labrador Opposition.’ Now there’s two versus two: two Labradorians on our side, and two on their side. Technically three on our side, actually, because the Honourable Member for Terra Nova [Lloyd Parrott, PC] is actually from Wabush.

So fun fact, there’s actually more Labradorians in the House than there ever was before.

Evans: More than the number of seats. [laughs]

Brown: But yeah, we are the Labrador Opposition. Labradorians have a stronger voice now than they’ve ever had, because there is a voice coming from all corners. So they’ve got that little extra ‘oomph’.

That’s a good point. One of the ‘common sense’ ideas in Newfoundland and Labrador politics is “you gotta be on the government side to get your stuff.” But when you get in a situation like that where it’s an overwhelming majority on the government side, then…

Brown: Everyone is holding hands, singing kumbaya, saying “everything is fine.” You don’t hear about nothing.

When I was sworn in after the judicial recount, my first day in the House I asked a question. It was the first question asked in the House of Assembly from Lab West in 14 years. The last person to ask a question was Randy Collins in 2006. So Lab West has been on government side for so long, PC and Liberal. It was a huge gap, no one got to ask a question from Labrador West. The only time Labrador West has ever been in opposition, it’s been either NDP or… Tom Burgess.

Right. The Labrador Party.

Brown: Every other time where they were a Liberal or Conservative, they were on the government side. So when we get to go in opposition, we go in opposition hard. [laughs]

Proper thing.

Speaking of ‘opposing hard,’ both of you have been really solid voices in Opposition, which is comparatively rare for new MHAs. Especially [Lela], who is part of a larger caucus. But even then, you’ve gotten a fair bit of speaking time in this session to ask what are some of the more pointed questions asked in the House, particularly about the situation in Labrador.

Evans: Yeah. Not only for my district but also for the south coast as well.

People don’t understand, you don’t just get to ask your questions, the caucus decides. So I was asking a lot of questions on Muskrat [Falls] and the boat, because they’re priority. And my caucus has to have their questions. But Jordan stepped up and asked, “do you have any questions?” Because they had some questions and they were looking at voicing all of Labrador.

Several times now he’s stepped up and asked questions on behalf of my district. That’s the relationship that we got. That’s what happens when you elect good MHAs. Strong MHAs are interested in not only their own districts but also all of Labrador and the province.

Brown: I’m a Labradorian first. Always have been. I love my home and where I come from. If there’s an issue in Nain, it’s an issue for all Labradorians. If you put all Labradorians together, we barely fit together in a subdivision in Mount Pearl. We’re quite spread out, and we’re quite a small population. But we know everybody! I know hundreds of people up in Lela’s district, she knows hundreds of people down in mine.

You know, even my wife and Lela, we figured it out after, they are actually related back some way. My wife is from Lisa Dempster’s district, I lived in Perry Trimper’s district for awhile… we’re all family, at the end of the day. So if the ferry’s not getting to Nain, that’s a problem for me. If residential school survivors didn’t get their apology, that directly deals with me—my wife’s grandmother is a residential school survivor. The inquiry into Burton Winters—I remember when I was with Cain’s Quest, we dedicated a whole Cain’s Quest to the memory of Burton Winters. 

All these things that happen in Labrador, they affect me, they affect Lela, and they affect Perry Trimper and Lisa Dempster too, because we’re all family. We’re all related. We’re all pulling on the same oar.

Evans: We’re impacted by everything. So for example, transportation services. I got relatives over in Lab West. He’s got friends and relatives on the north and south coasts. So if there’s a transportation issue, all our people are impacted. A lot of people on the Island don’t really understand that, right. It’s a big issue.

One thing I get hit with a lot is: “there’s not very many people up in Labrador, so why are you requesting services?” But if you look at the resources, we produce so many resources that contribute to the economy, that we should have equal services. We may have less people, but we’ve contributed to the coffers of the province for so long.

Brown: Well, look at it. We’ve got the second largest hydroelectric plant in North America, we have two of the largest iron ore mines in North America, we have one of the largest nickel, copper, cobalt… even rare earth minerals. Muskrat Falls—the blasphemy and scar on the face of Labrador that it is—is still going to produce a lot of electricity. And then there’s all the untapped resources we haven’t found yet.

Evans: There’s also untapped resources that have been identified. The huge uranium deposit, for example. If the price of uranium goes up, that’s going to be an economic mine. So there’s resources out there that we know of, and there’s many that we don’t know. 

Like the next Voisey’s Bay. They’re looking for the next Voisey’s Bay.

Brown: It’s up there.

Evans: It’s up there.

Brown: Labrador is out of sight, and out of mind. People don’t realize the impact that it has. IOC [Iron Ore Company of Canada] is ever-expanding. They’re producing more ore now than ever before.

Evans: Ever-expanding, and then look at how long its been in production. We’ve had mines on the Island and they’ve come and gone.

Brown: We’re going 70 years now.

That’s a pretty long lifespan for a mine.

Brown: The crazy part about it is that there’s another 200 years of iron ore left in Lab West alone. 200 years. So we’re not going anywhere anytime soon. [laughs]

Evans: And a lot of people from my district are after moving over to Lab West, to work there. And some of the people from his district are now up working at Voisey’s. Labrador is Labrador.

Brown: That’s the thing about Labrador, and the history of Labrador. It was a very communal place, no matter who, what, when, wherever you were. You always looked out for your neighbour, you always looked out for each other. There was no trying to get ahead of anybody, you were all working together. You all had a common goal at the end of the day.

Evans: One of the biggest problems—and Jordan, people probably said this to you too—is that “they’ll try to divide and conquer.” And that’s happened a lot within Labrador. You get people pulling in their own directions. 

But what I see with myself and Jordan, and also with Perry and Lisa—because of who we are, I think we could work together. And it might be the first time ever that we can all work together—being from different parties but working together to bring Labrador’s concerns and their needs to the forefront.

Jordan and I work a lot together. He sends me a lot of information, and I send him appreciation. [laughs] People don’t really see that.

Brown: No, people don’t see that.

Probably the biggest Facebook page that unites all of Labrador is the “Labrador Photo Contest.” [laughs] 

You can go on that page and everyone is appreciating everybody’s photo, liking everybody’s photo, making positive comments.

Evans: It’s the biggest hoedown ever. [laughs]

Brown: But it just goes to show we all know each other. The whole works of us. We all know each other, and if we don’t know each other directly, we know each other indirectly.

Evans: I think in Labrador you’re seeing more cooperation now. 

They get really nervous about us talking like this, because they’re afraid we’re going to separate. [laughs]

Brown: Yeah, when we talk about Labrador unity and stuff… it’s okay. It’s okay. We’re still here. [laughs]

Yes… on that note, it’s been a bit of a fraught year for the provincial government and various major groups in Labrador.

After the election, Dwight Ball made himself Minister of Labrador and Indigenous Affairs again, to signal his commitment to addressing some significant outstanding issues. Do you think Labrador issues are a high priority for this government?

Brown: Well, I’ll never agree with the fact that the Premier made himself Minister of Labrador and Indigenous Affairs.

I’ll go back [a few years to when] Nick McGrath [PC, Lab West: 2011-2015] was made Minister of Labrador and Indigenous Affairs on top of being [Transportation and Works]… before the incident with Humber Valley Paving. But Nick lived in Lab City. I know where he lived because it was just down the street from me. [laughs]

After Humber Valley Paving, they separated it out into a separate ministry. So we had Keith Russell [PC, Lake Melville: 2011-2015]. Great. He’s a Labradorian, and he’s Indigenous. So, I’m not a PC by any means—clearly—but I got on [Open Line] and congratulated them, because there was an Indigenous Labradorian… and the last time that happened was…

Evans: Patty Pottle [PC, Torngat Mountains: 2007-2011].

Brown: Yes, Patty Pottle. So [Russell] could actually hit the ground running and take care of Labrador. 

And he did! One of the very first things he did in that office, he gave the Labrador flag recognition. And by doing that it established that Labrador is its own thing, it has its own identity and its own culture. Biggest move they ever made! It was a symbol that the province was accepting Labrador for the culturally different entity that it is.

Of course, Russell did have his ups and downs in the department.

Yes, Mr. Mumbo Jumbo.

Brown: Yeah… but he lived in Goose Bay, he was Labradorian, he was Indigenous. He had the perspective. To the best of his ability—the ‘mumbo jumbo’ thing didn’t help—he knew all the Indigenous leaders. He knew who to call when X, Y, and Z was an issue. And that’s important because they could sit down with him not only as a Cabinet minister, but as family, or friends. He could sit down at a table and have a genuine conversation about the issues of Labrador.

Then the [2015] election changed that. [Ball] has cut the department down to shreds. It’s actually now the Labrador secretariat.

Evans: They’re actually trying to build it up again now I think, because of… us, right.

Brown: Yeah, we’re very loud voices on this. They cut it down to the Labrador secretariat, and moved Indigenous affairs over with intergovernmental affairs. So, they rolled all these great initiatives back on themselves, and then [Ball] declared himself the minister responsible.

There’s no way in this world that the Premier has time to go to Labrador and sit down and talk to Labradorians. Or go and talk to Indigenous people on the scale that they deserve. Especially in this time of truth and reconciliation. There should be an independent minister for these issues.

I know they like to say that they have the first standalone ministry for Status of Women. But a very upsetting point is that they rolled back the standalone ministry for Indigenous affairs in this time of truth and reconciliation. We’re going backwards on that issue.

Interesting. Especially because the government’s rationale is almost the exact opposite of what you just said. They understand it differently.

But I am inclined to agree. Being Premier seems like a pretty busy job on its own.

Evans: You’d think too, giving the job to the Premier, it’s like, “oh, we’ll get special attention.” But it’s the opposite. You just have to look at how many visits he’s done to Labrador.

Brown: Alison, in one trip to Labrador, she spent more time in Labrador than the Premier. As the leader of the third party, she spent more time and covered more territory than the Premier has.

Evans: During the last government, they had four [MHAs in Labrador]. They had four they could choose from, that were living in Labrador and actually in tune with the issues. And [Ball] still chose to be minister.

Brown: Well the biggest slight was to [Lela’s] predecessor. Randy Edmunds, who loyally sat in opposition [since 2011]. During the debate on slashing seats in Labrador, he stood up in the House of Assembly, spoke Inuktitut, and said in Inuktitut: “this is what’s unique about Labrador.” And then when they formed government… he was slighted by not being minister of Labrador and Indigenous affairs. That was the biggest slight I’ve ever seen.

Evans: For a full term. For the full term. 

But the biggest slight to me was when Dwight was defending the questions about him not having somebody from Labrador or somebody who was Indigenous be the minister. He said, “Perry Trimper got too much on his plate.” That’s what he said: “Perry Trimper got too much on his plate.” So what that meant is he didn’t consider anyone else could actually have the position.

What’s happening now, all over Labrador, is most people will tell you that [Ball] took on that Cabinet post to silence Labrador. For what was going on in Muskrat Falls, what was going on with Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, children in care, transportation… if you look at all the issues that’s been coming up in Labrador, he’s basically ignored them.

Normally when you ask questions, you get the minister to answer. But when we ask him questions, very rarely will he actually stand. Like on Muskrat Falls. I was asking question after question after question on Muskrat Falls, and he never stood. The only time he stood to answer a question is when I asked Siobhan Coady, Minister of Natural Resources, a question directly relating to her role. And Ball stood and answered the question so she wouldn’t have to, because she was going to have to go to the [Muskrat Falls] Inquiry and testify.

With this government, their strategy is to evade. It’s all evasion. And that’s where my cynicism comes from.

Brown: It’s not right to roll back [Indigenous Affairs]. If you look at other provinces, they have standalone ministers for Indigenous issues. The feds got two! The portfolio got so big they had to split it in two. So where are we?

Something like 65% of the population of Labrador identify as Indigenous. That’s a huge chunk. That’s a big statistic. And then on top of that you have all the Mi’kmaw on the Island. That’s a fairly big chunk of the population, especially where our population is so small. There are a lot indigenous issues they have to deal with.

[NB: According to the 2016 census, approximately 44% of Labrador residents were identified as “Aboriginal,” a category which includes “persons who are First Nations (North American Indian), Métis or Inuk (Inuit) and/or those who are Registered or Treaty Indians (that is, registered under the Indian Act of Canada) and/or those who have membership in a First Nation or Indian band. Aboriginal peoples of Canada are defined in the Constitution Act, 1982, section 35 (2) as including the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.”]

Then you have the uniqueness of Labrador, so you also have to put a Labrador lens on a lot of decisions you make. A project or something on the Island can’t be transcended to Labrador. It needs to have that Labrador lens put on it. A lot of stuff that they do down here on the Island would never fly in Labrador.

As Labradorians, we have a part of us that is naturally a conservationist or environmentalist. As one of the top lines in the Ode to Labrador goes, “we seek no city streets or lanes” because… we don’t want it. [laughs] We enjoy our natural heritage and history. We want to keep our pristine beauty. That’s who we are.

Yeah. I guess it’s part of the double-colonial relationship between Newfoundland and Labrador. Both in terms of all the decision-making happening [in St. John’s] with little input from the territory that is being governed, but also quite literally: it’s an extremely white provincial government ruling over a large Indigenous population.

Evans: That’s probably why we were able to break in, and remove two Liberals… one was a Cabinet minister.

Yeah, definitely. That is a really good point that you mentioned, it does seem that by taking on that portfolio, rather than elevating Labrador—

Evans: [Ball] has ignored Labrador. Honestly. If you look at it, I mean, like [Jordan] was saying, Alison made one trip and spent more time up there than he did.

But also too, he’s not involved in the issues. If he is doing work, he’s definitely not doing it in Labrador.

Brown: Former MHA Mike Martin put it best when he stood up in the House of Assembly in 1971 and said: “Labrador is treated as nothing more than a colony of a colony.”

Evans: We’re getting the crumbs of the crumbs.

Brown: Exactly. We’ve definitely come a long way. But we still have a long way to go.

Like, they want to build a tunnel. They want to do all these projects now. Well… if they want to connect to the Mainland, and worry about food security for the Island… you also have to remember that Labrador has a food security issue, too.

Evans: Same thing with medical, travel, medical transportation. For both our districts, it’s huge.

Brown: Yeah. The recent numbers I’ve received on flights and stuff from Air Daffodil, which is a charity trying to get cancer patients out, are absolutely staggering. So we have an issue of getting people from Labrador to proper care. It’s almost discriminatory that we have to pay more to get the same treatments others get for practically nothing. We gotta look at these balances.

Evans: If you look at the resources coming out from Northern Labrador or Lab West, if you look at how much we contribute to the economy, per capita, we should have our own medical imagery, our own doctors… we should have some resources, instead of having to travel.

But we don’t. And my district, is actually having an additional layer of hardship onto them: the weather. We actually have to use airline transportation, so we’re impacted greatly by the weather. And if a person misses their appointment, it’s going to be rescheduled, and they usually go to the back of the line again. So that is going to impact their health and even their survival rate.

Brown: Yeah. I had a gentleman in my district who got to his appointment, but the doctor didn’t show up. So the whole trip had to be cancelled and rescheduled. And flying out of Labrador is not cheap. It’s $1500 a round trip. And with Lela’s district, they got to pay $1500 to get from Goose to St. John’s… and then they got to pay another $1500 to get from Goose to the north coast. 

Evans: It shouldn’t be like this. In my district, we got so many problems, and we’re so isolated. But you know something, the south coast and Lab West was isolated too. But we never got access to the same infrastructure at the same time. We actually didn’t get access to any of the infrastructure. 

So my district is suffering a lot of hardship, but it didn’t have to be that way..

Brown: I remember growing up, when the bridge went through and actually connected us with the outside world. And from the time that the highway was put in, Labrador City has prospered more. 

It’s time for a road north, absolutely. We need to put the infrastructure in to benefit our own. Year-round access from Nain down shouldn’t be an issue, but it is.

Evans: We have contributed enough to have the road built. They keep saying about a cost factor, but if you look at the high grade ore that came out of Voisey’s Bay alone, that would pay for a road several times over.

Brown: And there’s another Voisey’s up there somewhere, right. We shouldn’t have to beg for a road. People on the Island want their pavement fixed? We don’t even have pavement. Even a bit of gravel would make someone’s day right now.

Evans: You’re like our therapist now, hey. [laughs] We’re just offloading now.

[laughs] That’s totally fine. That’s basically the role I play for everyone in my life.

Evans: This is what happens though, when people don’t have a voice.

Brown: It’s funny. On the south coast, people were discontented with the coastal service. And then when the new boat came out, everyone wishes for the old service now. [laughs]

In Labrador we were pretty excited. You know: hey! New boats! They were built in Norway! And that’s usually our go-to: “let’s be more like Norway!”

But it was not to be. They were built in Norway, but they were designed for Estonia.

Evans: And everybody knew. I got calls from the south coast. The Tories had a transportation committee in place that was active, and people who were knowledgeable in marine environment, and shipping, and transportation. That committee got dissolved, but they had all the information. And they said, along with the people on the north coast: we all recognize that the ships they bought weren’t for Labrador. They should have never came over, and never have been put in that environment.

Everything that’s happening and going wrong now? People have said and told government. And they didn’t listen.

And the worst thing—and I’m politicking again, but there’s merit to it—is the Department of Transportation knew the difference. They knew what we knew. They knew that the boats were wrong. So I always come back to say: without a voice, this happens. It should never have happened. 

It’s like what we saw in the House yesterday or the day before [around Minister Chris Mitchelmore]. Like, that [situation] should never have happened.

Brown: You know, I was optimistic when they pushed for [the new ferry].

Evans: We wanted new boats!

Brown: Yeah! But if the boat wasn’t designed for the Labrador Sea…

That’s the biggest problem. The Labrador Sea has rough weather, because it’s where very cold water comes down from the Arctic. It’s a very unique place in the world, in that the waters of the Labrador Sea are frigid all the time. It’s a very dangerous place for a mariner. So these boats need to handle high seas, high winds, strange currents…

The Northern Ranger was built in Quebec; she was designed for the Labrador Sea. She was completely designed for those conditions. We should have had a Labrador-designed boat. Period.

But unfortunately, we never got a Labrador boat. We ended up with a cast-off from Estonia. Those boats operate in the Gulf of Finland. The Gulf of Finland does not have the same currents or weather or anything like what the Labrador Sea.

So when you’re going to buy a boat for Labrador, you should speak to Labradorians.

Evans: And when you have so many problems that people predicted, truthfully and accurately, you should not be allowed to have it continue. That’s what we’re fighting now. They’re saying there’s nothing wrong with the boat. 

As for the lack of services, the failure of services… one year’s bad enough. There’s no way we’re going to put up with it. You thought Muskrat was bad?

Yeah. This is a very basic issue of how food gets into these communities—

Evans: Everything! We have no roads!

Brown: And here’s the thing: if it misses the boat, it has to go by plane. That’s an undue cost upon the citizens up there. These communities are very isolated, jobs are scarce, not everyone is working full time, not everyone is working all year round. So if you put these people in undue hardship just to pay for groceries, or food…?

Evans: Just to put it in perspective, in the summer, usually food and materials cost less because they can come by boat. But then they took off the Lewisporte freight boat, which was reasonable shipping costs. Now they got to truck everything up the Northern Peninsula. In the summer—I got pictures from the store—four frozen pork chops: $28. 

Pork! Not beef. Four frozen pork chops. $28.

Brown: It’s discriminatory. You’re discriminating against people because they chose to live on their traditional territory. And that’s not right, not in this day and age.

Evans: Transportation is actually a right in Newfoundland and Labrador. It is a right. The government has a mandate to provide that service.

Brown: A road north could almost pay for itself after the ferry comes off. It’s not cheap to run a ferry in the north either, right. So this is where we really need to say, maybe it’s time to open up a northern highway, to give these people year-round access to these places. Connecting the north coast to the Trans-Labrador Highway effectively connects them to the rest of North America. You’re linked into the rest of the world.

This is how you make a region prosper. By making sure they can get goods and services in, and products out.

It would change things for good, to have this access to the north so that we can see more development. People’s lives will absolutely open up.

Evans: Now see, that speaks volumes. That the NDP in Lab West, that has nothing to do, district-wise, with the north coast, advocating for a road. Because it benefits all Labrador. And also, it’s the decent thing to do. And also, you see the value of Labradorians looking after Labradorians.

Brown: Absolutely. We’re all pulling on the same oar at the end of the day. And I’ve always said it, and I’ll say it forever and a day: Labrador looks at things differently. We act differently, because we are different. But we’re different because we look after our own. We’ll always look after our own.

Evans: That’s very, very important. I think we’re actually starting to come together. This is the first time we can actually be comfortable in saying that.

Brown: It’s a different world now, and we need to be friendly, and cordial, and work together. Because at the end of the day, 30,000 people in Labrador are counting on us.

Evans: There’s billions of dollars coming out! [laughs] Don’t be talking about population, I’m talking about the money coming out too.

Brown: Well… our greatest export is our people.

Evans: [sighs] Yes.

Brown: Oh, I know the money comes out too. Every day the train goes by my house, four times a day. I sees those big ore cars full of money. [laughs]

Evans: Pound for pound, we’re worth our weight in gold.

Brown: Oh, yeah. That train by my house… every day, two full loads of ore go out, and two empty trains come back. In one day. Each train is eight kilometres long.

And it can do that every day for 200 more years. Incredible.

So what does Labrador’s Opposition have in store for 2020?

Brown: I think we’ll continue working together on the big picture Labrador issues that impact all of us equally. You know, we’ve got the Muskrat Falls Inquiry report coming down… I’m sure we’ll have lots of great conversations about that, hey Lela?

Evans: Oh yes.

Brown: And road networks, and transportation. Definitely medical transportation. From my perspective, those are the major things we can work together on.

What’s going to help both of us is that we’re going to work together. When you got two MHAs, from two different parties, working together… we’ve got to have the ear of the government.

Evans: The biggest thing for me is just having an ally. My district doesn’t have a lot of resources or services, doesn’t have a lot of infrastructure… so just having a fellow Labrador MHA that’s willing to step up and help be a voice is big. 

I think what Labrador’s going to see is a lot of cooperation, and it will actually give them hope. People have said that, it’s been said to me. [laughs] When [Jordan] got elected, people loved that picture of us.

Brown: Oh, yeah. There’s a great picture of me and Lela basically moments after my recount victory, Lela basically almost jumped up in my arms there. [laughs] But yeah, then the other day before we went back to our districts for constituency week, we decided to take a picture in the House together, a selfie. That got a lot of traction, too.

We’re Labrador’s Official Opposition. Or unofficial Opposition, I should say.

Evans: Plus, I think working together, we can compensate for having the Premier keep the portfolio of Labrador and Indigenous Affairs.

Yes. I think you two have talked more about Labrador in the House this session than came up in the last four years.

Evans: But if you’re looking at collaboration during a minority government, and opposition… Labradorians, they like to vote for the person.

Brown: They do.

Evans: One thing with Labradorians, they need honesty. And they need people who are willing to work for Labrador. I think that’s what they see in Jordan. And I hope that’s what they see in me.

So Labrador, we’re working together. That’s a big thing. 

I was really happy when [Jordan] got elected. Today, I’m even more happy because he helps me. He does. He steps up and his people step up. We work together. I think Alison has a similar relationship as leader with our party too. Because when people are honest and they carry integrity with them, you can relax, you can open up, and you can collaborate more. Without being guarded.

And what [Jordan and I] have, I don’t feel guarded with him.

Brown: Over on the other side, they could probably learn from us about collaboration and cooperation. Because you know what’s more dangerous, is two people in opposition collaborating, more than someone in opposition collaborating with government. It’s good that we’re in this interesting situation in this province.

But the biggest thing for me and Lela, is we’re holding government accountable for inactions towards our people.

Evans: Exactly.

Brown: We don’t just represent Labrador: we represent our home. And that’s a completely different situation. That’s one thing about Labradorians, we are always proud of where we come from, absolutely.

So thanks for inviting us to talk about Labrador, because if there is one thing Labradorians love is to talk about Labrador. [laughs] We love talking about ourselves.

Evans: About each other!

Brown: About our home, right. Like the other day, I responded to a ministerial statement wishing everyone “a very white Christmas like we have in Labrador,” and everyone in the House just groaned… 

Except Lela, who is clapping madly in the corner. [laughs]

Evans: It must be a little bit sickening, like we’re just so sugary. [laughs]

This friendship might be unprecedented in provincial politics. But that’s good! It’s nice and wholesome. It’s a model of how politics could be good, instead of bad and depressing. [laughs]

Brown: There’s still hope here, right.

Evans: Yes, there’s still hope.

Brown: Right. So what we have to do is have all 40 districts be in Labrador, and have government be all Labradorians. And we will solve all the problems.

Evans: The thing with us, too… like if we had more power, for the sake of power, we can’t help ourselves. We would be helping other districts. We would make sure that so-called power, whether it is financial, services or whatever, would be spread around.

Brown: We’d be like Nan calling: you eat?? you okay?? how’s everything?? [laughs]

That’s what a Labrador MHA is like. Just calling other districts going, “you okay?! Need any socks?!”

Photo by the author.

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