NL Election 2021 District Focus: Lake Melville

Lake Melville is being watched closely by all three major political parties, who see potential opportunity against independent incumbent Perry Trimper.

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Lake Melville is a geographically vast district in central Labrador encompassing Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Churchill Falls, Sheshatshiu, Mud Lake, and North West River.

The district has been the subject of political controversy in recent months and is being watched closely by all three major political parties, who see potential opportunity in the traditionally Liberal district.

Perry Trimper, the incumbent, was elected as a Liberal to the seat in 2015 and again in 2019. Prior to entering politics, Trimper had a career as an environmental scientist. In office he served as Minister of Environment and Conservation and later as the Speaker of the House of Assembly. 

Trimper resigned from the Liberal caucus in November 2020 after being mired in controversy for comments on the area’s homeless population. (He had previously resigned from Cabinet in September 2019 following a problematic voicemail to the Innu Nation.) He is now seeking re-election as an independent. 

Trimper is not the only independent in the district. Andrew Abbass, an advocate of free speech, mental health, human rights, and alternative medicine is also running. 

They are up against Michelle Baikie who is running for the Liberals. Baikie is an Inuk visual artist whose career has seen her as a teacher, school administrator, cultural consultant, and telemedicine coordinator at Labrador Grenfell Health.

The NDP are represented by Amy Norman. Norman is Inuk and has had a career in the healthcare sector though her work as an assistant in community pharmacies. She has been heavily involved with the Labrador Land Protectors and has advocated for Indigenous rights and the environment.

Finally, Shannon Tobin is running for the PCs in the district. Tobin previously ran for the seat in 2019 and lost by a narrow margin. He has worked as a Constituency Assistant, Town Councillor, Executive Assistant to the Minister of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs, and as a Special Liaison to Chief Eugene Hart of the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation.

All five candidates shared their ideas and perspectives over phone interviews with the Independent this week. Read on for their thoughts on issues ranging from the future of natural resource development in Labrador to how to best work towards reconciliation. 

Why are you running for your chosen party (or no party at all)?

Perry Trimper (Independent)

Well I’m running as an independent. I’ve been very fortunate and very humbled to have served for two terms previously. And I still have lots of energy, still have lots of ideas. And I wanted to keep going. I have been finding—and I first found this after I first got elected—people have often said to me, “Perry, you’re the least politically-driven politician in that legislature.” And I’ve come to understand, I think, what that means. 

[Which is that] to me, the role of an MHA is to really represent the people within the district that you’re serving. And the problems and requests that are asked of an MHA cannot get lost in party politics. Whether you’re in the governing party or in opposition, it’s really most important that those ideas and issues don’t get smothered. 

So I actually started to feel that maybe I was best suited as an independent when I first sat as Speaker. That was back in 2017, and I had two runs as speaker and enjoyed that very much—the neutrality and the focus on tackling problems is really what I find most rewarding. And I feel it’s most appropriate certainly for this district at this time.

Andrew Abbass (Independent)

I’m running for no party. This was a bit of a spontaneous decision, but it came as a result of a decision that was handed down by the judicial department on Tuesday before they called the election. 

I’ve had a longstanding issue with the department of justice, the government, and the health authority of the province. There’s been an ongoing criminal investigation, and I was hearing the results of half of that investigation on Tuesday before the election, where they decided to dismiss the charges. That immediately moved to the snap election. There’s still an option for [an] outside view of this, but the commissioner that’s overseeing the matter has had to recuse himself because of an existing conflict with the firm. So they’ve got to wait until a new government comes in to appoint somebody else to review the matter. 

This is part of one of my issues with the system right now. There’s no accountability in the judicial system. When agents of the government—somebody empowered by the health act or a police officer—commit a crime, ultimately the government is vicariously responsible for the action of that person. Because they gave them the authority to go and do whatever they did. 

So that was one of the reasons. I’ve got my own reasons—I’ve been an advocate for a number of issues. But that was the one that kind of pushed me to say, “nah, I’m fed up with this. I don’t want to not cast my voice into the mix of this at this point.”

Michelle Baikie (Liberal)

Well I’m running for the Liberal party because I believe it’s important to keep our Liberal seat with the Lake Melville district. Because I foresee and believe that the Liberal party will have a majority government. So it would make sense to keep our seat here and also to be a representative of this area as their MHA. 

Amy Norman (NDP)

So for me, the NDP is the party that most aligns with my own personal values. I firmly agree with what they stand for in terms of fighting for the everyday Labradorian and Newfoundlander. Not just a select few, not just the old boys’ club, not just the elite or high-income folks. 

I think it’s their social values that really drew me to the party and it best fits with who I am as a person.

Shannon Tobin (Progressive Conservative)

Well, a couple of reasons. One is that it’s the party that I have had a lot of history with and I’ve seen them do great things for Lake Melville. We’ve had past MHAs who’ve done revolutionary things even as far back as the seventies. One of the things that I thought was really awesome when the PCs first got into government for Labrador was doing the Labrador Royal Commission. 

So there’s a history there. But there’s also other things like the medical transportation assistance program, where the party has made a 100 percent reimbursement commitment to the people who use it. And it’s something that’s used throughout Labrador to a significant extent. 

It’s something that is going to be a game changer for the people of Lake Melville and I think it’s important for this election. It’s something that I’m happy to campaign on—it’s something I’ve been happy to lobby the party on. And I’m so happy that they have committed to it.

Who are your constituents, and what are their specific needs in this district?

Perry Trimper (Independent)

Well I have five communities that I represent. I represent a variety of cultures—I’m very proud to say that we have three Indigenous groups here who make up some 50 percent of the demographic. 

Also a great deal of folks I would say probably identify themselves as of Newfoundland descent and have moved here. A lot of them, traditionally, [came] to work on the base or otherwise. We also have an interesting collection of people from Europe, given the importance of the military base over the several decades since the second world war. A lot of folks from different first generation Europeans that are also here. 

So it’s a real cosmopolitan and yet traditional district—it’s quite fascinating. 

Andrew Abbass (Independent)

Well you’re looking at Churchill Falls, you’re looking at Goose Bay, you’re looking at Mud Lake, and you’re looking at Sheshatshiu and North West River. 

Specific needs, I mean, if you were to do an accounting of what’s actually here, we’ve got mineral resources to spare. Between Churchill Falls and Muskrat Falls, when Muskrat Falls is fully online, we’ll be powering a large portion of the North American power grid. 

But where’s the adjacency principle [i.e. that those who live nearest the resource shall have priority access to the resource and be the primary beneficiaries of the harvesting of the resource] for Lake Melville? Where are the industries? Where are the jobs? We’ve got a homeless problem. That homeless problem didn’t exist before they started building the dams.

So despite having all this money injected into a project next to the community, there’s been no actual benefit to the community. Housing prices are through the roof—if you want to rent just a little one bedroom apartment you’re looking at well over $1000. It’s absurd, and there’s no jobs to actually pay for that. 

So unless you’re in an industry that is established and has managed to survive the pandemic, I know there’s a lot of businesses that have closed in the region. So job opportunities for people are disappearing. I think that’s a real problem. With the amount of money that’s been spent here, the fact since Churchill Falls there’s been no major development in the region to benefit the people of the region. That’s a major problem. We’re not a piggy bank—you don’t just come here when you need something, take whatever you need, and leave us with nothing. And I don’t see the other candidates really talking about that issue. 

I know one of the candidates, the incumbent, he’s been in there since 2015. And under his watch the district certainly hasn’t gotten better.

Michelle Baikie (Liberal)

So I’m representing everybody—non-Indigenous and Indigenous groups. And my constituents’ areas of specific needs include a couple of things. One is the Labrador medical transportation system program. And the other one is having access to family doctors and also mental health clinics.

I also have a number of other areas that I want to focus on: train and support frameworks to bridge the gap between Labrador issues and the government for Indigenous communities. Because I really believe that there’s a need to create unity in this area. 

And also I would like to find some kind of improved programming to assist the homeless population in our area in the Lake Melville district. [Including] looking for increased funding to provide 24/7 staffing at the homeless shelter.

And I have other areas that I focus on: increasing accessibility of air travel at the Goose Bay airport and Churchill Falls airport; delivering fibre-optic connectivity for Happy Valley-Goose Bay, North West River, and Sheshatshiu.

And also improvements [need] to be carried out on highway 520. That’s the road that connects from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to North West River and Sheshatshiu. And that would include civil works and sanding the road. And then somehow upgrading infrastructure for roads, wastewater, sewer, and water facilities. So that’s my platform.

Amy Norman (NDP)

So Lake Melville’s a really, really interesting district. The demographics are so different— roughly half of the population is Indigenous and we have five different communities here. Happy Valley-Goose Bay being the biggest, but there’s also Sheshatshiu, the Innu First Nation, North West River, Mud Lake, and Churchill Falls, which is a couple hundred kilometres away but it’s still in our district.

It’s pretty varied, we have a combination. Churchill Falls being the workers’ town associated with hydro. And you have these other communities that have existed for hundreds of years and have long-standing ties to the Inuit families. And you have Sheshatshiu, the First Nation. So it’s really really varied.

Not only that, but the history of Goose Bay is interesting because it started initially as an American military base. And then it was a site of low-level flying, so we had allies from around five different countries here. 

When I grew up here there were people from all over the world who called Goose Bay home. And you still see that in the large immigrant population. The Filipino community here in Goose Bay is really active and involved—they have their own sports league, they had a really lovely documentary made about them. So it’s so varied, the people who live here. I always really loved how multicultural, in every sense of the word, this place was. It’s a really interesting district. 

In terms of the needs of the district, we have a lot of unique challenges just from the geography of being so separate from the island part of the province. 

I think primarily the needs of the district, at least what I’m hearing from folks, largely are centred on healthcare and healthcare delivery. We have a lot of issues in terms of accessing care, accessing good quality physicians, getting appointments and that sort of thing. So talking about the needs of constituents here, it’s unique but healthcare seems to be the big one. 

Shannon Tobin (Progressive Conservative)

Well, my district is very diverse. One of the things I’ve been telling people is that everybody who comes to Lake Melville has come here for some form of opportunity—whether it’s historical or through some other avenue. My grandfather came here to work on the American base. My father came to work as part of Linerboard [forestry]. And I think a lot of people have come here since for various reasons.

But there’s also a significant Indigenous population—both Inuit and Innu. I’ve been able to work with the Innu for the last five years through the Innu Band Council [where I’ve been] working directly with the Chief. 

So there’s a lot of diverse populations in our district with a lot of diverse issues and concerns. And one goal I have as MHA for Lake Melville is to bring all these groups together.

Given the federal government’s push for clean energy through the proposed Atlantic Loop and the possibility of further hydroelectric development through the Gull Island Project, what is your view on the future of natural resource development in Labrador?

Perry Trimper (Independent)

Well this is an issue that I certainly have a lot of experience in. I formerly worked for 30 years as an environmental scientist looking at environmental effects of various resource development projects going back to the 1980s. So I’m very familiar with more appropriate ways to develop our resources and some of the mistakes that have been made in the past.

In politics I’ve been pleased to serve as the minister responsible for climate change and the parliamentary secretary advising the Premier on issues around climate change. So you will find me quite preoccupied with important issues, and climate change is one of the three or four big crises affecting this province. And I really feel we need to focus on it in all our decision making.

In terms of addressing natural resource development—I’m in support of it, but it has to be done in [the right] way. People talk about sustainability; there’s a decision-making matrix. Carolyn Bennett—she’s a good friend of mine and a federal minister on Indigenous affairs—she told me once, and it’s stuck with me, but she thinks it’s really appropriate when we’re talking about resource development, or any kind of decision making, that we should be thinking seven generations out. And she told me that she had heard this once in a consultation with one of the First Nations people of the country. 

And I like that idea, because I think it’s a very appropriate way to define sustainability— something that could perpetuate into the future and not affect it. In other words, you really need to think much longer than some of the decision making that has gone on in the past. 

So I like this concept of thinking about our resources, thinking about our people, and decisions, and again thinking seven generations out.

Andrew Abbass (Independent)

Well I’m a big proponent of natural resource development, but I think it should be done in an environmentally friendly way that also respects the adjacency principle. It shouldn’t be that you go into the place and take what you need, and leave the people there poor and penniless. So it really should be done in consultation with the Indigenous groups in the region because a lot of this is in the Lands Claim area. 

But I think the provincial government is not necessarily on their side. They create an extra party in their negotiations that I’m not sure should really exist. If you look at how the Yukon handled their Land Claims issues, and how they moved forward—in the territory, not a province—they managed to, amongst all the various tribes and families that were there, hammer out some pretty strong self-governance. And they’re considered a model for the rest of Canada. 

Now, Labrador, geographically we’re very similar to the Yukon. We don’t have the same density of population, like we don’t have the same number of Indigenous groups here, but they’re still here, they still have a claim to the land. But they don’t have the same degree of self-governance that you see in the Yukon. And I think the reason for that is because Labrador is part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and not a territory. So anytime there’s a negotiation to take place, it’s not just between the Indigenous [groups] and the federal government, they also have to negotiate with the Newfoundland government that’s trying to claim that same territory. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a benefit for any concept like reconciliation [for the Newfoundland government] to be an anchor around these people.

Michelle Baikie (Liberal)

Well I support it [as long as] it is sustainable and provides socio-economic benefits for all residents of this area.

Amy Norman (NDP)

So I have always been very involved with the Labrador Land Protectors and fighting against the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. I’ve always stood against that project, and I am also against the development of Gull Island.

I don’t think it makes sense for us as a province. I think there are too many negative impacts from these mega dams. So we’re talking about methylmercury contamination, we’re also talking about geotechnical issues. Because the riverbanks that these dams are being built on, or being proposed to be built on, they’re made of what’s called marine clay or quick clay, so there’s issues there.

There are also the environmental impacts of hydro dams largely—they’re often greenwashed, they produce way more methane than anticipated. So all in all, I have always been against Muskrat Falls. I will always stand against Gull Island. I don’t think we need it. We don’t even have buyers for the majority of the power from Muskrat Falls yet, so I don’t see why we would even consider building a whole entire new dam that’s even larger. [And that’s] on top of all the other concerns I have around those dams.

So in terms of the future of natural resources in Labrador, I would say the biggest thing for me is that Labradorians, and especially the different Indigenous nations up here, must give free, prior, and informed consent to any natural resource development that happens. 

It was an issue with Muskrat Falls, because we know that the Innu Nation consented to the project, but then Nunatsiavut did not, and Nunatukavut did not. And that’s a big problem because the impacts of these dams don’t just stop at the mouth of the river, like Nalcor studies claim. They actually do impact communities in Nunatsiavut. 

So I think the big priority for any future projects, any proposed projects, has to be free, prior, and informed consent for all nations. And all Labradorians broadly. 

Shannon Tobin (Progressive Conservative)

My first reaction when you say natural resources is that there’s a lot of opportunity here to be tapped into—in Lake Melville as well as throughout Labrador. One of the things I’ve been proud of, especially with the new move towards clean energy, is that through my role with the Chief’s office we’ve pursued initiatives related to that. Such as a greenhouse, and also looking at alternative energy so that we can get in on the ground floor of a developing industry. Especially here in Lake Melville.

I think that we need to respect our natural resource development, but we also need to diversify. There are a lot of things that we need up here in Lake Melville as well as in the rest of Labrador. We need connection, we need infrastructure, we need routes, and those investments need to be made along with looking at accessing any natural resources. A lot of people are up here looking for jobs in various fields. And I think that by having the right focus we can tap into that potential and we can become an even greater economy. I keep looking at diversification as [I have been] for many years.

How will you address climate change in your work as an MHA?

Perry Trimper (Independent)

Well I’ve already been at it. As the Minister responsible [for climate change] I brought in our first ever climate change bill, Bill 34. And it was on the control of industrial emission of greenhouse gas emissions. So I’m very proud of that—it was not an easy exercise. 

I’m watching people like Greta Thunberg and others really promote the awareness and seriousness of what is happening around us. While we’re preoccupied with a global pandemic, we also have to note that our climate is changing dramatically. So it really is important that whoever is advocating that they first of all understand what’s happening, and that they’re able to communicate that in a way that people understand and appreciate.

I feel my science background [helps], and I believe I’m a good communicator—both have helped me explain, and get support for, passing legislation like that first bill that I talked about.

There are also some interesting developments happening with the Harris Centre that I’d like to mention. I was helping them through the fall get established. I feel this is going to be a really interesting exercise for us over the next two years—to watch their efforts unfold in terms of looking at climate change, the economy, and society. There are a series of workshops and interactions that will be providing guidance for government and on decision making. So I look forward to continuing to work closely with them. 

Andrew Abbass (Independent)

So I’ve actually been doing a lot of research on climate change. I’m a big proponent of using chitin as a means of combating climate change. Chitin is a structural component in mushrooms and insects, and fish scales and shellfish shells or carapace. Now, when plants are exposed to this compound—and it can be processed and made into a liquid form you can spray on plants—it makes them think that they’re infested with insects or infested with fungus. And that turns on an increased growth rate and it makes them hardier, stronger plants that are trying to outpace an infestation that’s not actually there.

So, in terms of how I see that playing into the system, is that right now we’re throwing our chitin resources back into the ocean. When Newfoundland processes shellfish, we don’t tend to do anything with the chitin that’s left over, we just chuck it, it goes into the landfill or back into the ocean. And that’s basically gold, in my view, for climate change being tossed into the ocean.

We could be taking this and we could be spraying it—it’s a completely organic substance, it doesn’t have any sort of toxic side effects in smaller doses. Some people might have an asthma response, I know people who work in shellfish industries who are exposed to it frequently have an inflammation response. The body’s basically seeing it as a fungal or insect infestation in the body and that produces that kind of inflammation in the lungs. 

But if you were to spray in a low concentration over, say, a boreal forest, you’d increase the growth rate, cause blooming if you did it at the right time of the year which would generate a new generation of trees. You might see a lot of carbon dioxide being locked up in our forests in a cost effective way—one that doesn’t require you to go and set up factories everywhere. You just try to amplify a natural process and lock up as much of it as you can. 

Nations like Canada and Russia, because of their access to boreal forests, would be prime candidates for engaging in that kind of organic geoengineering. It’s a very non-invasive process, it’s not going to wipe out the insects that are in the region or adversely affect the food chain, it’s just going to trigger tree growth. One side effect might be that it could dampen down insect infestations that would be attacking the forests—there’s a lot of research that has gone into using this as a means to combat insect infestations like spruce budworm, things like that.

And using this instead of pesticides every time you were worried about an outbreak, the trees would be selectively strengthening themselves against the infestation. So the infestation wouldn’t be able to take hold. But at the same time you’re not poisoning the birds that are out trying to eat those bugs as a source of food.

So it’s a more holistic approach to managing things like insect infestations in forests and trying to increase the growth and development of the forestry resources we have. 

Michelle Baikie (Liberal)

Well, climate change is definitely real. And I will work with the province and the federal government to promote energy in the modern day—we need to make things happen. And we need to move forward to keep clean energy, definitely.

Amy Norman (NDP)

That’s a great question, and one I feel passionately about. I think we need to really look at seriously transitioning away from oil and gas as soon as we possibly can. 

We are seeing the impacts of climate change up here in Labrador—this is the mildest January on record for pretty much every community up here. [There have been] record amounts of snow here in Goose Bay because with warmer weather that brings more snow [to colder regions due to increased moisture content in warmer air].

So up here we’re already seeing the impacts of climate change. The sea ice on the coast is not stable—people aren’t able to go hunting, to go fishing, to get out on the land. So we are being disproportionately impacted by climate change, and I do think it’s important for Labradorians to really start thinking about what we can do to address it.

And as MHA, for me part of that’s going to be advocating to move away from oil and gas. We need to lessen our dependence on oil and gas. By not subsidizing the industry like we have been we would save millions. 

Because the reality is that it’s being phased out. Whether folks like it or not, that’s the way the world is moving. And we need to respond to that. And we need to transition away from oil and gas as quickly as we can while not forgetting the folks that work in that industry. But there’s so many ways that we can help them through that. That’s why we think of the whole transition period. 

But for me, that’s my big priority in terms of climate change. We really have to look at other options. There’s so much we can do in this province that’s not oil and gas. We just need to have a bit of political will and a bit of motivation to do it. And I think it’s going to take courage, and it’s going to be a bit scary for folks to think about, but I’m willing to step up to that challenge and a lot of folks up here in Labrador are too. We’re seeing the advance of climate change on a daily basis and we recognize that something has to be done.

Shannon Tobin (Progressive Conservative)

As I’ve already mentioned, one of the projects that I was proud to take the lead on was our alternative energy initiative. When I was discussing it with the Chief at the time, it was something that we saw potential in and we decided to go forward with it to see exactly how much potential we could have by pursuing wind and solar generation.

We ended up making proposals where we were talking about carbon neutral and net zero. And I think that we were one of the first ones to start discussing that. 

I’m all about balancing the chequebook and I think there’s a lot of opportunity to reimagine our economy [and bring it] closer to one that’s more environmentally-friendly. 

I love the bright blue skies here, and I love breathing the clean air, and I think we need to continue to pursue these initiatives and the green economy. We need to do whatever it is to move forward with these things. 

Your question is what am I going to do—it’s not up to one MHA to pursue everything. But the one thing I have been promising everybody at the door is that I’ll work hard for you and your family each and every day. I’ve also been saying how I’m not going to be an MHA who’s just in his office—I’m going to be out in the community. My goal is to regularly meet with every group that I can. Whoever has opportunities here, I want to sit down, meet with them, and see how I can assist them. 

I know there are people who want to see us doing things with regards to global warming and I look forward to working with them and assisting them. And finding them the initiatives, funding, and projects that will help them move forward with these things. It’s something that’s important to me as I’ve already noted. But it’s something that I’m very much engaged with, and plan to be engaged with as the MHA for Lake Melville.

How will you support the well-being of your district’s most at-risk and low-income residents?

Perry Trimper (Independent)

So much of what goes on with the people that are struggling, there are many other issues there related to mental health, addictions. And I can tell you that I can point to some seven different initiatives that I’ve been a part and/or led, or just supported as they’ve come along in the last five years that I feel have made great progress. We still, however, have much to do. 

One area that I’m most excited about is, of course, for the first time since the mid-1800s, we finally have a six bed mental health facility being attached to our Labrador health centre. I feel this is going to go a long way to providing physical support for people dealing with addictions and mental health issues. So I’m looking forward to that and seeing the wraparound services that need to come. 

But even just during the last few days of this campaign, in talking to people and their families—there’s no question that there are gaps that still remain.

I was just speaking recently with CHANNAL [mental health service], and they’ve just had a representative establish herself here. I’ve been talking to her recently. I feel that we could probably benefit from having a roundtable dealing [with] and listening to families who talk about their stories, and some of their suggestions, and some of the gaps that they are experiencing. I think that’s a great part of it.

I feel that in terms of helping people who are homeless, who are, we use the term transient here in this community, I think there needs to be a bit of coordination. We have several entities and agencies who are all contributing, but there needs to be a bit more of a central focus. I’m aware of one organization that’s willing to take that on, and I’ve been working with them since they started. I certainly have been working with them for quite a while and hoping that it will come to fruition.

But we’ve got a lot of different groups, and I feel we need to get them together. Each is doing a piece, they’ve got their own niche, but there are people falling through those cracks.

Andrew Abbass (Independent)

Well I’m probably in that group at the moment. I fell just outside of CERB qualification so unfortunately I’ve been relying on income supports to be able to pay for my medication needs. I’m a single father, my son’s only starting kindergarten now but even then I’ve got to be at the bus to meet him everyday at 3 p.m.

But I think it’s a really important issue for this region—the wealth disparity that exists, the homelessness that exists. And as far as I know it’s only recently that we’ve moved to a full day service for homeless people so they’re not just cast out into the cold. There needs to be an investment in housing, there needs to be an increase in the availability of housing. As I said, following Muskrat housing prices went through the roof. And that hasn’t returned to normal yet.

So that needs to be addressed. The ability to transition people from a low-income, or no income, or homeless situation into good housing so they can get their lives back on track. So they can begin looking for work or return to school or do whatever they need to do to get their lives moving forward. But without that assistance, without that basic help, you’re just creating this cycle where people are at the homeless shelter everyday—and I know, I’ve spoken to some of these people. We’re not taking action, we’re not trying to help people who are in the situation. We’re just creating a system that allows it to become perpetual.

Michelle Baikie (Liberal)

I will work with all stakeholders to address the real issues and concerns related to income, food, and housing security. That will be my area of focus.

Amy Norman (NDP)

I think there are a lot of ways we can support our most at-risk and low-income residents. For me that means advocating for a living wage. The NDP support the $15 and fairness campaign which is the campaign to get a minimum wage of $15 an hour. 

I think, personally, that could even go farther. I don’t know that $15 is a living wage up here in Labrador because of the cost of goods and just the overall expenses of life up north. [We should be] just looking at raising that minimum wage so people can actually afford to live. Looking at costs of housing because, you know, I have friends who can’t afford an apartment on their own. The rent up here is just astronomical. 

So looking at the cost of housing, raising the minimum wage, and just improving the services overall—improving healthcare, giving access to dental care, that sort of thing. That will improve the lives of everyone, but especially those most marginalized.

Shannon Tobin (Progressive Conservative)

So you mentioned at-risk and low-income—I think those definitions end up being a broad classification. One of the things with our at-risk population that I’ve been looking at, and discussing with people who are in those situations, is that they’ve fallen through the cracks. And they haven’t seen a pathway back. 

A lot of the time, we need to work from a compassionate standpoint [when] dealing with a lot of issues that many of these individuals have.

I’ve found out through working with initiatives up here, through the Band, and also my past work with the previous MHA, by working directly with the Mokami Status of Women and listening to concerns from Libra House as well—is that a lot of individuals just need to be given that compassion, that direction, and that help. 

So establishing outreach is a very huge concern, and is the way that you help them get their pathway back. I want to assist in every way possible to help our at-risk population, because I found out things like when someone’s homeless, they’re not able to access income support if they don’t have an address or a post-office box. We need to find programs that are going to help them get over that gap, and they need that support.

So that’s one avenue. But when it comes to specifically low-income, which is why I say it’s broad, we have a lot of people up here who are on fixed incomes. They’re having to make ends meet. And one of the big issues here is the difference in costs to other regions of the province. You can buy a lot less up here for $100 than you can buy in St. John’s. And there’s no public transportation, things like that. 

So I’ve also been chair of Melville Native Housing, and I know what services are lacking here. Sometimes you talk to people from other places and they say “oh, you just do this,” and you’re just like: that doesn’t work here in Lake Melville. 

It’s a concern that is there for me, it’s something that I’ve worked on and I will continue to work on—making sure that we have a more inclusive community. Finding ways that we can assist and bring down the cost of living here through groceries as well as supporting our food banks.

I think we have a great community here and I want to make it as inclusive as possible. And I will continue to advocate for initiatives that will help make it easier for those who are at-risk and those who are low-income. 

Do you support raising the minimum wage to $15/hour?

Perry Trimper (Independent)

What I do support is that there’s no reason why somebody who’s working full time shouldn’t have sufficient economic resources to take care of themselves, to properly support their family, and so on.

So whether it’s in raising the minimum wage, whether it’s in providing additional support—I’m not sure. But what I can tell you is that Marion Pardy, who is the former head of the United Church in St. John’s, I’ve been working with her. And she reached out to me recently on this—we’ve known each other for some 30 years—but she’s talking about putting a poverty lens on decision-making. 

So that any decision made by government at any level should really be thinking about what are the implications of this? Am I, by doing this, going to further put pressure on people so that they will be continuing to struggle? That’s the last thing that we want to see happen.

Ben Michel told me one time—he was a former leader of Innu Nation—he said he was always concerned about the people being left behind. And I’ve never forgotten those words, and I use them often. I feel that’s really what we’re talking about.

So if it’s a minimum wage? I’m all for it. If it’s other supports? Again, I’m all for it. I will say I’m not sure that any one of these suggestions is going to do it, but I do know that at the end of the day [if] somebody’s working full-time and they’re still struggling, that’s a problem.

Andrew Abbass (Independent)

Yes, and I think it should go beyond that. I’m more inclined to think that we need to increase the corporate taxation on our multinationals. We need to look at subsidizing our small businesses to make sure they can make that minimum wage. And, at the same time, to make it a living wage we need to be talking about a guaranteed minimum income.

So you can’t have a topic about minimum wage—like, you’re saying this is the minimum wage the business should be required to pay—without saying it’s not enough to live by. So now we need to look at topping that up to a living wage through some sort of guaranteed minimum income program. 

So I agree with a minimum wage, but I don’t want to put the burden for a living wage, which is what’s really needed, solely on the backs of businesses. I think there’s a requirement from government to really step in and look at how much money they’re sending to these multinational corporations. And how much they’re allowing them to just take out of the province through tax loopholes. And really start closing that and making sure the money stays within the province.

Michelle Baikie (Liberal)

I do, but the government needs to set aside incentives for small businesses so they are not negatively impacted. So I really believe there has to be a balance in there to ensure that small businesses get their support as well from the government.

Amy Norman (NDP)


Shannon Tobin (Progressive Conservative)

I think when we talk about these questions we’ve always got to find balance. I know how [raising the minimum wage] it affects our economy and how it affects employers, and I know the benefits for the individuals who access minimum wage. I think we need to seriously look at how we best help individuals and help employers, especially when we discuss wages.

I know my father was a small business owner, and he would have to adjust his prices when there was an increase in the minimum wage. I’m supportive of it in a way. But I’m also wanting to work so that we can make a more inclusive economy that has benefits for all sides.

How will you work towards reconciliation in your role as an MHA?

Perry Trimper (Independent)

I came to Labrador in 1987, and started working on environmental assessments. And sometimes I found myself on the other side of the position taken by Indigenous groups. I was very proud when I started working closely with first the Innu and then the Inuit in Labrador, and their organizations. So I started to help them set up companies that had strong directives, strong objectives in terms of employment and training for members of their organizations and their governments. 

I feel that the moves that need to be made here, they’re not quick and they’re not easy. They’re going to take a long time. But if you’re committed to reconciliation and you look at this over the long term, you’re going to run into bumps. You’re going to run into situations where you’ve got to step back and reorganize. But you need to remain committed, and get back on the rails. 

Continuing with your commitments and your conviction is really the most important [part]. 

And that has been my priority. I came to Labrador in ‘87, I’m very proud of the work I’ve done, and I look forward to continuing in that vein. 

Andrew Abbass (Independent)

One of the first things I would like to see is greater empowerment of the Indigenous people in the region and across Canada. 

I think what happened with Julie Payette gives us an opportunity to really think about that. The Governor General, when they’re serving in office [in their representative capacity as ‘head of state’], they technically own the apparatus of the country. And I think now would be a good time to start talking about, well, maybe we should be bringing other people to the table to make that decision as to who gets to be in charge of that apparatus. [We should be] bringing Indigenous groups to the table instead of saying ‘who should we pick to be the next Governor General?’—allowing them to nominate their own people or be part of the decision making process in choosing one.

Because, again, you’re looking at that conflict issue if the government is in conflict on something. Say, here in Labrador where you’re talking about the Innu and the Innu children in care. I mean, really, according to international law, the forcible transfer of children from one population group to another is considered an act of genocide. Now, our Prime Minister’s already acknowledged there’s a cultural genocide—the Truth and Reconciliation Commision came out and said, yes, this is a genocide.

But I kind of feel like our provincial government is in a conflict position where they don’t want to acknowledge that their actions, right now, in regards to the Innu and Inuit children in care, are genocidal. It might seem banal, and that they’re just trying to help. But the way that they’re helping is really attacking the foundation of their culture. You’re taking their children away—these are the people they’re supposed to be teaching their values and teaching how to become the next generation of these people. And they’re being raised by white families because it’s just not cost effective to try to set up a system for them in Labrador. 

They [aren’t] empowered to make their own decisions. You’ve got government coming in and telling them how to fix their problems, just like they created them in the first place—it’s not the right way to do this. 

They need to feel in control of their own destinies, not ‘we’ve got to beg and plead for just funding, housing, anything.’ It needs to be them making the decisions. 

Michelle Baikie (Liberal)

Well, I would build relations between non-Indigenous and Indigenous communities. I am Indigenous myself, I’m a Nunatsiavut member. And I would like to see more cultural awareness in the education area, from K-12. And also more cultural awareness in other areas, where individuals can help them understand others who are of their culture and their background. 

And I will strive to bridge the gap to build unity—that is my goal. 

Amy Norman (NDP)

That’s a really important question. I think for far too long reconciliation has been too much about nice words and rhetoric and statues, and things like that that are more like window dressing—it’s not going to materially change the lives of Indigenous people. So, for me, reconciliation would be more about actually having constant dialogue with all the different Indigenous groups, the Indigenous nations up here to work towards making Indigenous people’s lives better.

I think the best way to move forward is to just be open and honest and to help each other out. I think we need to move away from nice words and commemorative statues, and more towards actual listening, actual healing, what can be done to improve lives. And I think that will go a long way. 

Shannon Tobin (Progressive Conservative)

Anytime we discuss issues of reconciliation and what is an individual going to do, I always kind of revert back to saying, that’s not up to the MHA or the government about how we pursue reconciliation with Indigenous groups.

I believe that it’s up to the Indigenous groups to advise us exactly how we pursue reconciliation. I believe it’s an ongoing dialogue [and requires] listening, and developing an ongoing relationship of understanding and caring. 

I have experience working with Sheshatshiu Innu First Nations. I’ve seen gaps in services and programming, and how difficult it is to get momentum when looking at pursuing government initiatives and things that are going to benefit the people of Indigenous communities. 

It’s an ongoing dialogue. It’s making sure to be free and open to meet, and just a matter of listening. And that’s where I put my focal point. I place to continually meet with all groups and continue to develop relationships that I’ve already built. I plan on showing up at events, I plan on continuing to create relationships that will benefit communities and help them develop a better relationship with me and hopefully with the government as well.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

UPDATE: 1:50 P.M. 8 Feburary 2021: An earlier version of this story stated that Perry Trimper was removed from Cabinet in 2019. In actual fact, Trimper resigned from his position. The Independent regrets this error.

Photo: Candidates, L-R: Perry Trimper (Ind.), Andrew Abbass (Ind.), Michelle Baikie (Liberal), Amy Norman (NDP), Shannon Tobin (PC).

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