With this past week’s passing of Jacques Parizeau, the former premier and crusader for Quebec independence, there has been not only an outpouring of sympathy, but also of respect for years of public service in the province. Tom Mulcair and even Justin Trudeau, son of the Quebec separatist movement’s arch nemesis, attended the funeral. Many in English Canada have expressed some distaste for all of the praise being heaped on someone who almost caused the breakup of Canada. I don’t disagree with that point of view, but I also know that a not insignificant minority of people in Newfoundland would vote for independence if we were to ever have a referendum (and $100 oil). I’ve known and respected many people who hold these views over the years and I would probably go to their funerals and say nice things about them as well.
No doubt some people reading this will be quick to point out that I used the old name of our province instead of our current, more inclusive name of Newfoundland and Labrador. I didn’t. I was referring to the island, not the province. Though there are separatists in Labrador, they don’t want to separate from Canada; they want to separate from Newfoundland.
One of my most interesting experiences during my short stint working in Goose Bay was learning how Newfoundland was the source of all of Labrador’s problems, and the solution to all those problems would be to separate from Newfoundland and keep all of their resources for themselves. I learned that Labrador forests were being pillaged to feed the paper mill in Corner Brook. A separate territory of Labrador could keep its wood for its own sawmills and live comfortably off nickel royalties and electricity sales for generations to come. What was particularly odd was that these arguments were being made by people who were either born on the island, or were children of people born on the island. The natives that I meet had no interest in Labrador becoming a territory; they were focused on their own land claims and self-government issues.
What was striking is that I had grown up hearing how I was the aggrieved one. Ottawa was the oppressor who was reaping the benefits of our natural resources and selling off our fish to foreign governments to help sell prairie wheat. It was an odd feeling to find myself being looked at as the one doing the oppressing. I would recommend that anyone who would like to separate from Canada, or at least thinks Canada is the source of all our problems, should probably take a trip to Labrador this summer. You may come back with a new perspective on separatism.