Monday, 6 November 2017

The Race Is On

The Race is on

By: Ryan Young

The writ has officially been dropped and the by-election to replace Steve Kent’s vacant seat in the House of Assembly for the district of Mount Pearl North will be held on November 21st. Traditionally, by-elections do not experience large voter turnouts, but they are often a good measure of how the current government is performing and perceived among the people. It should be an interesting election to watch.

The Liberal’s badly wanting to win this seat. With the massive drop in public support since the last general election, Dwight and his crew are going into panic mode and are already trying to prep for the next election in 2019. Real estate mogul Jim Burton is the Liberal nominee, and the party has put its full weight behind his candidacy, with the premier and federal cabinet ministers joining him at the doors. Burton is well known in the region as a successful businessman who gives a lot back to the community, but he does not live in the district and may find himself hard-pressed to find support as a candidate representing a weak government. Still, his name recognition and community involvement may see him carry enough of the vote to win the seat for the Liberal’s.

Jim Lester is the PC nominee. Lester ran in the 2015 general election and narrowly lost to Paul Lane who was then a member of the Liberal’s. He is well known in the region, but he does not reside in the district and recent media attention regarding a possible attempt to run as a Liberal may hurt his credibility. All the same, Lester is a familiar face and may be able to pick up the seat based on dissatisfaction with the current governing party. The distract now known as Mount Pearl North has traditionally been a Tory stronghold, with the PC’s holding the seat for all but 5 years since 1975. Lester may be able to ride his way into Confederation Building based on the strong PC support in the district.

The NDP have also fielded a very credible candidate. Nicole Kiely is originally from the distract, and has a long track record of non-profit work and community involvement. She has been committed to speaking to the issues and has been receiving strong support in Mount Pearl North despite the current apathy in the polls towards the NDP. I would not have bet much on Kiely’s hopes originally, but she is establishing herself as a formidable opponent in the race who may have the potential to pull off a big upset.

There is also an independent candidate who has thrown his hat into the ring. Hudson Stratton, a small business owner and family man has decided to run as an independent. While Stratton stresses that he is not trying to make a political statement by running as an independent, he also acknowledges that he is doing so because he no longer believes in the party first political structure that we have in this province. While independent candidate traditionally has a hard time finding support in NL, Stratton may be able to take advantage of a dissatisfied electorate and make a big splash. Even if he does not win, if he can pick up a significant portion of the vote, it will send a strong message to the 3 existing parties that people are ready for real change.

I think the PC’s are still the favourites to win this by-election, but with the negative media attention surrounding Jim Lester, the race is still wide open. All four candidates have a legitimate chance of picking up a significant share of the vote, and depending on the turnout, we could be in for a big surprise. It will be very interesting to see how the people of Mount Pearl North cast their votes and if they are ready to rock the boat or stick with the status quo. If you live in Mount Pearl North, make sure to have your voice heard by voting in this by-election.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Big Changes at St. John’s City Hall

Big Changes at St. John’s City Hall

By: Ryan Young

Yesterday was municipal election day in Newfoundland & Labrador. While perceived by many to be a dull affair, this year’s elections were anything but routine. I truly believe that our municipal elections are the only real example of democracy that exists in Canada today. At both the provincial and federal levels the game is ruled by party partisanship and access to donations, but in the municipal world, the politics are about as pure as you can get. Sure, there are many self-serving people that run for council, but at the end of the day the voters have all the say and democracy is served, for better or for worse.

The St. John’s race was particularly interesting for this bayman, who was participating in his first “townie” election after a very turbulent couple of years municipal politics. A very diverse set of candidates put themselves forward and nobody could predict the way things would go. Danny Breen beat out former mayor Andy Wells and newcomer Renee Sharpe for the Mayor’s chair with a fair majority from the 56% overall turnout. Breen, the former Ward 1 councillor, was expected to win, but at the end of the night he was one of the few “old guard” councillors that earned a return ticket to the chambers at city hall.

While Breen has been criticized at times for having close ties to the provincial PC party, and supporting Muskrat Falls, his experience and business connections made him the safe choice for mayor when compared to his opponents who each represented perceived extremes on the political spectrum. Many people I spoke with during the campaign felt that Andy Wells would emerge victorious, but in the end, the people of St. John’s decided that it was time for Andy to fade back into the shadows and handed the crown to Breen. Renee Sharpe finished third in the race, but I doubt we have seen the last of her. Sharpe’s campaign resonated with many voters who were fed up with the status quo, and she proved herself to be a smart and formidable candidate who should have a bright future ahead of her in politics at some level. The outcome may have been predictable, but the campaign was anything but. Some great ideas were put on the table that I hope the new council will embrace, moving forward.

With the rest of council, the people of St. John’s decided the city needed a new direction. That was evident in the results on Tuesday night. Former Ward 4 councillor, Sheilagh O’Leary won the race for Deputy Mayor, and only Ward 5 returned an incumbent councillor with Wally Collins emerging as the victor. Deanne Stapleton, Hope Jamieson, Jamie Korab, and Ian Froude were elected to council for the first time, in wards 1, 2, 3, & 4, respectively, representing a major shift in the local political landscape in the capital city.

The closest race was for the Councillors-At-Large. With 12 candidates vying for 4 seats, it was a close race that saw 3 incumbent councillors go down in defeat. The top vote getter was newcomer Maggie Burton, followed by Dave Lane, Sandy Hickman, & Debbie Hanlon, respectively. The loss of so many incumbent councillors really highlights the number of people in the city who believe that it is time for a change at city hall. The pressure now falls on those who were elected to live up to those expectations and shift the political compass of the city in a new direction.

5 women and 5 men were elected to council, (not including the mayor) with 5 new faces and the majority of elected candidates under the age of 35. Many of the new councillors have talked about making St. John’s a more progressive place to live, and it looks like the city could be in for some big changes in the way things are done. The people expressed their obvious displeasure with the actions of the old council in the best way they could, and they proved that democracy can work if enough people want change.

There were many great races across the province and I would like to congratulate everybody who participated in this year’s elections, either as a candidate, a volunteer, or a voter. Democracy can only work if people participate, and the only way to engage people is to offer them an opportunity for change and a belief that change can happen if they are willing to step outside of the box and consider a new way of thinking (and voting).

Many people think that democracy in this province is broken, and on many levels, that view is hard to argue with. But when it comes to the municipal elections, the effort put forth across the entire province yesterday just goes to show what can be accomplished when regular people become informed and engaged in local politics. It was a great election year, and I can only hope we will see the same kind of spirit and engagement when the next provincial elections come around in 2019 (or sooner).

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Deceit or Incompetence?

Deceit or Incompetence?

By: Ryan Young

Last week I listened closely to Finance Minister, Tom Osborne, during a call with Paddy Daly on the VOCM Open Line show. Mr. Osborne spoke at length about how his government was ready to play hardball with Nalcor, and extricate answers about the project's finances from the board and/or CEO Stan Marshall. At certain points during the conversation, the new minister sounded quite a bit like the old minister, and the tough talk that she had for Nalcor on Budget day 2016. We have heard plenty of tough talk since the Liberals took office in late 2015, but what do we really have to show for it, and what has changed?

More and more people are waking up to the monumental mismanagement and possible corruption afoot within the Muskrat Falls project. Our government, on the other hand, seems to be working as hard as ever to misdirect the public and ensure that the project is finished without the taxpayers ever knowing what really happened to all of that money. The Liberal’s are happy to keep themselves hitched to the “previous administration” bandwagon, feigning ignorance and blaming the old government for everything wrong with the project. Unfortunately, nobody on team red seems to realize that by playing dumb, they are leading the public to believe that they are really as incompetent as the opposition says they are.

The most telling part of Minister Osborne’s VOCM conversation was when he told Mr. Daly that he was in the presence of the premier when he learned about the massive cost of embedded contractors being used by Nalcor. He claimed the premier was upset about the lack of transparency regarding the use of these contractors, and told us that Ball is committed to a public inquiry on Muskrat Falls. The question he didn’t answer, however, was did the CEO, the Minister of Natural Resources, and/or the Premier know about the extent of the use of these contractors before James McLeod broke the story in The Telegram?

The Liberals have been in power for nearly 2 years. They have brought in a new CEO and Board of Directors for Nalcor, they have claimed to have beefed up government oversight of the project, and they have paid millions of dollars to Ernst and Young to study and report on the finances of Muskrat Falls. They publicly claim that the administration knew nothing about the project management team being made up of 90% contractors or that they had billed Nalcor for $4.6 million hours of work. By telling us that the government was in the dark on this issue proves one of two things. Either our government is directly lying to us about Muskrat Falls or they are so completely incompetent, that in 2 years they have not even managed to identify this glaring issue on their own.

While most people could easily latch-on to the incompetence theory, it is quite unlikely that nobody in the decision-making process was aware of the billing free-for-all that was going on right under their noses. Despite what Ball might be spinning to the public, the issue of embedded contractors seemed to be passing the small test just fine until someone in the media remembered how to do some investigative journalism.

So where does that leave us? Mere hours after the backlash from The Telegram story began to bombard government, Ball announced that a Muskrat Falls inquiry would happen, and that he had reached out to the various departments for help in drafting the terms of reference. While that is great news on the surface, as Uncle Gnarley and others have pointed out, ordering an inquiry before a complete forensic audit of the project is completed is rather like putting the cart before the horse. The other concern many have about a possible inquiry, is that if the leadership group was telling the truth about their lack of knowledge and understanding of the project finances, then how can we trust them to draft terms of reference that will actually reveal the truth about Muskrat Falls?

I’d really like to believe the premier when he says that he and his government are committed to getting to the bottom of the Muskrat money pit, but words are just that, words, and actions speak so much louder. Take for instance the Ball’s concern over the standoff at the Muskrat camp and  the three hunger strikers from Labrador that forced the government's hand last fall. After a marathon meeting with indigenous leaders, a deal was reached in which further mitigation measures were promised. In a letter from the Nunatsiavut government that was released yesterday, President Johannes Lampe made it very clear that after several meetings with government and Nalcor, those promises of additional mitigation measures will not be honored.

Ball stood in front of reporters after the meeting last fall and told the province that the meeting was about one thing, the health of Labradoreans. He also said that going forward, their decisions would be based on science and research and that his government was committed to working with aboriginal leaders and that he was “confident” that they could achieve the goals that were outlined in the agreement.

While a big to-do was made about a chair being appointed and terms of reference drafted for the promised independent expert advisory council (IEAC), it was made very clear from Lampe’s letter that there was never any intention of lowering water levels so that additional mitigation measures could proceed. Indigenous leaders were told during a meeting with the premier and other provincial officials on September 6th that water levels in the reservoir would be raised to 25m this fall, and once they reached that point they would not be lowered again.

Dwight Ball already has a huge credibility problem. He has failed to be honest with the people of this province at every opportunity. Despite their best efforts of getting out in the media and telling people they are going to do something positive, they can’t hide from their record, and the revelations brought forth by Johannes Lampe just further prove that this premier will say anything to ensure that Muskrat Falls goes ahead.

Deceit or pure incompetence? Either way, Ball and his government seem to be willing to throw away every shred of their credibility in order to deliberately mislead the people of this province about Muskrat Falls. The real question is: How long will we, the people, continue to stand for it?

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Politics as Usual

Politics as Usual

By: Ryan Young

When I decided to take a summer hiatus from all things politics, I made the decision because I found I was becoming a very angry person. Every time I checked the news or my social media feed there seemed to be another story revolving around arrogant MHA’s and/or incompetent ministers.  Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I am very far from a naturally angry person, so I decided to take a break to try to find some balance in my life.

The break did wonders for my spirit, but no matter how much I tried to avoid reading, writing, or talking about politics, it was damn near impossible to keep a blind eye to everything that has been happening in our provincial political whirlwind. Oh, to be a sheep…

A lot happened over the summer. So many stories to read and mull over. The biggest story of the summer may have been the cabinet shuffle that was triggered when Cathy Bennett decided that being finance minister was not what she thought it would be. Other than replacing her with former Speaker of the House, Tom Osborne, the shuffle didn’t really do much to encourage the public that things would improve much in her absence. After all, it is still all of the same monkey’s running the same circus.

Tom Osborne may be the only bright spot in the shuffle, promising a tax review and some possible relief to come from the more than 300 additional taxes and fees that his government brought in with their 2016 budget. Many applauded Osborne’s new position within cabinet, but he certainly has his work cut out for him in cleaning up the mess Bennett and Ball have left him.

Gerry Byrne was sworn in as the new fisheries minister and quickly took a hard line in front of the TV cameras, but the fishery is still very much in turmoil, and other than his TV tough talk, Byrne has not delivered anything concrete to convince fish harvesters and processors in this province that there is a future for them in this government’s plans. People want real answers and all Byrne has had to offer is platitudes. He certainly does not seem like the kind of minister that would be willing to go toe-to-toe with his former federal colleague in Ottawa, which unfortunately is exactly what our fishery needs. I wouldn’t expect any major action on the fisheries file unless Uncle Ottawa says so, and that is about as likely as Gerry Byrne speaking up when there are no TV cameras in the room.

Eddie Joyce has managed to allow a complete fiasco to unfold in the town of Witless Bay, where a former councillor was forced to resign from his position on council over fraudulent residency claims, and just a few weeks later was allowed to run again and be acclaimed to the new town council. Joyce assured residents that the issue would be resolved by the fall elections, and has yet to comment on the acclimation of the Witless Bay Town Council and allegations of election fraud being put forth by residents of the community. The town has not had a functioning council in months and one can only assume that the current goings-on will not be beneficial to the town, moving forward.

Dale Kirby has continued to prove that he has no trouble at all in abandoning the oath he swore when he became an MHA and a minister in cabinet. New childcare regulations have sparked the ire of the industry and an ongoing battle of words with school board trustees and concerned parents about the fate of Mobile Central High has put the minister back in the hot seat. Most recently, a post circulated on Facebook that showed a conversation between Kirby and a constituent who was asking legitimate questions about education for hearing impaired students. Kirby’s response was to block her. It really makes you wonder about the quality of our government when the premier offers “total confidence” in a man who would act this way in his position. Kirby has done nothing but create barriers and destroy professional relationships and yet he is still allowed to be in charge of decisions that directly affect our most valuable resource of all, our children. It really makes you scratch your head…

Oh, and then there is ole Dwight himself. The man, the legend. The premier who will probably be remembered as the worst of a very bad lot of grinning shyster’s who managed to play our eternal saviour complex just well enough to land himself in the premier’s chair. Since The Telegram revealed that 4.6 million hours have been billed by embedded contractors working for Nalcor, Ball has hinted for the first time that a Muskrat Falls inquiry could be in the works. The premier says he has reached out for advice on the terms of reference, but very few people that I have spoken with have confidence that the inquiry will have any teeth. The terms of reference need to very broad in scope and the inquiry needs to be run by someone with integrity and who has no connection to the current or previous administration. Likely the only way that will happen is if someone is brought in from outside the province, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for that either.

I could use many more examples, but what is the point? The media either ignores or can’t be bothered to do any real investigative journalism anymore, and we lap it up like fresh kibble after a week-long fast. The only truth that most people ever get to see is the filtered tidbits that they are fed daily, with no real insight into what is actually happening in our province. If the people ever want to see things change, they need to be the catalyst that start that change. Sadly, there seems to be little will outside of a handful of “known critics” and “nay-sayers” to actually drive any sort of meaningful change for our future. It often makes me wonder what it will take before people finally wake up and wonder how we let this happen. My prediction is that it will come for many right around the same time their electricity bills double to pay for Muskrat Falls. In the meantime, It’s all just politics as usual in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Auditing the Truth

Auditing the Truth

By: Ryan Young

It has been a crazy couple of weeks in the world of #nlpoli. This good rogue took to the wilderness for a few days, sans cell phone or internet, and when I returned to civilization I could hardly believe how much I had missed in just a few short days. There has been a lot of information to digest and to ponder, but one thing that seems quite clear is that nobody appears to have any interest in taking any accountability for the problems with Nalcor and Muskrat Falls.

It’s hard to know where to start. We had a new report released on Muskrat Falls that outlines even more cost overruns, now putting the price tag at $12.7 Billion. We also had the premier saying that he will commit to an audit or inquiry of some sort, but not really. Then there was a release of an old SNC Lavelin report from 2013 outlining probable cost overruns that the premier claims the former CEO of Nalcor ignored and that Ed Martin claims he never saw. And finally, we have Danny Williams firing both barrels at the Liberal Government and Nalcor, calling the current CEO, Stan Marshall, a “boondoggle buffoon,” and calling allegations around the SNC report “bullshit.” Through it all we, the taxpayers, are left scratching our heads and wondering just what the hell is going on in this province.

A poll released on June 20th by CRA showed that for the first time, the majority of NL residents were against the Muskrat Falls project. Surprisingly though, 40% of respondents still supported the project but that number will likely drop when hydro rate increases kick in next week. It will dwindle even more when the full impacts of the project begin to hit people in their wallets when/if Muskrat Falls ever comes online. While protests in Labrador continue to grow in size and intensity, there seems to be a new groundswell of dissent happening on the island now as well. People are already wondering how they will make ends meet when their bills double and more than ever we are seeing a push-back from the public at large against the project as a whole.

While there have been no shortage of experts speaking out against the project, it was especially painful to hear former premier Brian Peckford express his dismay that once again, Labrador power would be enjoyed by another province at much lower rates than the people of NL. Emera customers in Nova Scotia will enjoy much lower rates than NL customers for the same power from a project funded entirely from our tax dollars. It is certainly an epic fail of smallwoodian proportions, and Peckford, who spent his entire political career fighting against resource giveaways, can only lament the direction our subsequent premiers have taken us, and wonder how different things might have been if he had been given the same financial resources to work with.

With all of the political pressure and negative press, even the usually slow to catch on Liberals are able to see that the public is no longer willing to buy the platitudes about cheap power and projected revenues from the sale of spot power on the US market. Instead, they have changed their tune and are now talking about things like rate mitigation, while always continuing to point the red finger of blame at those dastardly Tories who got us into this mess. It might even work too if ole Dwight was willing to open things up to a full forensic audit to expose the inner dealings of the sanctioning of the province to satisfy the nagging questions many people have about whether the endless delays and cost overruns are the result of corruption or just pure incompetence. For some reason, the premier seems to see no value in getting to the bottom of things, despite his constant finger wagging. By playing the blame game without utilizing the options available to him to try to make things right, Ball is planting seeds of doubt in the public, leaving them to wonder what the premier might be hiding or who he might be protecting.

I’m not suggesting that the premier is doing anything wrong, but when you fail to be transparent and accountable to the electorate, there tends to be an element of distrust that hangs around like a bad odour. All the premier needs to do to get rid of that Muskrat sized cloud that is hanging over him and his government is to be open and transparent. There is absolutely no good reason not to immediately order a complete forensic audit and Ball’s reasons for dithering are absurd to the point of bordering on pathetic. An audit would in no way compromise the continuation of construction at the site and it would not have any bearing on any future costs or delays. All the premier is trying to do is say enough words to make it look like he intends to do something, without actually saying anything at all that would commit him to taking any sort of real action. With so many questions and allegations hanging over the project the only responsible thing left to do is to order the audit and let the truth speak for itself.

The main narrative that Ball and Siobhan Coady will continue to push is that they will review the project after the fact. The main problems with that are that a) it does nothing to help restore the confidence of the public in the project, and b) it is a very strong possibility that Dwight Ball and his government will no longer be in power by the time the project is completed and therefore will never have the opportunity to order an audit or review. The ideal time for a forensic audit would have been in early 2016, right after the election. Openness and transparency surrounding Muskrat Falls was a major part of the Liberal platform after all. Of course, that didn’t happen, but there is still time for Ball and company to do the right thing and open the project up to the full scrutiny of an independent body. The time has come. C’mon premier Ball, let’s make it happen…

Monday, 12 June 2017

The Federal NDP Leadership Race Comes to St. John’s

The Federal NDP Leadership Race Comes to St. John’s

By: Ryan Young

I decided to take in the federal NDP leadership debate in St. John’s on Sunday in order to see how the competition to decide who will take on Justin Trudeau in 2019 was shaping up. I was expecting a fiery and spirited debate and I was not disappointed.

After the NDP’s historic collapse in 2015, many were left to ponder the future of the federal New Democrats. After winning official opposition status with 103 seats in 2011, Tom Mulcair was unable to capitalize on that momentum and a disappointing campaign saw only 44 NDP MP’s elected to the House of Commons. As a result, Mulcair narrowly lost a leadership review last April, which began the search for a new leader to unite the party, and the electorate.

There are five candidates currently in the running for the leadership and they all took in the capital city this weekend, meeting with people to hear about the concerns of NL voters and to talk about policy. After being shutout in Atlantic Canada in the last election, the NDP are keen to rebuild support “down-east,” and winning back the seats the lost here in this province is a big priority.

There are no real frontrunners in the race at this point but the candidates are beginning to reveal their policy ideas and the debate on Sunday was the most divisive so far among the hopefuls. While they may appear very similar when it comes to policy, there are some distinct differences that will separate them leading up to the vote in September.

Jagmeet Singh, the newcomer to the race, faced some attacks from his fellow candidates as he was questioned on his commitment to the federal party and his failure to commit to a policy on pipelines until he had a chance to consult with voters in Alberta and BC. The Ontario MPP and former lawyer stepped down from his role as Deputy Leader of the Ontario NDP to join the federal leadership race, and he hopes to lead the charge against poverty and inequality. Singh is very popular, and he has the potential to unite the half million Sikh voters in the country, which would be a big boost to NDP fortunes if they wish to form a government. Some have described him as a “Progressive Justin Trudeau.” He is very selfie friendly and talks like a very skilled politician, but he failed to offer much in the way of solid policy ideas. In fairness, he is new to the race and is promising to release his policy platform soon.

Peter Julian also took some heat during the debate about the credibility of his policy ideas. The point was made that Justin Trudeau had many aspirations during the last election, but has failed to deliver on many of his promises. As such, NDP policy should produce promises that are well thought-out and costed. Julian spent most of his time talking about climate change and clean energy jobs and defending his ideas about affordable housing and free post-secondary education. The long-time BC MP has been involved with the party for four decades and is a popular organizer and activist. While Julian certainly has some good ideas, he was not able to demonstrate how he would implement his policies and I don’t think he was able to convince the audience that he really understands the issues that matter to the people of NL.

Niki Ashton is a fierce debater in the House of Commons and she wasted no time in going on the offense on Sunday. She was tough on Singh for his lack of commitment on pipeline policy and criticized Caron’s basic income policy as “not being an NDP idea.” Hailing from Manitoba, Ashton has been one of the most consistent voices in Ottawa when it comes to indigenous issues and precarious work. At 34, she is the youngest candidate, but by the time the next election rolls around she will have already spent a decade as an MP so she certainly can’t be called inexperienced. She seemed to be on the attack for most of the debate on Sunday and made a strong appeal to millennials in the audience to support her vision of a stronger Canada for our youth.

Charlie Angus was the most jovial of all of the candidates at the debate. His casual but direct style is probably the most leader-like of anyone in the group, but at times it seemed like the debate got away from him under tough questions from the other candidates. The long-time Timmins, Ontario MP is an advocate for indigenous rights and is very vocal on the fact that the NDP needs a clear and concise platform to build the support of Canadians leading up to 2019. While cracking a few jokes, Angus asked his colleagues tough questions about how they intend to implement their policy ideas and closed off by telling us that he has our backs.

Guy Caron was probably the most impressive candidate in the debate. The MP from Rimouski, Quebec is an economist, and is running his campaign on a platform of basic income, electoral reform, and tax reform. Caron probably faced the toughest questions of the day, (an indicator that his opponents see him as a threat) but I felt that he held his own very well and was clear in explaining exactly how his policies would work. So far, he is the only candidate to offer a breakdown of what his policies will cost and how he plans to implement them. I was also impressed with the fact that he was the only candidate to talk about what the NDP might demand if they were to hold the balance of power in a possible minority government situation. This earned him criticism as it was suggested that he didn’t think the party could win, but Caron is very much a realist and despite his desire to become Prime Minister, he understands that the NDP may have a different role to play, depending on where the cards fall in 2019.

All in all it was a spirited debate and New Democrats should feel good in knowing that no matter who wins the leadership in September, the party will be represented by a team of leaders who are bringing some exciting policy discussions to the forefront. While there was no clear winner or loser, I felt that Caron made the best remarks about policy, while Angus really drove home the direction the party needs to take if it wants to have success. With three months left to go before the vote, it will be interesting to see what kind of policy ideas come to the table and if the candidates can remain united and respectful or if the race will get uglier as it moves towards its conclusion.

No matter who wins this leadership race, they will have their work cut out for them when it comes to rebuilding party support. During the federal Conservative leadership race, the tories were able to triple their membership and the NDP will need to do the same if they wish to be a real threat to Trudeau's re-election hopes. It will be very interesting to see who party members choose, and the direction they take New Democrats in the lead up to 2019. It's an exciting time for the party and this race will be worth watching in the months to come.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The Strange and Sad Story of Beatrice Hunter

The Strange and Sad Story of Beatrice Hunter

By: Ryan Young

Like many people across Newfoundland and Labrador, I have been following Beatrice Hunter’s story very closely over the last two weeks. For those who may not be aware, Beatrice Hunter is an Inuk grandmother and Land Protector who is presently being held in custody at the penitentiary in St. John’s for refusing to stay away from the Muskrat Falls site.

On May 29th, during a court hearing for Protectors who broke an injunction to stay away from the Muskrat Falls site during Victoria Day Weekend, Judge George Murphy asked Hunter if she would promise to stay away from the protest site. Hunter told the judge she could not make that promise and as a result she was remanded into custody.

The story took another turn on June 2nd when it was learned that Hunter had been transferred to Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s. Since then, there has been a large public outcry at Hunter’s incarceration, including protests at Nalcor headquarters and outside of HMP. In Labrador, fellow Protectors have held vigils and rallied for Beatrice’s release, and there is a large rally planned for Thursday at Colonial Building in St. John’s.

For the government, this has become another case of very bad optics. While most people seem to agree that they should not interfere with the judicial system, the fact that the injunction itself came from Nalcor makes the government responsible for Beatrice Hunter’s incarceration. They had they option of telling Nalcor to back off from the charges against the Protectors but chose not to do so. Now, with Hunter’s defiance, they have painted themselves into a corner that can have no positive political outcome.

I don’t think that Hunter intentionally tried to make a martyr of herself, but in many ways, she has become one. Many people across the province were upset with the treatment of the Land Protectors who were charged for standing up against Nalcor, and when Hunter was transferred to HMP, the cries of colonialism out of Labrador began to grow in volume and urgency. When our justice system takes an indigenous grandmother away from her family and her home for exercising her rights to protest, it leaves many wondering just what our priorities are.

Despite the many socio-political issues at play, we can’t ignore the fact that Beatrice did break the law. No matter how much we may not like the law sometimes, we can’t blame those whose job it is to enforce it. She left the judge little choice when she refused to stay away from the site, and under the law he felt compelled to do something. What that something was, however, is the issue at hand.The discussion should not be whether or not Beatrice should be punished under the law, it should be whether or not the punishment fits the crime. Hunter is a law-abiding citizen who has never been in trouble with the courts before and her only crime was protesting what she believed to be an injustice against her people. It does not seem unreasonable to think that there could have been another solution that could have been explored instead of sending this grandmother to the pen.

The whole situation is very, very sticky. In addition to Beatrice’s direct story, it also touches on issues of overcrowding in our prisons and the differential treatment of protesters on the island vs those in Labrador. I understand the importance of not having the government interfere with the justice system, but at this point it seems inevitable that they will have to act in some capacity. Hunter is due back in court on Friday and if she continues to be held at HMP, the disgruntled murmur from the public will soon turn into an angry roar. There are options, and Andrew Parson’s should be exploring every possibility of how to get Beatrice home. Considering all the talk about truth and reconciliation in this country, we need our leaders to take a stand and ensure that we are doing everything we can to protect the rights of aboriginal women.

In a video released by CBC on June 6th from inside HMP, Hunter expressed the major frustration that she and many other Land Protectors have with Nalcor. A lack of answers to their questions. This highlights the larger issue of the lack of openness and accountability when it comes to the Muskrat Falls project. Despite promising to open the project up to public scrutiny, the Liberal’s have become even more secretive than the previous administration was and are refusing to release any reports from the oversight committee. The message being sent by government via Nalcor to the people of Labrador is don’t ask questions and don’t try to get in our way or you will end up in jail. I don’t think they were betting on the defiance of someone like Beatrice Hunter to turn public opinion against them.

No matter how this story turns out,  irreparable damage has already been done to an already strained relationship between the government and the people of Labrador. The Smallwoodian “develop or perish” attitude seems to be alive and well with the current incarnation of Liberal leaders, and the steamrolling of the Muskrat Falls project without the support of the people living in Labrador will not soon be forgotten. The intimidation of Nalcor will always be seen as the strong arm of government against the people living downstream of mighty Muskrat and the dam will continue to enforce the idea of colonialism that is spreading through the big land like wildfire. There is no political value in having Beatrice Hunter locked up, and the first thing this government needs to do to start repairing the rift is to send her home. The second thing they need to do is start listening to people like Beatrice and start giving them the answers they have been demanding. That doesn't seem like too much to ask for...