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Monday 28 November 2011

The Big Land Dance

Today's Telegram gives a Cheers to Transportation Minister Tom Hedderson for actually visiting Labrador and seeing the Trans-Labrador Highway in person. Well with all respect to their editorial team my standards are a little higher.

I have had the incredible pleasure of living in Labrador West and the pleasure of traveling to most of the communities in Labrador, and the displeasure of driving on almost all the major roads in Labrador. I have yet to drive the new stretch from Cartwright to HVGB but it's on my to-do list. One of the things that I have learned during my time living and traveling in the Big Land is that every complaint that Newfoundland has about Ottawa, Labrador has about St. John's tenfold. And they are generally legitimate complaints.

Where are you again?
While in Labrador City I remember a friend receiving a fax from a Govt office in St. John's that was obviously intended for HVGB. When my friend called to report the mistake the person in St. John's apologized for the error and asked if he could drop it over to HVGB for them instead of sending another fax. Little did the ignoramus realize that there is a 7 hour drive over horrid gravel road between Labrador City and HVGB. It would be like someone in Ottawa asking someone in St. John's to run something over to Halifax for them. That would surely go over well right?    

Our Island Province
You know how Canada doesn't end at Halifax? Well NL is not an island province. Despite how often people keep saying it. Labrador is often left off the name of the province, left off of, or reduced on maps, and generally forgotten or thought of as though it were just another peninsula. It isn't. You can drive from St. Anthony to St. John's in a day. Try that from Nain.

While I was living in Wabush I was surprised by the close relationship between Lab West and the community of Fermont, just across the boarder in Quebec. As a matter of fact there were many who said they felt they had much more in common with Quebec then the Island of Newfoundland. And if you ever want to see the difference between how provincial governments approach their service delivery you should take a trip to Lab West in the winter and then drive over to Fermont. Trust me when I tell you you don't need any signage to tell you when you cross into Quebec. It's very obvious by the disappearance of ice from the road. Oh and they also still paint the lines on small patches of road in the middle of nowhere. Why? Because some people still use the road, and it's their responsibility to maintain it!

On the Road Again
If there were hundreds of kilometers of unpaved roads that carried thousands of people and millions of dollars of product on the Island portion of Newfoundland there would be a riot. If it were near St. John's it would simply never happen. Despite attempts at pilot programs of chip-seal in a couple of locations there is still no hardtop on the Trans-Labrador Highway. Well except for winter when the surface of the highway is literally ice. Not snow, or a mix of snow and gravel. It's just a solid layer of ice.

A typical section of the Trans-Labrador Highway in winter.

But there is some pavement...
In the area of the Labrador Straits there is pavement from the Quebec boarder up as far as Red Bay. The road is in such a state of disrepair that the complaints of residents of unsafe roads was met not with road repairs but a reduced speed limit.

For such an important part of our province Labrador is treated as a colony of Newfoundland. It has always been treated that way and it looks like it isn't about to change anytime soon. When people speak up and complain loud enough so that St. John's can hear they send up a minister, some senior staff and they all to the Big Land Dance. You know that old song and dance of publicly recognizing the "importance" and "uniqueness" of the issues in Labrador, but yet refusing to do anything about it due to the scale and the lack of funding. It's an old routine and we've seen it too many times. A quick visit to see the frozen highway by Minister Hedderson just isn't good enough for the people of Labrador, and The Telegram might want to consider switching that "Cheers" to a "Jeers."

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