© Submitted photo
The five Liberal leadership candidates — Dwight Ball, Cathy Bennett, Danny Dumeresque, Jim Bennett, and Paul Antle — pose with Labrador Liberal MP Yvonne Jones during Wednesday’s open forum in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
The five provincial Liberal Leadership candidates came to Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Sept. 10 to participate in an open forum concerning some the most urgent political issues facing central Labrador.
During the forum — which was hosted by the Labrador North Chamber of Commerce — candidates Dwight Ball, Paul Antle, Cathy Bennett, Jim Bennett, and Danny Dumaresque answered questions from the crowd about five Labrador topics, including Muskrat Falls, transportation, affordable Housing, 5 Wing Goose Bay, and community infrastructure.
The Liberal Leadership forum comes during a time where many Labradorians are feeling frustrated with government.
In some regions, such as Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Labrador West, people are struggling to afford the skyrocketing cost of rent and homeownership. There are not enough units from Newfoundland and Labrador Housing to meet the demands of affordable housing, leaving some Labradorians worried about a potential homelessness problem.
Many Labradorians are also feeling left out when it comes to the promised benefits of the Muskrats Falls project. They feel that too many jobs are going to outsiders, rather than qualified people at home who are looking for work.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale also took a hit in popularity with some Labradorians with her “we own Labrador” comment back in July. Many Labradorians still believe that Dunderdale meant that Newfoundland owns Labrador and its resources, when she made that remark.
All of these factors leave ample room for opposition parties to gain the attention of Labradorians who are looking for answers to these pressing problems.
Former Liberal interim leader, Dwight Ball, says the Muskrat Falls project is one of the biggest issues facing Labradorians because it has a direct impact on other issues such as housing and infrastructure.
“In this particular (forum), a lot of discussion was around the Muskrat Falls project and the impact on community infrastructure,” says Ball. “Well, that all could have been mitigated, simply by…working with the communities and mitigating those problems in advance.”
When it comes to Labradorians benefiting from Muskrat Falls, Ball says it is necessary for government to keep a close eye on the hydro project and make sure Labradorians receive the jobs first.
“You have to put a monitor in there, no different than you would a financial monitor…just to make sure that all the partners in this project are actually living up to the conditions of the agreement.”
Danny Dumaresque is the only Labrador-born candidate running for Liberal leadership.
One of Dumaresque’s main concerns was not one of the five topics discussed at the forum. If he were elected Liberal leader, Dumaresque says would push for a tunnel to be built connecting Newfoundland and Labrador.
“The one project that I want to push is the tunnel,” says Dumaresque. “I believe we should do this project for all the right reasons; politically, as well as economically. We should finally link this province together by putting the tunnel under the straight Belle Isle.”
Cathy Bennett is the lone female candidate running for Liberal Leadership. She says that the provincial government needs to engage Labradorians to help mitigate the pressures that large industrial projects is having on certain communities.
“One of the things that consistently comes up is the stress that the community of Happy Valley-Goose Bay is under as a result of large scale projects,” says Bennett.
“We have people who will be sleeping in the woods this year, and that’s not good enough. We have to figure out a way to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Leadership candidate Jim Bennett pointed out the diversity of Labrador makes it difficult to pinpoint one major issue that is most important to all Labradorians.
“I think it depends of which part of Labrador you’re speaking with, because Labrador is enormous and so diverse. There’s different issues in different places,” says Bennett.
In central Labrador, Bennett believes the affordable housing shortage is one of the main concerns that need to be addressed by government.
“On the ground, on the local level, (a problem) is housing and accommodations for people and the extra pressure of the (Muskrat Falls) boom…I think the government needs a comprehensive, ongoing strategy to deal with that, much more affectively than they had.”
Paul Antle believes that this forum will help him and his fellow candidates when it comes to focusing on the issues that are on the minds of Labradorians the most.
“I think what it did was help us narrow the focus for Labrador,” says Antle. “In a one-minute response it’s hard to get down into the detail of an issue. But it gives the audience an opportunity…to deal with the main issues that are affecting Labrador.”
Antle believes that the most common thread in all the issues is that government needs to listen to Labradorians when it comes to making decisions that will affect the Big Land.
“Labrador’s voice, in all of the decisions that are made, with respect to whether it’s infrastructure, resource development, education…Labrador needs to have a voice in that mix.”