Warns current movement about Labrador separation
© Geraldine Brophy/The Western Star
Michael Martin (left) and his former wife Patricia holds the Labrador Flag. Martin, who designed the Labrador flag, was Labrador South MHA from 1972-75.
Dozens of Labradorians are attempting to create a new united movement, hoping to, somehow, combat the alleged unfair treatment of Labrador by the provincial government.
This sentiment is nothing new in the Big Land. For decades, vocal Labradorians have claimed that Newfoundland has reaped Labrador’s resources, without giving enough back.
On March 31, 40 people gathered at the Labrador Friendship Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to discuss ideas and perceptions of Labrador’s current governance, and how things should change in the future.
There were different ideas shared that night on how Labrador should best be governed, but several people stated that Labrador should separate from Newfoundland and become it’s own territory or province.
But one of the pioneers of the original Labrador movement, Michael Martin, warns against any Labrador political group touting separatism.
“I don’t think separation will get us anywhere,” Martin said in an interview with the Labradorian. “As nice and heady as it might sound, to have our own territory and our own province and all that, one has to be realistic.”
“It’s not going to happen, let’s put it that way. We don’t have the people. We simply do not have the population to make it work.”
Martin does, however, fully support people uniting to voice the concerns of Labradorians, as a political group or otherwise.
“We’ve had far too few groups doing that. We’ve had far too little interest from amongst our people to get involved in things like that,” said Martin.
“In any democracy, if you don’t have people holding their government’s feet to the fire, you’re not going to get out of a democracy what you put into it.”
Martin’s biggest claim to fame is being the creator of the Labrador flag, which continues to be a symbol of Labrador pride and unity.
He unveiled Labrador’s flag in 1974, as the MHA for Labrador South. He was elected as that riding’s MHA in 1972, not as a Liberal or PC, but as a member of the New Labrador Party.
Martin would be only one of two people to ever be elected as a member of the New Labrador Party, the other being Tom Burgess from Labrador West.
The New Labrador Party, formed in 1969, was Labrador’s first major movement to get better treatment from the provincial government.
Much like the group of 40 who banded together in March, those who formed the New Labrador party were fed up with the present day government.
Martin, who was born in Cartwright, wanted to get involved in the movement after working for the Smallwood government, briefly, between 1968-69.
He worked for the newly formed department of rural development, and stationed in his hometown of Cartwright. Martin thought he could do something to get more government investment for Labrador.
“Our tasks were to go out into the communities, organize the communities, get rural development committees formed, and find out what the people needed,” said Martin.
But, according to Martin, when the Smallwood government’s budget came out in 1969, there was no infrastructure money allotted for his people, and Martin quickly resigned.
“I saw how terrible things were in Labrador. I saw the attitude of the Joey Smallwood government. His attitude was: nothing for Labrador, it’s a waste of money,” said Martin.
“He knew our Labrador people very well. He knew that they would jump at whatever he said.”
When Martin decided to get involved with the New Labrador Party, and run in the Labrador South riding, he was just hoping to shed a light on Labrador’s political situation. No one thought that he would win.
“The New Labrador Party, to me, was no more than a protest movement; a very, very good protest movement, and a very necessary protest movement,” said Martin.
“We were using the 21-day campaign to get up on the soapbox and be heard. And the media had to pay attention to us because we were in an election campaign.”
Martin was so sure of electoral defeat that he saved just $136 to go campaigning in the Labrador South district. He took a 21-day absence from work; confident he would return to his normal duties.
Everyone involved with the New Labrador Party may have been thrilled with Martin’s surprise victory over the Liberals, but the newly elected MHA had no idea what politics was about.
He calls the three years he spent as Labrador South’s MHA the worst period of his life.
“I was embarrassed to be in the House. (The other MHAs) were a bunch of idiots. They acted like children,” said Martin.
“I would see little kiddies in the school groups come in and you could see their little faces, full of anticipation when they sat down. And when the debate started you could see it turn into disgust.”
Much like future Labrador movements, The New Labrador party had trouble fighting apathy. After the election, supporters gradually dwindled away. Without much backing from his constituents, Martin felt alone in the House of Assembly.
“I can’t blame the people. This was their first foray into politics,” said Martin
“They didn’t know that they had to keep political associations going. The excitement of the campaign is gone. The euphoria of elections faded away and there was no perceived need to continue this thing.”
The same thing would happen to The Labrador Party nearly 30 years later. After competing in all four Labrador ridings in the 2003 election, support dwindled and the party was gone by 2007.
Mike Martin retired from the world of politics in 1975. That same year, the New Labrador Party vanished.
Despite several missteps, Martin feels that the New Labrador Party accomplished a lot for the future of Labrador, especially in making Labradorians more politically aware.
“We accomplished a hell of a lot in terms of politicizing Labrador,” said Martin.
“Coming out of that, we got people to be politically aware, we got people organizing in the communities.”
Now, a group of passionate and politically aware Labradorians is trying to start another movement. Whether or not it becomes a political party, or an advocacy group, remains to be seen.
But Martin, based on his past experience, believes the group must be perceived as being legitimate in order to succeed. Therefore, going down the separation road might be risky.
“They’ve got to have legitimacy. If they’re just a bunch of loud mouth radicals mouthing off, no one’s going to pay attention to them,” said Martin.
“The government is in power whether you like it or not and you have to work with them. They’re the people who make it happen.”