Former PC cabinet minister blames Dunderdale for its demise.
Back in 2007, the provincial government released a series of financial commitments to the people of Labrador. It was a five-year plan aimed at raising the standards of infrastructure and services in the Big Land.
© The Labradorian file photo
Nick McGrath, Minister of Transportation and Works and Minister responsible for Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs.
The Northern Strategic Plan (NSP), in 2007, originally contained 145 commitments to Labrador worth $250 million. By 2010, it had grown to 216 commitments totally $580 million.
Many were hoping that the NSP would continue on once its five-year mandate was up. But a quick Google search shows few articles on the NSP after 2012. Even the Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs official website doesn’t show any budget highlights or initiatives for NSP after 2009.
The information gap on the NSP hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Big Land. It’s not uncommon to hear someone over a cup of coffee ask aloud: “what happened to the Northern Strategic Plan?”
According to a document obtained by The Labradorian, former Minister of Labrador Affairs John Hickey had recommended to government, back in 2010, that a second NSP be implemented with a five-year mandate spanning 2012-17.
“The time was coming forward that we needed to do another plan, what I used to call in those days … Northern Strategic Plan II,” said Hickey, in an interview with The Labradorian.
“It was a whole new opportunity because we still got challenges here in Labrador. We have major challenges … in many aspects.”
The NSP was meant to improve services and infrastructure across Labrador, through many different departments, such as transportation, healthcare, tourism, justice, and more.
According to Hickey, when the idea for NSP was hatched in 2007, Labrador services were lacking compared to the Island portion of the province, and Premier Danny Williams was commitment to playing catch-up.
“It was (Williams’) initiative, through his office, and he wanted to put together an economic strategy and a strategic plan for Labrador,” said Hickey.
“He said the time had come for Labrador to get its fair share. And one of the ways is, we needed to get out there and start taking stock as to what the needs were.”
According to Hickey, the state of Labrador’s infrastructure and services when he was first elected in 2003 was unacceptable.
“The (highway) wasn’t completed, there was no pavement, the south coast road wasn’t connected, we were paying the highest kind of rates for shipping goods along the coast of Labrador … “
Hickey felt the NSP, in its five-year lifespan, helped to alleviate a lot of Labrador’s issues, especially with the improvements that were made to the Trans Labrador Highway.
“There were a lot of good things to come out of it. The people of Labrador liked it. It gave them an opportunity to talk to their politicians and to the decision makers within the department … about what their priorities were and where it was going,” said Hickey.
“Labrador for many years, we had never gotten our fair share when it comes to the money pots down in St. John’s.”
Hickey retired from politics in 2011,just one year prior to the end of the NSP’s five-year mandate. But when he left, Hickey envisioned successive governments continuously renewing the Northern strategic plan over the years.
Northern Strategic Plan II
In the document obtained by The Labradorian, The PCs were warned by the Department of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs that ending the NSP without a renewed plan “contradicts governments position to support social and economic development in Labrador.”
Hickey was hoping that a new five-year plan would include, among other projects, providing hydro electricity from Churchill Falls to Labrador’s remote North Coast communities.
But NSP II wouldn’t see the light of day. And, after leaving office in 2011, Hickey hasn’t heard much about the plan in the years that followed.
“I was really disappointed because, basically, we had had such great success with NSP 1 and too see it, basically, go by the wayside … but it is what it is,” said Hickey.
In an interview with The Labradorian, Nick McGrath, Minister of Transportation and Works and Minister responsible for Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs, said NSP still exists, but as a “living document,” rather than a renewed plan.
In other words, the mandate of the original NSP now acts simply as guiding principals for government investment in Labrador.
“We look at the Northern Strategic Plan as a living document. It’s a multi-faceted document that crosses over many different departments,” said McGrath.
“And the plan has demonstrated the government’s commitment to supporting the social and economic development of Labrador. So we use it on a daily basis right now.
We’ve reached the mandate of the original plan, but the plan was so well-written that you don’t have to say ‘ok, it’s outlived its time, so you need to renew it, and write a new plan.’”
McGrath claims that the money spent on the mandates of the Northern strategic plan have grown by hundreds of millions of dollars since 2007. He said the money spent is proof of the PC Party’s commitment to Labrador.
“Since 2004, if you were to accumulate all of the money that government has invested and allocated in the projects within Labrador, it’s almost $5 billion.”
“Specifically to the Northern Strategic Plan, there’s been more than $986 million. And there’re over 245 commitments that fall under the mandate of the Northern Strategic Plan. So, a plan that we had originally planned on spending $250 million on, we are now almost four times that.”
Hickey blames Dunderdale
Hickey believes that Kathy Dunderdale, who was sworn in as Premier in late 2010, didn’t see NSP as a priority for her government, which is why part two didn’t go ahead.
“It was very disappointing to see, from what I can gather anyway, it wasn’t on Premier Dunderdale’s list of priorities,” said Hickey.
“As a minister, if you don’t have the support of the Premier on some initiatives, it is hard then to move some things forward.”
McGrath, however, defended Dunderdale when informed about Hickey’s opinion.
“Mr. Hickey is entitled to his opinion,” said McGrath. “I worked very closely from 2011 with Premier Dunderdale … I have the utmost respect for her. I have the utmost respect for Premier Marshall also … they both are very dedicated to Labrador and people who live in Labrador.”
According o Hickey, the original plan was a success because Williams saw Labrador as a unique place. But there are politicians and bureaucrats who see the Big Land as just another region, to be treated without special consideration.
“I had colleagues who didn’t agree that there should be a department of Labrador Affairs,” said Hickey. “I had colleagues who felt that there shouldn’t be a minister for Labrador Affairs: there wasn’t one for the Northern Peninsula and there wasn’t one for the Burin Peninsula … so why would there be one for Labrador?”
Despite McGrath’s contentions that the NSP is still alive, the plan died in the eyes of John Hickey when part two was not renewed. It’s a disappointed that he’s still bitter about today.
“In my view it was a great success, during the eight years we were in office,” said Hickey.
“Obviously, (Dunderdale) didn’t see the priority that Williams saw in it, and that was disappointing and … to the best of my knowledge, nothing really has happened since.”