What really makes a newsmaker

Michael Johansen
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Now that 2013 has finally come to an unlamented end, it’s time to have a look back and list the real newsmakers who made news in Labrador — not vague, safe concepts like “big crime,” but actual men and women (and a couple of machines) who made tangible impacts on the Big Land.

This is not a contest, not a listing from least to most: all stories share equal importance.

That said, the first newsmaker who comes to mind is former Innu Nation president Peter Penashue. The Labrador MP was forced to resign his place at the federal Conservative Cabinet table and his seat in the House of Commons after overwhelming evidence showed he illegally overspent while successfully fighting his 2011 campaign. However, as prominent as he was in the early part of 2013 (what with facing conflict-of-interest accusations in connection with megaprojects being pushed in his riding) Penashue’s newsworthiness ended in May after he lost his re-election bid against Liberal challenger Yvonne Jones — a woman who could therefore be considered a newsmaker in her own right.

Similar to Penashue, another politician who couldn’t help being a Labrador newsmaker in 2013 — for all the wrong reasons — was none other than the premier herself, Kathy Dunderdale, who, among other things, raised the considerable ire of Labrador patriots by claiming the Big Land as Newfoundland’s property, although she later maintained that when she was reported as saying, “They [Quebec] absolutely do not believe we own Labrador!”, she was taken out of context. Of course, all of Dunderdale’s other actions that made news in Labrador — such as pushing through the Muskrat Falls destruction project while simultaneously cutting vital services — would also put her on this list, but it’s her ill-advised remark that entrenches her.

Speaking of vital public services deprived of government support, the first of two non-human newsmakers to make the 2013 list is the much-reviled MV Northern Ranger — the passenger/cargo vessel that’s doing such a poor job serving all of Labrador’s roadless communities from Black Tickle to Nain. The Ranger kept making news because of several severe malfunctions and at least two onboard fires. The old and inadequate ferry will likely continue to be a newsmaker for another two years since it’s not scheduled to be replaced until 2016 — the cost of a new boat being required to pay for three or four days of work at Muskrat Falls, no doubt.

The other non-human newsmaker is also a vital public transportation service that suffered a breakdown — one that could have been anticipated and could have been more serious than it was, but fortunately resulted in no casualties: the Tshiueten Rail Transportation train (formerly of the QNS&L Railway) that runs through Labrador between Schefferville and Sept-Iles, Quebec.

When the train lost power 65 kilometres from Labrador City in early December it stranded 282 passengers (including two pregnant women) for almost eight hours in temperatures that plunged below -30 C before the nearest authorities were alerted or the emergency and the people were rescued.

Naturally, this being Labrador in the year 2013, the most newsmakers who’ve been making news in the region have something to do with Muskrat Falls, starting with the public face of the project himself: Nalcor vice-president Gilbert Bennett. With his steadfast campaign to justify the unnecessary debt-creation project against all opposition, his government-supported suppression of public protest and lately his improper removal of a court-sanctioned protest sign, Bennett just couldn’t keep out of the news.

New mayor

Other Muskrat Falls-connected newsmakers include Jim Learning (elder, arrested protester, hunger-striker and cultural defender), Amanda Benuen and Victoria Andrew (who actually succeeded in temporarily stopping work at the site after suffering racial slurs) and Jamie Snook (who helped citizens thumb their noses at the provincial government by defeating the PC’s pro-Nalcor candidate to become mayor of Happy Valley-Goose Bay).

And finally — sadly — Sheshatshiu leader Josephe Riche became a significant Labrador newsmaker in 2013 by losing his life while trying to help a fellow hunter on Park Lake in early May. The former grand chief of the Innu Nation, whose death once again highlighted the country’s inadequate search and rescue system, is greatly missed.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in North West River, Labrador

Organizations: Labrador MP, House of Commons, QNSL Railway

Geographic location: Labrador, Muskrat Falls, Quebec Black Tickle Schefferville Sept-Iles Happy Valley Goose Bay Park Lake North West River

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