Nfld. & Labrador

Lake Melville is a district to watch. Here's what the candidates have to say

Representation for all people living in Lake Melville appears to be top of mind for the candidates running to represent the district in the upcoming election.
Lake Melville is a must-watch district for Election 2021, with five candidates in the running. They are, from left, New Democrat Amy Norman, Liberal Michelle Baikie, Progressive Conservative Shannon Tobin and Independent Perry Trimper. Not pictured is independent candidate, Andrew Abbass. (CBC and submitted photos)

Representation for all people living in Lake Melville appears to be top of mind for the candidates running in the district in the upcoming election.

That's no surprise, given the recent controversy following comments made by incumbent Perry Trimper, who was the Liberal MHA for five years, until his departure from the party and decision to run again as an Independent.

Trimper has four opponents on the ballot for Lake Melville: Independent Andrew Abbass, Liberal Michelle Baikie, New Democrat Amy Norman and Progressive Conservative Shannon Tobin.

But how the candidates report reaction on the campaign trail varies.

"I'm hearing a lot from folks and they're frankly shocked that he's even trying to run again because what he said was so hurtful, so damaging," said Norman, an Inuk woman running as the NDP candidate for Lake Melville.

Norman was referring to comments Trimper made last fall on CBC's Labrador Morning, when he said homeless people in Happy Valley-Goose Bay were "choosing" a risky lifestyle that is putting them and the community at risk. Trimper later apologized for the comments, saying he regretted his choice of words.

For Norman, it's been a topic of conversation as she's knocked on doors since the start of her campaign.

"Not just the Innu Nation — because of course the Innu Nation, he was talking about them specifically — but Indigenous peoples broadly, we have such a high percentage of Indigenous peoples in our region, so it's just awful," she said, but she added that those comments shouldn't be the focus of the election.

Norman, right, with NDP Leader Alison Coffin, files her candidate documents to run for the NDP in Lake Melville. (Alison Coffin/Twitter)

"There's a lot of things riding on this election and I think it's important to not get too focused on what was said before and just focusing on the future, making our home a better place for everyone. That includes Indigenous people, that includes our seniors, that includes folks on low incomes."

It's a different response from what Trimper himself has said he's been getting since announcing he would be running for re-election, this time as an independent representative.

While people have talked to him about those comments, as well as comments made in a previous incident after describing Innu as playing the "race card" in a leaked voicemail recording, Trimper says he believes most people are going to support him on the Feb. 13 election.

"I've had a longtime relationship with the Innu and Inuit and the members of the NunatuKavut community council for decades, set up companies and so on, and demographically I would think that well over half of the population of Lake Melville would identify themselves as being Indigenous, so I do enjoy great support throughout the community," Trimper said.

Trimper is the incumbent MHA but is running as an Independent this time. (CBC)

"There are some that I have upset, and I've reached out to them and I believe we're working on a path of reconciliation.… I would not have put my name forward to continue in this vein if I didn't feel that support."

Trimper said there are is a long list of issues and challenges in the district he thinks people are more concerned about than his past comments.

"Are they preoccupied with it? I would say no. The topic comes up, but so does mental health care. I would say transportation support for people trying to access medical care is probably a bigger issue — it is a bigger issue. Infrastructure, highways, communications — these are also big topics," Trimper said.

'Like to move forward'

Baikie isn't interested in focusing on comments of the past.

With Trimper now out of the Liberal caucus and seeking re-election as an Independent, Baikie has taken on the role of Liberal candidate for Lake Melville.

"I don't want to look at the past, and my way of starting with this campaign is looking ahead, and that's the direction that I want to go. I'm not interested in hearing what other candidates are saying, [what they] have said in the past. I'd like to move forward. I'm a new voice. I just feel we need a new voice as a Liberal seat here in the Lake Melville district," she said.

Baikie says the district needs a new voice. (CBC)

"I'm an Indigenous person who would like to move forward, bridge gaps and start the healing process, and I just believe I can make a difference."

Progressive Conservative candidate Tobin said Indigenous communities should be the ones identifying how best to repair or strengthen relationships with the provincial government. But, he added, being open to discussing issues on a regular basis would be a good first step.

"It's just coming together, it's ongoing dialogues. It's not just showing up for one or two events, but showing up for quarterly meetings or as many events as possible," he said.

"I find it's more about that we need a change and people in Lake Melville have seen the last five years of Liberal representation and they really want a change, and we haven't been represented as strongly as we need to.… There's a number of issues that have been ongoing that have not been dealt with, so the last five years is what people are looking at."

As for what the main issues facing Lake Melville would be, Tobin said roadwork infrastructure is in dire need of work — particularly Route 510, which he said was promised by the Liberals in 2019. He also points to the Tory commitment of 100 per cent reimbursement under the medical transportation assistance program.

Tobin says Indigenous communities should be the ones identifying how best to repair or strengthen relationships with the provincial government (CBC)

"That's gonna be a game-changer for people in Lake Melville and all throughout Labrador. This is going to be able to help people in their times of need and it's going to help them while they're struggling to deal with whatever medical issue they have to leave here for, but it won't hurt them as financially," Tobin said.

"Another concern of mine is just making sure that our communities have the best representation possible, and one of the things I plan to do is I plan to meet with every group on a regular basis, ongoing meetings, so that we can all come together and work towards common goals."

Health-care resources are also vital for Baikie, who said there's a dire need for more funding of services and staffing for people who require 24-hour care.

"Some of the things I'd like to focus on is the long-term care facility and the access to the health-care professionals.… There are a large number of us in Lake Melville who don't have access to a family doctor, so that's a real big issue there," she said.

"And I'd like to put in some support frameworks for Indigenous communities and how we can find ways to help build the support that they need."

Transportation issue

Trimper said as a newly Independent representative, he's developed an appreciation for the "liberation from the party politics," which has allowed him to focus his energies on representing the district.

"We are building this big highway down to Newfoundland now on Route 510, but we don't have washrooms, we don't have a reliable communication system, we don't even have sufficient signage," he said.

"We're getting there, but we have so much to do to catch up with what's in Newfoundland or in the rest of Canada."

For Norman, the "long history of going back and forth between parties" in Lake Melville — namely, Liberal and PC — "doesn't do much to serve the people" of the district.

"For me, two of the biggest issues that I think we're facing here in this district are around housing and homelessness, and also around access to mental health supports. They're very related, so I bring them up together," Norman said.

Andrew Abbass of Happy Valley-Goose Bay declined an interview with CBC News. (Submitted by Andrew Abbass)

"The cost of housing, the cost of rent here in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and all the other communities in the district, is astronomically high.… So much goes wrong when you can't afford good housing, so I think we really need to prioritize good, affordable housing options for people."

Abbass, the other independent candidate running in Lake Melville, is an advocate for free speech, mental health, human rights, and alternative medicine, according to his Twitter profile and a campaign video posted on streaming website Twitch.

The Happy Valley-Goose Bay man was involved in a long legal battle that ended in 2018 when the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador ruled he was unlawfully detained when he was held in a psychiatric unit because of his tweets.

Abbass had tweeted his anger about the fatal RNC shooting of Don Dunphy in Mitchells Brook, N.L., two days earlier, which led the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary to go to his home.

CBC News asked Abbass on Tuesday for an interview over Facetime, to speak with him about his platform and priorities. 

He declined with this response: "Given my past experience with CBC, I'm not comfortable giving out any recorded material as I don't like how it's been manipulated in the past."

The provincial election is set for Feb. 13.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Patrick Butler

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