Nfld. & Labrador

Liberal parachute candidate stirs concerns for some in Torngat Mountains district

Andrea Andersen says she was disappointed to see a candidate who does not live in the district running for the Liberals in the Feb. 13 election.

PC Lela Evans, New Democrat Patricia Johnson-Castle and Liberal Devon Ryan running in district

The District of Torngat Mountains in northern Labrador represents a largely Indigenous population, including the communities of Hopedale, Makkovik, Nain, Natuashish, Postville and Rigolet. (Submitted by Mark MacPherson)

When Andrea Andersen learned who would be representing the Liberal Party in her district of Torngat Mountains in the Newfoundland and Labrador provincial election, she was angry.

She posted on Facebook about the news that Devon Ryan, who lives in Labrador West, would be running as the Liberal candidate in Torngat Mountains — a district he does not live in, and has not visited.

"I'm sure he's a nice guy. I know he's been in the political scene for a while getting experience, but I do want to state: this is white privilege and this is colonialism," Andersen, who grew up in Makkovik, told CBC's Labrador Morning, on Thursday.

Ryan first ran for a Liberal nomination in his home district of Labrador West, but conceded to Wayne Button. Ryan then put his name forward to be the Liberal candidate in Torngat Mountains, a district with a largely Inuit and Innu population along the north coast of Labrador.

He was declared that district's candidate on Jan. 17, and faces Progressive Conservative incumbent Lela Evans of Makkovik, and New Democrat Patricia Johnson-Castle, who lives in Nain.

This isn't even just for the Liberals — this is for any party, especially if they're wanting to parachute someone in.- Andrea Andersen

Andersen said she has spoken with some community leaders who live in the district and were approached by the Liberals to run but, she said, no one wanted to.

"The Liberal party did put effort forward to try and get someone from the district to run against Lela in the Liberal seat, but no one wanted to run against her because she is doing such a good job," said Andersen, who added she considers herself bipartisan.

Andersen worries that having Ryan on the ballot is just for the sake of getting him experience in politics, rather than actually representing a district he's never lived in.

"To me, as a young Inuk person, if they're putting Mr. Ryan in for him to gain experience, then why didn't they do that to another Indigenous youth?" she said.

Labrador West's Devon Ryan, seen here at former premier Dwight Ball's Liberal campaign party on provincial election night in 2019, is now running for the Liberals in Torngat Mountains. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Andersen said she "feels bad for Mr. Ryan" being put on the ballot and taking up a seat in the district with little experience.

"The Liberal party is throwing him into hot water. There's so much within the Torngat district that doesn't apply to a lot of the other places that he has experienced within the province," she said.

"I think he is running for personal gain to build a resumé or I'm not really sure, but that's at the expense of using the Innu and the Inuit communities of Labrador," she said.

The district has a long list of serious and ongoing issues that need addressing, Andersen said — including lack of access to health care, a housing crisis, limited transportation, food insecurity and high cost of living — as well as issues specific to Indigenous communities.

Andrea Andersen says it was a quick election call and nomination process, and she believes there may have been a rush to find a candidate in Torngat Moutains. (Al MacCormick/CBC)

"Having a white person come into an Indigenous area, it's going to create lateral trauma for the local people to have to re-explain our struggles and our hardships and our basic necessities that we lack, that the province fails to provide our region in everyday things like internet and access to water and housing," Andersen said.

"To take the time out of our day to explain to him over and over again the things that we are lacking, it just goes to show that there needs to be more effort put into our region, so that other people who are from the region feel more supported to be able to run for a political seat. And this isn't even just for the Liberals — this is for any party, especially if they're wanting to parachute someone in."

Candidates in federal and provincial elections are not required to live in their ridings or districts. Liberal Leader Andrew Furey, who lives in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, is running in the west coast riding of Humber-Gros Morne, while the NDP candidate for Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans, Holly Pike, lives in Corner Brook, and PC Ethan Wheeler-Park lives just outside Corner Brook and is running in the district of Burgeo-La Poile.

Visiting district next week

In response to concerns Andersen raised on Labrador Morning, Ryan said he's looking forward to getting into the district next week to talk to people on the campaign trail leading up to the Feb. 13 provincial election.

"I've always had a passion for politics and the democratic process, but I've always had a passion for Labrador above anything else," Ryan said.

Ryan added he's worked in several government departments, including health care, travel and justice, and that's experience he hopes can help the Torngat Mountains.

"I bring knowledge that can help Indigenous communities at the table," he said.

"Right now I'm really focused on the positives that I can bring to the district. I feel both my experiences [and] my political knowledge can really play a factor in this district right now. My willingness to learn, my eagerness to get out into the community and speak to all the constituents in the district, and I really, really look forward to it."

Ryan said he's heard a lot of concerns about access to travel — something he said he's experienced in his hometown, as well — as well as the high cost of goods and services in the Torngat Mountains.

Evans said she doesn't personally have a problem with Ryan running against her in the district, even though he doesn't live there.

Two days prior to the election being called, PC Leader Ches Crosbie, and Lela Evans were at the Happy Valley-Goose Bay airport en route to Nain. They are pictured here with public health worker Cathy Andersen. (Lela Evans/Facebook)

"Elections are about choice, so people will cast their ballot and vote for whoever they want to represent them, so the Liberals putting him in is not a huge problem for me," she said, adding that in years prior, it wasn't uncommon for the parties to run parachute candidates in the district.

"I know some people are offended because I don't think he's ever been to the north coast, to the district, so people are questioning that. But the good thing about elections is, when they vote, they can vote either for him or vote for me," said Evans, in an interview prior to the NDP candidate being announced.

Evans said casting a vote is a statement about who you want to represent you.

"I don't think we should be dictating who can and cannot run, because that takes away from the democratic process," she said.

"Don't vote for your friends, don't just vote for a party; vote for who's going to actually help your district, who's going to make a difference."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Labrador Morning