On February 23, 1973, the recently-elected MP for the then-riding of Grand Falls—White Bay—Labrador delivered his maiden speech in the House of Commons.
Bill Rompkey went on to be re-elected four times in that riding, and twice in the future standalone Labrador riding whose creation he mused about in 1973. In 1995 was appointed to the Senate, where he served until the mandatory retirement age in 2011.
Mr. Rompkey — "the Boss" to any of us who ever worked for him — died last week in Ottawa at the age of 80.
Here, for the record, is the text of that maiden speech (scanning errors excepted.) As always, it is fascinating to note how many things have changed in the intervening four decades, and how many things have stayed the same.
Mr. William Rompkey (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of the Environment): Mr, Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise as a member of this House on the first occasion and it is a particular pleasure to take part in the budget debate. I want to say to you, Sir, I am very pleased to be here at this time as the member for Grand Falls—White Bay—Labrador. May I also take this opportunity of saying to you and to those who occupy that chair how impressed I have been with the impartiality and fairness with which you conduct yourselves. I want to tell the House something about my riding. I will try to relate my remarks to the budget speech because certain aspects of the budget have very wide implications for my riding.
This is one of the largest ridings in Canada, encompassing an area of about 130,000 square miles including a great part of the island of Newfoundland and the territory of Labrador of some 112,000 square miles. It is a wide-spread riding with diverse and divergent social and economic problems ranging from the problems of the woods industry in central Newfoundland through the beautiful Green Bay area with its great tourist potential, through the area of White Bay which is primarily concerned with the fishing industry, to the whole territory of Labrador. This area has been called the last great storehouse of natural wealth, but even in Labrador there are great contradictions. On the coast are the small isolated communities sometimes ranging from two or three families in the summer months to communities of 1,000 people. In the central part of Labrador we have the communities of Hamilton Inlet, Goose Bay—which is now undergoing a transitional stage—and in the west one of the greatest hydroelectric developments in the world at Churchill Falls. Farther west there are the great iron mines of Labrador City and Wabush. It is a land of contrasts. There, too, we have the Indian and Eskimo communities. These people are desperately trying to adapt themselves to the twentieth century. If we think we are having cultural problems in adapting to the rapid pace of technology, these people are suffering even more so in that regard. These changes baffle all of us who are Canadians whether we live in small villages or large cities. So, in a way, this riding is a microcosm of Canada with problems of regional disparity, problems of great distances to be spanned, problems of communication from one end to the other, and problems of economic and social development.
It is to areas such as mine that this budget is mostly aimed. I take issue with the term that our areas are have-not provinces. They have been described as such in the past. We may be have-not in economic terms, but there is a great cultural heritage there and a great historic background from which to draw. In these areas there is a sense of identity and a sense of community which my friends from Quebec may understand very well but which I believe is lacking today in many areas of North America and, indeed, in the world where the impact of technology has been felt. So there is a lot there to be thankful for.
I hope that when we plan our future in these areas we will take into account our way of life and find the kind of province we want. Like all parts of the world, we have felt the impact of rampant technology. Industry today is becoming capital-intensive rather than labour-intensive. Jobs are disappearing whether a man works in a fishing boat, in the iron mines, in the mills, or wherever it happens to be. Those who have prided themselves on their independence are dismayed and frustrated now in having to accept government assistance. It is my hope and belief that this budget, reflecting as it does the policies of this government, will alleviate the economic problems from which my riding suffers.
I was extremely pleased to see the proposed increase in pensions for the elderly and the veterans. I think we have a responsibility to both these groups. Money in their pockets should represent an asset to the economy. But I believe we must do more than that. We must not simply look after our elderly people; we must create a positive role for them in our society. I am very pleased to see the New Horizons program and the extension of it this year. This should be a positive way whereby we can draw on the experience of the older people in our society so that they may play a useful role with the knowledge and experience only they possess.
We must solve the unemployment problem. We must give people in the disadvantaged areas, people who pride themselves on their independence, an opportunity to get back their self-respect. I was particularly pleased to see the tax cuts. This should be of great help to people, particularly those in the lower income group. The mothers in my riding, I believe, will be particularly pleased to see the tax taken off children's clothing and other food items. This will help combat the high cost of living in many areas.
I may say here that I look forward to the time when the government introduces the revised family income security plan. These two measures together should be of great help to the people in the lower income group. There are other pressing problems in my riding which obviously could not be dealt with in the budget speech but with which the government must deal. This will mean positive expenditure and government action.
Perhaps I might say a few words about the fishing industry in my area because it is particularly important. At the present time this industry is in a transitional stage. The time really has passed when a man could survive through the use of a small boat in the inshore fishery. Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to that man. He is the man who prosecuted the fishery for years, who survived on his own, who wanted to make a contribution to society and who is prepared to be independent. We all know there is far too little of this in the world today. So we must preserve the fishery in so far as possible. This industry has felt the impact of technology, as have other industries in the province. Yet there is an increasing demand for food, and prices are improving. We must help the inshore fishermen. I think the government is dealing with that problem and will continue to do so.
I take issue with those on the other side who criticize the department which is presently administering those policies. I want to tell them that the Minister of Fisheries (Mr. Davis) is not dead. He is alive and well. He is administering a very capable department served by a very capable staff in the fisheries branch, many of whom I am very pleased to say are Newfoundlanders, I have great confidence in that branch and in the department and I am very pleased to be associated with it.
This year there is a great need for improved icebreaking services in our province. I note with satisfaction that there is provision in the estimates for at least one more ice-breaker. However, I feel this will not be enough and that there will have to be more expenditures in this region if we are to help the woods industry in central Newfoundland and the fishing industry on the Newfoundland and Labrador coasts. I look forward to the time when government will provide even more funds for this very necessary service.
I was pleased to note that live television has come to Goose Bay. I am disappointed that it is not yet in Labrador West. I look forward to the time when the people on the Labrador coast will also receive live television. In fact, it may very well be that they will receive live television before they have a telephone service, because there are still communities in that area which do not have this very necessary service. Communication in northern Newfoundland and in many parts of my riding is far from acceptable either in terms of telephone or mail. It is still extremely frustrating to me to try to communicate with my constituents in that area. I urge the government, either directly or through agencies connected with it, to try to solve this problem and take steps immediately to improve these essential services which all Canadians should enjoy and to which they are entitled. These people still are not in the mainstream of Canadian life, and meanwhile the rate of change is increasing.
I was very pleased to hear my colleague, the Minister of Regional Economic Expansion (Mr. Jamieson) speak of the decentralization of his department. This is a most important department to us both in terms of infrastructure development and industrial incentive. The idea of bringing decision-making down to the local level is something to which we have looked forward for some time. It will allow us, in that area and in all areas, to do our own thing, because I believe it is not simply enough for government to provide goods and services for people; we must ask the people at the local level to assist and take part in the decision-making process and assume responsibility for the policies and programs that will affect their lives.
I hope the government will make an effort to build a highway across Labrador which is one of the last great areas of the north to be opened up. We have seen what has been done in the Yukon territory and the Northwest Territories. We have seen that area being slowly opened up by the construction of highways. I hope the same thing will occur in northern Labrador. I hope the government will give every consideration to building the highway across Labrador to open up that great area and to the highway up the northern peninsula from the national park which is presently under construction, as well as the road from Baie Verte to La Scie which will connect the communities in Green Bay. These are some of the problems I shall be bringing before the government during the coming months.
While there are problems, there is great potential, particularly in the Labrador area. I believe it has a great future; and having lived there for eight years and now having the honour to serve in the House, I am proud to be able to help build that future, I believe that the economic development of Labrador has great meaning, not only for that area of the province and the whole province but indeed for the whole of Canada. And when we are made aware of power shortages that exist on this continent, such as have been experienced recently, we realize how much emphasis we must give to the development of the power potential in that area.
Labrador needs a great deal of attention. To this end I believe it should have a member representing it in the House, a member wholly and solely for Labrador, as have the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. I give notice now that I shall be introducing a bill in the House which I hope will be debated and will receive a great deal of consideration, a bill which will ask the House to provide a member for Labrador in its own right so that its problems and its potential are put in their proper perspective.
We in Grand Falls—White Bay—Labrador want to make our own unique contribution to the Canadian mosaic. We must create the kind of province we want. But the kind of province we can have depends on the responsiveness of the government of Canada, I believe this budget is an indication that the government is listening and is prepared to respond.
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