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Peter Penashue, newly elected Conservative MP for Labrador. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)
Peter Penashue, newly elected Conservative MP for Labrador. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Tim Powers

Peter Penashue: A northern light in Labrador Add to ...

One of the many highlights of this election came from the federal riding of Labrador. There, some amazing history was made.

Peter Penashue, former head of the Innu Nation of Labrador, became the first Labrador Innu person ever elected to Parliament. He was also the only Conservative candidate elected from Newfoundland and Labrador, and as such he's poised to have significant influence over the evolving relationship between my province and Canada.

Related contentLabrador had only once elected a Tory. That was in 1968. Since then, the riding has been bedrock Liberal. Mr. Penashue was also sought after by the NDP to be there standard-bearer in this contest. Federal Conservatives ought to be pretty glad today that Mr. Penashue didn't drink the orange crush.

Mr. Penashue is a fresh new face for the party in Newfoundland and Labrador, which seems to be undergoing a bit of a changing of the guard. Long-time regional stalwarts like Fabian Manning, Loyola Sullivan, Trevor Taylor and John Ottenheimer unfortunately fell short in their bids to win seats last night. A residual Anything But Conservative Campaign, lingering anger toward the Prime Minister over past grievances and a healthy dose of self-confident nationalism in part took many of those political warhorses out at the knees. Certainly in the province, leaders in the business, cultural and academic circles are refreshing. Politics often plays catch-up to these genres.

Mr. Penashue is a fascinating character who has overcome much adversity and has had a diverse life journey. He first came to prominence in the late 1980s, early 1990s as a high-profile opponent of low-level military flight training in Labrador. In 1992-93, it was his leadership and strategic public relations cunning that brought the world's attention to the plight of the people of Davis Inlet. Later he would play assorted roles in facilitating the development of the Voisey's Bay nickel mine - one of his guiding principles was that his people must have the opportunity to meaningfully participate.

Most recently, he helped bring resolution to the long-standing land-claim among the Innu, Ottawa and Newfoundland and Labrador. That helped set the Innu up to play a partnership role in the Lower Churchill project. All of these actions have altered the lives of Innu and non-Innu for the better.

Mr. Penashue has also spoken openly about his own personal struggles in coping with sexual abuse and its vicious after-effects. The pronounced courage it took to do that and the impact that has in helping others shows a measure of this man.

A friend of Mr. Penashue's, and mine, Leo Power began talking to him a few years ago about running for federal office. Mr. Penashue in his deliberate and thoughtful way studied the situation, sought broad counsel, then reviewed the history. He made is mind up in March, just days before the election happened.

When the campaign began, he threw every fibre of his being into it. He never stopped believing he could win. Some of us dismissed it as over-exuberant-candidate enthusiasm.

Were we ever wrong, and thankfully so.

Peter Penashue steps on the national stage in a new role - and if the past is any indication, he will deliver an impressive performance that will benefit Canada.

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