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Crying in the wilderness


The news is finally out. And it couldn't come at a worse time. Grand Falls-Windsor and the Exploits Valley, along with some northern and southern bays, have been knocked to the canvas with the AbitibiBowater mill closure. What does our provincial government do when we are flat on our backs? It rolls us over and gives us a good kick in the arse by allocating the MRI to Gander. It's another nail in the coffin of Grand Falls-Windsor, and the Exploits Valley. As well, it is a disservice to the people from the Connaigre to Baie Verte Peninsulas who will have to drive even further for medical services.

The news is finally out. And it couldn't come at a worse time.

Grand Falls-Windsor and the Exploits Valley, along with some northern and southern bays, have been knocked to the canvas with the AbitibiBowater mill closure. What does our provincial government do when we are flat on our backs? It rolls us over and gives us a good kick in the arse by allocating the MRI to Gander.

It's another nail in the coffin of Grand Falls-Windsor, and the Exploits Valley. As well, it is a disservice to the people from the Connaigre to Baie Verte Peninsulas who will have to drive even further for medical services.

As for the carrying of the coffin, there is a fine crowd of somber PC-MHAs to act as pallbearers.

Susan Sullivan, Clayton Forsey, Ray Hunter, Kevin Pollard and Tracey Perry, whose districts are affected directly by the MRI's location, can be joined by Lewisporte's Wade Verge whose district could swing either way.

Shame, shame, shame on our MHAs.

Now, comes the baloney from Ministers Wiseman and Sullivan that the location was decided by experts. Try to sell that experts malarkey to the Williams Government, which still intends to give Sir Wilfred Grenfell College university status. The experts against that notion can protest until the cows come home.

Corner Brook and Grand Falls-Windsor are much the same, being their regions' largest population centers and primary economic generators. But Corner Brook, unlike us, is not the geographic center of the island. Corner Brook plays second fiddle to none while Grand Falls-Windsor has been fiddled around with Liberal and PC governments for nearly 50 years.

Back in early 1958-59 the mill unions and the A.N. D. Company took the initiative to raise funds to get the Smallwood government to build a new hospital here.

The sod for that institution had hardly been turned when a new hospital was announced for Gander. But they didn't have to raise a nickel. Since our hospital's inception the people of the town, region, and the paper companies have pumped millions more into its operations. But to no avail.

Our Grade 6 geography text had a picture of the Corner Brook mill. My question then was, why was our mill, the first to succeed, left out of the picture? Our being left out of the picture has been all too common from public hearings, seminars, information sessions to TCH highway signs like the one that greets travellers at Port aux Basques.

Black holes are a mystery of space. Maybe our vast timber stands have created a black hole, a mysterious canopy around us, as if we didn't exist. The largest town off the Avalon is like a no man's land, better serviced from Corner Brook or Gander.

Ironically, the same Smallwood who shafted us on the hospital, shafted us in the end in The Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador. Our non-existence is fortified with the detailed description of the island's largest river, the Exploits, deleted from the set in the editing process.

The Exploits River - with its vast watershed, bounded by its ample forest was the key to the industrialization of Newfoundland. The paper mill on its banks had one of the most profound effects on the social, economic, and industrial history of Newfoundland. No other community in Newfoundland and Labrador can match what happened here beginning in 1905. How have we been rewarded for 104 years of blood, sweat, and tears and paying tons of taxes?

Where did the provincial government put its regional offices for municipal affairs, forestry, libraries, and education? Where did it put a provincial swimming pool? Where has it shamelessly left some of the central region's health board jobs? It's no secret, they're all in Gander!

For over 100 years Grand Falls-Windsor pumped hundreds of millions of new dollars into the provincial (and the feds since 1949) coffers. Meanwhile, Gander, founded just before outbreak of the Second World War, has survived living off the federal and provincial teats. The airport, weather office, military, rescue services, and government offices all come from the taxpayers pocket. Only Gander's overseas air traffic control generates any new money, and that goes to the feds.

Even with the mill gone, the electricity generated from the Exploits will earn billions in revenue for the provincial treasury in the next 100 years. We will never see a paper mill here ever again, and we can kiss the timber goodbye, as it will be used to prop up the survival of the mill in Corner Brook.

Long forgotten is the super rich Buchans mine, a spinoff of the A.N.D. Company. It fattened the provincial purse for decades. The demise of that mine is now taken over by the good fortune made at the Duck Pond mine. Other mines are on the horizon.

Meanwhile, aquaculture, agriculture, dimension stone, peat moss, and manufacturing in the region are generating new dollars for the economy.

Next on the list to go to Gander from here looks like CBC Radio. Everything points towards the central's operations broadcasting originating from Gander even though the best facility is here on Harris Ave.

Back on my first term (1977-81) on the Grand Falls Town Council the feds built the new RCMP depot in Gander even though all the specialists, and biggest detachment, were here. I brought the issue up at a meeting, only to be greeted by, what can we do?

How about constantly complaining, demonstrating, protesting, harassing, being a pain in the neck, a pain in the butt, the squeaky wheel, or raising a ruckus, just for starters?

Too bad we couldn't pull a Tom Rideout and do a backupable. Maybe if our town councils had been more aggressive and outspoken from the beginning in 1961, rather than opting for the nice guy finishing last, we wouldn't be in the pickle we are now.

Like a John the Baptist of the New Testament, ours has been a voice crying in the wilderness. That voice fell on deaf ears when the mill was going full tilt. What chance do we have now?

A dying place is often mocked with "the last one out, turn off the lights". The provincial government's decision on the MRI is another lights out for us.

But the last one out from this place, won't be allowed to pull the plug because the juice is needed for Long Harbour.

Andy Barker can be contacted at abdp9@hotmail.com.

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