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The Hon. Grant  Mitchell, B.A., M.A., C.F.A. Senator Grant Mitchell has had careers in the public service, business and politics in Alberta. He was appointed by former Prime Minister Paul Martin in March, 2005.

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Newfoundland and Labrador - Inquiry

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Statement made on 27 May 2009 by Senator William Rompkey (retired)

Hon. Bill Rompkey:

I want to make a few brief comments, honourable senators. I wish to thank Senator Cook for raising this matter and allowing us to recognize our sixtieth wedding anniversary in this chamber. It is not the wedding anniversary of we two senators, but that of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, I owe a lot to Senator Cook, because Senator Cook was a key part of my campaign organization in 1972. I was a greenhorn. It was the first time I put my toe in the water, and she was an experienced campaigner. She came to my aid and she was, in large part, the reason I won that election in 1972, so I owe a lot to her.

Senator Cook, the theme of what I will say is "fortune." First, Senator Cook was born in Fortune Bay. I also was born in Fortune Bay. Therefore, Fortune Bay probably has the greatest representation per capita of any place in Canada in the Senate.

The second reason I think we are fortunate is because we voted to join Canada. Some people have tried to vote to leave Canada. We voted to join. That side won with a narrow margin; there was a great debate. George Baker will remember.

I draw to the attention of honourable senators a record that George Baker made when he was Clerk of the House of Assembly in Newfoundland. The title is, ". . . and oh, what a battle it was!" Honourable senators can hear the debate that went on, if they buy his record. Is it still available, George? It is.

If honourable senators want to know about the Confederation debate in Newfoundland and Labrador, I recommend that record. It is on vinyl, but Senator Johnson, with her knowledge of the arts, is about to offer to move it from vinyl to digital, George. It will be available.

We are so fortunate. If we had not joined Canada, we would not have had the three R's. The three R's are not reading, writing and arithmetic; they are two Ricks and a Rex. We would not have had Rick Hillier as the Chief of the Defence Staff if we had not joined Canada. Second, we would not have had Rick Mercer. Third, we would not have had Rex Murphy on CBC and in The Globe and Mail.

It is better to read Rex than to listen to him. Rex is a Rhodes Scholar from Placentia Bay, which is a bay right next to where we were born. He was fortunate too. Rex has a command of the English language and he shows it from time to time.

We are fortunate to have Labrador as part of our province. We go back hundreds of years. There is an identity on the island. We are a fishing people. We came because the fish were in the sea all around the island, much like many of my colleagues from the Atlantic Provinces. That is what formed our character.

Labrador was different. Labrador was really the eastern edge of the Hudson Bay territory, and what distinguishes its identity is just that. It has, of course, an Aboriginal population. It has the most southerly Inuit population anywhere in Canada. It has an Innu population, which Labrador shares with the north shore of Quebec, and there is a Metis population as well.

Labrador is sub-Arctic. It is just south of Nunavut. Willie Adams is my neighbour, and we are fortunate to have Willie Adams as a neighbour. Thank you very much, Senator Campbell. I had better have Senator Campbell write my speeches from now on.

We are fortunate to have Labrador as part of the province. That special identity of Labrador has been recognized. The identity of the island was so strong that for a long time it was difficult for people to accommodate, let us say, another strong identity, but that has now been done. In 2001, I think it was, the name of the province was changed to Newfoundland and Labrador so that we now recognize that there are two strong, separate identities in one strong province.

We have existed on fish for a long time, and on other resources. That situation is changing now, but I asked Senator Fraser a while ago, was it Bob Dylan who wrote the song, "The Times They Are a-Changin'." She said it was, but neither of us are of the generation — let us not go into that.

The times are a-changin', and we are moving from a fish economy to an oil economy. The demographics are changing so that St. John's and the Avalon Peninsula are growing and things are not the same as they were in the outports.

We are fortunate to be part of this country, to have come here. I never tire of telling that I was 13 when we joined Canada. I was 18 when, at university, I joined the Royal Canadian Navy reserves. That made me a Canadian. I had never met Canadians before. Those people in Newfoundland of my generation said, My God, they are just like us, except they have this funny accent.

Seriously, that was a change in my life that I shall never forget and that I shall always appreciate, because it moved me across this country. We should put in place programs for all young people to do, or for as many people as we can.

We talked about that subject last night — the relationship between, let us say, the Armed Forces and the country itself. One thing that the Armed Forces can do for us, apart from the training, is to move people back and forth across the country. The infrastructure is there, the wherewithal is there to give young people that experience not simply of important leadership training, but of actually seeing Canada. That experience is important. It was for me and it will be for all of us.

We are fortunate to be here. I am pleased that Senator Cook gave us the opportunity today to celebrate being Canadians and to say that we are here for the long haul. Senator Johnson today used a favourite phrase of ours in response to Senator Eyton's farewell. I will use it to conclude by saying that this marriage is going to last, and long may our big jibs draw.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Does any other senator wish to speak?

Hon. Wilfred P. Moore: Will Senator Rompkey take a question?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator Rompkey, will you take a question?

Senator Rompkey: Let me think about it. No, go ahead.

Senator Moore: Can you tell us about one Captain Robert Bartlett and what his connection is with Newfoundland and the Arctic?

Senator Rompkey: This is the year in Newfoundland of Captain Robert Bartlett. He was born in Brigus, about an hour's drive from St. John's. He comes from a long line of famous skippers. His father, grandfather and his whole family went to sea, fished off Newfoundland and fished in Labrador.

What is important about Robert Bartlett is that he left Newfoundland and went to the United States. His fame came from his experience in the Arctic. Robert Bartlett sailed Peary to the North Pole. Peary did not take Robert Bartlett all the way, but Robert Bartlett took him there and gave him access to the Pole. That is only one of the many famous trips he made.

The other trip was with Stefansson on the Karluk, where they went up the western portion of the Arctic and Stefansson was also trying to reach the Pole. The Karluk became stuck in the ice for the winter. He left Bartlett behind. Bartlett travelled with a couple of other people for 800 miles — and Senator Baker can correct me if my knowledge is incorrect — to eventually reach Russia. Thereafter, he worked his way down until he found a boat to return and rescue his crew who were stuck in the ice. That also is on tape, if senators want to listen to it.

Robert Bartlett became an American citizen and received the highest honours bestowed by the National Geographic organization for his great experience in the Arctic. This year, his life and his record are being celebrated. I thank Senator Moore for bringing that to my attention.


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