Department still assessing who can vote on the matter
Resettlement has been a word on the lips of people on Little Bay Islands (LBI) for years.
However, Councilor Dennis Budgell says despite all the talks, both in town and between the community and the provincial government, people still live on LBI, and will be living there for a while yet.
“The last word we got from Government was that they’re working on determining who would be considered a permanent resident and who wouldn’t be,” said Budgell.
The dispute has been the roadblock for resettlement since the idea of moving first arose for the island residents.
A number of people own homes and dwellings on LBI but don’t spend all year on the island. They choose to live elsewhere most of the winter and fall, coming back to LBI during the warmer seasons.
“I guess they’re going to look at it and figure out who has a right to vote on if we should move or not,” said Budgell. “I don’t know how they’re going to figure that out, that’s up to government, and however they want to do it.”
Residents were given documentation last year that they had to return to government by the end of July, 2013. The documents asked for information that would, apparently, help the province determine permanent residency. The decision hasn’t come yet, however Budgell says he expects it in the coming months.
“I guess the question of whether it’s taking too long all depends on who you talk to,” he said. “If you talk to some people, yes, they think it’s taking too long for them to figure out who will decide if we leave or not. But if you talk to more, they figure it’s taking the same amount of time as they thought it would.”
After word gets back as to who can vote, Budgell says they then have to actually vote on the idea. In order for government to approve resettlement, 90 percent of the island voters have to indicate they are favour of moving. Whether they’ll get that number remains to be seen, but Budgell says he thinks the support will be there when the time comes.
“I think they last time we took the vote we got 89.7%,” he said. “So that’s pretty close – and if anything, we’ve picked up a few people in support of it since there.”
However, the bureaucracy isn’t done on the issue yet, and council knows that. Budgell says the word council has received from the Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs is they hope the issues and decisions will be reached by the end of 2015.
“That’s still a long ways out yet,” he said. “I mean we’ve got a year here yet, guaranteed.”
LBI isn’t alone in its desire to resettle.
Round Harbour, William's Harbour in Labrador, Snook's Arm and Nipper's Harbour are also working files within the municipal affairs department. Last summer, government officials also visited McCallum and Gaultois on the South Coast to provide information about potential resettlement.
Minister of Municipal Affairs, Steve Kent told TC Media last week the government's aim is to offer information and assistance if communities get in touch, but they don't push resettlement in any way.
"We want communities to be in control of their own future and their own destiny, and this is a really sensitive issue. Relocation is usually the last option for residents," he said in an interview with The Telegram.
In the past year, as well, the province announced it would be increasing the amount of money available per household in communities where people choose resettlement.
For Budgell, he says while it may still be a sensitive issue, it’s one that’s dragged on long enough.
“It’s time to get it over with now, because, I mean, there’s nothing here anymore – there’s not even a store here anymore. It’s time to get it on the go, because we’ve been talking about it long enough.”
With the transition in government now, with incoming Premier Frank Coleman, Budgell says he hopes nothing delays the process any more.
“I hope it doesn’t get pushed aside in transition,” he said. “A lot could happen in a year – we might end up with a new government, and that might delay it even more.”