Today the Prime Minister declared Peter Penashue—who recently resigned his seat in the House as Elections Canada continues to probe illegal contributions to his 2011 election campaign—the “best member of Parliament Labrador has ever had.”
I’m the furthest thing from an expert on Newfoundland and Labrador political history, but Harper’s bold historical claim got me wondering. So here’s a very brief comparison of Penashue and Thomas G. W. Ashbourne, the first MP for northeast Newfoundland and Labrador, who won his seat in the House as a Liberal in 1949, the first election after Newfoundland and Labrador joined Canada, and again in 1953 and 1957.
Before being forced to step down under a cloud of controversy, Penashue served 683 days as an MP and was regarded by many as having been an unusually inconsequential minister of intergovernmental affairs. By constrast, Ashbourne served 3,200 days as an MP before he retired, notably chairing the fisheries committee from 1952 to 1957, where he was credited with securing unemployment insurance for fishermen.
Before he entered federal politics, Penashue was a leader of the Innu Nation, for whom he negotiated benefits from the Voisey’s Bay Nickel Co. Prior to becoming an MP, Asbourne, a World War I veteran, was a member of Newfoundland’s first delegation to Ottawa to discuss the terms for entering Confederation. He was persuaded to support the plan by his old University of Toronto classmate and friend, Lester B. Pearson, and ultimately witnessed the signing of the terms of union in Ottawa in 1948.