Accolades in Englee

Juris Graney
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A combined 90 years of service

It can be hard not to dwell on the negatives of municipal politics, especially when your council is located in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

It can be hard not to dwell on the negatives of municipal politics, especially when your council is located in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

But while disappointments seemingly outweigh the positives, there's always something to be thankful for.

And it's good to know there's plenty of fight left in those who represent their people.

For Robert Keefe, Edgar Fillier and Rudy Porter -- who received special recognition at last month's Municipal Newfoundland and Labrador Convention for their combined 90 years of service to municipal politics on Englee council -- those shining moments are ones to hold onto and cherish.

For instance, this year's Come Home Year celebrations will linger long in the minds of the retired school teachers.

"It was a tremendous success," Mr. Fillier said. 

"Council took the lead on the Come Home Year and it was a wonderful event. 

"When you are working together for a common goal you can achieve great things."

Mr. Porter, who is the town's current mayor, said he was proud to see so many townsfolk roll up their sleeves and help volunteer during the event.

"That one event showed there are some very capable, talented and dedicated people who live in this town and who are willing to volunteer and work towards a brighter future," he said.

Over the years there's been a host of other positives, including when the pavement came through 15 years ago, the success of the White Bay Central Joint Committee, the upgrading of the town's water line and, of course, the tireless work of council staff.

When you flip the coin, however, it's hard not to avoid talking about the hardships and disappointments during their time with council.

A year after the cod moratorium was announced, and under increasing financial pressures, the mayor stood town and the council quit, leaving office manager Doris Randell to run the entire operation.

Realizing the dire situation the town now faced, Mr. Keefe formulated a plan.

Having served on council in various capacities since 1969, Mr. Keefe was at the time working on a committee for the establishment of the West Viking college, which is now the College of the North Atlantic, when the council abdicated responsibilities.

He approached then-Liberal MHA for The Straits-White Bay North Chris Decker, who in turn brought the issue to the attention of Art Reid, Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs.

Mr. Keefe had six names in mind for a replacement council along with ways the government could aid in helping remedy their economic situation. After some negotiation, Mr. Reid stamped the approval allowing Scott Gillard, Morris Cull, Mayor Terry Clark, Guy Fillier, Edgar Fillier, Rudy Porter and Mr. Keefe to take control and steady the ship.

"My grandfather was the real influence for me becoming involved in local politics," Mr. Keefe said.

"He'd always say that if the community has given you so much for all these years, you have to put something back in.

"We did it because we thought we had something to offer the town and the people living here. There was a need."

It's a similar philosophy as to why Mr. Fillier became involved in local politics.

"You have to have a willingness to serve your community, especially back when we started," he said.

"There was no compensation of any sort, though you weren't doing it for money, you were doing it to help the community."

The trio has witnessed drastic changes to municipal governance and, equally, the change to their town has been extreme over 35 years.

"When the economy was thriving, you didn't have to focus on the economic development," Mr. Fillier said, "in fact you didn't have to worry about it all and it stayed like that right up until the moratorium."

The moratorium didn't bring an end to the little town though; its fish processing plant still offered jobs to the townsfolk, though not at levels of the boom years of the fishery.

But then something happened. 

In 2006 the provincial government refused to reissue a processing license for the plant and, as Mr. Keefe described it, "the queen lost her crown."

"That's how we always described it, because here you have a harbor, access to some of the richest fishing grounds in the province, dry dock facilities and wharf and then they took away the plant processing license," Mr. Keefe said.

"That really hurt us," Mr. Fillier added.

"It's been a struggle ever since. The last six years have been the hardest. 

"Everything was booming, everybody was working and then one day it all stopped. It was such a disappointment."

The former Daley Bros. plant has become an albatross around their necks. 

As it continues to collapse into the harbor the provincial government refuses to help and those feelings of neglect are as strong today as they were when the license was revoked.

"It was a blow to the economy that we could never recover from," Mr. Keefe said.

"Now we have Small Craft Harbours willing to support the construction of a wharf in town yet the province won't help us with the removal of the old plant."

Mr. Porter said they would continue to petition the government for help.

"Trying to get that monstrosity removed is frustrating but we won't give up," he said.

The old guard won't give up on their town but they are hoping that some new community leaders will step forward and take up the responsibility of serving their people as councillors.

In recent years it hasn't been so much the case of an election race as it is about finding enough councillors to fill the positions.

"We leave it right up until the last hour before we put our names down in the hope that someone else will come forward to become councillors," Mr. Fillier said.

"But it usually ends up as appointments or acclamations and, if we didn't, there wouldn't be a council."

People are also reluctant of becoming involved, Mr. Keefe believes, because they are involved with so many other groups and organizations.

As for the plaques and recognition for so many years of service, the men reiterate that they are not in it for awards. 

"This is just recognition of what you've done to serve your community," Mr. Fillier said, "but there's that old saying -- the prophet not known in his own country. Well, it's a lot like that."

"There's immense self-satisfaction in all the work," Mr. Keefe said, "and there is the satisfaction that you are helping your community to the best of your ability."

Mr. Porter said the award wasn't about him.

"It's great to be able to work for the people, to further your community," he said.

"I don't take this award personally, there are a number of people who are deserving, the people who volunteer, the staff here, they are all deserving of this recognition because without them, it wouldn't be possible." 


Organizations: West Viking college, College of the North Atlantic, Municipal Newfoundland and Labrador Convention Englee council White Bay Central Joint Committee Daley Bros.

Geographic location: Englee, Newfoundland and Labrador

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