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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Offshore Accord Situation - Point by Point

Politics is a strange and ever changing landscape. This has never been truer in Canada than in the last few weeks and days, or even the last few hours. Never let it be said that politicians can’t move quickly, especially when their political future is on the line.

One of the key federal issues on most Newfoundland and Labrador minds these past weeks is of course the Offshore Revenue deal. A deal that would see our province reap billions of dollars in revenues from our offshore oil resources. The questions that permeate the collective consciousness of the province are quite simple. Will we ever see this deal become a reality, and when?

On the surface this would sound like a simple question. Not so. I’d like to take some time to examine the possibilities and politics surrounding this issue and perhaps gather some comments on what you all think of the current landscape. Lets all take a deep breath, put our chairs in a comfortable position, settle back and dive right in.

First we need to set the stage.

1. We have an arguably corrupt, minority government which has signed a deal with NL and NS that would see us access the revenues we deserve.

2. This government is under pressure and is caught like a deer in the proverbial Conservative headlights and under investigation for corruption.

3. Stephen Harper, the Conservative leader, is desperate to defeat the government on a non confidence vote and has decided that the budget bill is the way to do it.

4. Of course, our deal is buried deeper than most adscam secrets within bill C43, the budget bill which Mr. Harper has targeted.

5. Tireless attempts by NL members of the Conservative caucus to split out this deal and fast track it have been blocked by the Liberals. Why? Well that brings us to my next point.

6. By keeping the deal within the bill C43 the Liberals hope to put pressure on NL and NS MPs to vote against their own party and support the budget, thus propping up their government.

7. The NL and NS MPs would appear to be caught between a rock and a hard place.

8. If they vote with their party and against bill C43, they will be committing political suicide in their ridings. The electorate will have their heads.

9. If they vote for the bill, against their own party, they will be outcasts and totally ineffective should the Conservatives form the next government.

10. That was the situation as it stood on Monday, but things can change pretty quickly.

11. Enter Belinda Stronach. A founding member of the Conservative party. A woman who recently made a strong run at the party leadership against Mr. Harper and a woman who is the darling of Ontario, the most vote rich province in the Country. Seemingly out of nowhere, Ms. Stronach decided, just two days before the non confidence vote, to jump ship and cross the floor to the government side.

(Tired? Hold on, its not over yet.)

12. Ms. Stronach’s move has a myriad of repercussions, some of which are still not clear.

13. One of the most obvious impacts of her move is the way the numbers now break down in the Commons. Currently the Liberal and NDP alliance (along with the one independent vote they have sewn up) account for 152 votes. With the exit of Ms. Stronach, the Conservative and Bloc alliance also has 152 votes.

14. There are two independents who are not saying which way they will vote. This leaves us in a situation where one of the following can happen.

15. First, the Conservatives could pick up both independent votes and defeat the government.

16. Second, the Liberals could pick up both independent votes and remain in power.

17. Third, they each pick up one independent vote and remain tied at 153 a piece.

18. In the third scenario, the Speaker of the House would cast the tie breaking vote.

19. History, and the fact that the Speaker of the House is a Liberal MP tells us that this type of vote would most likely favour the reigning Liberal party, but with the scrum taking place in Ottawa these days, nothing is a given. Lets take the following for example:

20. Having been punched in the gut by Ms. Stronach’s departure, Mr. Harper is showing all the symptoms of a man who has lost control of his own party.

21. As a result of this loss of control, the Conservative caucus, lead by Mr. Norm Doyle of NL have decided not to vote against bill C43. Instead, they will support the budget bill and the Offshore Revenue deal it contains.

22. This takes the political pressure off the Atlantic MPs to some degree.

23. This is also a slap in the face to Mr. Harper since he has been burning up the media over the past few weeks saying he will kill the budget bill. Now his own party have decided otherwise.

24. Hang on just one second though, there is a catch. The Conservatives will indeed vote for C43 so they can say they didn’t vote against their own provinces, but they are going to vote against bill C48, the amendment to the budget that was proposed as a part of the Liberal deal with the NDP.

25. If bill C48 were voted down it would have the same effect as voting down C43, the government would fall and the Offshore deal would die in the House. The only difference is that nobody can say the Atlantic MPs voted against the Offshore deal.

26. All of this is happening at a time when nobody can even speculate on who would win an election if one were to take place, and

27. The Conservative Party now has a leader who may not be able to control his own party at a time when he desperately needs to do so.

28. He has lost a key, and very influential figure to the other side.

29. He has publicly stated over and over again that he would work to defeat C43 and now his caucus has gone against him on the issue.

30. None of this even addresses Mr. Harper's public image which is not the most trusted in the majority of the Country and could impact the chances of the Conservative Party winning any public support.

31. Add to this the fact that as a result of his loss of control, he may even be facing a leadership review himself and the party may see a new leader, most likely in the form of Peter McKay.

(Confused Yet? Welcome to the club.)

The stage has now been set.

(Take another deep breath.)

Aaaannndddd we're off again.

The big question for us in all of this mess is, what does this all mean to the Offshore Revenue deal? Here again, there are a number of scenarios to look at.

In the first scenario, the Liberals remain in power and the budget slowly winds its way through the Commons and Senate. Remember, since this is only the second reading that everyone is talking about voting on.

1. This deal is still not guaranteed. Bill C43 would still have to go through the senate committee and achieve Royal Assent. This is a slow process. In fact,

2. The budget from 2004 just passed a month or so ago. If the same thing happens to the 2005 budget it means we won’t see any money until at least next January or February.

3. Even if the budget finally passes next year, it still means we will have lost millions in interest between now and then and it is still not a given that it will ever pass. This is simply because,

4. At any time between now and then, the government could still fall over another issue. This to would kill the deal.


In the second scenario, the Government falls, either this week or at anytime before we recieve the cash, and the bill dies. In this case what are the possibilities?

1. The first possibility is that an election is held and the Conservatives win what by all accounts would be no more than a minority government.

2. The Conservatives have sworn they will then table the deal as a stand alone bill and move it quickly through the house. Will they, and can they?

3. There is nothing to stop them from modifying some of the content of the deal as they see fit.

4. There is no guarantee that the Liberal members in opposition (especially those from Ontario and Quebec, if the Liberals can even win any seats in Quebec, but that is a whole other issue.) There is no guarantee that they would vote for the deal.

5. We know as well that the Bloc won’t vote for it.

6. As a result, even if the Conservatives do decide to re-introduce it, it could still die on the order paper.

7. Another question is: Will Mr. Harper be the leader of the party if an election happens six months or a year from now?

8. Mr. Harper is the one who signed up for the deal with NL as an election promise a year or so ago. If he is no longer the leader, will the Conservatives even back the deal? Again, especially those from Ontario.

Another third possibility is that the Liberals win an election and regain power.

1. Since the bill would have initially died with their ouster, there are no guarantees here that they would re-introduce it in its current form, if at all. A new government is a new government.

2. The Liberals, because of the Adscam muck that is being tossed around, may themselves have a major shakeup that might see Mr. Martin himself lose control of his party. What does this mean for the leadership of the party?

3. One possibility that comes to mind is the fact that the most high profile MP currently in the party, and the darling of vote rich Ontario, is the newly acquired Belinda Stronach.

4. If Ms. Stronach were to assume the reigns of power and lead the new government, again, there are no guarantees that she would table a bill that was based on an election promise of a disgraced and ousted leader. A deal that does not make her Ontario power base very happy.

Another scenario is one where the Conservatives so infuriate the electorate over forcing an election that the Liberals achieve a majority government in the election.

1. In this scenario, similar to the previous one, there is no guarantee they would re-introduce the bill.

2. In a majority situation they wouldn’t have to worry nearly as much about the consequences of pushing it to the back burner or killing it completely.

There are many other possibilities and permutations that may arise from the current situation, not to mention as a result of the moves that might happen over the days, weeks and months to come.

A book could, and probably will be written about all of this eventually. There are far too many to go into here. For example, another that easily comes to mind is the possibility that Peter McKay ends up at the helm of the Conservative Party while Belinda Stronach takes control of the Liberals. (Remember, these two have been sweethearts for some time. Nobody, at this point anyway, seems to know it the relationship is still underway.). What would that entail for us or for Canada in general.

Another possibility, as far fetched as it might be, is that the activities of both parties so infuriate the public that the NDP make a grab for power. Just today we saw the result of the provincial vote in BC where the NDP moved from 3 seats to 33 overnight. Is this some sort of omen?

No matter how you slice it, the political landscape of the next little while will be one to watch. It is a landscape where almost nothing is certain except for a couple of things.

1. The Offshore deal is by no means a given.

2. NL and NS are now caught up in a federal machine that may just chew us up and leave us as a casualty by the side of the road.

3. The soap opera that is our government has never been more sordid, scandelous or disheartening.

9 comments:

Dennis said...

Holy crap. A lot 0f reading and, like you said, there is a lot more that could be said on this.

Great job of breaking it down.

Thanks.

Independent said...

We can kiss the Accord deal goodbye. The day we see the benefit of our resources is the day we leave Canada.

Gambler said...

I'd put our odds at about 1 in 4 of getting this money by February of next year.

Not a gambler (facts) said...

I'd put the odds at 100% but I would also be willing to bet that we won't see any of the money for at least spring of next year.

Jeremy R. said...

After reading that article, my head is spinning. Complex and screwed up is not the word for this situation.

It amazes me that with all of this going on, Gomery, party defections, party aliances, the accord deal, on and on, that the Liberals will still manage to hang onto their corrupt government.

Democracy is dead in this country and the current parliment is the corpse that proves it.

NDP'er said...

I wouldn't mind seeing the NDP get a chance. They are all about social issues.

At least we'd have a government that cares about the little guy.

MrChills said...

My take on reading all of this is that unless we leave Canada our prayers of ever getting our voice heard or becoming a HAVE province is next to null

MrChills said...

My take on reading all of this is that unless we leave Canada our prayers of ever getting our voice heard or becoming a HAVE province is next to null

Patriot said...

Hi all,

Just thought I'd pass along an email I recieved today from Ralph Goodale. Take it for what it is worth.

email:

Thank you for writing to me about the offshore arrangements reached with Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia on February 14, 2005.
Through these arrangements, the Government of Canada will provide both provinces with important financial assistance in recognition of their unique fiscal and economic circumstances, and we will do so in a way that is fair to all Canadians.

The offshore arrangements are a major spending item for the Government of Canada. For this reason, the authority to make these payments has been included in the 2005 Budget Implementation Bill, which I introduced in Parliament on March 24. The Government of Canada has made the passage of this Bill its number one priority.

The objective of including the Accord in the Budget Bill was to fast track the legislation so that both provinces can start making sustained improvements to their economic and fiscal situations. I was encouraged to see it receive Second Reading in the House of Commons on May 19, despite the challenges posed by the current minority Parliament (including Opposition attempts to trigger an early election which would effectively kill the offshore arrangements).

I can assure you that the Government of Canada appreciates how important the offshore arrangements are to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia. We will continue to seek the earliest possible enactment of the necessary legislation.

Yours sincerely,

Ralph Goodale