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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Is Canada Getting too Cozy with the United States?

Let me start today by saying that I’m not anti-American as a rule and though some people may see it that way, this is not an attempt at U.S. bashing. The fact is I actually like our neighbors to the south for the most part. I don’t always agree with many aspects of the U.S. government’s foreign and domestic policies, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the American people in general. Having said all of that, I don’t however want to be an American myself and I certainly don’t want to live in a Canada that’s being governed from Washington.

I’m a born and bred, no holds barred, dyed in the wool Newfoundlander, so I have a hard enough time feeling like I even belong in Canada sometimes. Can you just imagine how uncomfortable it makes me feel to think we may now be living in America Lite? Hell, if Newfoundland wanted to be an American state it could have worked toward that in 1949 instead of joining Canada. It didn’t.

How does the shift toward the south our Country has taken lately make you feel, or have you even noticed? If you haven’t, or if you don’t believe me, just take a look around at what’s been happening.

First, George Bush and Stephen Harper travel to Mexico together for talks and the next thing you know news reports are trumpeting the vastly improved relationship between the two countries. This excursion is quickly followed by Foreign Affairs Minister Peter McKay’s visit to Washington and meetings with Secretary of State Rice (the two looked just like old school chums in the news coverage, I believe Condelezza actually almost smiled at one point. Can you imagine?).

Next the throne speech from Ottawa singled out the United States of America and spoke of our close friendship with the Country. Don’t get me wrong, friendship isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but specifically singling out one individual country for mention in the throne speech is certainly not something I would have expected. It makes me wonder if the relationship hasn’t become something more than the average Canadian might want. The character of this new relationship is still unclear, but it was hinted at during a recent visit to Newfoundland when Prime Minister Harper chose sides in a squabble between the Province and U.S. oil giant Exxon Mobile. He supported Exxon.

Since taking power in Ottawa Harper has increased troop commitments and extended timelines indefinitely in Afghanistan. This allows Canada to take over the leadership role in that conflict but it also relieves U.S. forces there freeing them up to help bolster the effort in Iraq.

To add to this Harper has now adopted the White House tactic of controlling media coverage of events. He did this by putting a gag order on Cabinet Ministers, only allowing them to speak with reporters after approval by his office. He followed this move by denying news cameras access to photograph or video tape flag draped coffins returning from Afghanistan (ala George Bush) and then (though they have since been denied) rumors surfaced that Harper was demanding approval of all speeches to be delivered by Canada’s top Military leader, General Rick Hillier.

The latest move by Harper has even gone a step beyond anything the Bush government has ever done, at least to the best of my knowledge. His government has now put into jeopardy the idea of artistic expression in Canada. He has done this by questioning the contents of a movie produced by a private citizen. This citizen is just like you and me in that he is not employed by, or working with, the government of Canada. His two sins are that he is married to the Governor General and that his film may contain scenes that Ottawa believes could be offensive to the U.S. or more specifically, to George Bush.

According to one quote out of Ottawa on the subject:

“…Canada has a profound, deep and committed relationship with the United States of America.”

I have to say, that sounds like a lot more than friendship to me. I know married couples who might have trouble defining their relationship in those terms. It is statements like those that really make me wonder exactly how far into bed we’ve climbed with our neighbor. (Please, no jokes about who is physically bigger or who’s on top)

Listen, I don’t mind Canada’s government working with Washington on issues of common concern. I don’t mind a friendly relationship with our neighbors or any other reasonable Country in the world. I don’t even mind the government reviewing specific policies of other governments in an effort to determine if they might work better than our own. I’m open to all of those things.

I do have a problem with the kind of blind obedience I believe we are seeing in Ottawa these days and I have a big problem with Harper’s Bush style media manipulation. In addition to those two things, I REALLY have a problem with the Harper government blurring the lines between a close relationship to America and what constitutes a very scary relationship to the Bush administration.

Administrations come and go whereas countries tend to last a long, long time. The Bush government is now in its final days of life and to say that they’ve been involved in some less than acceptable activities during their tenure would be the understatement of the century. In that light, I question just how much we as a nation should be aligning ourselves with the current U.S. leadership.

If Canada becomes too closely aligned with the Bush administration itself, I wonder exactly what the consequences might be. I worry that we will end up living with a situation we would rather not face. I wonder where the relationship will leave us positioned in the world and how other countries will view Canada. Finally, I wonder what it will mean for every Canadian, long after Bush and Harper have retired to their quiet beach front properties someplace warm and cozy. Perhaps too cozy.

It may be my paranoia kicking in, but I can almost hear my name being added to a No Fly list somewhere in Ottawa at this very moment. Come on Steve, I said I like Americans didn't I?

By Myles Higgins (scratch that!!)
By John Doe (that'll slow them down)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Harper Government Ignores Fallen Soldiers

Tuesday was a very sad day for Canada in more ways than one. It was a day when we saw four more of our fallen soldiers return home from the war in Afghanistan, or to be more accurate, we didn’t see them come home.

Taking a page from George Bush’s book on public manipulation, the current Conservative government has decided not to permit media to show pictures of the flag draped remains of Cpl. Matthew Dinning, Cpl. Randy Payne, Bombardier Myles Mansell and Lieut. William Turner as they returned to Canada one last time. In addition to barring the media from presenting such pictures, flags in the nation’s capital will not be lowered to half mast in the standard display of respect for the fallen.

What has this Country come too? How can the people of Canada just sit back and let the government pretend that those men never existed. It may sound harsh to put it that way, but how else can I say it? By allowing our government to hide the return of our fallen soldiers and refuse to lower the flags on Parliament Hill, we are all a party to turning a blind eye on our dead. The government has brushed aside our Country’s grief. The only possible reason for doing so is to head off any potential growth of anti-war sentiment, and the saddest part of all this is that the move has barely caused more than a grumble or two among the general population.

What does that say about us? Practically every man, woman and child in this country is related to, or at the very least, knows someone in the Armed Forces. This fact is especially true in Newfoundland and Labrador where the small population base (about 500,000, less than 2% of Canada’s population) have supplied about 10% of the men and women defending the nation. Thankfully none of those returning this week are from the Province but that doesn’t lessen the feelings of shared loss being experienced.

Those brave young men answered the call of our government and our Country. They gladly put their lives on the line and in the end they paid the ultimate price. Now our government has turned its back on them and we as a people are putting up with it.

I’m sure Mr. Harper understands quite well that in any war there will always be those who support the cause and those who oppose it. That’s a simple reality that will never change. At present there is a reasonable level of support for the mission in Afghanistan and an absolute unquestioned level of support for the young people we’ve sent over there. That said, the tactic the Prime Minister has now taken of trying to hide the truth from the public, can only serve to erode the support he now has for the mission. Canadian’s are not afraid to stand and deliver when asked to do so but one thing we should never stand for is a government trying to soft sell and sugar coat a conflict for us.

Yes, the body count is climbing higher. Yes that is very upsetting to many. Yes, questions are being asked, but if the PM believes for one minute that the American style approach of hiding the war’s ugly realities from the people will somehow help him maintain support he is sadly mistaken. With over 250 million people in the U.S. and with around the clock news coverage of topics like terrorism, urban crime, Iraq, Iran and the disaster on the Gulf Coast, George Bush may be able to quietly bring home bodies without too much of a fuss. We don’t have to let that happen here. Stephen Harper is not George Bush, Canada is not the size of the U.S., our headlines are not already clogged with multiple levels of crisis and we as a people should not simply let Stephen Harper get away with slipping this reality past us.

It’s time we stood up for our brave men and women in uniform and it’s time we told Prime Minister Harper exactly what we think of this lack of respect for our fallen soldiers. The men and women in Canada’s military should be able to expect that much from us at the very least.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Who is a Newfoundlander to You?

Before reading the following I offer a warning to our readers. The content of these comments may be very offensive to some of you. If it isn’t, you may want to reflect on what that might mean.

Just over one year ago I decided to focus my writing on issues of importance in Newfoundland and Labrador. I felt that outside the Province many people were under a misconception of who Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans really are, if they even cared at all. I felt the Province’s issues were being ignored by the rest of the Country and that people from this land were being looked down upon like no other in the Nation. In short, I had heard enough Newfie jokes and slurs against the people of this place and figured I’d say something about it.

Since that time I’ve commented on a number of topics. From the Atlantic seal hunt to fishing issues to oil development, federal inaction and even provincial triumphs. Throughout the process I’ve received hundreds, perhaps even thousands of comments on my articles. Some of the comments received have been supportive, others have not. No matter which side of an issue the comments come down on, as long as they truly discussed the issue, I read them and when possible responded.

Sometimes however I recieve the kind of response from outside the Province that really inspires me to continue the journey I’ve embarked upon. No, the comments aren’t complimentary of my words, nor do they show support for my stance on an issue as one might think. More often than not these comments come from people who serve to strengthen my resolve by proving to me that my efforts are nowhere near complete. They are comments that show very clearly that the old attitudes of dismissal, belittlement and hatred still exit towards people from this Province.

My words alone could never prove the point better than the words in those comments themselves. Below is a sample of just a few of the responses to which I refer. I have received these after publishing various articles intended to discuss Newfoundland and Labrador interests or in some cases simply to talk about our Provincial history.


From various animal rights defenders on the topic of the seal hunt:

"Newfie's are a blight and a curse"

"Asking us to respect Newfoundlanders is like asking us to have respect for the soldiers of the Third Reich.”

”Hope you all drown and your bodies preserved with frozen smiles.”

"I hope you guys are liking the floods,(after recent rains that washed out roads and houses)? Hope that they will continue… and that you will spend tons of money saving yourselves from the drownings you all deserve. We are not weeping a bit.”

“The sooner global warming covers the rock with sea water the sooner we can spend our hard earned money on something besides a helpless cause”

“You people are sick. I hope somebody skins your children alive and eats them in front of you”

On the topic of Ottawa showing support for farmers but not fishermen in the throne speech:

“Farmers do more for the country than fisherman. They feed us, they feed the world.”

On using the word “Newfie”:

“…you are ignorant if you think being anti-Newfoundlanders is racist.”

General comments on various arcticles:

“It completely amazes me how stupid you people are.”

“… arrange for a minor B-2 accident involving a low grade atomic weapon… and be done with you sorry ass sons of bitches once and for all…I mean, would anybody actually miss you?”

“…intelligence of the Neanderthals you never evolved from”

“my own children dressed as Newfies for Halloween.”

“until you do grow up and better yourselves, the world will treat you exactly like a whiny, petulant, ignorant barbarian should be treated”

“…Oh, sorry - A Newfie LEARNING???? What was I thinking?”

“You're right. This isn't a marriage (referring to Confederation). It’s an adoption, we're the parents and the child we brought home turned out to be a crack-baby."

” Let's see Harper follow through on his decentralization by cutting useless Newfies off from the welfare teet you've been sucking on since you joined up.”

“…turn on them and beat their asses (referring to Newfoundlanders) just like my four friends from Toronto pulverized (as they put it) the locals from St. John's. The sooner that happens, as far as I am concerned, the better for everyone.”

“You should be shot, all of you, on the spot. Not for killing seals and not for being stupid, just for being.”

There you have it. I've heard some people say for years that Newfoundlanders aren't treated like they should be in Canada. In fact many feel they are treated like second class citizens. There have been times when I too have heard the slurs, the jokes and the whispers but I never thought much of them. I realized that there are many Canadians who do not look down on Newfoundlanders at all, but as the preceeding comments show, there a still many others who do.

I used to wonder if feelings of being an outsider in Canada were just an example of our own low self esteem in this Province. I don't wonder anymore.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Conservative Government Spring Report Card

It’s been about three months since the Federal election. I always like holding a politician’s feet to the fire, so since it's April and before we move too far into the current federal mandate, maybe we should all take some time and try grading the Conservatives on exactly how they’ve been doing so far.

I'll go first.

Being from Newfoundland and Labrador I figured I’d start my own personal report card by looking at some key local issues:


Making the airbase at 5 Wing Goose a military requirement is still in the works but no troops assigned: Grade A

Public Safety:

Re-instating the Gander weather office announced: Grade A+


1 - Progress on stopping foreign overfishing/custodial management, insignificant: Grade E

2 - Development of a cod stocks recovery plan, no movement: Grade F

3 - Helping fishing communities survive through an early retirement program, no movement: Grade F

There you go. Over all from a local Newfoundland and Labrador perspective I give the Conservatives a C. Not great but not a failing grade either.

OK, on a national level, let’s look at the kind of progress the Conservative’s have made on the priorities outlined in the throne speech, which has since been modified and was accepted in a backroom deal on Parliament hill by the way. The revised version now includes several Liberal initiatives which the leaders of all parties agreed to accept without a vote in the House, likely to slip the changes past the general public while they were all having a big nap.

By the way, I know everyone talks about the speech containing the Conservative’s five priorities but if you count them there are actually more. Let’s not hold that against them though. We all know keeping track of numbers, staying within budgets, reporting accurate figures to the public or anything to do with numbers really, is not normally a government’s strong suit. Why should the Conservatives be any different?

Anyway, back to the topic:

Government Accountability: I’ve expanded on this one because some of the promises made during the election, such as senate reform, were not identified as priorities in the speech but relate directly to accountability in my opinion. Just so you know):

Accountability Act – Several necessary changes, but many weak ones especially in the areas of lobbying control and freedom of information. The new offices and positions the act will create will be costly and will bring with them miles of confusing red tape;

Senate reform - has been put so far back in the closet even Preston Manning can’t find it in there;

Appointment of a Senator - One of Canada’s newest Minister’s and Senator was not elected but appointed and is in no way accountable to the electorate;

Buying a member? - An elected Liberal member was enticed to cross the floor when the Conservatives dangled the carrot of a cabinet position in front of his nose. At least this one was elected but most of his riding wants their ballot back;

Freedom of the press - has been limited by not allowing them to have access to Ministers on the upper floors of the Hill;

Committee Chairs - will now be hand picked by Harper rather than selected by secret ballot;
Amendments to the Throne Speech sneaked past the public (figured that one was worth mentioning again).

Grade: E

(I would have given them an F but there are a few good things in the Accountability Act and with all of the secrecy on the hill these days I couldn’t enough evidence to pin the failing grade on them.)

2. GST reductions: The first cut planned for the upcoming budget: Grade A+

3. Getting tough on crime: No major movement to date but still on the agenda. It’s still early in the game so I’ll go easy on this one: Grade B -

4. Child-care: $1200 a year to go into budget as promised, however promised tax credits to encourage the building of new child care spaces will not appear in the budget: Grade: D

5. The fiscal imbalance: Sorry, Harper campaigned on this one but he now says it just isn’t one of his top priorities: Grade F

6. Medical wait times or the wait time guarantee: Like crime management, there has been very little if any movement on this file yet but its still early so I’ll go easy: Grade B -

7. Developing stronger ties with the U.S:

a. Vacationed and toured with George Bush in Mexico;
b. Increased military presence in Afghanistan so U.S. troops could cycle out;
c. Hasn’t pushed the softwood lumber issue to any real degree;
d. Foreign Affairs Minister met with Condeleza Rice;
e. Sold out Newfoundland Premier in the press in order to placate U.S. oil interests.

Grade: A+

In addition to the publicly announced programs identified above, the government also intends to do legislation reviews of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Bank Act. Two things make me very nervous about these reviews. The first is that these specific items are being reviewed by a Conservative government and second is that these specific items are being reviewed by a Conservative government.

Based on the Harper’s record so far, hopefully the result of these reviews won’t see:

The tearing up of pollution and dumping regulations for big industry;

U.S. forces on Canadian streets to “protect” us from the Terrorists that are on American streets; and,

A flurry of bank mergers leading to monopolization and eventually a situation where every $5.00 I put into the bank costs me $5.50 in service fees. Although I might be mistaken on this one, I’m pretty sure that’s happening already.

Nationally I give the Harper government a grade of B. It would have been a D but he performed so well in the area of improving ties with the U.S. that I had to bump him up a couple of notches. I’m just not sure it that’s a good thing or not.

Taking into account the Local grade of C and the National grade of B and by weighing them based on various factors including:

The level of priority each item has for me personally (Local 10, national 10) Hey, I didn’t say it had to make sense;

My wasted time at the computer typing this up (2 hours);

The number of Tim Horton’s coffee consumed to keep me awake while I did the research and analysis (8); and,

How Harper has been registering on my personal bull S&*T meter lately (not good, really not good).

Based on all of that I have arrived at a final score of: F-

Once again, it would have been more like a D – but that U.S. butt kissing thing is really ticking me off so I cut two full grades. I know, I added a couple of grades earlier on for that specific item but it’s all a matter of context. Besides there are two reasons I feel comfortable doing something like that. One, Everything Ottawa gives the Canadians with one hand it takes away with the other so why shouldn’t I. Two, it’s my article, my grading scale and besides I feel like it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Harper Consumates Love Affair with U.S.

In the 1940s most Newfoundlanders pondered their political future. At the time talk turned to independence, becoming Canada’s tenth Province or even becoming an American state. By April of 1949 the die had been cast. Confederation with Canada was officially announced in newspaper headlines around the world and it looked like the end of the story. Now it looks as if those headlines were just another sign post in our long and tumultuous history.

Today, after nearly sixty years of Confederation, it seems like we may finally be inching ever closer to leaving Canadian control. I’m not talking about independence I’m referring instead to a far less appealing possibility, falling under total U.S. control.

During his recent visit to Newfoundland and Labrador Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed everyone exactly which relationship was the most important in Ottawa. The relationship between Canada and the U.S. or the one between Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador, the winner wasn’t Newfoundland and Labrador.

At the time of the PM’s visit Premier Williams had just raised the stakes in oil development negotiations with U.S. based Exxon Mobile. Days before he had threatened to table “fallow field” legislation if Exxon didn’t move on developing the Hebron Ben Nevis oil field. The legislation would force any oil company who is sitting on a major find to develop the resource within a specified time or lose their rights to it. Some have called the move heroic, others foolhardy and still others question the legal implications of the move.

At a press conference in the Province last week a reporter asked the PM if he would support such a move by Williams. Harper’s response managed to sellout the Province, tow the line for U.S. oil interests and kick the legs out from under Premier Williams all in one fell swoop.

You went three for three, on that one Steve.

It wouldn’t have taken much for Harper to morally support Williams’ efforts, at least publicly and he could have dodged any serious repercussions from south of the border at the same time. He didn’t. Instead the PM made a point of saying that the legislation might put the government at financial risk and that negotiation was the best course of action going forward. Thanks for the help there Steve old buddy.

I think a more supportive response to the question might have gone something like, “I’m not fully aware of all the details in this situation but I’ll be more than happy to discuss it with the Premier if he is interested in moving in that direction.” See, I’m not even a politician and certainly not a lawyer, but even I can see that a response like that is just fuzzy enough to do the job. It wouldn’t obligate the PM to anything specific, it would show the public he is open minded on the matter and it would allow the Premier to maintain a strong stance with Exxon.

Why is the idea of fallow field legislation so out to lunch anyway? Alberta did it years ago. Is fifteen or twenty years of idleness not reason enough to consider a resource abandoned? It is in Alberta, in fact some leases out that way expire in only a tenth of the time if not developed. Yes, NAFTA might cause some legal problems, but then again that obstacle shouldn’t be insurmountable. By carefully crafting legislation to avoid the legal pitfalls and perhaps even starting the clock today rather than when the lease was originally signed, I’m sure an answer could be found. Besides, since when has the U.S. abided by NAFTA regulations.

I mean who in their right mind, other than the previous provincial leaders in this Province, would even consider signing over all rights to billions of dollars worth of oil and gas reserves to companies that might never develop them? Who gives up their rights to resources so an oil company can warehouse it for decades, even centuries if they choose to, without having an escape clause?

I have to wonder what the PM possibly hoped to gain in under cutting the Province’s stance, other than placating George Bush’s oil buddies of course? So, as I started out by saying, I guess we are slowing moving from Canadian to U.S. control in this part of the Dominion. Newfoundland and Labrador has now become a land where U.S. corporations have more power than our elected provincial leaders and more backbone than our federal ones. Welcome to the new world order, Stephen Harper style. The rest of the Country had better stand up and take notice because they can’t be far behind.

I guess in Harper’s world Canadian interests take a back seat to U.S. interests. I just hope that between visits to Mexico with his buddy George Dubbya and using our soldiers to backfill for U.S. troops in Afghanistan Harper also found the time to wash his naughty bits before bending over that $70 barrel of oil for Exxon’s CEO. On the up side, at least Newfoundlanders have the benefit of knowing that our PM has had done to him what Ottawa has been doing to this Province for decades.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Signs of the Times

I saw a news item today that really has my blood boiling. I usually write columns in an effort to make people aware of the issues facing our Province. To discuss the utter neglect shown by Ottawa and to provide some insight into what this outpost in the Atlantic is all about. I enjoy doing that. Today is not an enjoyable day.

Today I find myself in the unenviable position of having to discuss something that I had hoped was a dying issue in Newfoundland and Labrador. A situation that embarrasses me like no other, but cannot be ignored. A situation that should sicken anyone with a grain of decency and even an ounce of pride left in their body.

The reason for my current foul mood and the catalyst for making a very large vein in my forehead to begin pulsating in time with my heart, is a news item carried on the CBC website. It told the story of a Springdale business man who has begun recruiting expatriate Newfoundlanders, from places like Alberta, to work with him in his operation. This man isn’t where my problem lies. In fact I don’t have a problem with what he’s doing at all. I actually applaud him for taking the initiative to find his workforce among those who wish to come home and I’m glad to see that some of our people have been given that opportunity. What galls me to no end is the reason why his company has had to resort to this hiring practice in the first place.

According to the article “…there are plenty of people who could do the jobs here, but he (the business owner) said many don't want to work until their employment insurance runs out.
(He)… said he is up against a bad attitude that has been nurtured by a long history of government assistance.

Hang on a second. I need to take a deep breath and compose myself before taking on this issue.

OK, I’ve counted to ten, then to twenty. I think my blood pressure is under control now so I’ll say what needs to be said here.

First, let me say that I won’t comment directly about the company referenced in the CBC article. I don’t have enough details to even attempt doing that. I don’t know for example what the working conditions or salaries are like. I don’t know if perhaps the employer is, well let’s just say “not nice” to his employees. I have no way of knowing any of that so I’ll speak in general terms instead.

Here goes the rant:

In my humble opinion, if anyone in this Province, or anywhere else for that matter, is too G%& Damn lazy to get off their ass and take a job that’s been offered to them, they should be kicked out into the streets and ridiculed by the masses. If anyone would rather sit at home and collect employment insurance instead of earning an honest living they should be cut off from their benefits. If anyone, especially anyone in this Province, can look around them at the potential this place has if we only worked together, but still wants to play the system for all it’s worth, they should be put on a raft and let drift out to sea.

I don’t know if I can say it any clearer than that.

I also want to say that I don’t have a problem with those who legitimately need the sort of safety net EI provides. I’m not referring to those unfortunate folks. What I am talking about are the type of lazy, “you owe me” louts who make it their life’s ambition to get just enough stamps for their next unemployment claim before moving onto their big comfy couches and vegetating their lives away at everyone else’s expense.

If the article I read today was the only story of its kind I’d heard I might simply write it off as an aberration, but it isn’t. I’ve heard the same sort of story before, quite recently in fact. I also recall witnessing a similar situation myself in a former career. At the time, I was interviewing someone for a job. After the introductions were out of the way I began informing the potential candidate of the job’s particulars. When I had gone on for a few minutes the young man in question looked me square in the eye and asked point blank, “Will I get my stamps out of this?” My response was simply that it was a full time job and that we would let him know if he qualified. What I really wanted to say was, “No you lazy A-hole you won’t get your stamps out of it because you aren’t getting the job.”

I guess I’ve been living in a dream world the past ten years or so but I had almost convinced myself that the sort of dependency displayed in these situations was becoming a thing of the past in our Province. It looks now like my feelings were nothing more than wishful thinking.

I could sit here and blame both levels of government for fostering this sort of mentality in our people over the years, but I won’t. I could blame the fact that the only thing many people in rural communities have known for decades is the type of seasonal work that leads to this mentality. I won’t do that either. The reason I won’t is because it’s BULL. What I will do is put the blame exactly where it belongs. On the lazy S.O.B.’s who deserve it.

A job is a job is a job and any able bodied Newfoundlander or Labradorean who would turn up their nose at a job in favor of EI or Social Assistance payments is no better than a common criminal. It’s time they stood up, or sat down if they can’t find the energy to move, and admitted that they are the problem, nobody else.

I originally came from a small town where work was scarce to say the least. At a young age I moved away from my home Province where I found employment wherever I could. Over a period of ten years or so I worked at anything I could find. I washed dishes, made deliveries, worked in construction, at a dockyard, on an assembly line and on and on. By the time I was a little older I had acquired the skills and education necessary to enter my current career, back where my heart was, and I moved home. Even now I haven’t made it all the way back to the small town where I was born. Instead I live in the St. John’s area, where my WORK is located, but I still dream that one day I’ll make it all the way back to where I belong.

You may be wondering why I shared that slice of my life with you all. The reason is simple. Yes, in my early years I also needed the support structures of EI, or UI as it was called at the time. But I certainly didn’t take advantage of the system. I used it as it was intended, to help me transition from one employment situation to another as required and make sure I had enough to eat while I was doing it. I left my home town like so many of our people, at least those who truly want to work, are doing today. I know how difficult finding gainful employment can be and what it takes to uproot your life to find it.

I understand as well why some people living in small towns find themselves in situations where they must rely on assistance of some form to survive between seasonal or temporary jobs. I can also understand how, for one reason or another, it may be too much for them to simply uproot their families, homes and lives to move away. Finally, I understand why others in similar situations give it all up and move away to improve their situation. What I fail to understand and won’t even try to understand in fact, are those who willingly choose the road of system addiction over a locally available job.

When I recall what it took for me to do what I did years ago or when I see the hardships others have endured to make a decent living and contribute to our society, it makes me physically ill to know that there are still able bodied people out there who would rather live off the system we all pay for.

I’ve been living back in my native Province for about 15 years now and in that short time I’ve seen some amazing changes. I’ve seen the economy begin to turn in an upward direction. I’ve seen a change in attitude regarding our place in this Country. I’ve seen our people from coast to coast begin to stand up and be heard. Those things have all begun to make me believe that the potential of this place is just now beginning to be seen. Yes, our outports and rural areas are in serious trouble but I have the hope that in time these areas will also begin to see improvements.

Something else I’ve seen in the past few years that I cannot recall ever seeing in my younger days. Signs, that’s right, signs. Small, rectangular hand written signs hanging in shop windows proclaiming for all to see, “Help Wanted, Apply Within.” I’ve seen them in the urban centers and I’ve even begun seeing them in smaller towns across the Province.

Seeing those signs begin to appear over the past few years made me proud to think that there was finally some work where very little had existed before. It gave me hope for our future. Today I see those signs without the rosy tint I had on my glasses just yesterday. Today I don’t see these signs as a benchmark of our progress at all. Instead I see the signs as a display of the apathy that has settled into so many of our people.

I wonder now if I was wrong all along. Maybe we haven’t begun to grow in the direction I thought we were heading. Perhaps those help wanted signs aren’t being hung in shop windows because we are doing so well but because so many of our people are simply too damn lazy to walk in and take them down. I pray I’m wrong.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

From Our Past to Our Future

Today I have one of those rare opportunities to offer a heart felt round of applause and big a pat on the back to the government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Not that I haven’t been pleased with some moves made by the current government, but I believe one of their latest deserves special mention.

It isn’t often that I do something like this but it’s not unheard of either. My belief is that we all have a responsibility to hold our elected leaders accountable for what they do be it good or bad. If we as a people don’t do it then who will? I live by a simple code when it comes to politicians. If they fall down on the job, kick some dirt in their eyes, but if they excel, don’t be afraid to cheer them on to even further heights.

The reason for my cheering today is because the government of Newfoundland and Labrador has included a small line item in their most recent budget document. It went largely unnoticed, but deserves to be recognized. The item in question provides funding for a Newfoundland and Labrador history course to be offered in high schools across the Province.

This course, in my opinion, is long overdue. Our schools have always taught world history and Canadian history. Both of which are important without a doubt, but it is just as important that our children understand who they are, where they come from and the role we’ve played in world events. Our Province has a historical record that rivals any other on the continent and it deserves to be shared with our children.

My only hope is that the planned course will actually offer our future business and political leaders the information it should. I remember a history course that was offered to me when I was in elementary school, which wasn’t yesterday. The book used at the time consisted of about 70 pages and provided a brief window into the Province’s discovery by the Vikings. It also offered a sanitized revisionist examination of the ill fated Beothuk people. Beyond those two items, there was little else. I remember thinking, even at that tender age, that I wanted to know more. I wanted to understand how I as a Newfoundlander had arrived at my own personal moment in time. Unfortunately that knowledge was not available in our educational system at the time.

Many years have passed since my first introduction to our collective past. Now government has decided that our Province’s history should not only be provided in elementary or junior high, but that it should be taught to our high schools to those on the cusp of entering the "real" world. I heartily congratulate our politicians for taking this step. I also caution the bureaucrats who will ultimately determine the curriculum, not to waste this opportunity. Don’t waste the chance to change our collective future by casting a strong light on our past.

We have before us the opportunity to provide our youth with an understanding of an extremely rich tapestry of events. To give them knowledge that can instill a sense of pride, the likes of which they have never known. A chance to give our children a sense of place and a gift of understanding for what it truly means to be a Newfoundlander or Labradorean.

If properly delivered, this course could very well provide the catalyst necessary to change our collective future. It has the potential to give our youth the grounding and encouragement necessary so they will wish to continue living, working and using their entrepreneurial skills right here at home, rather than leaving for some far away corner of the world.

The only way we can hope to take advantage of the opportunity before us is to ensure that this course provides much more than the type of sanitized, politicized and cursory look at our past that was delivered in my youth. Like that course, this new one should provide a window into our discovery and the early inhabitants of this land, but it should do so in an honest and open way, not by glossing over the harsh truths.

The course should outline for our youth the global presence we’ve had by teaching them about our role in opening up this continent. It should tell them of our contributions during many wars and it should speak of the heorics of people like Tommy Rickets or Blue Putees and of our crucial role during World War II. The course should also identify for students the multitude of pivotal moments around the world that have had a direct connection to this place.

An understanding or our place in the world is important, but just as important is an understanding of major local events. Events that have helped shape our society, our culture and our very psyche. The list is exhaustive but there are a few that quickly spring to mind. Events such as the great sealing disaster, the sinking of the Ocean Ranger, the Churchill Falls agreement, the big loggers strike, the re-settlement program and of course our very entry into Confederation itself. Stories that need to be told with good and bad points fully presented, for all to see and clearly understand.

As I’ve said in the past, my commentaries are often used to throw verbal “bricks” at our federal and provincial politicians. More often than not they deserve them. Today however I offer a rare congratulatory “bouquet” to the Williams government. I only hope that this new initiative doesn’t lead to a wasted opportunity that will end with my taking back the “bouquet” and throwing the proverbial “brick” instead.

Remember, the best way to ensure our future is to understand our past.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Newfoundland and Labrador's Jobless Rate

“It was the best of times it was the worst of times.”

So opens the classic “A Tale of Two Cities”, but those words are also quite appropriate as the title of Canada’s latest employment report. The most recent numbers are out and they show that Canada is enjoying a jobless rate of 6.3%, its lowest 32 years. Over 55,000 new jobs were created last month and provinces right across the country are showing strong numbers. Well, almost across the Country.

Enter Alberta and Newfoundland & Labrador, or for our purposes, the “two cities” to be discussed. (I know they’re actually Provinces but who the heck ever heard of “A Tale of Two Provinces”?).

Although Canada’s overall numbers are looking up, the latest figures show the same old story we’ve been seeing for years. While Alberta leads the nation with the lowest unemployment rate, 3.4%, Newfoundland & Labrador trails the Dominion at 15.7%. It makes me wonder what the numbers would look like if all of those Newfoundlanders working in Alberta actually came home at the same time. Ohhhh, it makes me shudder to think it!

I suspect such a migration would drive Newfoundland & Labrador’s unemployment rate up to well over 50% while Alberta would actually end up showing a negative number (is that even possible?). The sudden shift in population might even make Canada tip over into the Atlantic, but I digress.

Meanwhile, back to the topic at hand, what the hell is the problem here? We have a logging and paper industry, mining, fishing, a vibrant retail sector, a growing hi-tech industry, tourism and an oil industry that has been prospering for years now. Granted our oil projects aren’t as big as Alberta’s, but neither is our population. There are only about 500,000 people here and only around half of those are of working age, so why can’t they find employment? I know it’s not because we don’t have anyone qualified for gainful employment, if that were the case there wouldn’t be so many of us working in places like Fort McMurray, Alberta (often referred to as Newfoundland’s third largest city).

I think the problem here is one of perception, not talent. I really think the decision makers at many large companies honestly believe the old Central Canadian stereotype of the “dumb Newfie”. I think they see us as a pool of cheap unskilled labor to be used as required but never given any really “complicated” responsibilities that might over tax our poor inbred minds.

Every time a new development comes on stream in this province jobs are created. People are put to work, but more often than not those people come from Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Alberta or even Iceland. Why is that?

Don’t get me wrong, I realize people have a right to come down east for work just as much as our folks do who go out west, but come on let’s get real. With unemployment figures like ours, can’t we find a way to hire more local people before we start shipping in the “smart” folks from away?” At least until we dip into the single digit percentages.

I don’t blame those looking for work, not one bit. I do blame the provincial government and the employers in this province.

We have well trained architects, engineers, trades people, scientists, equipment operators, marketing professionals and on and on and on and on. Regardless of this fact, companies doing business in Newfoundland and Labrador always seem to believe they are better off bringing in outside talent to fill high level positions while doling out lower, less responsible positions to “the locals”. Unfortunately our government, often the most feeble minded crowd among us, has done nothing over the years to discourage this practice.

Yes, projects such as the one at Voisey Bay have agreements in place with the provincial government ensuring specific levels of local employment overall, but no company, at least not to my knowledge, has ever been tasked with hiring local talent first when it comes to decision making or power roles.

It’s not rocket science people (even though there are also rocket scientists that hail from here) the fact is, through positioning local resources in decision making, powerful corporate roles the province can help ensure that industry operates for the benefit of local interests, as well as its own.

Who do you think would be most concerned with ensuring that a couple of people from Buchan’s or Branch found a job in their business, an executive from Toronto or a one from Torbay?

I’m not saying we need to close our borders and businesses to outside talent, God no. In fact I applaud anyone who can show a Newfoundlander how to do something. It isn’t that easy to find one who can, but I applaud them when I do. No, I’m talking about ensuring that those who are qualified for leadership positions get through the door before anyone else does. If there truly isn’t anyone qualified in the area, then go ahead and bring someone in, although I don’t know where you’d find them and they’ll likely cost a fortune if they’re that good.

Seriously, when you have a population as talented and as small as ours, with an unemployment rate as big as we do, you really need to think about going local before looking for imports.

Latest Canadian Unemployment Figures:

Alberta: 3.4%
Manitoba: 4.2%
B.C.: 4.4%
Saskatchewan: 5.3%
Ontario: 6.1%
Nova Scotia 7.8%
Quebec: 8.5%
New Brunswick: 9.2%
P.E.I.: 12.0%
Newfoundland: 15.7%

Friday, April 07, 2006

Harper Supports Farmers but Forgets Fishers

During the recent throne speech Stephen Harper’s government outlined their top priorities for the upcoming session including recognizing the value of those who work “On the land and on the sea”. Wonderful words to hear, but unfortunately in the text following that statement the poor folks who work “on the sea” were completely omitted.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with introducing programs to assist farmers. God love them all, what would we do without them. As those fine folks like to say, “Farmers feed cities”. Indeed they do, but so do fishers. Which is why it ticks me off that they are always forgotten when it comes to protecting and supporting those who feed us all.

The Harper government has vowed to stop neglecting Canadian farmers and have already committed to increasing farm support programs by half a billion annually. They have identified financial, fuel and subsidy program changes all geared toward helping the farming industry. Great stuff, but what about fishers and fish plant workers who live in dying communities across this Country?

During the recent election, when Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams asked Mr. Harper about cost sharing an early retirement plan for the fishing industry he was stonewalled. The only response from Stephen Harper was that they were not interested but would consider retraining displaced workers. Not exactly heartwarming for a 60 year old fisherman who’s future may well rest in spending a few years retraining for another profession and then looking for gainful employment at 63 or 64.

One of the biggest problems that has faced the fishing industry over the years is the total lack of support offered by Ottawa. Politics has been played in the industry like in no other and as a result stocks have been annihilated. Despite this reality, there was no mention of protecting those stocks by enforcing custodial management, increasing science or even encouraging a downsizing of fishing enterprises. No subsidies or help for fishers was even hinted at.

As I’ve said, farmers deserve every ounce of help that can reasonably be afforded them, but so do fishers. Farmers across this Country face many hardships, often caused by unforgiving environmental or weather conditions. Often this reality leads them to require help. Those in the fishing industry also face hardships, but their hardships are more often caused by a lack of fish stocks. The big difference between the two groups is that the main problem in the fishery can be laid squarely at the feet of our politicians and their mismanagement of the industry.

In a recent statement Mr. Harper said, in reference to the farming industry, "I do not say we can fix the neglect of a decade overnight, and I know that our producers don't expect that, but in the weeks, months and years ahead, our government is going to move ahead, not with mere words but with actions."

I’m sure many farmers were heartened by those words Mr. Harper, but I doubt any fishermen or their families were. Yes there has been a decade of neglect in the farming industry and it should be rectified, but there has been at least five decades of neglect in the fishing industry. What about that?

It takes at least two primary groups of hard working people to feed our cities, farmers and fishers. It’s nice to see a plate full of healthy vegetables at dinner time, but the next time you sit down to a meal Mr. Harper you might want to consider how nice it would be to enjoy a piece of salmon, cod or sole with those veggies. You might also want to think about the men and women who work so hard to provide it.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Globe and Mail Misses the Point Once Again.

St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

I really have to laugh at the commentators who churn out their usual drivel over at Canada’s supposed national newspaper, the Globe and Mail. Have these guys ever taken a trip any more than a few hundred yards from Bay Street?

The latest “we know best” articles come from columnists Jeffrey Simpson and Deborah Yedlin and talk about the breakdown of oil development talks in Newfoundland and Labrador. I don't mind anyone having a point of view, but those two commentaries are nothing more than thinly veiled attempts to plead the case of U.S. oil interests while insulting the intelligence of the people in Newfoundland and Labrador, including their Premier.

The Globe and Mail perspective is that oil reserves off the coast of Newfoundland (existing and yet to be discovered) are a mere pittance to the oil giants and as such Premier Williams should be careful how he treats them. Perhaps the existing hundreds of millions of available reserves and potential for billions more aren’t the biggest plays on the planet right now, but with world oil demands skyrocketing and oil at over $65 dollars a barrel they're nothing to sneeze at either. I wonder if the great minds at the Globe even considered the value to companies like Exxon of being able to access such supplies in a stable geo-political environment like Canada, rather than some terrorist hotbed? Likely they didn’t but that fact alone is worth a lot.

They question why Mr. Williams would want a 5% stake in the project (actually it was 4.9 but who’s counting). According to Jeffrey Simpson a stake that small wouldn’t provide the Province with a controlling interest or any real power. He’s right of course but nobody ever said the Province wanted that. What it does want though, and something the 4.9% would help provide, is a revenue stake that could potentially see millions extra enter Provincial coffers. Who wouldn’t want that?

Simpson in his wisdom goes on to say, and I quote:

“Mr. Williams also wanted a refinery built in Newfoundland, but Hebron would not have produced enough itself to warrant a refinery. With so much capacity elsewhere in North America, it would have been a stretch to build another refinery in a continent where there haven't been new refineries for a long time.”

Partly correct again Mr. Simpson. The other side of that coin is what many analysts are blaming for the astronomically high oil prices we are experiencing. Yes, there hasn’t been a refinery built for quite some time and that has led to a very limited refining capacity. Add to this the proximity of Newfoundland to European markets and the fact that it isn't prone to sort of natural catastrophe's we see on the Gulf Coast and there is a case to be made for construction. Just in case you missed basic math in school here’s a little algebra equation for you:

Low refining capacity in hig risk areas + High volume of demand for petroleum = X (where X is a dollar value).

The biggest laugh in all of this came in Deborah Yedlin’s article when she almost religously invoked the name of Stephen Harper no less than 8 times and almost dropped to her knees praying that he would talk some sense into Danny Williams while in the Province this week. In her plea Yedlin says:

"This week's federal Throne Speech made reference to the U.S. being Canada's "best friend" and largest trading partner. If this is truly how Mr. Harper and the Conservative government view Canada's relationship with the U.S., it follows that Mr. Harper can't be too happy about Mr. Williams' posturing this week on Hebron, which is being developed by a consortium that includes two U.S. oil giants.”

I have to wonder, is Ms. Yedlin working for a U.S. national paper or a Canadian pseudo-national paper. She really should make up her mind.

Ms. Yedlin then said, “If Mr. Williams had taken the time to speak to a few of the energy executives that were in attendance at the weekend's convention (referring to the PC convention in Alberta), he would have found out that there is a constructive way of getting an equity interest in a project, whether it's being acquired by a private company or a government.” Which she followed by condescendingly outlining her recommendations for a negotiating stance the Premier should adopt.

My only comment on such a poor attempt at coercion is that I doubt anyone actually believes Premier Williams passed up an opportunity to speak with energy executives at that meeting. I doubt too that he failed to speak with the head of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro during negotiations on the oil field in question. By the way, for your enlightenment Ms Yedlin, NL Hydro has a Provincial mandate to build NL’s oil and gas industries. It is headed up by a former Petro Canada executive, Ed Martin, who is likely much more experience in the industry than you are.

In the case of both articles it was clear that the mandate of the paper was to promote oil industry interests and belittle provincial ones. Each commentary ended with a sort of “doomsday” scenario where the Province pushed the “poor” oil companies way too far and were thus left with nothing.

Here’s a reality check for the columnists and editors alike at the Globe and Mail, or as it’s known in Atlantic Canada, the “Mop and Pail”. The oil companies may indeed go away but the people of Newfoundland and Labrador aren’t going anywhere, even if you want us too. We’ve had lean times and we’ve had good times but one thing we never plan to have again are times of giveaway.

To the paper's credit one article did mention the fact that Premier Williams enjoys the support of between 70% and 80% of the population in the Province. What they neglected to mention was that there is a valid reason for that level of support. When it comes to trading away our future for a few quick bucks we all agree, that era is over, and as long as Mr. Williams acts with that reality in mind his popularity will continue.

If the oil sits in the ground for another hundred years our children’s grandchildren will reap the benefits. The only real question is if the oil executives would rather pay the ask at today’s $65 oil or if they’d rather pay the ask a hundred years from now. You do the math.

Premier Williams Letter to the Globe and Mail

The following letter was sent to the Globe and Mail by Premier Danny Williams and published in yesterday's paper. Just in case anyone missed it I thought I'd re-publish it here.


Newfoundland won't be held ransom by big oil companies

Newfoundland and Labrador's economy is growing stronger every day. In the 2005-2006 fiscal year, for the first time in our province's history, we recorded a budget surplus. Our economic turnaround is based on successfully diversifying our economy into several non-traditional industries, including advanced marine and ocean technologies, mining, agrifoods and tourism, to name just a few. And our government is committed to ensuring that we develop a broad economic base that reaps long-terms benefits, with a view to sustaining generations of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to come.

Our oil and gas industry continues to be an important part of our economy. We currently have three producing oil fields, and the Hebron-Ben Nevis project is the next field on the horizon. Unfortunately, this week talks broke down between our government and the four partners - Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Petro-Canada and Norsk Hydro. It was most unfortunate; however, from our province's perspective, it is not the end of our industry, nor should it be taken as a sign that our government is not investor- or business-friendly. Indeed, nothing could be further from the truth.

Our government is, however, mandated by the people to ensure that we receive improved benefits from our oil and gas resources. In fact, our election policy platform from 2003 clearly states that we will be seeking greater benefits and equity in future projects. To understand our government's perspective, we must consider the vast sums of money that international oil and gas companies are making around the world. For example, the four partners in this potential development earned approximately $54-billion in profits in 2005 alone, with total revenues of more than $592-billion.

All our province is requesting is a small stake in our own resources. We have been in negotiations in good faith for several months now, and this issue has always been on the table. As we move the oil and gas industry forward, we feel it is important for Newfoundland and Labrador to have a stake in its own future and a fair equity stake. This is not unreasonable, and indeed, we feel that having a stake would be something the oil industry should welcome. It means that we share the risks and the rewards. These resources are finite and we, as a province, must be able to achieve greater prosperity for our people. This will help to create new opportunities, and ultimately help us to realize our goal of being self-sufficient and a net contributor to this great federation.

We are not anti-business, and we are not playing "hard ball" with big oil companies just for the sake of doing so. We are simply standing up as a people and asking for a piece of the action. And let's be frank -- the action is substantial.

Companies talk about wanting stable and predictable parameters when negotiating development agreements. I agree, that to an extent, stability is important. But times have changed since many of these fields were discovered. The Hebron field, for example, was discovered more than 25 years ago. And yet, it sits still. Undeveloped. The price of oil today -- and forecasts for the future - make this an attractive and lucrative project.

The demand from companies for a half-a-billion dollars in tax incentives is something our government is simply not willing to contemplate. How can we ask our citizens to continue to bear the burden of high oil prices, and turn to companies making billions of dollars, and give them tax incentives and breaks on fuel prices? It is frankly offensive and something our government will not consider.

Newfoundland and Labrador has been a very good partner for the oil and gas industry. In turn, the oil and gas companies have, for the most part, been good corporate citizens. But as prices continue to rise, and companies continue to take home exorbitant profits, it is reasonable and fair to expect increasing returns for the province.

We want to move forward with this industry in Newfoundland and Labrador in partnership with industry. We are not, however, interested in being held ransom by companies who are unwilling to negotiate fair and reasonable terms.

I would say to those companies that are not interested, to simply move on. Go elsewhere to make your money and leave the development to those companies who are interested in actually moving the industry in our province forward.

We welcome and encourage development in Newfoundland and Labrador. But not at any cost. We may be small in numbers. But we are strong in our determination and in the conviction of our principles. We will turn down what some perceive to be a good deal, rather than do a deal that is bad for the province. The oil is not going anywhere. And neither are we.

Danny Williams is Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Comments, T-Shirts and Fine Dining

Last evening I was sitting down to a big piece of seal flipper pie and (just to tick off as many people as possible) a nice bowl of rabbit soup, when I began thinking long and hard about the Web Talk site. My first thought, and one I’ve expressed before, was that the greatest value of this site is not my commentaries themselves, but the dialogue that results from them. In a nutshell, the site’s success lies squarely at the feet of Web Talk’s readers and contributors.

In this light, I would like to thank all of you for stopping in and reading the commentaries, especially those (on either side of any issue) who have entered the debate and made your views known. My only wish is that more of you out there took the time to share your thoughts.

Although the comments area is very active, my site statistics tell me that on average less than 5% of those visiting actually respond on a topic. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the fact that the other 95% are taking the time to stop by, but I ask that when you read something that strikes a chord with you please don’t be shy about getting your two cents in.

Another thought that came to me, while cutting my second piece of pie, was the content contained in the commentaries over last few months. There have been occasions in the past when I have re- published the articles of other writers (with their permission of course). Lately however most of the content has been mine alone. As much as I love hearing myself talk I would also like to hear what you folks have to say.

Some of the people who provide comments at Web Talk have very interesting perspectives on the Newfoundland and Labrador experience, however their ideas are often lost among the sea of comments we receive. There is no shortage of topics to discuss in this province and because your ideas are so important I would like to extend an open offer to all of you.

If you would like to write a commentary, or have an idea that you would like to see discussed on Web Talk, simply contact me directly at higginsmyles@yahoo.cawith the details. Over the next week or so I’ll read your emails and anyone who has an article published, or who provides a topic that forms the basis of a commentary, will receive a FREE Web Talk (pro-sealing) T-Shirt. It’s as simple as that.

Come of folks, this is your site as well as mine.

Before I close I just wanted to bring up a couple of “housekeeping” items.

First, as I said I appreciate all the comments the site receives but unfortunately I am unable to respond directly to as many of them as I’d like. This fact is one unfortunate side effect of the success the site is seeing. Each comment posted comes directly to my inbox however sometimes the volume is such that I can only find the time to review a small number of them before moving on. Again, I apologize for not responding to each of you personally but I’m sure from what I read that both sides of every issue are being addressed.

Secondly, the first supply of seal flippers arrived in St. John’s yesterday morning. For those interested, they are now available for sale downtown on Harbour drive. By the way, there is a great recipe available in our Fishing and Sealing Links that tastes fantastic. Bon Appetite.

Thirdly, if the Costco demonstration goes ahead on Saturday morning (and I believe it will), I hope those people who are in the area will find some time to stop by. If you do, don’t forget to say hello and take a look at our Web Talk (pro-sealing) T-Shirts at the same time. I will have a few shirts available for sale (at cost) if you are interested. The idea is to spread the word, not make money. I wouldn’t want to be accused by anybody, as I have been in the past, of having financial motives for my support of the harvest.

Finally, on a sad note, it was recently announced that the Independent, a local weekly paper, is closing its doors for good. The paper, known for its strong pro-Provincial stand, will be sorely missed by many. Every time we lose a powerful voice like the Independent it is a loss that we all share together. I have had a few opportunities to converse with some of the staff at the Independent in the past, including Managing Editor Ryan Cleary, who's feelings of love for this Province is unquestionable. I wish all of the staff members the best and I hope they find a new and even more powerful voice very soon.

That’s all for now, keep on spreading the word and I hope to see as many of you as possible on Saturday!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Oil Companies and WIlliams Get Tough on Hebron Development

Monday, Chevron Canada, on behalf of itself and its project partners, announced that talks had broken off with the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador regarding development of the Hebron Ben-Nevis oil field off the Province’s coast.

Several companies partnered to develop the potential mega-project including Chevron (28%), ExxonMobil Canada (37.9%), Petro-Canada (23.9%)and Norsk Hydro Canada Oil & Gas Inc. (10.2%)

The companies have been in negotiations with the Province for nearly a year regarding improvements to oil and gas royalties, Provincial involvement in the project and the potential for secondary processing in Newfoundland and Labrador. Premier Williams was quoted several weeks ago saying that he would require movement in at least 2 of the 3 areas in order to allow this project to proceed. According to a Chevron press release the decision to cancel negotiations was made because “significant and fundamental gaps remain on fiscal terms and benefits that would enable the project to proceed in a viable manner.”

Premier Danny Williams, who currently enjoys an unheard of 70% popularity rating in the Province, due in part to his tough “no giveaway” stance on resource development, responded to the announcement by saying that he believed Exxon was holding out and if they wanted to move on he was prepared to take them out of the equation.

On the street in St. John’s today many people are saying that Premier Williams is doing the right thing and he seems to be receiving a great deal of support for holding his ground.

Many in the Province have a long memory for past giveaways such as the Upper Churchill River hydro project, the tying up of Provincial timber rights and a less than stellar Atlantic Accord agreement with Ottawa that saw nearly all benefits from offshore oil leave the Province. Voters also recall the tough battle Premier Williams waged with Paul Martin over that Accord, the benefits of which were clearly seen in the Provincial budget released just last week.

Premier Williams is known as a tough negotiator and many see Hebron Ben-Nevis as a stepping stone to future developments. Much of the talk around water coolers today is in direct support of Williams holding firm. It’s believed that if the Province buckles on these negotiations then it will lose credibility and its ability to play tough on future projects. As one fellow said on the subject today:

“To hell with them, the oil companies are just trying to play hard ball. We own the oil and right now that oil is worth over $65 a barrel. If they want to leave it in the ground they can go for it. At least that way it’ll still be there for my children and grandchildren. I doubt very much though if those guys are really willing to leave that much money in the ground for too long.”

It seems a lot of others in the Province share this sentiment and are squarely behind Premier Williams, meaning this could be a long stand-off, but one most believe will be well worth it in the long run.