Da Legal Stuff...

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Now, with that out of the way...Let's Web Talk.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Canada Does Not End in Nova Scotia

Can you recall reading a Globe and Mail news story on the impact of Air Canada abandoning its London flights from Newfoundland and Labrador? How about a National Post story on the plight of Newfoundland and Labrador fishing communities? Do you recall seeing a CTV or CBC National news story about the fight to save certain Newfoundland and Labrador families from deportation? No, well you aren’t alone and it isn’t surprising, in fact it’s quite common. The problem is that the rest of Canada doesn’t even realize how little this Province is considered when it comes to reporting on the national situation.

I’m not talking about venomous commentaries where Newfoundlanders are portrayed as ignorant lazy slobs or where the Premier is likened to a vicious dictator, no, indeed those are quite common. What I’m referring to is an honest to goodness news story, sans commentary, where a local Newfoundland and Labrador story with a national link is reported, rather than one from Ontario, Quebec or points west. Places where all it takes is for a local politician to catch a bad sinus infection and banner headlines begin to roll.

A few months ago the Portnoy family was seeking refuge in a church basement and people in Newfoundland and Labrador lobbied in force to delay that deportation. Nobody outside the Province noticed. Mr. Portnoy has already been deported and his family is still in the basement. While this was going on other families in similar circumstances, on the West Coast of Canada, were suffering the same fate. The national news services were all over those, but not in Newfoundland and Labrador.

When farmers or autoworkers or loggers are struggling to survive in Ontario or Quebec you can read about it in any paper and see it on national news coverage day after day after day. When fishermen or fish plant workers or loggers in Newfoundland and Labrador are suffering nobody knows outside the Province itself.

There are always rare exceptions to the situation however. Take for example a May 31 article in the National Post concerning the planned cancellation of EI extensions by the federal government. The article opened with two short paragraphs explaining the government’s plans and immediately followed with a commentary from Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The comments of Mr. McCurdy go on for several paragraphs. I can only assume the reporter or editor on this piece thought to him or her self, “Hmmm. We need a commentary on cutting back EI benefits. Call someone in Newfoundland for an interview”

It’s just this sort of mentality and stereotyping that has gotten under the skin of so many Newfoundlanders and Labradorean’s for decades. Yet it continues. As far as these news services are concerned Newfoundland and Labrador is not relative to any national issue unless it deals with so called government handouts or unemployment. This type of thinking is one of the reasons that a lot of people in the province continue to feel that they are not a part of the Dominion and haven’t been since 1949.

The catch 22 here is that even though many Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans feel this way, because of the total disregard of Canada’s national news services, nobody outside the province even realizes a problem exists.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Across the Province

The following article was written by Wallace J. Mclean (WJM) and originally appeared on his site, Labradore.blogspot.com. I felt that it said a great deal about the attitude of the provincial government toward developing and maintaining the Labrador portion of the province. It is definitely worth the read.

Thanks Wallace for permitting me to republish it here.


Across the Province
Sunday, May 07, 2006
By Wallace Mclean

A recent VOCM article reported:

Government has extended the operating season for visitor information centres across the province, in an effort to encourage tourism activity beyond the summer months.

All VIC's will open tomorrow (May 8), which is about two weeks earlier than last year, and many will remain open until the end of October. Tourism Minister Tom Hedderson says VIC's play an integral role in the tourism industry, and are often the first point of contact for visitors to the province.

The story is based on a press release, issued on Friday, in which we are informed:

Government operates seven VICs located strategically throughout the province at major gateways and travel intersections in North Sydney, Port aux Basques, Deer Lake, Notre Dame Junction, Clarenville, Whitbourne and Argentia.

Notice anything?

One of the seven VICs located "strategically throughout the province" is located in North Sydney. North Sydney is on Cape Breton Island, which is, or at least used to be, in Nova Scotia.

None of the seven are located in Labrador, which is, or at least used to be, in the province where Tom Hedderson is a cabinet minister.

By necessary implication, this means that "the province" consists of two major islands, namely Newfoundland and Cape Breton, and, furthermore, that Labrador is not part of the province.

Why are Labrador's major entry points — Labrador West, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and L'Anse au Clair — dependent on community-run facilities, with much shorter seasons and fewer resources than full VICs? And why, for that matter, isn't there a provincial VIC in Blanc Sablon, which is just as much an entry point as North Sydney?

And, given that one of the justifications for the earlier season is that:

...provincial tourism statistics show that visitors are arriving in the province earlier in the year, particularly those wishing to see icebergs.

and that the icebergs show up in Labrador before they do in Newfoundland, why are there no VICs in Labrador?

Isn't Labrador an integral part of the province?

Tom? Danny? Anyone?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Is Newfoundland and Labrador Afraid of DFO?

Last year the government of Prince Edward Island filed a law suit against the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The suit alleges that the Province is being short changed on quotas and as a result is not receiving its fair share of a publicly owned resource. Federal representatives attempted to have the case thrown out of court but the Supreme Court of P.E.I. denied their motion. Ottawa is now appealing the court’s ruling and that appeal is scheduled to be heard next month.

Central to the case is the premise that the Fisheries Minister has absolute power when it comes to granting, denying or setting quotas. The Province contends that regardless of discussions with stakeholders or any scientific evidence presented, ultimately decisions can be made by a single individual, the Minister, behind closed doors. The factors that lead to those decisions are unknown to this is a major concern. The process provides far too much room for political or other influences that might impact decisions and without public scrutiny it is impossible to know one way or another. The suit seeks to have these “omnipotent” powers removed from the Minister and for the process to be made fairer and more transparent.

Is it just me, or does this case, cry out for the involvement of Newfoundland and Labrador stakeholders. Remember, this is much bigger than a question of who gets how much of a fish quota. If the Federal government is denied on appeal and if PEI eventually wins its case, it would set a precedent that could change the way DFO and every other federal department functions in the future. For decades DFO has been accused of mismanaging stocks and passing out quotas for political reasons. A case like this one could change all of that and more.

Several groups including the Sierra Legal Defense Fund, The Ecology Action Centre, Living Oceans of BC and Earth Action have been given permission to intervene in the case. These groups intend to make arguments to the effect that DFO, as an arm of the Federal government, has the obligation to protect and properly manage a publicly owned resource. They are likely to contend that successive Ministers have been negligent and perhaps even corrupt in the way stocks have been managed and as a result the department should be held more accountable to the public for its decisions.

Can you see a voice here for Newfoundland and Labrador in this case? I sure can. Who better to back up the arguments of these groups and to discuss the impact of existing DFO management practices? The reality is that stocks have been devastated, mismanaged and practically annihilated thanks to the political maneuvering and inaction of the federal government? With 20,000 people in the Province directly dependent on the fishery and that fishery collapsing around their ears, the Province is slowly dying. This is a prime opportunity to make arguments for changing the way things are done. It is also an opportunity to change the way the province deals with DFO and every other government department, departments that have made a gaem out of toying with the Newfoundland and Labrador since 1949.

This is a chance for Newfoundland and Labrador to finally get a voice in Ottawa. If the courts rule that DFO is required to share with stakeholders the logic behind their decisions, it will mean that the same holds true for other departments. For example, what about the Department of Immigration (remember all those immigrants who’s deportations have caused so many local problems), the Department of Defense (think 5 Wing Goose or why there is such a small military presence along Canada’s Eastern flank) or how about the Department of Natural Resources (think upcoming Churchill Falls developments, offshore oil, etc.). The list is endless.

Here is a chance to go even further than PEI had intended to go. Over the years the federal government has done little to protect Atlantic stocks from foreign and domestic overfishing, in fact they’ve all but encouraged it. By not providing enough personnel, DFO has also forced the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador to hire its own inland fisheries officers to protect freshwater species. Over the years DFO has produced scientific results and played political games that have led to a situation where nearly every commercial species on the Atlantic coast is on the brink of extinction. By virtue of abandoning the task entrusted to them, DFO has essentially given up all rights to manage the resource and an argument could be made to turn control of those resources over to the adjacent provinces.

Yes indeed, here is an opportunity that begs for the participation of Newfoundland and Labrador stakeholders, yet where are they? Where is the Premier? Where is the Provincial Fisheries Minister? Where are the Earl McCurdys of the world? I’ll tell you where they are. They’re sitting around discussing the carcass of the provincial fishery with none other than the Federal Fisheries Minister himself. Likely hoping he’ll provide them with a few hand outs or at the very least “help to facilitate” yet another band aid solution. In other words they hope to get some sort of a pay off, hush money if you will, that will allow everyone to continue hiding their heads in the sand and leaving the mess to yet another administration to worry about.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Oh Canada

As I was walking down Water Street one day I spied a dirty little man sitting on the sidewalk, tin cup in hand, humming a tune under his breath. Bending to drop a few coins at his feet I offered a smile and politely asked him what tune had struck his heart on this fine day. Below is his response.

“Well son”, he said in a tired voice, “it’s a very special song indeed. Stay a while and I’ll tell you all about it.”

“Not so very long ago I was just like you. I had a decent job, a car and a nice house. Then one day I checked my mail box and found a bill from the city council saying I owed them taxes for the privilege of living on land that had been in my family for generations. Along with the property tax there was the obligatory additional charge for water services. You see you have to pay to drink water don’t you know, but that wasn’t the worst part, not by a long shot.”

“Included with the bill was a friendly letter informing me that my house and land were being expropriated to build a new roadway. Progress they called it and fight as I might there was nothing I could do about it. My old home wasn’t much on the market, but it was my home and it meant the world to me. The payment I received for being kicked out wasn’t even enough to buy another one, not one you’d want to live in anyway.”

“I was stewing over my problems when I had what I thought was a great idea. I’d buy a houseboat. I’d always wanted to live on one, it would be cheaper than a real house and how could anyone charge me property taxes if I lived on the water? I bought one and moved in as soon as the check arrived from the city’s lawyer.”

“I had been living on my boat for a month or so and loving it. One fine day, a day much like this one, I decided to pull out the old fishing rod and try my luck. The first thing I saw when I pulled in the line was a nice big cod fish. Unfortunately the second thing I saw was an even bigger fisheries officer, speeding toward me at the speed of light.

He informed me that it was illegal to catch cod fish and he wasn’t kidding. Over the following months I spent a lot of my time in court rooms and after using every penny I could beg borrow or steal defending myself I lost my boat. I argued that it was my house, not a boat, but the judge saw it differently.”

“With no place to live and debt enough to smother me I left the courtroom faced with the prospect of living in my car for a while. This was not to be so. As soon as I hit the sidewalk I saw the tow truck pulling away from the curb with my old Honda behind it.

Apparently I had parked in a reserved area and since I couldn’t afford to pay the fine or the impound fees I was left with not even a tin roof to keep the rain off of me. Funny how your mind works but all I could think about was wishing I had my money back for the registration renewal I’d paid a few days before. A registration that would have allowed me to use my car on public roads don’t you know.”

“The next morning, after sleeping on a park bench, I headed off to work where I was immediately called into the boss’s office. Apparently he was not happy with all the time I’d missed at work lately. I informed him that I’d been involved in a court case and was now homeless. He asked me why I had pigeon droppings on my shoulder and showed me the door, permanently.”

“Without a home, car, job or any prospects I decided to take one of the few possessions I had left, my Father’s old hunting rifle and head into the woods. A place where a man can do as he sees fit and answers to no one. I’d start a new life I figured, one without bills, rules or taxes.

I made my way to a nice area outside the city and built a small shack from branches and trees. As I was sitting inside listening to the rumble of hunger in my belly and wondering where I would find a meal, the biggest moose I ever seen stumbled out of the woods right there in front of me. Not thinking twice I grabbed Daddy’s gun and fired one right between his eyes. Good eats tonight I thought.”

“It wasn’t long before I felt like a king, sitting by a roaring fire, the smell of fresh moose roasting away and nothing but stars in the sky. It was then that I heard a crackling in the bushes behind me and turning I saw a local forestry officer who said”,

“Fires are illegal without a permit pal. I’m going to have to write you up. Is that a moose you’ve got there, do you have a license?”

“I suddenly felt very weak.”

“Once again I was before the courts where I was fined for having an illegal fire. The court also determined that since I had not registered my rifle with the gun registry it was illegal, which didn’t really matter much, because they took it away anyway after finding me guilty of hunting moose without a license and out of season.

The fines were massive but with no money to pay them I was tossed in jail for a few months. In the end I was released and upon returning to my little shack discovered that the government, being fully aware of my exploits, had bulldozed it. I heard later that it was because I didn’t have a permit to build on Crown land.”

“It was at that point I just gave up and came down here to sit on the sidewalk. With no residence, a criminal record and no transportation I knew finding a job was out of the question. I figured the best thing I could do was to just sit here and hum my song for a few pennies and the occasional free coffee.”

With a smile on his tired and worn face he finished his story and once again lapsed back into his unintelligible humming. After a quiet moment of reflection that brought a tear to my eye I asked again, “Sir, you never did tell me what the tune is.”

Looking up at me he said, “Sorry son, my mistake. It’s Oh Canada of course. Hell boy, nobody appreciates living in a free country more than I do. Now move along before the cops haul me in for panhandling.”

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Welcome to Atlantica

If you live in Atlantica please raise your hand. No? Wait a second, not so fast. If you live in Atlantic Canada or the Eastern U.S. in a few years you may be, whether you know it or not.

According to the proponents of Atlantica:

“Maritimers and Newfoundlanders were intrepid traders who had built their own trade links around the region and the world, reaching out to the Boston states, the Caribbean and Europe. But the new nation (Canada), with its policy of favoring Central Canada through high tariff barriers, in the words of one historian, had the effect of pushing the Maritimes 1,000 miles further out to sea and away from its natural markets.”

“…Consider Sir John A. Macdonald's National Policy, which imposed tariffs that undermined the integrity of existing trade between the region and the United States. Consider the construction of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, which supported central Canadian ambitions at the expense of major Maritime ports.”

"Prior to Canadian Confederation, the eastern seaboard of our continent was a powerful, cohesive economic zone, selling its wares to America, the Caribbean, Britain, Europe, Africa and Asia. Goods and services moved in a straight line, up and down the eastern seaboard for departure to points west and east. It was simply the logic of geography."

“… The cumulative effects of more than a century of policies favoring the population centers of Quebec and Ontario has been crumbling infrastructure and provincial governments and electorates corrupted by hush money in the form of large transfer payments…”

Touted by its proponents as the solution to Atlantic Canada’s economic woes, Atlantica is a concept that is being pushed by big business and is recieving serious consideration by some government officials. On the surface the idea of fostering closer economic partnerships between Atlantic Canada, Eastern Quebec, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Upstate New York sounds great. You would be hard pressed to find anyone in Atlantic Canada who did not agree that as Central Canada has continued to prosper Atlantic Canada has suffered greatly. What is troubling is the groups talk of policy alignments between nations. They also give a great deal of attention to some parts of Atlantic Canada while others are barely mentioned.

Adding to the level of concern are the people involved in creating the plan. The concept of an Atlantic trading zone, or Atlantica, is being promoted by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) and supported by representatives from major corporations like the Bank of Montreal, Bangor Hydro and Irving. The plan would make the Eastern seaboard a much more “business friendly” environment in which to live. The question is, what does “business friendly” really mean and since only business interests have played a part in the planning, (no trade unions, civil rights groups or members of the general public have been involved) that question is a valid one.

Most people in Atlantic Canada would love to improve the region’s trade relations and see industrial growth, but without any input from the public this group is already lobbing government officials in an effort to move their personal vision for the future forward.

According to the plan’s promoters:

“Atlantica – the International Northeast Economic Region” is defined by many things, chief among them geography, economic trends and trade patterns, common problems and experiences, and politics. The sum of these factors is a region bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, on the north and west by Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, and on the south by Highway I-90 to Buffalo and the southern borders of the states of Vermont and New Hampshire."

The first thing that is clear in the preceding map is that there appears to be no interest in Labrador and for that matter there may be very little interest in Newfoundland either. Even though the province is mentioned in passing by the group, their plans say nothing of resource based industries such as fishing, logging and mining which are a staple of the Province, although they do mention energy. Instead, the plan talks of a vision where the area would become a “transport intensive economy”. It speaks of building new highways from New Brunswick, through New England and into Ontario/Montreal as well as modernizing the port of Halifax to accommodate larger cargo vessels. In other words Atlantica would bypass Newfoundland and Labrador in favor of making Halifax the hub of sea trade routes and as a result push the province even further away from Canada than it already is.

The “Atlantica” group will be holding a conference June 8-10 in Saint John, New Brunswick entitled, "Reaching Atlantica: Business With out Boundaries”. The conference has two primary objectives, moving the Atlantica plan forward to implementation and lobbying for representation at the annual New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers Conference.

Concerns have been raised about the group’s aspirations to expand NAFTA by removing Non-Tariff Barriers to trade and their talk of “harmonizing” Government regulations between Canada, the US and Mexico. The concern is that “Non Tariff Barriers” might well include public institutions, government regulations, trade unions, minimum wage laws or anything else that is seen as an impediment to business interests, regardless of the social impacts. It has already been reported that some proponents of the plan have openly discussed scrapping the minimum wage, privatizing health care, decertifying unions and restricting access to employment insurance programs.

The second objective of the conference, a seat at the meeting of Premiers and Governors, has also raised concerns with representatives of the Canadian Labour Congress, one of whom is quoted as saying:

“Ordinary people aren't at the Atlantica table, it's big business and government, essentially the √©lite. Ordinary people won't have a voice. It's ironic they want to open the border for goods and services while people are going to have to get new ID cards to get across. It shows where their priorities are.”

For years many people in Atlantic Canada have recognized the potential of working with each other and their American neighbors. Ideas for Atlantic trade improvements and even finding creative ways for the Atlantic Provinces to “vote in bloc” in order to attain a stronger voice in Ottawa, have been discussed. These ideas are not new. What is new is the level of organization and closed door support the Atlantica movement seems to have gained among the exclusive players involved. The concern is that the proponents, when they are eventually noticed by the general public, might try to play on these more common ideas in order to further their corporate view of the world.

Aligning policies between countries and scrapping labor practices may be good for big business is that a future the working people of Atlantic Canada will want to face? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why corporations would love to setup shop in this utopia of sweat shops and free enteprise but who would want to live in that corporate paradise?

The Atlantica plan has led Chris Arsenault, of Here Magazine, to state in a recent article:

"Italian dictator Benito Mussolini once remarked, 'Fascism should more accurately be called corporatism as it is the merger of state and corporate power.' If Atlantica becomes a reality, we may see Mussolini's dream waking up in our own backyard."

I can appreciate Mr. Arsenault’s sentiments. Perhaps someone needs to remind the proponents of Atlantica of what eventually happened to Benito Mussolini.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Without Our Past, What Does Our Future Hold?

Many of the problems being experienced in the rural communities of Newfoundland and Labrador these days are nothing new under the sun. Since the first settlers arrived hundreds of years ago survival in the outports has been tough and prosperity nearly beyond hope. The difference back then was the abundance of fish that was available to help support far flung towns and villages. Today that resource is all but gone and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Many people in Newfoundland and Labrador recall, or have at least heard, how the Province’s first Premier, Joey Smallwood, tried to re-settle rural areas of the Province decades ago. Back in the day, Smallwood openly tried to persuade, entice and coerce entire villages into uprooting their families, giving up the past and moving to larger communities in order to help support the population and stabilize the Province.

It was Smallwood’s belief that government could not afford to provide roads, schools, hospitals and other services to the more remote areas. He believed that if things didn’t change the Province would develop into a two tier society where people in larger centers, such as St. John’s, would have access services that not available in the rest of the province he also believed that the cost of keeping those small towns alive would eventually crush the Province financially. The status quo could not continue. The plan was a dismal failure in the end and although many people did move to larger towns, many more did not. As a result there are still hundreds of small communities dotting the Province's coastline and costing the small tax base a fortune to maintain.

The problems recognized by Smallwood are no different today, in fact they’re even worse. Today the cost to government still exists and is growing. In addition to this, the industries that once supported people in many of those communities are dying before our eyes. Today making any kind of a decent living in rural Newfoundland and Labrador has become about as rare as finding a big fish in your net. Life isn’t getting easier for the people there, it’s steadily worsening. The collapse of the fishery in the early 90’s, the pull out of Abitibi Consolidated from Stephenville, ongoing problems with FPI, pricing problems in the shrimp and crab industry and now a bankruptcy facing Dailey Brothers fish plants, have all added to the mess. Simply put, life in rural communities has been under siege for decades.

Today the Province has the largest per capita debt in the country, the highest unemployment and arguably one of the most wide spread populations. It’s a geographically large province by any standard yet only has the population of a small city. The questions asked decades ago still exist. How can the province sustain infrastructure and services to such a large area? How can equality of services be assured when there are villages consisting of a few dozen families living many hours away from the nearest large center? How can the people in rural communities find a way to make a living without needing repeated government intervention and how can the Province help maintain the rural way of life if it can’t afford to service or support it?

I personally wish rural Newfoundland and Labrador would not only survive but prosper like no other place on earth. I come from a small town so I understand what life there is all about. I also understand that losing the towns and villages of the Province will be a loss like no other. Having those areas die off would be one of the saddest things ever to have happened to the Province. It would mean losing a big part of what Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans are.

Everyone knows that the songs, love for nature, respect for each other and innate ability to help others without a second thought, which the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are known for, were all born from living in those remote areas. Traits resulting from a strong survival instinct bred into the population by their environment. I know all of those things, but I also see the reality of the world today, a world where time and technology change so rapidly, that you either ride the crest of the wave or you drown. Today survival isn’t necessarily about getting along with each other and helping your neighbor, instead it’s about efficiencies and fiscal responsibilities. Like the song says, “You’d better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a changing”.

The reality for rural Newfoundland and Labrador today is much the same as it was in Premier Smallwood’s time, but even more problematic. No Government, either federally or provincially, can continue throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at the situation without seeing some kind of a return on that investment. Yes, one time support may be possible, even two or three times but eventually the well has to run dry. Already we are hering calls from the fisheries union for the provincial government to provide financial support to fish plant workers displaced by the Dailey Brothers bankruptcy, but will they get it? This is a situation where a private company, hit by the financial realities of today, has been forced into bankruptcy and like any private company its workers are left to fend for themselves. That is the type of reality these communities will have to face more and more going forward and they may have to realize that government cannot be the answer to all their problems.

How long can the Province continue to spend millions on top of millions in order to protect a past that is clearly becoming exactly that, the past? I wonder sometimes if Newfoundland and Labrador will ever realize its dream of becoming a “Have” province. Can it get there if it continues to pour so much money into maintaining hospitals, health centers, schools, roads, policing, government services and everything else to so many far flung locations? Can it get there if it continues to provide financial support to communities that are clearly on an ever worsening downward spiral? I often wonder about that. I also look at what makes the people of the Province who they are and I wonder if turning our collective backs on the past and letting those rural communities die is a price that is simply too high to pay. What kind of future will it be if in order to achieve it we are forced to give up that way of life?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Two Articles on Lower Churchill

Below are links to two articles on the Lower Churchill project. Both make some interesting points.

Powering Up?

The Packet

…In its early years as a province Newfoundland and Labrador had an exquisite opportunity for financial stability with the development of the Upper Churchill. That single hydroelectric project could have reaped huge benefits for this province.

Unfortunately Joey Smallwood and the government of the day didn’t do their homework. In fact, excuse the pun, they sold us down the river.

It’s Quebec, not Newfoundland and Labrador, that has gotten rich from Churchill Falls.

The province will get another chance at the Upper Churchill when the current contract with Quebec, signed in 1969, expires in 2034.

In the meantime, by current estimates, this province took in $20 million last year from the Upper Churchill. Quebec hauled in $800 million. Who’s resource is it?...


Jumping the gun

The Labradorian

…Touting provincial independence and self-sufficiency, Mr Williams once again transformed into Super Danny and became the talk of the people. The media outlets couldn't get enough snip-bits of the common folk praising our provincial hero and at the same time broadcasting opinions of those who didn't think it was such a hot idea.

The Lower Churchill became the topic of discussion and the talk just kept on coming.

By Thursday afternoon, politicians, special interest groups, economists and outspoken citizens from across the country had shared their two cents…


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Why Are There No New Petroleum Industries in NL?

Below are some excerpts from an interesting article by Averill Baker I came across today.

…Hibernia has been producing oil for shipment to markets in the US and Canada since November 1997.

… to this day not one new refinery or other oil-related industry has been built in Newfoundland… One would think… multi-national corporations beating down the door to build refineries. Why are they not doing that?

The answer to that question is largely found in a legal document this province was forced to sign with Ottawa 26 years ago. The key paragraph in the legal document is as follows: “Hydrocarbons produced from the offshore area will be made available to Newfoundland and Labrador… provided such feedstock is excess to feedstock required to meet the demand of presently existing industrial capacity in eastern Canada.”

...Why do the existing refineries and other industries in the other provinces have access to our oil before any new industry can be built in this province?
This problem dates back to…


Monday, May 15, 2006

Living on the Edge - Newfoundland & Labrador in Confederation

After years of Liberal leadership, a new conservative government is at the helm in both Ottawa and in Newfoundland and Labrador. Over the years many people have expressed concern about how things have gone since the Province joined Confederation in 1949. Time will tell if the approaches taken by both levels of government over the next few years will have an impact on those concerns, but one thing is certain, a lot of people are not satisfied.

Although there has never been a concerted or organized effort to build support for separation within the Newfoundland and Labrador population, statistics show that a strong level of dissatisfaction is never the less alive and well among the residents.

The 2005 Portraits of Canada survey, an annual survey of public opinion conducted by CRIC, found that:

37 percent of Atlantic Canadians felt that the federal government had become irrelevant to them. In Newfoundland & Labrador that number was a staggering 44 percent, while Ontario had the lowest level of discontent among Canadian provinces at 28 percent.

Only 18 percent of Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans felt that their province was being treated with sufficient respect by Ottawa. Not surprisingly, once again, Ontario had the highest satisfaction numbers, with 62 percent saying they felt their province received the respect it deserved. What's surprising in the survey is the responses from the people of Quebec, where separation has been high on the agenda for decades. 35 percent of Quebec respondents felt they are receiving a reasonable level of respect from Ottawa.

It's interesting that in a Province where 35 percent of the population feels Ottawa is responding to their needs, a large separation movement exists, while a Province where only 18 percent of the population were satisfied, no such movement is prevelent. Interesting as well is the fact that as soon as a Newfoundlander or Labradorean expresses their concerns in this area they are generally labeled a groaner or told how good they have it while in Quebec any issues that arise are at least listened too.

With respect to Newfoundland & Labrador, the problem of a lack of fair and respectful treatment was also identified in the Royal Commission survey which, although considered flawed in many areas, found that:

A slight majority (51 percent) listed ‘not being treated with respect/fairly by the federal government’ as a reason for their dissatisfaction.

A significant group (26 percent) listed ‘not being treated with respect/fairly by other Canadians’ as a reason.

The Final Report stated the following among other things.

Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans do not believe that the province has yet found its full place in Canada. There is a strong sense that the fundamental issues facing the province are not well understood by the federal government, and are too often ignored or dismissed as “regional” and far less important than concerns seen as “central.” The overwhelming sentiment is that the status quo is totally unacceptable.

The report also noted that, by and large, Canadians outside of Newfoundland and Labrador recognize the uniqueness of the Province with 72% of those polled saying they see Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans as a distinct culture. Not surprising since the Province was a separate country before Joining Canada. This is very telling in that Quebec has been recognized in this way for some time however Newfoundland and Labrador never has.

The numbers speak for themselves. They tell the story of a centralist country where Ontario, the seat of power, has enough federal representatives to ensure that their needs are met. They tell the story of a Quebec with enough of separatist sentiment and federal seats to ensure that they are being heard loud and clear. They also tell the story of Atlantic Canada, with Newfoundland and Labrador clearly the most dissatisified, being neglected and forgotten thanks to their pitifully small voice in Ottawa.

I believe a lot of the dissatisfaction is due to two primary reasons:

1. Being ignored by Ottawa on a regular basis because of the current structure of the centralist Canadian government.

2. When the smaller Provinces find themselves at odds with larger Provinces like Ontario or Quebec, they generally end up on the losing end, even when in the right, simply because politicians know they need to keep the larger Provinces happy if they hope to remain in power.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to pit Newfoundland and Labrador against our bigger brothers in Confederation, Heavon's no. I don't believe the majority of people in the Province have a problem with any of the other Provinces generally. What they do seem to have a major problem with is Ottawa itself and the way things are done there. As far as most federal politicians are concerned, all Canadians are important, from Coast to Coast, all the way from BC to Quebec.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Premier Danny Williams - Master Poker Player

With what I’m about to say, I’m sure someone will accuse me of being a true blue Tory and on top of that I hate praising a sitting politician, but I’ll be damned if I won’t say what needs to be said about Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams after his recent performance.

“Sir, I like the cut of your jib!”

Although the Province still has a lot of internal struggles to deal with (that’s an understatement), a number of major issues have arisen during Premier Danny Williams’ time in office that, more often than not, he’s addressed in a way that is in perfect harmony with the voters who put him in office.

First Williams managed to renegotiate Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore oil revenues with Ottawa. Of course he had to back former PM Paul Martin into a corner in order to make him cough up billions of dollars in revenue, but it got done. That move provided the Province with the funds needed to decrease its debt, stabilize public sector pensions, address some long standing pay equity issues, begin improving infrastructure and balance the books. Not bad for a rookie.

Just a couple of months ago Williams made another bold move by taking a no nonsense stance with the oil industry’s biggest players. Simply put, he refused to allow Exxon Mobile and its partners to stroll in, extract the Province’s offshore oil, sell it at world record prices and walk away with hundreds of millions in additional tax breaks as icing on their corporate cakes. According to Exxon and some writers at the Globe and Mail, the offer was a sweet one the Province should have taken because it would have provided short term jobs helping the company ramp up for the big rape scene to take place offshore. Nice try Exxon, you too Globe but no thank-you.

Last week Williams decided to continue with his plans to place a Provincial lobbyist in Ottawa, something he tried unsuccessfully to do shortly after taking office. It seems he believes that the concept itself was a good one even if the structure, approach and perhaps even the man selected the first time around may have been flawed. Hopefully, with these lessons learned, the second time will be the charm.

Now in his latest attempt to add to his growing reputation as a hard line no nonsense leader Williams has hit a home run on his home field. After months of reviewing expressions of interest for development of the Lower Churchill power project, Williams made an announcement everyone in the Province has been waiting for with baited breath. Newfoundland and Labrador will develop the world class hydro project itself, without Quebec without Ontario and without anyone else for that matter. The Province will take all the risks and, hopefully as a result, it will reap all the benefits.

At this juncture I’ll say exactly what’s on the mind of nearly every person I’ve spoken with since that announcement, even at the risk of being accused of having a love in with the Premier.


For the second time in as many months Premier Williams has told outside interests that we don’t need them to come in here, rape our resources, pocket the profits and give us the crumbs left over after they’ve picked the carcass clean. In making the announcement Williams has left the door open to dealing with outside interests, but the project will be a “made right here”.

Williams has said that he sees Ontario and Quebec as potential customers for the power, not owners in this project. Ontario is facing an energy crisis and the Quebec is expected to be in the same boat in a few years. The role of customer is a far cry from where both Province’s expected to be today. The Ontario government was so sure their joint bid with Quebec for the development would be accepted they their energy plan states that Ontario is, “…Working with Quebec to develop a major hydroelectric generation project at the Lower Churchill River in Labrador, from which 670 megawatts would come to Ontario.”

Nice try folks, but as Premier Williams said, if it’s good enough that everyone else to want, why shouldn’t we do it ourselves. By all accounts, nearly everyone in the Province agrees.

Williams’ tough attitude has prompted some Canadian columnists to brand the Premier a dictator, comparable to Hitler himself. As usual they’ve missed the point entirely. Williams isn’t doing anything more than the people of the Province want him to do. Unlike most politicians he is listening to his constituents. I know it’s revolutionary and unorthodox, it may even be difficult for some to comprehend, but if that’s the definition of a dictator we can use a lot more dictators around here.

As Bob Dylan once sang, “The times they are a changing.” The people of Newfoundland and Labrador are sick and tired of getting nothing but crumbs after bringing with them into confederation some of the Country’s most valuable natural resources.

The Province came into Canada boasting Atlantic fish stocks more abundant than could be found anywhere else in the world. After a few decades of management by Ottawa those stocks are now all but decimated and so too are the rural communities who depended on them for centuries.

The Upper Churchill River has been generating over 5 thousand megawatts of power for decades now. During all of that time Quebec Hydro has reaped billions in profits from the river while the owners, Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans, were forced into a deal that sees them run the generating station while barely receiving enough cash to keep the turbines turning. Adding insult to injury many people in Labrador, where the river resides, are forced to use diesel generated power to light their homes and the island part of the Province has to generate most of its power by burning heavy crude oil.

Billions of barrels of oil and gas sit off our coast and until recently it has benefited nobody except the oil companies and Ottawa. Some of those oil fields like the Ben Nevis field, over which talks broke down a short while ago, have been controlled and left untapped by multi-national oil interests for as long as 20 years. All the while the Province has continued to struggle just to survive.

(By the way, I hate to digress here but this whole oil issue really eats me up and I have to say something about it, sort of a rant within a rant if you like.

Everyday I hear people talking about the 2 billion dollars Ottawa “gave” Newfoundland and Labrador during the offshore revenue negotiations. I hear people say how terrible the deal was for the rest of Canada and how it was just another in a long line of hand outs to those “Dirty begging Newfies.” Well folks, for your enlightenment, even after that “handout” of money, which was generated by oil produced in the Province, Ottawa still receives over half of the royalties paid out by the oil companies while NL gets a less than half. We aren’t greedy. We like the deal because we like to contribute to the Country. We just don’t like being robbed by it.

Sorry about that, anyway back to the point at hand)

The Province brought with it into Confederation one of the world’s largest iron ore deposits, at Bell Island. Today those mines sit empty and deserted. Bell Island now supports only a handful of families. All the ore was stripped out and shipped away for processing someplace else years ago. All that’s left now are a few holes in the ground and a red rusty soil.

One of the world’s biggest nickel deposits is currently being mined at Voisey Bay in Labrador. As I write this column the ore is being stripped from the ground and shipped to Ontario for processing. According to INCO, they plan to build a smelter in the Province a few years down the road and will find ore elsewhere to make up for what they use now. I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

Once upon a time the Province was literally covered by virgin forests. Forests so beautiful they inspired the author of the Newfoundland anthem, the Ode to Newfoundland. One line in that heart wrenching song says, “When sun’s rays crown thy pine clad hills and summer spreads her hand.” As I look around me today I can pretty much count the number of pine trees left in the Province on the fingers of one hand, if I can find one at all.

The list of atrocities that have taken place in the Province since it joined Canada in 1949 is a long one. It’s a list that ends with a Province that has a population only the size of a small city yet with nothing to show for its world class resources except the highest unemployment, highest taxes and highest per capita debt of any Province in the Nation. Under those circumstances there’s little wonder the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are fed up, pissed off and aren’t going to take it any more. Now, at long last the Province appears at least, to have picked a leader who feels exactly the same way. Time will tell of course.

Something much of Canada fails to understand in this whole scenario is that most of the people in the Province simply don’t care anymore, not in the least. This feeling often arises when someone has been kicked around for too long. At some point that person realizes they don’t care what happens to them as a result of their actions. They just need to do something, anything at all. It’s what happens to a dog that has been beaten and starved until it finally bites its owner. It’s what happens to a battered spouse when he or she finally set the bed on fire while their partner sleeps. A point is reached where the action taken is just as important, perhaps even more so, than the results of that action and the consequences don’t matter in the least.

If industry, the Canadian government and even the public at large can understand this reality, they will have a much easier time over the next few years. Just so everyone understands it completely, especially the less than swift columnists at Canada’s National Newspapers, let me spell it out for you. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador don’t care if Exxon Mobile ever comes back to the negotiating table. They don’t care if the Ben Nevis oil field is ever utilized and they most certainly don’t care if the Province bankrupts itself developing the Lower Churchill. They just don’t care.

The reality is that Premier Williams in his efforts to support the very people who are supporting him, will either make Newfoundland and Labrador a very prosperous place to live or he’ll sink it so deep into the dark cold depths of the North Atlantic it’ll never be seen again. Either way it’s O.K. At this point the people of Newfoundland and Labrador just want to get busy living or get busy dying. The status quo is not an option.

Have you ever tried playing poker with someone who couldn’t care less if they lost everything? Well get ready folks, you’re about too.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

It's Time for a Revolution

Here’s an interesting article I found in the Gander Beacon today. Thought you folks might want to check it out.

The Future is in Our Past

Audrey Manning
The Beacon

It is time for a revolution. If we don’t stand up and be counted it will prove to all and sundry we really are too stunned to get out of our own way.

Must it be said again we have always stood by and watched our precious resources being squandered? How much longer will we be willing or unwilling participants in this game?

Let there be no mistake, the sky is going to fall. But, it is not only going to fall on Newfoundlanders, it is also going to fall on corporations that take the lifeblood from ordinary people without so much as a by your leave. If history is any indication, we are heading for hard, hard times.

Pretty soon, when we realize money can’t buy food and necessities, the penny is going to drop. Perhaps not today, perhaps not tomorrow, but it’s coming. Maybe the cost of oil will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Or, maybe it will be the escalating war on terror. But it’s coming.

When ordinary people understand they are working for nothing to make a few rich they, will wake up. It is already… CONT..

Monday, May 08, 2006

Newfoundland Appoints Historian as Representative to Ottawa

Last week Newfoundland and Labrador Premier, Danny Williams, announced the appointment of historian, Dr. John FitzGerald, as the province's representative in Ottawa. According to the official announcement, the role will promote provincial issues and maintain an ongoing presence on the ground there. There are those who question the value of the liaison office saying that the 7 elected MPs and handful of senators already in the Nation’s capital are enough to do the job. I for one disagree with them and I applaud the Province’s move, although with reservations.

In my opinion the majority of MPs the Province has sent to the Hill over the years have turned out to be nothing more than Ottawa’s representatives to Newfoundland and Labrador, not the other way around. As soon as they step off the plane the provincial agenda is pushed aside in favor of internal party politics and the overall national agenda, not pushed forward by those who have been elected. The liaison office on the other hand might actually give the Province an opportunity to move its agenda forward, if those involved are up to the task at hand.

As I’ve said, I applaud the Province’s move but I wonder if Dr. FitzGerald will have the stomach to do what needs to be done in Ottawa. By all accounts FitzGerald is a good man who doesn’t carry any of the political baggage or party alliances that affect most members of the House and Senate. As a historian he is well versed in the cultural factors that play a major role in Newfoundland and Labrador life and his passion for the Province is unquestionable, but in order to be effective he will need to rub elbows with some pretty unsavory characters and I wonder if he is up to it.

Even though Premier Williams hasn’t actually said so, in reality Dr. FitzGerald’s role will be that of a lobbyist for the Province. Whether we like it or not politicians are simply the public face of government. Government’s direction and actions, more often than not, are pushed by lobby groups and bureaucrats from behind the scenes, not the politicians out front.

Ottawa is rife with lobbyists selling every agenda under the sun. The Forest industry, big tobacco, mining companies and others have had countless men or women on the ground wining and dining public officials for decades. It’s their agenda that is met most of the time, not the voter’s. Newfoundland and Labrador has learned this ugly reality and has decided to take its first baby steps into this hidden world, but you can’t go into an endeavor like this half way.

Personally I find the whole scenario sickening. That doesn’t change reality and the provincial government would be more than stupid if it didn’t take full advantage of the situation. My only hope is that Premier Williams and Dr. FitzGerald are both willing to push aside their own personal sense of decency and do what needs to be done.

The most successful lobby groups in Ottawa have deep pockets and they aren’t afraid to spread the green around. The provincial liaison will need to do the same. In Ottawa a lot more can be accomplished over a few rounds of golf or a night on the town than can happen in weeks or even months of official meetings and negotiations.

If it wants to be successful, the Province will need to ensure that the liaison office is staffed with politically savvy backroom support, in other words, people of minimal conscience. The Province has already seen the value of corporate lobbying now they need to take another page from the corporate world and start aggressively head hunting inside the most effective lobby groups already in place. Yes, these highly paid slime balls may be expensive to entice into the fold, but the knowledge and abilities they possess could be well worth the price.

Politics is a dirty business, no doubt about it. It’s sad that the Province may have to resort to playing this game but nothing else has been effective in the past 50 plus years and I don’t believe for a minute that Dr. FitzGerald will get anywhere by doing it alone. The good Dr. certainly brings with him the passion and knowledge needed to sell his agenda but unless he can make the right contacts, move in the right circles and find someone to grease the wheels for him, he’ll end up as nothing more than a lonely voice in the wilderness.

A successful recipe will require Dr. FitzGerald to put aside his personal ethics and allow himself to be supported by a nest of vipers. He will need to continue presenting the squeaky clean public image he is known for while looking the other way occasionally. Ottawa is filled with slime artists, sleaze balls, crooks and rogues and the big winners are usually those who can get the best of the worst to work for them. The way I see it, if the Province is going to delve into this nether world it needs to go all the way by ensuring that it has slimiest, sleaziest, most crooked rogues on its payroll, rather than on someone else’s.

Only if the Dr. FitzGerald can maintain plausible deniability, the province is willing to spend a few rubles and an effective shadow team can be put together will this turn out to be a successful venture, albeit a rather unpalatable one.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Canada's National Airline Abandons Newfoundland Route

On Tuesday May second, after months of discussions Air Canada announced that it will no longer continue its direct service route between St. John's, Newfoundland and London’s Heathrow airport. The Quebec based, tax payer supported airline claims that the connection is not profitable, however St. John’s airport authority president, Keith Collins, has said that the route is very lucrative.

It is rumored that complaints from passengers traveling to and from the Halifax area, who did not appreciate the stop in St. John’s, may have been a factor in the decision. In addition to this, some have speculated that intensive lobbying by Nova Scotia based interests, eyeing the potential for increased revenues from overseas supply shipments and passengers, played a major role in the decision.

Premier Danny Williams met with Air Canada management several months ago in an effort to convince them to maintain the non-stop flights and has now publicly denounced the airline for not doing so. He say’s he is very disappointed in the decision.

The move by Air Canada has come as a surprise and a disappointment to many, coming as it does at a time when the tourism industry between Newfoundland and Europe is growing fast. Over the last few years the number of Europeans flying into the area for vacation and business has steadily increased and there was an expectation of even further growth going forward. That may now be in jeopardy.

In addition to the tourism industry, the move will impact the province’s growing oil and gas industry. Oil rigs, ships and service vehicles often require parts and supplies from overseas and until now those supplies could generally be gotten overnight. With the departure of Air Canada from the direct European route, those supplies will now need to be de-planed in Halifax and an alternate delivery method found. This is expected to cause delays and additional expense for the companies involved.

Perhaps the hardest hit will be travelers themselves. Those traveling between the two destinations will now need to fly from St. John’s to Halifax, board another flight and double back over the province before heading on to England, with the reverse being true on the opposite leg of the flight. This is likely in increase the cost to travelers, cause unnecessary delays and during inclement weather, may even result in passengers being stuck in the Nova Scotia air terminal rather than making it to the island.

According to Keith Collins, the airport authority, accepts the decision and are pursuing a replacement for Canada’s so called national carrier. The route is a profitable one, the customer base is growing and the potential is great. He expects to have an announcement, perhaps involving a European carrier, very soon.

As many in the province see it, this is simply another case of Air Canada neglecting customer needs and service levels while forcing the flying public to pay additional and unnecessary charges. Many feel that the tactic is nothing new. In fact it’s been said that Air Canada is the only airline in the world that could get away with mistreating their customers the way they do and still survive. This is due in large part to the endless support shown by Canada’s federal government through the vast amount of tax revenue supplied by those same unhappy customers.