Da Legal Stuff...

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

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Canada Day - Remembering the Battle of the Somme

Sunday is Canada Day, a celebration of the nation of Canada, but did you know it’s also a very historic day for Newfoundland and Labrador?

July 1st is the anniversary of the battle of the Somme. One of the most horrific battles of WWI.

It was on July 1, 1916 that this historic battle began. It was also that day that the Newfoundland Regiment, later to be given the status of “Royal”, fought its first engagement in France. An engagement that would prove to be the regiment’s costliest.

The men of the Newfoundland Regiment were all but slaughtered.

After the battle, one report of their efforts, from their British Divisional Commander, said “It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault failed of success because dead men can advance no further.”

For its size, no unit suffered heavier losses than did the Newfoundland Regiment.

They began the battle on that fateful day with 801 men. Only 68 answered the call the next day.
For decades it was a custom in the province to remember these fine men on July 1, the anniversary of the day so many perished. Unfortunately, long after our people entered into confederation, the government of Canada decided that official recognition of Canada Day should be set for the same date. No consideration was given to the fact that for our people the date already had a special significance. One comparable to Canada’s Remembrance Day.

With Canada’s decision made the people of the province stood silently by and attended solemn ceremonies or watched legion parades in the morning, only to raise the Canadian flag in the afternoon. It was what some would call it a livable compromise, others a shame.

These days it’s rare for even these activities to happen.

These days the parades and legion gatherings, if they happen at all, are relegated to another arbitrarily determined time or even to a different day.

On July 1st Newfoundland and Labrador lost many sons in what was arguably one of the bloodiest battles of World War I, including four from one family alone.

The historical acts of remembrance our people took part in was woven into the fabric our shared history. That fabric is now torn and tattered. The memories relegated to the back pages of history and the dust of battles past swept under the great Canadian carpet.

Not so long ago a small group of protestors would gather to remember that terrible day by wearing black arm bands and marching on Confederation Hill. Will they do the same this year or a year from now I wonder, or will their numbers simply dwindle away to nothing over time?

One can only hope that at least some segment of our population refuses to forget those who came before us.

Newfoundland and Labrador has a rich, vibrant and independent history that should make everyone hold their heads high with pride. That rich history has been neglected, overlooked and pushed aside for so long that its been all but replaced by the history of Canada. A country we are a part of today, but one we weren’t a part of during either of the World Wars or for the centuries before them.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Giving it All Away

Our province’s position on the Lower Churchill has me baffled, befuddled and bewildered.

I’m right there with Danny when it comes to big oil and the federal government but I can’t help wondering if those battles are a skillful misdirection. A magician’s ploy meant to shift attention from other issues such as the Lower Churchill project.

Ever since Williams swore we'd develop that project ourselves he's touted the dream of an east/west power grid as one way to ensure Ottawa's support. He's spoken of the hunger for clean power in Ontario and the U.S. and he's proudly said he wants to export the electricity through Quebec or, if necessary, via the so called Anglo Saxon route.

Some have gleefully patted Danny on the back for threatening to bypass Quebec. Not me. Not that I'd mind doing so, just on principle. What bothers me is why, through all the rhetoric, he hasn’t once talked about using that power to diversify the economy here at home.

I'm not naive enough to believe we can use all of that power ourselves, not right away anyway. I know we’ll need to sell some to finance the project and ensure a solid return, but why the hell does Newfoundland and Labrador have to plan for near total export?

What’s wrong with using OUR resources to attract industry to OUR province and why has every government we've ever elected told us our only way forward is to walk backward?

It began when we gave away our sovereignty. Since then it’s been one giveaway after another.

The Upper Churchill sees billions of dollars flow to Quebec while Newfoundland and Labrador barely makes enough to keep the turbines spinning.

INCO signed a deal for a processing facility in the province and replacement of ALL the ore shipped out. Where’s the processing facility or smelter and who among us actually believes we'll actually recover any of the minerals already exported?

Oil and Gas – Do you see any of it refined in the province? Do we have any petrochemical industries worth speaking of?

A few months ago I made contact with Natural Resources Minister, Kathy Dunderdale. As a concerned citizen I wanted to know if the province had been courting any major industrial players like Alcoa or Alcan in an effort to have them set up shop in Labrador, once an abundant supply of power was available of course.

Ms. Dunderdale politely informed me that she had already reviewed a study into that option and it was not feasible because it would cost the taxpayers, you and me, $1 billion dollars.

That's a Billion with a very big 'B'.

Since this wasn't what I expected to hear I followed up with the obvious question, "why"?

I mean who the hell lets a number like $1 billion dollars hang out there and quotes from some unnamed study without providing any details?

I thought she’d give me a hint. She didn’t.

First I was given the impression it was a joint study between government and industry. After I pushed a little harder I was told it was an issue of confidentiality because the study had been undertaken by a publicly traded company, not the government itself, and it had only been “shown” to government. Go figure.

Can't these people do anything for themselves?

First Wade Locke has to tell our provincial government what the new equalization formula really means and now the Minister of Natural Resources is deciding our collective futures based on the results of a study supposedly "shown" to her by an unnamed industry player.

I'm sure what ever company it was had no vested interest in getting the Province to pony up a cool billion.

Will someone please stop the insanity!!!

I started my little waltz with Ms. Dunderdale in November of last year. More than six months later I’m still listening to the dance music but I'm no closer to an answer.

Are we really missing something in this province generally and Labrador specifically that would cause a power hungry company to just walk away from one of the last great power projects in North America?

What is it and why does it cost so much?

These are all questions nobody seems in a hurry to answer.

Companies like Alcoa are scouring the earth for clean, stable and inexpensive power. For some reason the Lower Churchill doesn’t fit their bill. That’s something all of us needs to worry about.

If something is truly necessary to attract industry here maybe it should be discussed openly instead of swept under the rug. It may be expensive but it could be money well spent and since you and I pay the taxes around here perhaps Ms. Dunderdale should be a little more open about the whole issue.

Our government has an opportunity before it to use our resources wisely. It has a chance to resolve a lot of the issues we face today and do things right this time around, maybe for the last time. The question is whether or not they’ll have the vision to do it right or if they'll simply follow the course of those who came before and give it all away.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Harper Shift - From Prime Minister to Vengeful Dictator.

I hope everyone in Canada marked their calendars with a big black X yesterday.

June 25th was a day that we would all do well to remember. It was the day Prime Minister Stephen Harper hit a new all time low, even for him, in his dealings with the Provinces.

While in New Brunswick to announce hundreds of millions of dollars in highway funding, Harper decided to send a clear message to Canadians in general and Atlantic Canadians specifically.

The message was, “keep quiet and do as you’re told or else”.

There’s nothing new about Ottawa cost sharing highway improvements with the provinces. It’s done all the time and has been for decades. What’s different this time around is the choice of words used by Harper during the New Brunswick announcement and the underlying threat he delivered.

At a time when Nova Scotia and Newfoundland & Labrador are battling Ottawa over the Atlantic Accords and equalization and while the Atlantic Premiers are all together for meetings in PEI, Harper used the announcement to clearly get his future intentions across. He did this by noting that the federal funding provided to New Brunswick for road improvements was an example of what can happen when the Provinces and Ottawa work together.

The statement in any other context might not sound like much but make no mistake about it, his words were intended as a clear shot across the bows of the SS MacDonald and the SS Williams and were meant to send a message to all the Atlantic Provinces that they had better stay in line or face dire consequences.

We all know of course that infrastructure funding is not tied to equalization, nor should it be. We’ve also heard the federal finance minister say time and time again that there will be “no more side deals”. Fair enough, though in reality the Atlantic Accords are not side deals but economic development deals similar to those heaped on the auto and aerospace industries of Ontario and Quebec.

Harper's statement was a threat if there ever was one and by tying the ability to access road funding to the larger issue of federal/provincial relations, Stephen Harper has, in essence, taken that funding out of the standard cost sharing pot and made it a side deal of its own, contingent on keeping him happy.

It’s always been the practice of federal and provincial governments to work together on road projects and for Harper to use the New Brunswick announcement as a hammer against Nova Scotia and Newfoundland & Labrador is nothing more than a deplorable attempt to pit province against province, an effort to keep Atlantic Canada firmly under his thumb and a move meant to make sure Atlantic Canadians know that to access federal funds from here on in they'll have to stay on the good side of Adolf Harper.

Those who win his favour will be rewarded. Those who displease him will be punished severely. What a way to run a Country.

How unbecoming of a Prime Minister to resort to threats and back door politics against his own people.

As I said folks, mark June 25th on your calendars. It’s the day that saw a violent shift in Canadian politics. It’s a day that saw Stephen Harper begin his move away from that of a democratically elected Prime Minister to that of a vengeful dictator.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rodney Macdonald's Testimony to the Senate

For those of you who haven't heard or read Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonaland's speech, before the Senate committee reviewing the budget implementation bill, I've posted the full text here. It says all that should need to be said on the subject to any thinking individual. Whether the Senate will hear his words is in doubt however.


Rodney MacDonald:

“Good Afternoon Mr. Chair and Thank You. It is an honour to be here."

“I have with me Nova Scotia's Minister of Finance, Michael Baker, and his assistant deputy minister, Liz Cody. You will hear from them later."

“While I am grateful for the opportunity to appear before your committee, I deeply regret the need to."

“Having exhausted every diplomatic effort to have the Government of Canada right an egregious wrong, I am here to appeal to the Senate to use all of its power and all of its authority to restore the Honour of the Crown, by requiring the Parliament of Canada to honour the terms and conditions set out in the 2005 Canada/Nova Scotia Offshore Accord."

“I will be brief, and I will be blunt."

“The Federal Government's efforts to tear up the 2005 Canada/Nova Scotia accord are not only extremely harmful to Nova Scotia, they do great damage to the reputation of the Parliament of Canada, they fuel public cynicism, create regional divides, and they cast a dark shadow over the future of our federation."


“By demonstrating to Canadians, that the word of their government is to be questioned - and the contracts it signs on their behalf - not worth the paper they are written on."

“Strong words I know, but words that cannot be challenged when you examine the evidence in black and white taken against the standard of honour, integrity, or legitimate concern for the national good."

“Let there be absolutely no misunderstanding, the Canada/Nova Scotia Offshore Agreement is very clear. There is not a lick of ambiguity in the wording...not a speck of doubt about its intent."

“The Accord was expressly written and specifically designed to support Nova Scotia's efforts to grow its economy, to become more self-reliant, and over-time, self-sufficient."

“And let there be absolutely no misunderstanding, the Federal budget - Bill C52 - is also very clear. Again, there is not a lick of ambiguity in the wording...not a speck of doubt about its intent."

“It was intended to appeal to vote-rich areas of the country by rendering null and void signed agreements with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador; agreements that are not widely popular with either the federal finance department or with those who mistakenly believe Atlantic Canada got something special."

“Before I respond to that particular and misleading allegation, I want to address what can only be characterized as a deliberate attempt by the Federal Government to confuse and confound Canadians about the facts of the offshore accord and the effects of the 2007 budget."

“Let me take a moment to set the record straight by putting the facts on the table."

“Fact: The 2005 Canada/Nova Scotia Offshore Accord bears the signature of the Government of Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia, two legally-constituted authorities under the Canadian Constitution.:

“Fact: The Accord is an economic development agreement between the Federal and Provincial governments and is rooted in the Government of Canada's constitutional obligation under section 36.1 which provides the federal government with the power to further economic development in all regions of our country."

“Fact: Clause four of the Accord guarantees that Nova Scotia will be the full beneficiary of its offshore resources with no clawback of equalization benefits at any time over the life of the agreement, no matter what equalization formula is in effect at any time, over the life of the agreement."

“Fact: Section 81(a) of the Federal budget strips clause four out of the Accord by imposing a cap that claws back equalization payments to Nova Scotia without any corresponding compensation in offset payments, in direct violation of the Accord."

“Fact: The Federal Government's ultimatum to Nova Scotia, either stick with the Accord and sacrifice equalization dollars it is constitutionally entitled to, or opt into the new equalization formula and surrender the full benefits of its offshore revenues violates both the principle and provisions of the Accord."

“Fact: The Prime Minister has repeatedly said Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador are asking him to sign new side deals. Not true. We're asking the Prime Minister to honour an agreement that is already in place. An agreement he didn’t just tacitly support ...but actively campaigned on while in opposition."

“Fact: When he led the Opposition, Prime Minister Harper came to Nova Scotia just days before the Accord was officially signed and said "Don't trust the Liberals they will find a way to claw it back." The Prime Minister clearly understood the dangers we were facing in placing our trust in the federal government."

“Fact: The Federal budget violates not just the spirit and intent of the Accord, it violates the letter of the Accord in every way, shape and form."

“Fact: If the federal government can tear up its agreement with Nova Scotia... if it can tear to shreds its agreement with Newfoundland and Labrador, it can and likely no doubt will, tear up others."

“Those, Mr. Chair, are some of the indisputable facts, and the reason I am here today."

“Mr. Chair, I'd like to now address some of the "urban myths" spinning out of the Prime Minister's Office and the Office of the Minister of Finance. Both Prime Minister Harper and Minister Flaherty have repeatedly stated that "not one comma of the Accord has been changed, and that it remains in its original, pristine form."

“Again, absolutely not true and they know it."

“The federal government has unilaterally wiped out an entire clause of the agreement - in fact, the most important clause of the agreement - clause four."

“The Accord, post-budget, is nowhere close to being in its original form."

“In fact, for all intents and purposes, it doesn't exist anymore. And if C-52 passes through the Senate Chamber without amendment, the final nail will have been driven into the casket that holds the Atlantic Accord."

“The Prime Minister also said that the federal government is being more than generous to Nova Scotia by giving it a choice. We can keep the Accord as it was or we can forfeit the enriched equalization benefits flowing from the new EQ formula. Pick one or the other he said, adding it is a choice between "a better deal and an even better deal."“Actually, it is more like pick your poison."

“Clause four of the Accord guaranteed Nova Scotia that it would never have to make that choice."

“Let me repeat that, Clause four of the Accord guaranteed Nova Scotia would never have to make that choice."

“It reads "Commencing in 2006-07, and continuing through 2011-12 the annual offset payments shall be equal to 100% of any reductions in equalization payments resulting from offshore resource revenues. The amount of additional offset payment of a year shall be calculated as the difference between the Equalization payment that would be received by the province under the Equalization formula as it exists at the time."

“Mr. Chair, neither of the two options the Federal Government has put on the table comes close to being acceptable."

“Here's why."

“Neither of them come within a country mile of meeting the Federal Government's obligations as spelled out under the Accord."

“The difference between option one, the so-called O'Brien formula and the Accord would mean Nova Scotia would lose an estimated $1.3 billion over the life of the agreement.."

“The difference between option two, the so-called fixed framework and the Accord would mean Nova Scotia would lose an estimated $793 million."

“In either case, Nova Scotia stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars...dollars the federal government promised we would have to support our efforts...our determined efforts ....to grow our economy...to become a have province and to begin leveling the playing field so our citizens pay roughly the same taxes for roughly the same services as other Canadians."

“But beyond the financial hit Nova Scotia will take as a result of the federal budget - is something equally, if not more troubling to me and to many Atlantic Canadians, and that is the underlying insinuation that we Maritimers want to have our cake and to eat it too - as some are suggesting....that the Accord was some kind of special, sweetheart deal others didn't get, and we don't deserve. Well, did other provinces deserve their economic development agreements?"

“Again, Mr. Chair, the 2005 Canada/Nova Scotia Accord is an economic development agreement. It is not double equalization."

“The Accord was meant to allow Nova Scotia to use the full benefits of its offshore resources - resources that have a limited shelf-life - to gain some economic momentum - and to put us on the road to greater self-sufficiency - and to making an even greater contribution to Canada."

“So why is it that Nova Scotia's economic agreement is under such harsh attack when the financial benefits to our province pale in comparison to so many others across our country? They pale in comparison to the billions of federal dollars that have gone into supporting Quebec's aerospace industry... They pale in comparison to the billions of federal dollars that support Ontario’s automotive industry...And they pale in comparison to the billions of federal dollars that were poured into western grain subsidies. Or the Alberta tar sands."

“Why is it that just two years ago when the federal government supported economic development opportunities in the Province of Ontario with a cheque worth 5.75 billion dollars - roughly seven times the value of Nova Scotia's Accord - and Nova Scotia did not object because economic development in one part of the country is good for all Canadians in all parts of Canada."

“And why is it that just days after the Federal budget was introduced - a budget that gutted our Accord (NS's economic development agreement) the Federal government pumped another 900 million dollars into Quebec's aerospace industry and nobody batted an eye?"

“Mr. Chair, let me be clear. I don't want anyone around this table, or anywhere else for that matter, to think that I am against any of the examples I just cited."

“It's the exact opposite."

“I strongly believe that the Federal Government has an important role, indeed an obligation, to support economic opportunities in all regions, provinces and territories within our country. In fact, that is what section 36.1 of the Constitution is all about and our accord is rooted in."

“I strongly believe - that a strong Ontario is good for Canada and good for Nova Scotia."

“I strongly believe - that a strong Alberta is good for Canada and good for Nova Scotia."

“I strongly believe that a strong Quebec is good for Canada and good for Nova Scotia."

“I fully support the government's efforts to help Western grain farmers, and despite the fact that we still don't have a formal commitment from the Federal Government to support our Atlantic Gateway initiative, I fully support the Federal Government's investment in the Pacific Gateway."

“All of these economic development agreements are essentially federal transfers. For that reason they are not subject to clawback. But the 2005 Accord, also a transfer, is clawed back in the 2007 Budget. In fact, the 2005 Accord is the only transfer in federal history, that we are aware of, that is clawed back."

“Mr. Chair it comes down to an issue of fairness.“It took more than 25 years, five Prime Ministers and a promise by Nova Scotia to put aside its jurisdictional claim over the offshore - for us to get to where we were on February 14th 2005 - the day the offshore accord agreement was signed by the Government of Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia."

“Only two years later, in an agreement that was supposed to last at least fifteen years, we find ourselves back at square one."

“By tearing up the Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador accords, the federal government has sent the wrong message to Atlantic Canada."

“They've broken faith with the people of Atlantic Canada and created divisions within our country that will not be settled until the problem is fixed."

“So, Mr. Chair, I hope you, and all of the members of your committee, fully appreciate how much is at stake here....not just for Nova Scotia ...not just for Newfoundland and Labrador but for the future of federal-provincial relations within our Country."

“For Atlantic Canadians, this is about more than dollars and cents..it's about equality of opportunity for all Canadians...it's about fairness and respect for all Canadians ....it's about harmony within our federation... it's about what value we can put on the Government of Canadas signature."

“And for Nova Scotians, it's about a lot more than a political dust-up over a two-page, 9 paragraph agreement between two levels of government. Nova Scotians know that our Accord presented a rare window of opportunity to achieve greater prosperity, to provide a better future for our children and to contribute to a stronger Canada."

“Today, they feel betrayed - and so do I.“Mr. Chair shortly, I'm going to cede the floor to my colleague, Minister Baker, who will put forward - for the consideration of this committee and all members of the Senate - amendments to Bill C-52."

“Before I do, I want to end with a few brief comments and a request."

“All of you here today are proud Canadians representing different regions of our country... all with the best interests of your fellow citizens top of mind and our nation’s interests at heart."

“I am confident that, like me, you know that nation-building does not begin on the Pacific coast and stop at the border to Atlantic Canada. Nation building recognizes and supports the legitimate interests of every Canadian citizen and supports the economic potential of every province and territory."

“I know that you can make the case that no matter what the federal government does, there's always one province or one region crying foul."

“Fair enough."

“But after hearing the full testimony of the Province of Nova Scotia and examining in full the evidence we put before you today, I ask you to ask yourselves: has Atlantic Canada been treated fairly?"

“And I ask that you ask yourselves this: How can the average Canadian, any other level of government, or any other country for that matter, trust the Government of Canada to keep its word when signed contracts can be so easily dismissed and disposed of?"

“I urge you to consider our amendments and to take whatever steps within your power to restore the 2005 Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Accord and the Honour of the Crown."

"Mr. Chair, the issue of fairness for a small region of Canada - and Confederation partners - means a great deal to who we are and what we think of ourselves. The value of our agreements must mean more than here-today, gone-tomorrow."

“The Atlantic Accord was designed to last at least 15 years. It will survive about two years unless Bill C-52 is amended. I ask you to consider Minister Baker's amendments that will restore the benefits of the 2005 Atlantic Accord. Benefits that will put us further down the road to self-sufficiency."

“Thank you.”

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Talks on Hebron Oil Development Underway

When Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams demanded a 4.9% equity stake in the long shelved Hebron oil field off the province’s coast it resulted in an end to negotiations. The companies involved walked away from the table, closed up offices in St. John’s and announced that no further discussions were taking place. Williams wanted too much they claimed.

At the time the industry blamed the Premier for wanting too much and one national paper compared him to South American dictator Hugo Chavez. At home he was hailed as a hero for standing up to big oil and ensuring that a fair return on the resource came to the province or as he said at the time, "the oil can stay in the ground."

The Hebron find was uncovered over 20 years ago and since that time the companies involved have sat on the field waiting for oil prices to rise. In the mean time, the people of the province have struggled through hard economic times that included the collapse of their main industry, fishing and the highest unemployment in the Country.

A few weeks ago Premier Williams announced that his government's long awaited provincial energy plan would be released prior to the election in October. In making that announcement Williams also let it be known that any oil projects developed after its release would be subject to a higher rate of return than the previously suggested 5%. With all signs showing the current government poised to win a landslide majority in the next election it seems the oil companies involved may have blinked in the showdown over Hebron.

During an investment conference held by petroleum producers, Petro-Canada executive vice-president Peter Kallos said, "We are hoping Hebron will go forward. We are in the middle of restarting those discussions."

According to a report in the Financial Post, Mr. Kallos would not say whether the partners want to lock up an agreement before the energy plan becomes effective.

"The authorities in Newfoundland are clearly hoping that this energy plan will make things happen. We are hoping that things will happen. I am optimistic," Mr. Kallos said.

"I think it's worth getting a deal and, as with any deal, it will be done when the time is right."
"The co-venturers have always remained open to the possibility that the project could proceed at a future date, but there are no negotiations taking place," said Chevron spokesman Dave Pommer.

The group has seen little good news in the past year, as other major oil-and-gas developments worth billions remained on hold over policy uncertainty.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Battle of the Atlantic

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article by Michael Harris appeared today in the Ottawa Sun. With the battle over equalization raging, verbal attacks on Atlantic Canada are growing in some quarters. The name calling in certain media is becoming a daily affair and now Ontario Premier McGuinty has weighed in saying the Atlantic provinces want too much from his people, (never mind that not so long ago he was the one whining about needing more from Ottawa because of the so called fiscal imbalance).

With the attacks growing louder on both sides of this issue its good to see that at least one columnist in Ontario actually understands what's happening and isn't afraid to say so.

The issue of equalization has moved far beyond one of dollars and sense (no, that isn't a misspelling). It's become an issue where the fabric of Canada is being stretched to the limit. Where province is pitted against province, where the small are battling the mighty and where the federal government is abandoning the ideal of an equal and fair federation.

Mr. Harris' points provide a view into this growing crisis.

Battle of the Atlantic
by Michael Harris

Occasionally, something is said on the airwaves and the ground trembles.

This week on my radio show, the cups rattled as Caller Donald denounced Maritimers as grasping, greedy freeloaders. Others argued there were nooks and crannies in Ontario every bit as needy as the East. Clearly true.

Pundits like Andrew Coyne reinforced the sense that Atlantic Canada was scamming. He spoke of the region's "phony grievances" and its premiers as "shake-down" artists.

Coyne cited per capita income in Newfoundland and Labrador and compared it to Ontario, using one year of projected data, this year and next, during which Newfoundlanders will get $500 more. Coyne called this "untenable" and approvingly cited the O'Brien report and its call for a cap on equalization right now to avoid injustices.

Coyne's analysis is no worse than a lot of other Canadians who don't know the East Coast or its people.

Eager to cite a historically high per capita income number for Newfoundland, he neglected to report in his "facts" that the Rock has the highest per capita debt in the country, and remains firmly at the bottom of the national ladder, where it will remain for decades unless that debt can be paid down.

Phony grievances? Let's see: The destruction of the northern cod by federal mismanagement; silence from the feds on the ruinous Upper Churchill Hydro development, which has allowed Quebec to gorge for decades on profits from power generated in Newfoundland and Labrador while Newfoundlanders got table scraps; a declining population that has already seriously reduced equalization payments to the most indebted province in the country.

Next time Coyne is in Newfoundland, he should try taking the train from St. John's to Corner Brook. It will be hard because they hauled up the narrow gauge tracks years ago and sold them to an African nation.

Newfoundland, unlike Ottawa, has no trains.

Like a lot of other people, the pundit is merely changing the channel on the only question involved here: Did the Harper government break the terms of the Atlantic Accord?

Three premiers, two Conservative, say it did. Iconic Tory John Crosbie says it did. Bill Casey quit rather than market lies back home.

Stephen Harper, Jim Flaherty, and the dubious Peter MacKay say the accord has not been violated, just retroactively and unilaterally improved for people too stupid to see what's good for them.

But the federal government's bad faith is not what made the cups rattle in the studio this week.

In a journalistic age that has opted for partisan cant rather than getting to the truth is bound to leave us awash in a sea of casuistry and sophism.

What made the cups rattle was that call from Donald. For him and others like him, charity started at home and that meant Ontario. He saw his fellow Canadians in the Maritimes sponging off their betters, constitutional street people looking for yet another handout.

That view rests on a very new idea of Canada, one that is light-years from the old notion of one for all and all for one. If it is a sea of change in our national life, how fitting that it started with Atlantic Canada.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Is Alberta the "Canary in a Coal Mine" for the Federal Tories?

Are serious fractures appearing in the big blue machine out west?

Alberta has long been a stronghold of Tory support and the region that saw the birth of reform. The party that eventually spawned our latest Prime Minister. Today some conservatives there are scratching their heads in wonder over what appears to be the beginnings of a major collapse in support.

Federal Tory support in Atlantic Canada is already shot to hell thanks to the PM's broken promises and fractured contracts. The party is all but dead in Newfoundland and Labrador. In Nova Scotia not only is the federal party on the ropes but thanks to his dithering and lack of viable spinal fluid, provincial Tory Premier Rodney MacDonald is showing signs of needing life support.

A recent poll showed the Nova Scotia premier at just 29% support in his home province. Unfortunately for the Premier, that poll was conducted before Bill Casey’s exodus from the federal caucus and the stoking of anti-conservative flames that had been smoldering for months. In the post Casey era some are speculating that MacDonald’s numbers, along with those of the two remaining Tory MPs in that province, are about to go into free fall.

For Mr. Harper the picture isn't any brighter in Central Canada. In Ontario the Tories hoped to make inroads with their ill fated equalization plan and in Quebec through buying votes with equalizatin funding snatched from resource dependent provinces. Neither of those decisions has had the desired effect and the limited bump they provided in the polls has been short lived. The Tories are still a long way from any kind of solid support in either of Canada’s two vote rich provinces.

With three provincial premiers already on the attack (not to mention a sweet little old war widow toting yet another signed and broken promise by the PM) and new information surfacing today that New Brunswick and PEI are also on the losing end of the new equalization forumla, Harper’s poll numbers are expected to slip even lower and his party may be on the verge of collapse across the Country.

The most recent polls show the federal Conservatives trailing the Liberals by 3 percentage points. With two more provinces now likely to go on the attack this could be a long hot summer for Mr. Harper and his caucus.

Adding to the PM’s woes this morning, is an unwanted surprise from deep within his normally strong western base.

With Saskatchewan already on the war path and 7 Tory seats there up for grabs, a provincial by-election in Alberta yesterday produced results which could signal that the once mighty provincial Tories have become victims of ill will and mistrust aimed at their federal counterparts.

The possibility exists that provincial Tories in Alberta are the “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to how the electorate plans to vote in the next federal election. Its a swing Stephen Harper may not want to deal with right now.

After more than thirty years of uninterupted majority governments in Alberta the PC party there is feeling the heat. Last night the party lost a key by-election in, of all places, Ralph Klein’s old Tory stronghold. A riding that has seen nothing but Tory blue since its inception in the early 1970’s is flying Liberal red today.

Alan Hallman, a Klein organizer was quoted in the National Post today as saying, "If we're not careful, I think the Liberals can form the next government. You've seen the history of this province. Once we turn, we turn en masse."

Political scientist, Duane Bratt, from Calgary’s Mount Royal College noted, "It's not the by-election I would put as much stock into. It's the trend line. There's been a series of little steps, all going down."

The most recent provincial polls in Alberta show Calgary area conservatives down nearly 20% since January and the trend downward is showing no signs of abating.

Granted the provincial and federal Tories are in reality two separate entities, but if, after nearly three and a half decades of unquestioned support in Alberta the tide is turning, from Tory blue to Grit red, it may signal a reality shift the Prime Minister and his party will have to deal with when the next federal election rolls around.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Of Mice and Men (and Women)

Editor's note: I originally published the following in the June 1 edition of Current Magazine.


Of Mice and Men (and Women)

Newfoundland and Labrador is a bloody mess!

Federal/Provincial relations are in the toilet. We’re represented by seven puppets in Ottawa. Our people are second class citizens in Canada and everyone is looking toward the latest provincial savior to guide us into a future that’s a crap shoot.

What can we do?

Here’s a novel idea. Let’s get off our collective butts and fight back for once!

Our situation reminds me of the legendary tale of “Mouseland”. If you’ve never heard of it, Mouseland is a parable once told by Saskatchewan political dynamo and father of universal health care, the late Tommy Douglas.

Mouseland talks of mice that go about their daily routines, working, raising children and so on, just like we do. Every four years they elect a new parliament. The funny thing is they always elect a parliament made up of cats, black cats to be precise.

To paraphrase Mr. Douglas, black cats make wonderful promises. One time they promised smaller rounder mouse holes so cats couldn’t stick their heads in and eat all the little mice. They delivered. But they made sure the holes were big enough so they could still get their paws inside and pull the mice out.

After years of misery the mice decided it was time for a change so they elected a new government. This time they elected white cats. The white cats promised to get rid of round mouse holes. “That’ll fix the problem”, they said. Once elected the white cats built square holes but they were bigger than the round ones so the cats could get their heads inside again.

The moral: Cats, no matter their color, are still cats. They aren’t mice. It’s not that cats are bad. In fact they actually do good things, for other cats. To paraphrase Mr. Douglas, what’s good for a Nation of cats isn’t necessarily good for a Province of mice.

Just like Mouseland, it’s time we elected 7 independent or Bloc style mice and sent them to Ottawa instead of the usual lot of red, blue or even orange cats.

I can hear the usual curmudgeons and party faithful shake their heads and ask, “What in God’s name can 7 independent MPs accomplish in a parliament of 308?” Don’t listen to them. We may be facing a string of minority governments in Canada. A bloc of 6 or 7 mice who aren’t obligated to toe the party line can do a lot in that environment. They certainly can’t do any worse than our usual 7 (fat) cats.

What do we have to lose? We gave away the upper Churchill for the benefit of Canada and the glory of another almighty savior, Joey Smallwood. The fish are gone, the railroad is gone, mills are closing, unemployment is rampant and people are leaving by the plane, bus and boat load. We have to do something or by the time the oil runs out the locks will already be on the door.

Ben Franklin once said, “Those who give up liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

In 1949 we sold our Nation into confederation for a baby bonus and the old age pension. According to Ben, we got what we deserved.

It’s time each of us did something to get ourselves out of the mess we’ve fallen, gotten pushed or were conned into, depending on your point of view. The Ode to Newfoundland contains the line, “Where once they stood we stand”. Sadly it makes me realize most of us don’t stand for much anymore.

Dismiss me as nut, a crackpot or even a nationalist if you must. I really don’t care. I’ve been called far worse, including a Liberal, PC and NDP. I’d prefer the former names to the latter.

Tommy Douglas noted at the end of Mouseland how one little mouse called on his fellow citizens to stop electing cats. He was dragged away to shut him up.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Does Harper Still Believe in Atlantic Canada's "Culture of Defeat"?


Today, June 12 at 6:45 NL time the final commons vote on this issue will take place. I encourage all readers to send an email to Newfoundland and Labrador's 3 conservative MPs urging them to stand by their province and vote against the budget.

You can reach them at the following email addresses:

Norman Doyle - doyle.n@parl.gc.ca

Fabian Manning - manning.f@parl.gc.ca

Lloyla Hearn - hearn.l@parl.gc.ca

Please make sure they hear you loud and clear.


Does Harper Still Believe in Atlantic Canada's "Culture of Defeat"?

Wouldn’t I love to be a fly on the wall inside the federal conservative caucus this week. It must feel like ground zero in there with casualties mounting and nothing but scorched earth as far as the eye can see.

If everything goes according to schedule the federal budget bill will go to a final vote by Friday. The decisions some MPs make at that time will determine if they survive inside their often autocratic party, if they become outcasts in their home provinces and even the very future of the party in much of Atlantic Canada.

When it was just NDP Premier Lorne Calvert fighting the new equalization formula the Harper government could spin it as party politics. When the PC Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador went on the attack he was written off as another hot headed Newfie. In Harper’s world, as long as his MPs were kept in line and Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald was content to discuss the problem behind closed doors, the train was solidly on the track. I don't believe he expected the kind of derailment that was about to happen.

Last week, despite aggressive arm twisting and threats, one of the longest serving, most highly respected and level headed Conservative MPs in Ottawa, Bill Casey, took his party and the PM to task over their broken promises and lies. To paraphrase Mr. Casey, there are 18 separate points in the budget that affect the Atlantic Accord. Canada’s word should be taken as gospel. When you can’t trust the government of Canada to respect a signed contract with two of its own provinces, that word becomes worthless.

That was a blow that hit the party much harder than anything else that had been thrown at them since the budget was released but if they thought the worst had come they were all mistaken.

Until now Nova Scotia’s Rodney Macdonald had been very restrained in his public comments, preferring instead to discuss the issue internally and support the Conservative party line. That changed this weekend, following the stand by Bill Casey and a letter to the Chronicle Herald by finance minister Jim Flaherty.

In the letter Flaherty denied any new deal was in the works and once again claimed that Nova Scotia was not being short changed over offshore revenues. Apparently Casey’s stand, Flaherty’s comments, Harper’s continued strength in the polls and MacDonald’s slip to 29% support all combined to convince the Premier he had no choice but to stand up, find a voice and add fuel to the ongoing firestorm.

This week MacDonald said the finance minister is actively trying to undermine the negotiation process. The Premier is also lobbying the senate to delay the budget bill and asking Nova Scotia MPs to follow Casey’s lead and vote against the budget.

Boy oh boy, the walls of meeting rooms all over Parliament Hill must be vibrating to the point of near collapse, phones are ringing off the hook and blackberries across the Country are likely melting under the stress. It’s about time.

When an NDP Premier attacks a Conservative PM that’s one thing, but when two conservative Premier’s and a respected conservative MP all go on the attack it’s a completely different story.

The loose threads of the Alliance/Conservative/Reform/PC party are starting to unravel under the unrelenting pressure. These things happen when a quasi-coalition minority government reneges on written promises, unilaterally changes bilateral contracts and expects to maintain control of the situation.

They say that in politics a week is a lifetime, and it often is. With that in mind Harper, Flaherty and the rest probably believed this whole sordid mess would slip to the backburner in short order. It hasn't and it isn't going to.

What they didn’t count on is the tenacity of the people of Atlantic Canada, a place Harper once referred to as having “a culture of defeat”.

In fairness though, it’s easy to understand why the PM believed there was a culture of defeat in Atlantic Canada. Most of his exposure to Atlantic Canadians has come through his association with spineless MPs like Hearn, MacKay, Keddy, Doyle and Manning. Is it any wonder he figured he’d have no problem riding rough shod over the place?

It makes me wonder what his personal opinion is of the people of Saskatchewan, based on inactivity of that province's MPs, who also refuse to stand up for their constituents. The impression can't be a good one.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Conservative's Collapse as Only Sign of Backbone Removed

Thanks to the strong sense of integrity displayed by Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey last week new fuel has been added to the fiery battle over equalization and the heat being given off is forming cracks in Stephen Harper’s armour.

New poll numbers show a clear decline in federal Conservative support in Atlantic Canada. The latest poll was conducted before Mr. Casey stood up against his own government, voting against the party line in the House of Commons, yet they prove that Atlantic Canadians were already fed up with the situation in Ottawa. Thanks in large part to this long time federal MP defying his government over their mishandling of the Atlantic Accord the next poll will likely show an even sharper decline.

When it was just Newfoundland and Labrador’s Danny Williams making media noise over Harper’s broken promises many people in Canada found it easy to ignore the issue. Thanks to Bill Casey, it isn’t as easy to dismiss today, especially for other Atlantic Conservatives.

With Casey’s expulsion from the Tory caucus in the wake of his decision, I suspect Foreign Affairs Minister, and number two man in Ottawa, Peter Mackay, will have an even tougher time facing his constituents than he did before. It was Mackay after all who recently said, “"We will not throw a member out of caucus for voting his conscience. There will be no whipping, flipping, hiring or firing on budget votes”.

Nice try Peter, or should I say nice lie.

While Conservative polling numbers fall in Atlantic Canada, largely over issues like the Atlantic Accord, further “inconvenient truths” are making things tough on the party right across the Country.

Harper’s environmental plan is being panned around the world as little more than a way to help George Bush and his oil buddies destroy the world while turning obscene profits.
Harper seems intent on fully aligning his attitued, actions, words and policies with those of his mentor and idol, U.S. President George Bush, and his poll numbers are starting to reflect those of his hero.

In a further debacle, at a press conference today in Germany, where Harper is meeting with other G8 leaders, the PM was taken to task in front of the world’s media by music legends and anti-poverty activists Bono and Bob Geldof. The two accused Harper of being “the blocker” to ensuring that G8 nations meet their commitments on aid to Africa, one of the world’s poorest regions.

Most political parties do their best to publicly offend as few people as possible (it helps them get re-elected). The entire Harper government, with the exception of Bill Casey, seems to be intent on doing the exact opposite. Since taking power they’ve managed to upset at least 5 provincial premiers, countless native groups (remember Kelowna?), women, the poor, the illiterate, stock market investors, military families, homosexuals and now two internationally renowned rock stars.
Its moves like these that will help secure Mr. Harper’s legacy of trickery and deceit long after he’s left politics.
No matter what anyone says, in some respects there’s at least one thing Harper and his band of mindless drones are actually good at, treating everyone equally. Equally as bad that is. If you don't agree just wait a while. I'm sure he'll get around to you shortly.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Crosbie Pushed PM to Honour Offshore Deals

I'm still out of Newfoundland folks (Nova Scotia last week and New Brunswick this week) Just to make sure you all stay informed of the equalization situation here's an article from the Halifax Chronicle Herald that says a lot about what's happening on that front. It also says a lot about what Loyola Hearn, Fabian Manning and Norm Doyle were aware of when then voted against their own people yesterday.

Memos rip into Flaherty’s budget
By STEPHEN MAHER Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA — Former East Coast Tory godfather John Crosbie sent two me­mos to Prime Minister Stephen Har­per in a vain attempt to convince him to honour the 2005 offshore accords be­tween Ottawa and Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The memos provide a strong argu­ment in support of those, like Nova Scotia Tory MP Bill Casey, who argue that Mr. Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty have violated the ac­cords with the March budget.

It is likely to contribute to the al­ready widespread impression in the two provinces that the federal Tories have broken their promise to honour the accords.

Certainly, few people know more about the issue than Mr. Crosbie, who was instrumental in negotiating the 1980s deals under which the Conserva­tives under Brian Mulroney ceded con­trol of offshore petroleum to Nova Sco­tia and Newfoundland.

There are unconfirmed rumours in Ottawa that Mr. Mulroney has tried unsuccessfully several times to re­solve the dispute over the accords.

The Chronicle Herald has obtained copies of Mr. Crosbie’s two memos, which were coauthored by Roland Martin, an equalization expert who ad­vised former premier John Hamm on the negotiation of the offshore ac­cords.

The memos are scathing in their condemnation of the Flaherty-Harper budget, which, according to Mr. Cros­bie and Mr. Martin, “does not fulfil the 2005 agreement."

The memos were sent to Mr. Harper and Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn, Newfoundland’s federal cabinet repre­sentative. One is dated May 16; the oth­er is undated. Both are marked “strict­ly confidential."

The memos make it clear that Mr. Crosbie and Mr. Martin do not accept the federal spin on the offshore ac­cords.

The federal Tories, led by Mr. Harper and Mr. Flaherty, insist the two prov­inces have a choice between contin­uing with the offshore accords and the old equalization system, or accepting the new equalization system along with a cap on the amount of offshore revenue they can receive.
“This choice does not fulfil the 2005 agreement," says one of the Crosbie­Martin memos.

The 2005 offshore deals promise the provinces 100 per cent of offshore reve­nue without an equalization clawback, “under the equalization formula in ef­fect at that time," meaning however it is changed during the course of the agreement, which can be renewed un­til 2020.

By imposing a cap on revenue pay­ments, Ottawa has unilaterally changed the deal, the memo says.

“Therefore, the federal government should honour the spirit and intent of the 2005 arrangement and legislation by using the equalization formula in its 2007 budget to calculate the amount owing (the provinces) but not to apply any cap to those payments," Mr. Cros­bie and Mr. Martin write.

The memos urge the Harper govern­ment to remove the cap on offshore off­set revenue for the two provinces.

“This was not the agreement en­tered into by the three governments, and if not corrected, will set a poor ex­ample for future public policy-making within the Canadian federation."

The memos attack the idea that Nova Scotia and Newfoundland want to have their cake and eat it too, pointing out that Newfoundland’s equalization rev­enue is declining because of a claw­back in its petroleum revenue but also because its population is declining.

“Meanwhile its per capita debt re­mains the highest in Canada, while the tens of thousands of relocated New­foundlanders and Labradorians are paying federal and provincial taxes in other provinces, yet leaving behind ap­proximately $1.5 billion of ‘stranded debt’ to be serviced and repaid by a smaller and rapidly aging population. There is no cake, only a long struggle for economic and social survival."

The memo urges Mr. Harper to undo his budget’s changes to the accords.

“Like any fair and professional lead­er, the prime minister should re-eval­uate the performance of his budget in this particular area and apply the principles of fairness and consistency in public policy."

The memo points out that in opposi­tion, Mr. Harper “energetically cham­pioned" the accords.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tory MP to Vote Against His Own Party over Equalization

Hi all,

I'm still travelling in parts of Canada (NB this week) but I noticed this article in the Halifax Chronicle Herald this morning and thought it might interest you all.

Too bad our Newfoundland and Labrador MPs don't have the same sense of morality.

I'll be back next week, until then keep your keel in the water,


OTTAWA — Tory MP Bill Casey says he will vote against his own government’s budget legislation this evening unless the Conservatives unexpectedly reverse themselves and reinstate the offshore accord between Nova Scotia and Ottawa.

Mr. Casey’s vote is expected to result in his ejection from the Tory caucus, which means he will have to sit as an Independent.

"I’m convinced that the budget amends the offshore revenue agreement that is detrimental to the province," said the MP for Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley. "This is a signed contract between the Province of Nova Scotia and the Government of Canada, and it should not be amended by one side. And I hope this error will be corrected."

Mr. Casey said he has worked behind the scenes since the budget came down in March to try to persuade Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to honour the accord.

"I’d like you to write this down," he said. "We’ve met with Mr. Flaherty several times. We met with the prime minister several times. We’ve raised it in caucus. We got a legal opinion. We’ve made several proposals. We’ve tried to build bridges between the federal government and the provincial government. And we haven’t made any progress. So it doesn’t leave me a lot of choice."

Mr. Casey was to meet with Mr. Flaherty on Monday evening, but it would be surprising if the minister was to change his position now.

The Tory governments of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have both complained that Mr. Harper has broken the offshore accords and repeated, explicit promises to allow the provinces to enjoy 100 per cent of offshore revenue without an equalization clawback. Independent analysts have estimated that will cost each province about $1 billion.

The Tories point out that, accord or no accord, the province gets more money this year than last.

In spite of that, Tory MPs from the two provinces have been under pressure, in particular from Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams, to defy their own government and vote against the budget.

That defiance is likely to come at a cost for Mr. Casey if he votes against the implementation bill, which must pass to set the federal budget into motion.

The few precedents of MPs voting against their party on a budget all end with the MP’s expulsion from caucus.

Mr. Casey said he doesn’t feel he has any choice.

"This has been a very emotional, trying decision to make. But I went to the Parrsboro legion on Saturday night to (provincial attorney general) Murray Scott’s lobster dinner. I think I’ve gone to 12 of these consecutively and I’ve always spoken. And I felt so uncomfortable that I said to my wife, I hope they don’t ask me to speak. On the way home, I thought to myself, I don’t want to spend the rest of my career not being able to look people in the eye or speak to my people."

Mr. Casey’s move is likely to increase the pressure on other Nova Scotia and Newfoundland Tories, who risk looking like they are meekly betraying their constituents while Mr. Casey stands up for his.

Nova Scotia’s representative in the federal cabinet, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, was travelling Monday and unavailable for comment, but his communications director said he would not comment until after the vote.

"I don’t talk on hypotheticals," he said. "The vote will come and we’ll see what happens."
South Shore-St. Margarets MP Gerald Keddy said he understands why Mr. Casey is doing what he’s doing, although he will vote for the budget himself and stay in caucus.

"I fully respect his decision," he said. "I’m going to take the position that I’ve taken up to this point. I’m going to continue to work with the minister to try to have it changed."

Mr. Keddy said he believes the cap on offshore revenue must be removed if the budget is to respect the offshore accord negotiated by former premier John Hamm.

"This has to be fixed. If it’s not fixed in this budget, it has to be fixed in the next budget."
Mr. Keddy said he hopes Mr. Casey isn’t kicked out of the party, but the precedents aren’t good.
"They all ended up not being in the party," he acknowledged.

In question period Monday, Halifax West MP Geoff Regan, who helped signed the offshore accord for the previous government, used Mr. Casey’s comments to attack Mr. Harper.

""With his own members turning against him, will he end his betrayal of Atlantic Canada and honour the accord?" asked Mr. Regan.

Mr. Flaherty said Mr. Regan wants Nova Scotia to have less money.

""If the government listened to the member opposite, the people of Nova Scotia would receive $95 million less this year than they are going to receive under the O’Brien formula," he said.
The Tories frame the debate as if critics want to return to the older, less generous equalization system, while critics say the accord guarantees offshore revenue and the more generous equalization program.

Mr. Casey said he could still vote for the budget if the government signals it will respect the offshore accord.

"It’s very simple to correct, and I don’t need an amendment to the legislation. I need a signal from the federal government that they will take the steps to restore the benefits of the Atlantic accord in the same way that John Hamm negotiated them for about five years."