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Friday, December 21, 2007

Back Room Politics - A Study in Confusion

Boy would I love to be a fly on the wall inside Stephen Harper’s, or for that matter Danny Williams’, office these days. Then again in order to know what's really going on it's more likley I'd have to get inside the heads of these two men. Now that's a scary thought. I guess there'll be no sleep for me tonight.

Seriously, anyone watching recent events in Newfoundland and Labrador knows there has to be something going on behind the scenes, very subtly of course, but something is happening.

It's almost like the feeling you get when you're watching a thriller and you know something shocking is about to happen but you can't quite put your finger on it.

Premier Williams met with Stephen Harper a few weeks ago and came out of that meeting saying he had offered the PM a number of options that would help offset the $10 or $11 billion dollar shortfall left outstanding by the Federal government’s broken promises on resource revenues and unilateral changes to the Atlantic Accord.

The thing is, Williams refused to say publicly what those options were except to say the list was a long one. One that immediately comes to mind is the Lower Churchill. Could one of those items have something to do with the development of that hydro mega-project?

Of course for years the big thorn in everyone’s side in Newfoundland and Labrador has been the billions Quebec rakes in from Upper Churchill power while the province barely makes enough to keep the turbines spinning. The Lower Churchill is seen as a chance to actually make some money from the huge river’s resources but once again Quebec stands in the way.

It makes one wonder if, since the Harper/Williams meeting took place, some sort of agreement on the Lower Churchill is in the works and if so, what could it be? Why do I say this?

Well, a few days ago the chairman of the board for Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, Dean McDonald, resigned suddenly. His resignation took effect immediately and he did not make any public comments on the move.

When you consider that McDonald did the same thing once before, when a former provincial government was about to sign a deal with Quebec that fell far short of providing the province with the value it deserves from the resource, the reason for the chills running down my spine become clearer perhaps.

There’s certainly room for some speculation on what all of this means. But wait, there’s more.

Mere days after the Harper/Williams "summit" Federal Minister Loyola Hearn showed up in the province on another vote buying excursion, doling out money like a drunken sailor.

For a minute or two it almost seemed as if the ice had been broken between the two levels of government and Ottawa was trying to make some sort of amends for the dirty trick they pulled on equalization. But just as everyone started thinking a truce was in place Hearn went before the microphones to tell the media that Santa (Stephen Harper) is more likely to give a child (Danny Williams) what he wants for Christmas if the child is a “good boy” and not a “bad one”.

So much for the cease fire, or is it?

Of course Hearn’s comments touched off the ire of the Premier and many voters in the province but somehow the response to Hearn's condescension seems almost muted and certainly not up to the standard of anger we’ve come to expect from Danny boy.

Of course it could be that the Christmas spirit is flowing through Danny’s veins these days but I doubt it.

Coming out of their meeting Williams gave the PM until Christmas to respond to his demands but just this week things changed once again when Harper and Williams spoke on the phone and Williams stretched that deadline to January 11, when the First Ministers are slated to meet and discuss the economy. If nothing is done, Williams claims, the ABC (Anyone but Conservative) campaign will be back on in Newfoundland and Labrador.

So why did these two adversaries talk on the phone this week after meeting recently and after not speaking at all for over a year?

They spoke because Stephen Harper decided to name John Crosby, a former federal Cabinet Minister (under Brian Mulroney), as the new Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The question then becomes, why did John Crosby, who has been retired from politics for quite some time, warrant such a plum post?

Could it be because Skipper John, one of the architects of the Atlantic Accord and a past federal Finance Minister, who is no fan of Williams’ approach to the whole equalization affair, has never the less been very outspoken in his support of the Province’s position on the matter?

Crosby has said on several occasions that he believes the federal government is wrong in this and, knowing John’s outspoken personality, it’s likely he’s been talking the same talk inside the Conservative party, perhaps fostering descent and divisions among its members.

Along with the post of Lieutenant Governor comes the obligation to not comment on political matters or to take sides in any disputes. So perhaps this is Harper’s way of making John shut his big trap and anyone who knows anything about John Crosby knows the only hope you have of shutting him up is to put him in a position where he simply can’t talk. The Lieutenant Governor’s position works as well as any gag and it’s less likely to leave unsightly gag blemishes on the skin.

Then again there’s always the Schreiber affair and the fact that Crosby is on the list of potential witnesses who may be called to testify. Perhaps the PM’s offer of a plum position at the trough has nothing to do with the equalization debate and more to do with getting on John’s good side before he sits in front of the ethics committee to discuss exactly what he knows about Mr. Harper’s good friend and advisor Brian Mulroney.

Oh to be a fly on the wall…

In politics they say a week is a lifetime. With the way things are going now I wouldn't be surprised if before the new year is over we see:

1) A deal on the Lower Churchill that sees Quebec pickup another bundle of cash for decades to come at the expense of the owners of the resource.

2) Stephen Harper gaining a majority government (thanks in some small way to an end, or at least half hearted, ABC campaign in Atlantic Canada.

3) Danny Williams planning his exit strategy from provincial politics and positioned inside the Conservative party for a future run at federal politics

4) John Crosby blowing an artery in his brain after biting down too hard on his tongue for a few months.

6 comments:

Gerry said...

Crap, you make a lot of good points. It makes me wonder who I just saw in the limo heading out Torbay road with the security detail driving behind them and lights flashing.

These days anything is possible.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. Especially the appointment of John Crosbie.

Crosbie sided with the province on equalization and no doubt Harper would love to get him out of the way. Even more importantly:

According to Schrieber he funnelled a lot of money to Frank Moores that was meant to stab Joe Clark in the back and make Mulroney into the leader of the party. At the time Crosby was Joe Clark's finance minister and it was a budget that John drew up that defeated the Clark government, forced Joe from office and paved the way for Mulroney.


Crosby and Moores by that time went back together for years and the plot thickens. Now Harper appoints Crosby to a muted position and is saying there may be no need for an inquiry into the Mulrony affair.

What a bunch of crooks.

Corruption abhorer said...

I just read your article on John Crosbie, I really wasn't thinking on your lines, but either of your suggestions is quite plausible.

We know we have had a bunch of sleeve-ins ruling the roost here since government began, and it is the prime reason why the province of Newfoundland and Labrador is in the state it is in, given its abundant resources. It is because most politician did things their own way, and allowed our resources to be exported out of here to create the economies in other parts of Canada and the World; and they were the one who profited from the resources of this province and not the ordinary person. They were not worried about signing deals to export our resournces, since they and their families would be taken care of until the end of time, because of the 'patronage tool' which exists within the confines of government.


The patronage tool must go, it is the biggest piece of corruption that exists within government.

Now we see a former Liberal Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador getting together with a Conservative to form a business alliance, what is that all about? Do they have control over another one of our resources? When will the nightmare ever stop for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians?

Are they now doing with our resources what the other politicians whom we have been complaining about did, since the beginning of rule by government in this province?

I wish government was more open and transparent, and then we would know what was happening.

If that is really what is happening, we will see it somewhere down the road and any change of them going down in history with a positive legacy will be eroded.

It is much better for them to come forward and tell us if that is what is happening, at least, we can then judge them on their honesty.

I will never forgive anyone for taking one of the resources of the people and creating an Empire for themselves, especially if they do it in a non-transparent method.

I can't be too explicit here because I do not want to name people, just in case my thinking is errant. But everything will come out in the wash.

Mollie said...

There isn't going to be a Lower Churchill deal, with Quebec or with anyone else. The project is dead, dead, and always has been.

Yes, Danny is getting ready to bail out, but he has absolutely no future in federal politics.

Anonymous said...

Year end Interview with Danny Williams in the Grand Falls Advertiser yesterday:

DANETTE DOOLEY
Advertiser

The province’s dramatic fiscal turn-around means money is now flowing into many projects.

However, in looking towards 2008, that doesn’t mean Premier Danny Williams is ready to settle for anything less than what the province has been promised by the federal government.

During an interview with the premier in his office on Dec. 18, Premier Williams spoke about some of the strides government has made over the last year.

While the face of the fishery has changed since the cod moratorium, he says government remains strongly committed to the industry.

This year, the industry’s performance has reached historic levels with its total value approaching $1 billion – due primarily to increased landings and improved market values for key species.

“We undertook the whole fishing industry renewal,” said the premier. “We had the summit and we brought in all the stakeholders and we worked with the federal government, the industry and the unions to tackle the problems.”

At the end of the day, the provincial government stepped up and committed upwards to $140 million in incentives, he added, pointing out that the province has agreed to work with the feds on a 30:70 cost-share ratio, early retirement, and licensed buy-outs – items he believes will move the industry further ahead.

Premier Williams also notes that this province’s assets in Fishery Products International (FPI) are now being held by a strong Newfoundland and Labrador company – Ocean Choice International (OCI). The agreement brings benefits to the workers including a more secure pension plan, he says.



OIL AND GAS

In looking towards the oil and gas industry, government recently announced the completion of the White Rose expansion agreement.

The finalized agreement will ensure this province benefits from its own resources.

This is crucial, Premier Williams says, especially when dealing with a non-renewable resource.

“We bought five per cent of the White Rose satellite field at a very good price,” said the premier. “Not only will we get the return from being owners, we will get the return on our royalties.”

At today’s prices, it’s not out of the ballpark to expect upwards of $6 billion in benefits from the satellite field alone.

A similar arrangement with Hebron is expected to be signed in the new year, which will not only increase the province’s cash flow but will result in more jobs.

“We’ve also got an oil refinery here which is moving forward,” said Premier Williams. “It’s a huge project which will probably employ about 800 people with significant salaries in the six figure vicinity.”

Another initiative includes a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project for Placentia Bay, and the hope from the province that the Lower Churchill project will be underway, with the possibility of an aluminum smelter spinning off from that.

As well, there is the hydromet facility that will be progressing in the next couple of years in Long Harbour.

Premier Williams believes all of these projects together will make for great things on the horizon in terms of the province’s oil, gas and mineral resources.

Just before Christmas, the provincial and federal governments signed the framework agreement worth more than $430 million in federal contributions.

Such developments not only puts valuable infrastructure in place it also creates needed employment, particularly in rural areas of the province.

“The amount of money we spent on roads last year and that we anticipate spending will create over 5,000 person years of employment,” said Premier Williams.

Government’s decision to invest money reaped from the oil and gas industry back into infrastructure, debt relief and lower taxes will help not only keep Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in this province but entice those who have moved away to come home, Williams says.



HEALTH CARE

While the health care industry has come under the microscope this past year, the premier says health care remains the province’s number 1 priority.

But with the province’s demographics, delivering services will continue to prove challenging.

“The problem is we have this beautiful huge province and a lot of communities spread out over a large area so what we’re trying to do is make sure we’ve got strong, regional centres that can provide basic health care services,” he said.



FEDERAL-PROVINCIAL RELATIONSHIP

When asked about the provincial government’s relationship with the feds, Premier Williams states the obvious.

“It hasn’t been good because we’ve had back-to-back broken promises with prime ministers,” he said. “Fortunately, Prime Minister (Paul) Martin came back to his original promise and delivered,” said Premier Williams of the $2 billion oil and gas agreement as well as the 2005 Atlantic Accord.

But he says the situation with Prime Minister Stephen Harper situation has been dramatically different.

“He made a significant promise to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. He made it in writing and he hasn’t delivered on that.”

While Premier Williams classed his recent meeting with the prime minister as “cordial” he’s also quick to add that he made it clear to Harper that if he can’t deliver on the promise, then he needs to find another way to give the province equivalent value.

“We’ve got to the end of the year on this so we’ll see if he comes through,” said Premier Williams. “If he doesn’t, we’ll have to go back to basically taking the prime minister on, on that particular issue. It’s something I’d prefer not to do if we can get a resolution.”

Just as he never minces words where the primer minister is concerned, the premier doesn’t spare the rod when talking about the province’s federal representatives, saying that Conservative MPs Loyola Hearn, Fabian Manning and Norm Doyle have done anything to help the province’s cause.

“Recently, in a John Efford-like ultimatum, Minister Hearn said that we should basically be good boys and girls and we should basically beg for this and if you’re not a good boy you won’t get it,” he said.

Such talk at a time when there is a ceasefire between both levels of government doesn’t help things, Williams says.

“Loyola Hearn would serve the people of Newfoundland and Labrador better if he was working very hard on our behalf in order to deliver. But unfortunately, Loyola Hearn has actually proven to be probably the weakest federal minister that this province has ever had.”

Whether or not the province’s representatives in Ottawa see things the way Williams sees them, one thing is certain: The premier may have taken the boxing gloves off but they’re just outside the ring if needed.

“If fighting on behalf of the people of the province makes me a bad boy in Loyola Hearn’s or Stephen Harper’s eyes, then that’s all I can do,” he said. “But it’s worth the price if it means fighting for the province.”

Patriot said...

They've been really kind, really?

No thin skins here, realy, only seal skin. tick and tuff, warm and cuddly.