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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Danny Williams Defines His Legacy

Although it isn’t capturing as much press as his lowering of the Canadian flag, the 2005 Atlantic Accord dispute, his campaign to unseat Stephen Harper or even his standoff with big oil over the Hebron offshore oil development, Premier Danny Williams is about to make a move that will forever seal Newfoundland and Labrador’s fate and irrevocably define his legacy in the hearts and minds of its people.

What that legacy will be, sinner or saint, only time and the clear lens of history will tell but this week the Williams government introduced two pieces of legislation that have the potential to define, for better or worse, his place in the Newfoundland and Labrador psyche and the future of his people.

Both pieces of legislation deal with the future of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, a crown corporation, and how it will be able to operate going forward.

The bills are intended to provide NL Hydro with the tools they need to successfully produce and manage the vast energy assets, both present and future, belonging to the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador. According Williams they would remove the burden of red tape and endless process that so often tie the hands of government agencies, allowing Hydro to compete more successfully in the energy market. The question is what the outcome of that legislation and the freedom it provides will ultimately mean for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

When passed, the first piece of legislation will allow the taxpayer owned corporation to operate outside government freedom of information requirements, including the public scrutiny of the Auditor General. The second would permit NL Hydro to dispense with having to follow the public tendering act, an act designed to ensure that all government agencies provide an even playing field when issuing contracts that require the expenditure of public funds.

Clearly both pieces of legislation should be, by their very nature, of great concern to the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with their intent, in fact a clear case can be made them, but because of their potential for future misuse, abuse or folly they need to be closely examined.

There is no doubt that a need to enact some form of legislation to make NL Hydro more competitive is required if it is to prosper. Private, or publicly traded, industries do not have their hands bound by the same sort of procedures and guidelines that government agencies do and in order to truly be successful NL Hydro shouldn’t either, but there are concerns.

There is little doubt that with the historic majority the Williams governemnt enjoys in the House of Assembly both bills will become law, that is not the issue. It is not the intent of either bill that is in question. Instead it is how they are written, implemented and could potentially be interpreted that must be carefully managed.

The outcome of this legislation, rather than the legislation itself, is what will ultimately decide the Premier’s legacy and the future prosperity of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In order to achieve the vision of taking Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro from being an electricity generator to becoming a widely diversified energy corporation the ability to act quickly, make timely decisions, without lengthy debate, and respond to market demands must be put in place.

The downside of this is that the movement of billions of dollars, market regulations and the secrecy requirements necessary when brokering deals with publicly traded oil, gas and electrical companies will leave the true owners of the crown corporation no longer able to have any insight, or input, into how or where their money is being spent.

History has left an indelible, and often painful, impression on the hearts and minds of most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians thanks to the actions of the larger than life political figures they’ve elected over the decades.


The one sided Upper Churchill contract, the Sprung greenhouse fiasco that cost of millions, the building of the Come by Chance oil refinery, which ended up as the largest bankruptcy in Canadian history before being turned around, all speak of the folly of conveying too much blind trust in a single individual. These and many other examples play an integral part in making most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians understandably nervous when it comes to the actions of any government that enjoys unfettered power in the legislature.

There are very few people, even his adversaries, who doubt the good intentions of Premier Williams or the reason for this legislation but even the best of intentions can lead down a road to destruction and despair. We’ve all seen it before.

I seriously doubt any of the former Premiers involved in the sort of projects identified above ever harbored ill will toward the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. In fact I’m certain they had nothing but the best of intentions, just as I'm sure Premier Williams does. Unfortunately that didn’t alter the outcome of their actions.

There is no doubt that to compete, survive and prosper, as everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador hopes it will, NL Hydro must be given the freedom and ability to act without one hand tied behind its proverbial back. What must be questioned, discussed, debated, parsed, scrutinized, studied and dissected is the precise wording and function of the legislation being tabled.

The people of Newfoundland and Labrador will ultimately reap the benefits or pay the price for this legislation.

It is the people of Newfoundland and Labrador who, rightly or wrongly, placed the current government in the strong position it enjoys and as such it the responsibility of each person in the province to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not permitted to be visited on the present.

The opposition parties, the media and the public at large, whether they support the current government or not, must all ensure that at the end of the day the legislation put in place does what it is intended to do and is the right thing for Newfoundland and Labrador.

It is only through open discussion and debate that the public can ensure the hands of future governments are not inadvertently tied by the same process that intended to free those of the energy corporation. It is also the responsibility of everyone to ensure that the corporation’s success is a success for everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It is often said that in politics a day is like a week and a week like a year. That the public quickly forgets the wrongs of the past as soon as something new comes along. This has never been the case in Newfoundland and Labrador politics. Let’s hope it isn't true when it comes to planning for the future.

Joey Smallwood, the man who led Newfoundland and Labrador kicking and screaming into Confederation with Canada, began his days in politics as a savior to many but ended them reviled by most for actions that led to several of the highest profile giveaways Newfoundland and Labrador has ever suffered.

Not since Smallwood has a Premier enjoyed the level of public support and unbridled power that has been entrusted to Danny Williams. To date the Premier has, more often than not, earned that support by standing up and fighting for his people. There comes a time however when trust must be tempered with caution.

The Premier would be well served to take a deep breath and look back on the history of the place he so publicly professes to love. At this point in his life and in Newfoundland and Labrador’s history he, and everyone else, has the responsibility to ensure that this legislation is truly something that will serve the best interests of the people well into the future.

Danny Williams’ legacy depends upon it but most importantly so does the financial future and well being of everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Myles

A line from your great article states "Danny Williams’ legacy depends upon it but most importantly so does the financial future and well being of everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador".

Myles - I am behind Premier Williams as well as his best supporter, but the moves he made this week with the introduction of two pieces of legislation frighten me.

I am very apprehensive and am afraid that the right protections will not be put in place to protect the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and its people, no different, than the other contracts which have been drawn up on our resources throughout our history which lacked the correct protector clauses and legislation which have been enacted but didn't protect the province.

I don't trust anybody completely since to err is human.

I think he should put forward his legislation so that others can scrutinize the changes that he is going to enact.

Patriot said...

As I said in the commentary, each one of us needs to hold the government's feet to the fire on this. There may be absolutely no problem with the legislation but that doesn't take away our responsibility to make absolutely sure of that.

The following are excerpts from a press release by government today:

Energy Corporation Structure Ensures Accountability and Competitiveness


The Provincial Government is taking another step forward to implement the Energy Plan with legislation currently before the House of Assembly to establish the governance and accountability structure for the province’s energy corporation and its subsidiaries.

"We have undertaken significant analysis and engaged external analysts to ensure our energy corporation is structured in a manner consistent with international best practices for government-owned corporations," said the Honourable Kathy Dunderdale, Minister of Natural Resources.

...Amendments to the Energy Corporation Act tabled in the House of Assembly this week establish the public accountability process for the corporation and its subsidiaries, provide for the creation of subsidiaries, and protect the corporation and the Provincial Government, to the best extent possible, from risks associated with the activities of the subsidiaries.

"The energy corporation and its subsidiaries will remain subject to key accountability and disclosure legislation while commercially-sensitive information is protected," said Minister Dunderdale. "These changes continue to ensure strong oversight

...The corporation will be subject to similar reporting requirements as companies listed on a stock exchange."

The Office of the Auditor General will continue to have unrestricted access and oversight to the energy corporation, its subsidiaries and all commercially-sensitive information. It will also have to protect commercially-sensitive information from disclosure, in carrying out its duties. If the office has an issue which contains reference to commercially-sensitive information and the CEO does not agree to release then the office will report it to the Cabinet and notify the House of Assembly of such a report. If there is an issue not related to commercially-sensitive information, it can be disclosed to the public.

The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act will continue to apply, with a similar provision to protect commercially-sensitive information. If an applicant has an issue with being denied certain information, an appeal can be made to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, who can review whether the information meets the definition of commercially sensitive information. If it does meet the definition, the commissioner will request the CEO and the Board of Directors to confirm that the disclosure would potentially harm the company. If the applicant is not satisfied with the outcome, the applicant can pursue recourse through the courts.

The energy corporation and its subsidiaries will continue to comply with the province’s Accountability and Transparency Act and will be subject to specific public reporting provisions that provide greater access to information by the public, including an open public annual general meeting, a consolidated annual report and annual consolidated financial statements.

...The amendments also allow the corporation and its subsidiaries, to follow global best practices for procurement associated with large-scale projects and to include considerations, such as the principle of adjacency to maximize local benefits and Aboriginal interests, not provided for in the Public Tender Act. Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, as a regulated utility, will continue to be subject to the Public Tender Act.

These amendments to the Energy Corporation Act will allow the corporation to deliver on the key goals and objectives outlined in the Energy Plan and ensure the corporation is structured for commercial success in competitive industries...

Anonymous said...

Patriot again I will select a phrase and comment

"...The corporation will be subject to similar reporting requirements as companies listed on a stock exchange."

Good Grief Patriot, if the corporaton is subject as the paragraph states to similar reporting requirements as companies listed on a stock exchange, well then I don't have any faith at all.

From following what has been going on with the companies connected to the stock exchange over the years, I know first hand there are no regulations or corporate governance governing those sleeve-ins.

I want more protection for our Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro corporation than what is being offered by corporations on the stock exchanges and I am sure my fellow colleagues in Newfoundland and Labrador do as well.

At this moment my fears are heightened even further.

We definitely need to see firshand what is being proposed here and we should not settle for anything less. We been shafted too many times to accept changes to legislation sight unseen.

NL-ExPatriate said...

It is exactly because we have been shafted in the past that we need something like this.

Just take the Upper Churchill contract as the most glaring and pertinent example.

According to the Study MUN's Harris center did on the negotiations "Origins of an impending crisis" Quebec Hydro was privy to commercially sensitive material and because of that they were able to wait until BRINCO NL Hydro was on the verge of bankruptcy reference the Upper Churchill preparations and throw out all of the previous MOU's and negotiations which included an Escalator clause, No 25 year renewal contract, and a higher rate of return than we got shanghaied into.
If we fail to learn from our past mistakes we are doomed to repeat them.
Myles I must say this is far from your best piece. In fact you comment from the press release contradicts alot of what you espouse in your blog?

AS long as there are no protections for commercially sensitive material involving negotiations and the like we will never get a 10% equity in any of our oil projects like the energy plan dictates because no oil company will ever allow a crown corp which is open to all public scrutiny to have a say in the board room hence why we could only get a 4.9% equity stake.

While I think this is a good move for the province of NL I too feel it needs to be better explained to the people of NL. The PR tales a good talk but I would feel better if some examples of how other crown corps have done similar things. Crown corps like Norsk Hydro or BP.

Even Hydro Quebec I think has similar legislation as does Manitoba Hydro hence how they are able to double dip or sidestep into Equalization. But that aside I don't think it is the purpose of this bill.

If we are to capitalize from our current wealth we need to make hay now when the sun is shining on NL and maximize our windfalls and turn those windfalls into a long lasting renewable energy corp.

As for your view of our past premiers. Personally I think you are being far far to gracious to their intentions. Joey created BRINCO and held shares in the company with the sole intention of lining his own pockets. Clyde Wells would only run as premier if the national liberal party would top up his salary to what he was making as a lawyer and as such was beholding to the national liberal party and in so doing compromised himself and our province.

Personally I think the best thing Danny Williams ever did was to distance himself from the national conservative party because no national party ever din nor ever will have the best interest of NL in mind. Rather their main concern is to get elected and that requires doing whats in the best interest of the majority of canadians who live in ON/QU to get elected into power.

Then there is the Secret Voisey's bay deal and that was before any legislation like this was even thought of.

If you read the PR the only thing that will be secret will be commercially sensitive material and even that will be available to the AG and the Cabinet. If someone has a problem with the Cabinet deeming something commercially sensitive they still have to option to redress and ask for the reasons why.

Anyone commenting on here should at least read the Press Release before commenting so as to be better informed because Myles commentary doesn't provide a fair and balanced discourse IMHO.

http://www.releases.gov.nl.ca/releases/2008/nr/0528n07.htm

But I do agree that a better job of explaining and informing the public needs to be done.

Patriot said...

To NL-Ex,

As always I appreciate your critic of the article. They can't all be gems but...

if you read the article carefully you will see that I do not question the need for this type of legislation, in fact I agree with it. My concern, and on this I'm sure we can agree, is that it needs to be air tight so another upper churchill cannot happen and so some "creative" interpretation of its contents can't be used in future to screw the province over either by taking Hydro in a direction we don't want or by allowing it to be fleeced by unsavory characters in government or at the corporation.

Yes, governemnt needs to communicate this legislation better but not in so far as selling it. They need to ensure that it is clearly understood and is exactly what should be put in place.

Cheers,
Myles

Anonymous said...

Hi NL-Expatriat,

I don't agree that the press release contradicts this blog at all and what if it does?

Are you willing to just accept what government says in a press release? I'm not.

The tendering act will not be used, the blog is correct.

The auditor general may be able to investigate and people can make access to information requests but the information from both can all be held back from the public if deemed by the board of NL-Hydro that it shouldn't be released. Even it it is then reviewed by government it is still left to the discretion of the reviewers to decide if it should be made public.

After the constituency allowance scandal and the hiding of information on the breast cancer testing I don't have a lot of faith in individuals in government, any government, deciding what the public should or shouldn't know.

Like you and Myles I also believe something needs to be put in place to let NL-hydro compete but I still want as much assurance as possible that when it is done it's done right.

Doing any less is stupid!

Anonymous said...

Myles

I am wondering after all of the restructuring is over and done with and the former Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro blossoms into a thriving Energy Corporation, can it be sold to National or International interests?

Can any of your contributors or you Myles be able to answer that question for me?

My biggest fear is that the new Energy Corporation will slip out of our hands into the National or International sphere of influence.

We know there are slippery people in every clique and it is probably no different with those resturcturing our much beloved Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro Corporation. We have to be apprised of what is transpiring here and we need to know what the guarantees are.

After saying what I said above, I have a lot of faith in Premier Williams, but to err is human and nobody can be exonerated from that possibility. Loop holes do exist in every contract, and if Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is to be restructured, I want it to be as airtight as pssible.

In other words, I do not want to hear in the future that something got left out of the legislation that allows the Corporation to slip from our reach.

Anonymous said...

I am wondering if Sue Kelland Dyer is still living within our community. I had a lot of faith in her ability to read what was happening with Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and I trusted that she would have some input if things weren't going well.

If she is out there and reads this blog, I wonder would she please offer her commentary?

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is really Sue's baby and without her intervention a few years back, it would not be around today in the robust state that the Corporation is enjoying.

Anonymous said...

"In order to achieve the vision of taking Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro from being an electricity generator to becoming a widely diversified energy corporation the ability to act quickly, make timely decisions, without lengthy debate, and respond to market demands must be put in place."

Of course we wouldn't want too much debate over this kind of thing. After all, it's only our resources and our money and our future. Why would we want too much debate?

Oddly, the post wich follows right after this one is titled Stephen Harper's Totalitarian Regime??

Yeah. . . that's what I thought.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 9:14,

Are you really as stupid as your post sounds or are you just acting that way?

We are talking about a corporation that must make business decisions and deal with other corporations that have very real concerns about industrial privacy. Only an idiot would think it could be run by having all of it's decisions debated in the house or anywhere else.

Get a life, get an education or at least crawl out of that Liberal party, anti-Williams hood you've got pulled over your head.

Vernacular Song said...

Really weird Myles, lol and I'm not even smok'in.

You don't have to "TRY " and create sorrow in such a beat'en Place , just tell what happened and the truth of things comes with it !!!

But, look’ in for the next great collapse really doesn't make for a good read :)

Patriot said...

To Vernacular:

It may not be a good read but that's not really the point is it?

I see it as an ounce of prevention.

Better we openly discuss and debate the situation now and have it done with than blindly let ourselves walk into a situation where we might be bemoaning it for generations to come.

I don't plan to blindly follow anyone, no matter who they are.

Vernacular Song said...

"We have undertaken significant analysis and engaged external analysts to ensure our energy corporation is structured in a manner consistent with international best practices for government-owned corporations," said the Honourable Kathy Dunderdale, Minister of Natural Resources. "We are breaking new ground in resource development and the energy corporation will position the province as an international player, ready and able to compete around the world."

I believe that governement without question is called communism if I'm not wrong Patriot.
The people of Newfoundland and Labrador have spoken and they believe that Danny Williams has the best interst in his heart for the people of his province.

Now reading thru your comment section Patriot ,all I see are the Neo-Canadain parasite's crawling thru the woodwork.

Comparing Danny Williams to Joey Smallwood is like comparing Jimmy Carter to George Bush.

As most here can tell when we as a people do things for ourselves and keep canada at a distance great things happen.As soon as they get involved we have things like ChurchHill Falls ,and Come by Chance.Both are now in control or owned by canada

This is nothing more then Danny Williams modernizing an industry to attract buissness for investment.International Investment in which our great province needs so desperately.But ,as usual we have the naw sayer's of canada telling us how it won't work because Ottawa is not involved to save us.How many people in here actually read the article Patriot.

http://www.releases.gov.nl.ca/releases/2008/nr/0528n07.htm

" Telling Newfoundlander's they're a lost people,that they're only hope is to follow a new messiah across the Cabot Strait "

You are totally entitled to question the Prime Minister Patriot as a writer I would say that this is more your job then mine.But,when it comes right down too it,I'm sorry ,but I'm putting my money with Mr Williams .

Long live the " REPUBLIC OF "

PS,well before I forget Myles,you know who I would love to hear from on this subject .Is Sue Kelland-Dyer.Sue has always been a great and staunch advocate of the Province.I would truely love to hear her point on this .And, i know that you can get in touch with her.Maybe you can move over a little Myles and allow her to use the sandbox for a little bit ,;)

Anonymous said...

Myles - I am still not finished with the quote or statement below:

"The corporation will be subject to similar reporting requirements as companies listed on a stock exchange."

Myles - In recent months many RSP Account holders and investors in general who have had monies invested in Income Trusts, stocks and other financial vehicles, some stocks which were as well respected as those representing Chartered Banks, felt the sting of having those financial instruments pummelled by market forces and we know full well that there was a lack of corporate governance guiding the Capital Markets to protect the investors. There was little or no government regulations to protect the investors from the quality of the so-called investments which had been developed to be sold to them. As a result a lot of investors are suffering from much reduced RSP account balances. It is a mortal sin that protection is so lax.

Matter of fact Income Trusts were percolating along and the Canadian Federal Government gave its blessings that it would not touch the structure under which they were operating, and without notice on October 31, 2006 Ottawa pulled the rug from right out underneath those funds and some people lost 50% of their investments and more.

We know that our well-loved Chartered Banks were bundling some worthless Asset Back Paper and selling them to unsuspecting investors, they were also into sub Prime Mortgage lending, we know what has happened there. The Whole system could fall as a result of the undermining and underpinning that went on there. Things are being nursed along there and it will take years to work it out, that is, if it doesn't all flounder before it gets worked out.

We know of the derivative markets and hedge funds that were developed, where nobody, not even the creators knew how they worked, much like the 'equalizaton formula' worked out by the Federal Bureaucrats.

There is no accountability anywhere in the economic and financial world and not much emanating from governments. So therefore, we, the electorate, have to be mindful and on guard and, as a result, we have to remind our politicians no matter how much we respect them, that we need honesty and we need matters conducted in a way that we will not be left holding the bag ever again.

We as, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, all know that we have had the wool pulled over our eyes too often with loose and fast politicians and their bureaucrats, who were in politics simply for their own well being, and we know that they were responsible for the crippling of our province’s “should have been” booming real market economy, which never developed over 59 years of being part of Canada, and as a result the crippling of our people. Shame on them! We expect something different from Premier Williams and his crew, no different than what he promised us, and I hope we are not disappointed. I still expect that he won't go back on his words of what he promised, but nevertheless, just in case I want to let him and his government know that we are going to be on watch.

We now have matured to the point of being aware of what has gone on in the past and what is possible to go on in the future, if we become too complacent again. We have to remind our present politicians and bureaucrats that we are not going to accept the type of treatment that was dished out to us in the past ever again in Newfoundland and Labrador and that they better get their act right this time around.

Anonymous said...

I definitely want to know what names will be on the Board of Directors. Why would that information be classified as secret? The only reason for that to be the case, is if the organizers of this new Corporation are ashamed of whom they are appointing.

There are certainly ex-politicians and bureaucrats, and people who have run Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro in the past, whose names I would never want to see involved with the new Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro Corporation.

And 'yes' definitely I want to know every last person who is going to be involved in the running of that Corporation.

To be disallowed that information will immediately cause me and others to believe that we have been hoodwinked again and that there are unsavory people working inside the Corporation.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 9:31,

You're chasing shadows. Like any corporation the names of board members, revenues, profits, losses, and everything else will be public information. The legislation has nothing to do with that.

Anonymous said...

Patriot:

The two paragraphs below contained in your article give me some concern, that is, if I am reading them properly, they could leave a lot of room for abuse. And, I think you are aware abuse can come in many forms.

Any new Corporation which will result should be transparent in every way and should not be shielded from any scrutiny that we deem necessary.

After all of these years of not knowing what has been transpiring around us, we finally want to have transparency in every aspect of our government and its agencies. Why shouldn’t we demand to know, after all it is a Corporation that exists because of tax payers dollars and our natural resources.

The 2 paragraphs which concern me are:


1. When passed, the first piece of legislation will allow the taxpayer owned corporation to operate outside government freedom of information requirements, including the public scrutiny of the Auditor General. The second would permit NL Hydro to dispense with having to follow the public tendering act, an act designed to ensure that all government agencies provide an even playing field when issuing contracts that require the expenditure of public funds.

2. Clearly both pieces of legislation should be, by their very nature, of great concern to the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with their intent, in fact a clear case can be made them, but because of their potential for future misuse, abuse or folly they need to be closely examined.