Da Legal Stuff...

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Feds urged to probe N.B. - Quebec power deal

The following appeared today in the Halifax Chronicle Herald.

Power play worries Tory senator
By STEPHEN MAHER Ottawa Bureau
Tue. Dec 15 - 4:45 AM

Sen. Lowell Murray is calling for the federal government to get involved in the proposed sale of NB Power to Hydro-Quebec.

Speaking in the Senate chamber Monday, the Progressive Conservative said Ottawa cannot afford to stay out of the discussion on the proposed sale of NB Power because of the implications for interprovincial and international trade, and also because New Brunswick would be, in effect, ceding legislative power to Quebec, a "broad constitutional issue."

Mr. Murray, who was born in New Waterford and was minister of federal-provincial relations under former prime minister Brian Mulroney, warned that neighbouring provinces have reason to worry if Hydro-Quebec takes over NB Power’s transmission lines.

"The disappearance of the New Brunswick system operator sends an ominous signal," he said. "I will say as objectively as I can that Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have every reason to be concerned."

The federal government has stayed out of debate on the proposed deal, under which New Brunswick, in exchange for $4.8 billion, would hand over its power generation facilities and transmission lines to Hydro-Quebec and alter its regulatory legislation to comply with Quebec’s.

Premiers Darrell Dexter of Nova Scotia and Danny Williams of Newfoundland and Labrador have asked New Brunswick to sign a letter promising they will have the right to build their own transmission lines through New Brunswick.

New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham has refused, pointing out that American regulators would guarantee that other provinces have the right to export power through New Brunswick.

The federal government should not allow that American intrusion into interprovincial trade, Mr. Murray argued.

"A policy of continued silence would be an implicit delegation of the federal government’s jurisdiction in this area of interprovincial and international trade to the USA Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Government of Quebec," he said.

"Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador would then be in the odd position of depending on the U.S. to protect their interests in Canadian interprovincial trade. If these interests are imperilled, it is surely the role of the federal government to protect them."

Newfoundland says Hydro-Quebec has already made it difficult to export electricity from Labrador to markets in New England, and it would be even harder if the Quebec utility controlled New Brunswick’s transmission lines.

Peter MacKay, Nova Scotia’s representative in cabinet, expressed concern last month in an interview with the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, N.B.

The deal "hasn’t given fair evaluation to what other alternatives may be out there — which would include Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island," he said.

"What are the alternatives to what has been presented by Hydro-Quebec? We don’t want to see any Atlantic Canadian provinces left out or left behind."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Winning an Un-Winnable Battle

How do you win an un-winnable battle?

It’s a question that's been on my mind since learning that the Harper government, in spite of Parliament's rejection of new NAFO amendments that could see foreign vessels patrolling Canadian waters, has decided to go ahead and adopt those amendments anyway.

After such an incident there are those who question whether democracy is utterly and truly dead in Canada and whether our sovereignty itself has been bartered away. There are those as well who will see this as the final nail in the Atlantic fishery with NAFO nations freely able to rape the ocean clean once and for all. Already, in some circles, talk has turned to the need for independence and separation from this “undemocratic” Canadian federation.

All I can say to those good folks is that they might want to consider choosing their battles wisely and perhaps, in this instance anyway, the right way to counter Ottawa’s actions is to simply accept them as our new reality while seeking ways to address the underlying concerns on a more local level.

Let’s think outside the box on this one.

Beating our collective heads against an immovable object (the PMO, DFO, take your choice) isn’t going to solve the problem at hand and make no mistake this is indeed a problem.

The Harper government has shown in the past that it has no love for Newfoundland and Labrador and certainly isn’t going to backtrack on a very public decision simply to make Atlantic Canadians happy.

On the other hand, if we could find a way to mitigate the damage, and perhaps even enhance our power position in the fishery, over time, wouldn’t that be a victory in itself?

With that premise in mind, perhaps we should consider working within this new system rather than futilely fighting it without any real hope of victory.

A great example of just such a "novel" approach already exists in the province so there isn't even a need to re-invent the wheel.

A few years ago the provincial government and some local groups felt that the Feds weren’t doing enough to protect our rivers and salmon populations. They argued and fought with DFO for a while until finally deciding the best approach was to simply do something about the problem.

As a result a number of provincially funded wardens were hired and sent forth into the Newfoundland and Labrador wildneress. A public awareness campaign about poaching was started and this campaign led to citizens groups forming their own civilian river watches.

Thanks to these efforts and others salmon poaching in Newfoundland and Labrador is way down from where it was in the past, stocks are generally improving and Newfoundland and Labrador now has far more say in the protection of its rivers than it has had for decades.

Could a similar approach work with ocean stocks? Could this be the answer to so many of the concerns people have expressed about foreign influences on the offshore?

Let’s explore the possibilities for moment.

Instead of battling Ottawa over a decision they aren’t likely to undo we might be better off lobbying the provincial government and our own people to take the bull by the horns (or the fish by the tail) when it comes to fisheries conservation.

If we can find the collective will to act we might see a far different fishery a few years from now.

Every day Cougar Helicopter flights pass back and forth between St. John’s and our oil platforms at the edges of our 200 mile limit. Provincial Airlines planes travel over our Grand Banks on a regular basis every day. The Province’s newly purchased water bombers, when not fighting major fires, will be sitting idle. No doubt these bombers require test flights from time to time to help ensure they’re in good working order. Couldn’t those “test flights” skim over the Flemish Cap just to see what’s going on out there.

With enough eyes in the air reporting back on every fishing boat, row boat or rubber duck near our waters, in a very public manner, nobody at DFO will be able to claim they don’t know what’s happening or deny that anything illegal is going on at all.

The cost of these measures is essentially zero. All it takes is the will to co-operate.

But let’s take it a step further.

What about the countess cargo vessels and oil tankers that ply our waters every day? Couldn’t they be asked, as a courtesy, to help spot questionable fishing boats and report whatever they see? It’s just a quick radio call after all.

What about fishermen themselves?

Since the fishery has always been a major contributor to the province’s economy isn’t it time for Newfoundland and Labrador to invest a few dollars into helping the ground fish stocks recover? It doesn’t have to cost a lot and the return on investment might be surprising.

Most fishermen already know the tricks of the trade. They know where the most important fishing and breeding grounds are. They know where illegal fishing is happening and they know who is involved (both foreign and Canadian). Perhaps it’s time to get them directly involved in the conservation effort on a more formal level.

If Ottawa won’t adequately protect the fish stocks then the province should set aside 2 or 3 million dollars a year (a pittance in the grand scheme of things) to pay for provincial fisheries patrols.

Why not?

Once most fishing captains have caught their quota for the season many of them simply take their boats out of the water and sign up for EI. Why not put yearly contracts out to tender seeking local captains to help patrol our waters once they’re finished fishing?

Of course these “civilian” patrols wouldn’t have any legal authority to stop rogue fishing boats or arrest anyone involved but they could certainly take a page from the same environmental activists who so often branded them as “barbarians” over the seal hunt. They could video tape the offending vessels, request official intervention from on site, provide very public evidence against violators and generally make offender's lives a living hell on the high seas.

Who knows, Ottawa might one day even help defray a small part of the cost should such a plan prove itself effective. After all, if off season fishers are gainfully employed in conservation efforts rather than collecting EI it would not only help remove the “stamp fishery” stigma attached to the industry but the effort could actually lead to savings in the EI system itself.

With enough Newfoundland and Labrador eyes on the water and in the air it might finally become a losing gamble for anyone bent on illegal fishing and I’m willing to bet it won't take long before the risks begin to outweigh the benefits for these culprits and we begin to get things under control.

As for addressing Ottawa’s new found fondness for allowing foreign patrol boats into Canadian waters, well, with countless eyes already on the water what possible excuse could they come up with for asking foreign nations to “invade” our 200 mile limit?

I began my little rant by asking how you win an un-winnable battle. I’ll close by saying that sometimes winning can take on different forms depending on your perspective.

The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Are we trying to win a battle with Ottawa for the sake of winning or are we truly trying to protect fisheries habitat regardless of Federal meddling and mishandling?

A few years ago when inland salmon stocks were in trouble DFO wasn’t stepping up to the plate. Today, thanks to local efforts those stocks are improving and Ottawa has practically abandoned its inland efforts, preferring instead to leave much of it up to the province and the public (not officially of course but the result is the same). In this case the dynamic has shifted and Newfoundland and Labrador has grown in strength.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in this for the future of the offshore as well.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

NL Should Simply Accept Upper Churchill Contract

Having been born, raised and now living in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador I make this suggestion only after careful consideration of what it might mean for my continued physical well being, especially if taken out of context. I also make it with the best of intentions and the best interests of the province in mind.

Earlier this week the government of Newfoundland and Labrador through CFLco, the operator of the Churchill Falls generating station, issued a request to Hydro Quebec asking them to consider renegotiation of the lopsided Churchill Falls contract. That request came after receiving a number of legal opinions, from what Premier Danny Williams referred to as, “some of the best legal minds in Quebec”. Fair enough, but I wonder if the people of the province should just learn to accept the existing contract as a part of the past and instead focus on the future. I wonder as well if the time, money and resources now used to fight the original 1969 contract might also be better spent looking forward instead of back.

Quebec’s quick and clear response to the province’s request was not an unexpected one by anybody in Newfoundland and Labrador, or at least it shouldn’t have been. Not in light of a study undertaken by the Economic Council of Montreal that shows 75%of Hydro Quebec’s profits are directly due to cheap power from Churchill Falls Labrador. The response was a simple and unequivocal no.

The question now becomes, “What should Newfoundland and Labrador do about that denial?”

This isn’t the first time the province has tried to re-open the original contract. In fact they’ve tried several times over the years through political avenues and with legal challenges in the Supreme Court of Canada. All attempts have been unsuccessful so far. That isn’t to say this latest effort, should it ever actually proceed to the Quebec courts, might not end differently. It may have merit or it may not, that remains to be seen. Regardless of any of that, I wonder if renegotiation of the original contract should even be the target of this or any future attempts at seeing justice done.

There is one aspect of the Churchill Falls dynamic that has never been tested in any court, either provincially or federally, yet it begs for just such a challenge. I’m not referring to the original contract itself, which is set to expire in 2016, about the same time any legal case would likely take to wind its way though the court system. I’m speaking instead of the automatic 25 year renewal clause that will kick in when that original contract expires.

Perhaps it’s truly time to accept the original Upper Churchill contract for what it is and focus on the 6 years it is still in force to challenge the upcoming contract renewal before that agreement is actually implemented.

Based on the legal opinions presented this week by CFLco, a challenge to the renewal contract might stand a far better chance of success and the salient aspects of Quebec civil law now being spoken of are only the tip of the iceberg.

There are those who question whether the Quebec civil law touted by Newfoundland and Labrador as the basis of its latest attempts would even apply retroactively to a 1960’s contract since that law itself was only implemented in the mid-nineties. The renewal on the other hand is set to come into effect years after that law was first put on the books providing Newfoundland and Labrador with additional support for action on that front.

The renewal is considered to be automatic however in essence it is still a new contract, one that includes an even lower power purchase price for Hydro Quebec than existed under the original contract. Challenging that renewal, before it is implemented, would allow the province to follow an entirely new avenue of action, one where Quebec civil code references to “good faith” and “equity”, might still be valuable as supporting arguments but need not form the main thrust of the province’s case.

In 2005 Professor James Feehan and Historian Melvin Baker, of Memorial University, presented a research paper entitled, “The Origins of a Coming Crisis – Renewal of the Churchill Falls Contract”. Their investigation into the events surrounding the renewal aspect of the agreement was later published in the Dalhousie Law Journal.

Feehan and Baker’s effort uncovered evidence of conflict of interest and the use of inside information by Hydro Quebec during the negotiation process. They supported those findings with newly uncovered documents and meeting minutes from the period that were not previously known to exist.

In the end the researchers came to the conclusion that this was a situation where Hydro Quebec used information about the financial position of CFLco it should never have been privy to in a bid to force the last minute inclusion of the renewal clause into the original contract. According to the researchers Hydro Quebec used this information to demand CFLco either “take it or leave it” eventually leading the company “take it”, a decision that made no sense in a business context except, as Feehan and Baker put it, they were acting under “duress”.

In the words of the researchers, the events raise questions of “…conflict of interest, economic duress…business ethics” and “law”.

Personally I’d love nothing more than to the true owners of Churchill Falls gain some kind of redress after decades of living with the one sided Churchill Falls contract but in reality that contract will effectively end in just 6 years and after decades what’s a few more years. Any legal challenge would likely take at least that long. Wouldn’t the time be better spent challenging the 25 year renewal contract which, as my dear Father has been known to say, “…is an entirely different kettle of fish”.

Monday, November 30, 2009

NALCOR Seeks to Re-Open Upper Churchill Power Contract

ST. JOHN'S, NL, Nov. 30 /CNW/ - Ed Martin, President of Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation (CF(L)Co) and President and CEO of Nalcor Energy, announced today that CF(L)Co has asked Hydro-Quebec to enter into negotiations on the Upper Churchill Power Contract pricing.

"Today I have sent a letter to Mr. Thierry Vandal, President of Hydro-Quebec, requesting that his company renegotiate the pricing terms for the remainder of the 1969 Power Contract between Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation and Hydro-Quebec to establish a fair and equitable return to both CF(L)Co and Hydro-Quebec for the future," said Martin.

The present purchase price under the contract is one-quarter of one cent per kw/hr and the renewal contract fixes the purchase price at one-fifth of one cent for the 25year period beginning in 2016. This will mean that, for the remaining 32 years of the power contract, Upper Churchill power will be sold to Hydro-Quebec for less than 5 per cent of its recent commercial value. This permits virtually no return to CF(L)Co and its shareholders for the next 32 years.

"After our internal review and assessment of all eminent legal and scholarly advice, we feel the grounds exist to require Hydro-Quebec to renegotiate the pricing terms of the Power Contract under certain provisions of the Quebec Civil Code," explained Martin.

"We believe this situation, as long as it is outstanding, to be unjust and to refuse to renegotiate the pricing terms is inconsistent with the obligation imposed by the law of Quebec to act in good faith in all legal relationships including, more specifically, the negotiation and on-going performance of contracts."

According to Martin, a legal opinion on this issue was received from the law firm of Irving Mitchell Kalichman of Montreal. That opinion was prepared with the assistance of the Honorable Jean-Louis Baudouin, formerly a judge of the Quebec Court of Appeal and now with the law firm of Fasken Martineau, who was also involved in drafting the Quebec Civil Code, and in consultation with Dr. Pierre-Gabriel Jobin of the McGill University Faculty of Law. As well, an independent legal opinion was received from the Montreal office of the law firm of Stikeman Elliott.

This legal advice indicates that, in the particular context of the Power Contract between CF(L)Co and Hydro Quebec, circumstances have changed in a way that could not have been reasonably foreseen at the time the contract was initiated.

The consequence of these unforeseen circumstances, coupled with the extraordinary length of the contract, has resulted in a gross inequity in the distribution of contractual benefits between Hydro-Quebec and CF(L)Co.

This unique situation regarding the Power Contract, combined with the obligation in the Quebec Civil Code to act in good faith throughout the full term of a contract, obliges Hydro-Quebec, upon request, to reopen the contract in order to re-establish the appropriate equilibrium.

CF(L)Co has asked Hydro-Quebec to reply to its request to commence negotiations by January 15, 2010.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Good-Bye to the Historic Atlantic Fishery

It may sound like a doomsday mentality but the truth is what it is.

The End is Near for the fishing industry in Atlantic Canada. She's gone bye's she's gone!

This week the Parliament of Canada was set to debate the proposed adoption of radical changes to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) regulations that would see Canada sign onto a plan allowing member nations of NAFO far more control of fisheries management in the Atlantic off our shores than ever before.

The changes have been attacked by fisheries experts throughout Atlantic Canada, including several former high ranking personnel at Canada’s own Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) who have said the proposed changes will erode Canada’s ability to manage stocks inside its own waters and impinge on Canada’s sovereignty in North Atlantic waters.

Instead of listening to the pleading of experts in the area, or even proceeding with the planned 3 hour debate in the House that would have allowed some of those concerns to be expressed and captured on the public record the Harper government introduced a motion to halt the debate just 40 minutes in and now have plans to dispense with the Parliamentary vote altogether and simply adopt the changes.

It seems the deal is done, or soon will be, and with that decision the final nail in the coffin if the Atlantic fishing industry will be hammered home.

While DFO has itself been a master mis-manager of fish stocks over the years at least it’s answerable, to some degree, to Canadian citizens. NAFO on the other hand is not answerable to anyone in Canada and is known for intentionally allowing over fishing and turning a blind eye to illegal fishing activities off our coast.

One doesn’t have to look far to see where NAFO stands on fish stock protection. They have proven time and time again that they are either incapable of or unwilling to protect fish stocks wherever they wield their power. This was proven once again a couple of weeks ago when NAFO made the decision to allow a continuation of a shrimp fishery on the Flemish Cap just outside Canada’s 200 mile economic zone, contrary to the best scientific advice.

In a special meeting in London the organization decided against closing the Flemish Cap shrimp fishery in NAFO area 3M in spite of the fact that the NAFO Scientific Council had advised them that the stock has collapsed and that the fishery should be closed.

During a NAFO vote on the closure six member states supported a European Union proposal to simply reduce the allocated fishing days, a move that will accomplish nothing since the number of fishing days allocated in recent years have not been anywhere close fully utilized. The net result will see no real reduction in the amount of shrimp that will be taken from an already collapsed stock.

With the collusion of the federal government the new NAFO regulations will soon be adopted by Canada, giving the organization even more control over fisheries in the area and permitting them with an opportunity to someday dictate regulations inside Canadian waters as well. It seems that the time to wave a sad good-bye to the Atlantic Fishery and the serene outport way of life in many parts of the region is upon us.

It’s indeed a black day for all of us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Should Newfoundland and Labrador Buy NB Power?

Should NALCOR – Newfoundland and Labrador’s Energy Corporation – make an offer to purchase New Brunswick Power?

Thought it may sound odd just stop and think about it for a minute and you might find the idea has some merit.

Many people of New Brunswick are torn over the proposed sale for one or more of 3 primary reasons.

First, they are rightfully concerned about giving up their sovereignty over provincial resources and power lines.

Second, while the deal contains benefits for big business many are not convinced the it would be a good one for the average consumer.

Third, there is the stigma that comes with selling the farm to a province that has been on the brink of separation more than once and may well be again in future.

From the Newfoundland and Labrador perspective the sale is worrisome because it will give Quebec a stranglehold on power transmission into the U.S. for the planned Lower Churchill project. Not to mention total control of power distribution from the Upper Churchill when that resource is finally returned to Newfoundland and Labrador’s control in 2041.

Other stakeholders, including Nova Scotia and some Eastern U.S. States are worried about a single entity controlling all power imports & exports in the region as they have every right to be.

If, on the other hand, Newfoundland and Labrador were to make an offer for the utility the dynamic would change dramatically.

Not much would change with the public concern over giving up sovereignty of their resources but those concerns might be eased a little knowing that control was being ceded to another Atlantic Province rather than the control of a jurisdiction that might suddenly decide to separate from Canada altogether.

Anyone who has paid the least bit of attention to this entire issue knows full well the only ones who will truly benefit from this agreement are Hydro Quebec and the larger corporate entities in New Brunswick. Not the average rate payer.

It is those large industries, including J.D. Irving, that are driving the deal so, one way or another, the sale will likely be made. In New Brunswick when the Irving’s speak the halls of government shake and things get done.

But what if a competing bid were available that included all of the benefits offered to New Brunswick corporations in addition to improvements on what rate payers could expect?

What if that offer also eased the minds of other stakeholders by ensuring that Hydro Quebec didn’t gain a monopoly over transmission in the region?

What if that offer would also provided Newfoundland and Labrador with its own route from the Maritimes into the Eastern U.S, potentially saving the Province countless millions in transmission fees down the road?

Most assuredly the cost of such an offer would be high, but wouldn’t it be worth it in the long run?

With such an offer the debt load of NALCOR (or by virtue of ownership, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador) would rise by about 4-5 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money but over the past 5 years or so the Province has paid down that amount of debt or more meaning it can likely afford to make such a move. It might inhibit their ability to finance the Lower Churchill project, perhaps even postponing it 5 or 10 years but in the end Newfoundland and Labrador would not only be able to build the project but would own the means to distribute the power from it.

In return NALCOR would forever rid the Province of the albatross its carried around its neck since the 1960’s by no longer being forced to deal with Quebec every time it wants to wheel power to other jurisdictions.

Purchasing New Brunswick Power would not just position Newfoundland and Labrador for future project revenues. Make no mistake about it. Hydro Quebec did not venture down this road without knowing full well there’s money to be made. In fact they’ve admitted they expect a 10% return on investment right away.

Since the money to paid for the purchase will be used to get rid if the NB Power’s debt, the buyer will be getting a company that’s debt free. Even with the financial woes currently plaguing New Brunswick Power the company still pulls in revenues of more than 1.2 billion a year. That alone is many times more than Newfoundland and Labrador sees from the massive Upper Churchill power plant.

The existing MOU between New Brunswick and Quebec Hydro allows either party to opt out at any time between now and the end of March. This means there is an open window of opportunity for Newfoundland and Labrador to walk through.

If the political will is there, this might be a chance to make a “new and improved” offer to the people of a neighboring Atlantic Province that would also force the hand of the government of New Brunswick. It’s one thing to face a political backlash for ignoring the will of the people by signing a questionable deal with Hydro Quebec. It’s quite another to sign such a deal when a better and far more palatable one is there for the taking.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Where Have all the Fishes Gone?

“…In 1992, Ottawa imposed a moratorium on the Northern cod fishery. It resulted in the largest layoff in Canadian history: 30,000 jobs. The latest science says that stock has barely recovered.”Jeffry Simpson, Globe and Mail, November 13, 2009.

The Globe & Mail article in which Mr. Simpson made that statement was dedicated to discussion of the Canadian government’s recently announced plans to hold a judicial inquiry into declining salmon stocks on the Fraser River in B.C.

Perhaps a judicial inquiry on the BC situation is a good idea but the announcement of one, not to mention the Globe’s comparison of the West Coast issue to the collapse of the East Coast cod fishery, brings to mind a very simple question: Why has an inquiry never been held into the Atlantic fisheries collapse?

Sure, studies have been conducted, scientists have debated the problem for years and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans continues to count all the little fishies in the sea, but where has any of that gotten us?

The fish are still on the missing list.

Eighteen years after the fishery was first closed the ground fish stocks haven’t recovered. Doesn’t that reality alone warrant an inquiry to help uncover not only what led to the collapse but what has been done, or hasn’t been, in the nearly 2 decades since.

The North Atlantic fishery collapse led to 10’s of thousands of people being thrown out of work overnight. In the years that followed entire towns and villages disappeared as the people who lived there were forced to give up their way of life. Ultimately the fisheries collapse led to the largest mass out-migration from any province in Canadian history.

To this day no inquiry has ever been conducted.

Admittedly some steps were taken. Fisheries task forces, committees and the like have come and gone and while those are all well and good they have their limits.

A judicial inquiry, with the power to access official records and question witnesses under oath, whether they like it or not, might be our only hope of ever shedding even a glimmer of light on one of the most devastating economic, commercial, cultural and environmental catastrophes of our collective history.

Did the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans really mismanage the fish stocks as they’ve so often been accused of doing? Are they mismanaging those stocks even today?

Are politicians, both Provincial and Federal, past and present, at fault for promoting unsustainable levels of fishing with no other goal in mind but to pander to voters?

Did Ottawa secretly barter away fishing rights as a means to improve trade relations with foreign nations and prop up the economy in other parts of Canada?

The questions that might be asked are almost limitless but sadly, to date, the answers have been non-existent.

Why, nearly 20 years into a fishing moratorium, has no official inquiry ever been called?

There are those who believe the time for an inquiry has passed, that perhaps one should have been conducted back in the mid-nineties when the moratorium was put in place. I disagree.

At the time the moratorium was introduced the public was led to believe that a couple of years down the road the stocks would rebound and all would be well again. That didn’t happen and I strongly believe an inquiry now would have the benefit of hindsight when looking for the reasons why.

Nearly 20 years after the fact many of the politicians, bureaucrats, government scientists and DFO staffers who were involved at the time but who might have been hesitant to answer the tough questions are likely to be retired from public life or close to being so today. This fact alone would help loosen stiffened tongues that might not have been as willing to be loosened back in 1992.

The timing is ripe for an inquiry of this nature unfortunately the collective spirit in Ottawa is, as usual, very weak.

The near collapse of salmon stocks on the West Coast is indeed a worthy reason to hold a judicial inquiry and I applaud the federal Conservative government for taking this action so quickly. That said, I can’t help but wonder why Mr. Harper and his recent predecessors (no matter the political stripe) have all been so comfortable in ignoring the devastation of the East Coast fishery.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

.........Lest We Forget / Forget Me Not.........

This November 11th please take a few moments to remember our veterans and pay your respects to those who gave so much.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Selling NB Power would be short-sighted

The following appeared today in the New Brunswick newspaper, "The Telegraphjournal".

It's certainly worth a read. Hopefully the people of New Brunswick take these words to heart.

Selling NB Power would be short-sighted
Thursday November 5, 2009
By Kurt Beers

The memorandum of understanding signed last week between the government of New Brunswick and the government of Quebec for the proposed sale of NB Power bears a striking resemblance to Quebec's 1966 acquisition of the Churchill Falls hydro-electricity plant in Newfoundland. If history is doomed to repeat itself, the lessons learned from the Newfoundland-Quebec agreement should be strongly considered before New Brunswick enters into a reactionary and short-sighted agreement that involves losing one of its Crown corporations at the behest of another province's long-term gain.

Throughout his service as premier of Newfoundland from 1949-1971, Joey Smallwood was renowned for making political blunders. In his memoirs he writes that he was "guilty of more failures and policy mistakes than any premier or prime minister in [Canadian] history." In the fall of 1966, Smallwood was responsible for the Churchill Falls deal that granted Hydro-Qu├ębec unrestricted access to Newfoundland's electricity. This permitted Quebec to sell vast amounts of Newfoundland's domestic power to American markets at a healthy mark-up. The 65-year-deal, which was particularly one-sided, witnessed the growth of Quebec's revenue at the expense of Newfoundland. While Quebec continues to reap a multibillion-dollar windfall from this arrangement, Newfoundland has been left with dwindling profits.

The current memorandum of understanding proposed by the government of New Brunswick presents an equally short-sighted plan - one that recalls to the Churchill Falls agreement. Although at a glance the immediate benefits of this deal appear attractive (with a $5-billion buyout), there are currently no laws to prevent Quebec from repeating its previous practice once again with NB Power, forcing New Brunswick into a long-term disadvantage - in this regard, much like Newfoundland - as energy prices will inevitably soar once the initial five-year freeze expires. If this acquisition is ratified, over time New Brunswick would be deprived of billions of dollars of possible revenue.

Conventionally, provinces transported their electricity across provincial borders in what is called a "wheeling agreement," which allows the letting province to maintain its electricity at a fair market price. Although inter-provincial cooperation has always been (and should remain) a hallmark of our federation, it does not justify the capitulation of one province to the manipulative tactics of another, particularly in a scenario that would result in a weaker and far less competitive energy market for the entire Maritime region.

The New Brunswick government has a fiduciary duty to consult its citizens before selling (in part or whole) NB Power, just as they have a responsibility to become engaged in this debate. One needs to look no further than the lessons learned by former Premier Joey Smallwood and the Churchill Falls agreement to see that if this deal is passed, the albatross that continues to weigh down Newfoundland and Labrador will soon be the burden of New Brunswick as well.

Kurt Beers is from Rexton, New Brunswick. He is a former Executive Assistant to former Prime Minister Joe Clark. He holds a Masters in Political Communication and a Bachelor in Political Science and History. He currently lives and works in London, England.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Say NO to sale of NB Power

New Brunswick citizens have been promised that they will save $1,400 over 5 yrs/household - that amounts to $1400/60 months = $23/month. NB industries (ie: Irving / McCain) on the other hand will get an immediate 30 percent reduction in power rates, but new industries will have pay market rates, reducing their ability to compete against existing industries and those in Quebec.

The Conservation Council of New Brunswick is which is reponsible for the enactment of the the Clean Water Act to guarantee safe drinking water, legal requirement for NB Power to supply 10% of its electricity from renewable sources, and creation of New Brunswick's energy efficiency agency agrees NB Power should not be sold.

This is one public corporation buying out another, so why doesnt the agreement allow New Brunswickers to pay the same rate, for the same electricity, as Quebec clients will. Instead New Brunswick rates will be frozen at 60 per cent higher for the next 5 years and then continue to increase.

The 2006 New Brunswick Liberal platform stated that NB Power will remain in public hands, but the Liberals are arguing they must break their promise because they couldn't foresee the debt situation at NB Power. They should admit they didn't perform due diligence before releasing the Charter for Change. NB Power's debt was known to be a problem in 2006.

Hydro Quebec has signed only a memorandum of understanding with NB Power. It is necessary that it passed by the House and the contract must be signed before March 31, 2010.

New Brunswickers need to contact their local MLA and everyone who is against this terrible situation needs to voice their opinion to their Federal Member of Parliament as soon as possible.

Contact informtion for Members of Parliament can be found in the links section at the left side of this web page.

Friday, October 30, 2009

All of Canada Impacted by Quebec/NB Power Deal

The following letter was sent this morning to federal members of Parliament, several members of the Canadian Senate, the Premiers of New Brunswick, Ontario, PEI, NL and Nova Scotia along with the Federal Competition Bureau and copied to multiple national and provincial news agencies in Canada.

RE: Hydro-Quebec’s proposed purchase of NB Power,

Consider that if this purchase is allowed to proceed, overnight 5 of Canada’s 10 provinces will become completely dependant on a single corporation for their ability to import or export electrical energy both inside and outside of the Canadian border. The remaining Canadian Provinces, Ontario and East, will be forced to pay power prices set by that same corporation for any power they might wish to purchase from the Canadian East.

Is this the sort of business climate the Governments of Canada and its provinces, other than Quebec, really want to foster for the future of the nation?

Some have argued that even after such a purchase the rates that can be charged to wheel power across Quebec-Hydro’s grid will be set by regulators, not by the corporation itself. This is true indeed true but this argument is a false one.

The very ability to wheel power through Quebec-Hydro’s grid, at any price, will depend on the corporation’s willingness to invest in the infrastructure capacity that will permit its competitors to access the grid. In other words, true competitive freedom will no longer exist and market access will not be possible without Quebec-Hydro’s willingness to permit it.

Putting all politics and rhetoric aside, the question that needs to be answered is a simple one:

Should a single corporation, no matter where it’s located, be permitted to completely control the flow of energy from half of Canada’s Provinces into the other half of Canada and beyond?

To join the facebook campaign against this terrible situation and have your say visit: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=25702989279

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Quebec Hydro - Positions to Block Lower Churchill Development

The following report was issued by VOCM News this morning.

Premier Ready to Square off with Quebec Hydro

The Premier is gearing up for another fight on the national stage.

Danny Williams says Hydro Quebec continues to try and block this province from developing the Lower Churchill, now refusing to sign onto a water management agreement for the Churchill River in Labrador.

Speaking to a sold out crowd last evening at the PC Party's annual convention, Williams says the issue came to a head Friday and he's setting his sights on the mainland power utility as the issue moves to the Public Utility Board.

In light of the profits pulled by the company on the Upper Churchill, The Premier describes the actions as 'the pure heights of greed.'

The Quebec power company is also reported to be taking over New Brunswick Hydro, Williams says, to get a strangle-hold on route access. He says while there is nothing he can do about that possibility, he offers New Brunswick some words of caution. The short term gains could have long term consequences of giving up energy resources . He warns our experiences have not been good in dealings with the powerful Hydro Quebec.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Time is Running Out - A Sad Saga of Fisheries Mis-Management

While the Federal Fisheries Minister, DFO, NAFO and even the Provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador continue to battle with one another, ignore problems that can and should be rectified and pay lip service to a fishery on the verge of total disaster time is running out.

Climate change and the quest for an international solution to the prolem is a topic that's on the lips of every political figure, news editor, university student and individual citizen world wide. It's an issue that's been raised to the highest levels of power for discussion and negotiation around the world yet there is another environmental disaster playing itself out on the world stage with barely a dying gasp to be heard from anyone.

The collapse of world wide fish populations began decades ago and, if left unresolved, may well lead to the compete destruction of the planet's largest ecosystem and the disappearance it's most valuable food resource, yet this issue is not being addressed in any meaningful way, especially not in Canada.

The following contains excerpts from the article - Overfishing: Are there really plenty of fish in the sea? – published on the Mother Nature Network. For anyone not aware of just how precarious the situation has become this may be an eye opener. I sincerely hope it is.

The time to sit by and let the powers that be continue to trade away our planet's future is over. If something isn't done soon to protect fish species it may be too late to save the last lonely fish in the sea.

Read on:

Years before an economic crisis taught everyone the risks of runaway growth, marine fishermen and fishery managers were already getting a crash course.

Worldwide fishing catches grew 400 percent between 1950 and 1994, following centuries of increasingly intensive commercial fishing, but it couldn't last forever — big fisheries began crashing by the late 20th century…

Fisheries and financial markets have a lot in common, according to a study published last month, and both can collapse dramatically after reaching certain tipping points. While such tipping points are difficult to predict, there are still clues beforehand. Stock markets often behave erratically when a meltdown is coming, the researchers found, and fisheries may undergo odd fluctuations in population and body size before they crash.

Bouncing back from a collapse is also no easier for some fish than it is for financial systems. When Newfoundland's cod fishery collapsed in 1992 and Canada closed it for rehabilitation, many expected a quick recovery since cod reproduce so prolifically. But something went wrong, and Newfoundland cod still haven't returned to their pre-collapse numbers, despite a decade-long moratorium on fishing that was upgraded to outright closure in 2003.

Web Talk Note: There's the official position and then there's the actual truth.

Although the cod fishery was "officially" closed on 2003 large volumes of cod are still caught every year off the Newfoundland and Labrador coast. This often happens as a result of by-catch when seeking other species, through scientific “sampling”, becaue of pseudo-fisheries activities like fishing for the black back flounder (a species for which there is no real market. The quota for this species is primarily issued by DFO as a ruse to enable some harvesters access to a cod by catch) and through fishing on the nose & tail of the Grand Banks / Flemish Cap (a breeding ground for young cod and clearly for illegal foreign fisheries activities).

In 2006, Canadian marine ecologist Boris Worm predicted that all commercial fisheries will collapse by 2048 if overfishing isn't stopped. Although he scaled back that forecast this year after taking into account some nations' recent sustainability efforts, he and an international team of researchers still warned that 63 percent of fish stocks are dangerously low, with many still sinking.

People have been eating fish since at least the Stone Age, when anglers used handmade tools to hunt along streams, rivers and coastlines. The art of fishing has evolved with human culture ever since, but about 1,000 years ago, humans started getting a little too good at fishing. New ships, equipment and techniques let them focus on large, dense populations of marine fish, and the first commercial fishing fleets shipped out from Northern Europe around 950 A.D., sparking a revolution in the way people caught, ate and even thought about fish.

That revolution gradually spread around the world — early European colonists arriving in Newfoundland, for example, reported clusters of cod so thick that ships struggled to get through. These were developed into large-scale fisheries by the 1800s, and about 200 years and countless fish sticks later, the Newfoundland cod fishery collapsed. By 2003, nearly a third of all commercial fisheries on Earth had, too.

Overfishing may also interfere with evolution. By targeting big fish for harvest and throwing back or ignoring small ones, some scientists believe humans are artificially selecting for fish with small bodies — since diminutive fish are more likely to survive and therefore reproduce more often, they also pass on more genes than their bigger, meatier relatives. Markets reportedly sold cod 100 years ago that measured nearly five feet long, but the largest cod today are around 20 inches.

And because collapsed fisheries have only a fraction of their former populations, genetic diversity may suffer as well. In addition to the problem of inbreeding, it takes less time for a single genetic trait to spread widely throughout a small population, meaning overharvested fisheries can become populated with little fish in a little gene pool.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

NL News Release - Custodial Managment

The following news release was issued by the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture this week. It speaks volumes about the total mismanagment of fish stocks happening off our shores.

Fisheries and AquacultureSeptember 28, 2009

NAFO Ignores Scientific Advice: Further Proof of Need for Custodial Management

The Provincial Government is disappointed with the results achieved by the Government of Canada at the recent meetings of the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO). The meetings were held in Bergen, Norway, from September 21-25. The province had hoped that the Federal Government would better represent the interests of Newfoundland and Labrador and achieve appropriate conservation measures that would protect stocks off the coast of this province.

The voting members of NAFO once again ignored scientific advice related to a number of stocks including Greenland halibut, 3M cod and redfish, and 3LNOP white hake and skate. These stocks, which straddle the 200 mile limit are located on the east coast of the island on the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks and at the Flemish Cap. Ignoring scientific advice in the NAFO zones outside the 200 mile limit negatively impacts stocks which are harvested by Canadians inside the 200 mile limit.

“Clearly, the approach of the Federal Government is not working,” said the Honourable Tom Hedderson, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture. “This is another demonstration that it will always be problematic for Canada to have to vote with 11 other countries to gain protection of fish stocks off our shores. Once again, we are provided with proof of the need for a system of custodial management to manage fish stocks that straddle the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks.”

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has recommended two years in a row that there be a 15 per cent reduction in the total allowable catch (TAC) for Greenland halibut. This was in line with the advice of the NAFO rebuilding plan agreed to in 2003. Despite this, NAFO has maintained the TAC at 16,000 tonnes for 2010.

The 3M cod stock has been under moratorium since 1999. The NAFO Scientific Council recommended a TAC of 4,125 metric tonnes. Despite this, a TAC of 5,500 tonnes has been established for 2010. NAFO members voted in favour of this, including the Government of Canada.

“Clearly, we cannot even trust our own Federal Government to pursue outcomes consistent with scientific advice,” said Minister Hedderson.

The TAC for 3M redfish will increase from 8,500 tonnes to 10,000 tonnes. Again, this is against the advice of the NAFO Scientific Council, which recommended keeping the quota at current levels for 2010.

The Scientific Council had also expressed concerns over 3LNOP white hake stocks and recommended a TAC of 850 tonnes. This was the average catch in recent years. NAFO agreed to decrease the quota from 8,500 tonnes to 6,000 tonnes in 2010.

The TAC for 3NLO skate will decline from 13,500 tonnes to 12,000 tonnes. The Scientific Council had recommended a TAC of 6,000 tonnes.

“The scientific evidence indicates that we need to be concerned about the future of many stocks that our industry depends on,” said Minister Hedderson.

“Our government is particularly concerned with the results of the 2008 shrimp survey and the dramatic decline in biomass estimates. If these trends continue, the decline in biomass and quotas will have a significant impact on the fishing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. This demonstrates the need for better conservation.”

The Federal Government’s approach to addressing the situation on the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks has been to work for changes in NAFO.

“Custodial management is the only viable solution,” said the minister. “Furthermore, our government continues to ask the Federal Government to reject the proposed amendments to the NAFO convention, which seriously threaten Canada’s ability to protect fish stocks inside the 200 mile limit.”

- 30 -

Media contact: Lori Lee OatesDirector of CommunicationsDepartment of Fisheries and Aquaculture
709-729-3733, 690-8403
2009 09 28 1:50 p.m.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Has Stephen Harper Outwitted Himself?

With an electoral axe about to fall in the Nation’s capital, or more accurately upon Stephen Harper’s political neck, Conservative strategists may have finally outwitted themselves in their hunger for national domination.

Faced with the prospect of a Liberal sponsored non-confidence vote the Conservatives are floating the idea of forcing Michael Ignatieff’s hand. They hope to do this by tabling a confidence bill of their own when the House resumes. The Conservatives believe this will allow them to set the agenda for the election and make it appear that Mr. Ignatieff, should he vote against the bill, is standing in the way of Canada's economic recovery.

Here’s how the diabolical plan is supposed to play out.

The Liberal party plans to table a non-confidence motion at their first opportunity – an opposition day in early October – the Conservatives on the other hand plan to table a ways and means bill on the first day the Commons reopens, September 15th. That bill would officially implement the hugely popular and much publicized “Home Renovation Tax Credit”, so many Canadians have already bought into spending countless millions in the process.

Conservative strategists believe that by forcing the Liberals to vote against that particular bill they can paint the opposition as killing the stimulus program, of damaging the economy and of costing individual taxpayers up to $1,300 in rebates many are counting on this spring.

As a purely political move it’s ingenious. The question is whether it will backfire.

Clearly Prime Minister Harper has no inhibitions when it comes to his political ambitions. This is nothing new. In previous years Mr. Harper has shown that he’s willing to ignore signed agreements by stripping money away from provincial coffers without so much as a second thought (consider the Atlantic Accord contract as an example).

Mr. Harper is now proving his willingness to not only pull a fast one when it comes to cryptic programs like equalization that are outside the understanding of the average voter but to reach directly into voter's pockets by gambling with tax refunds which many taxpayers have already spent thousands of dollars in the expectation of receiving.

I’m not so sure that’s a wise move on his part.

There’s an old saying that “all politics is local” and you can’t get much more local than a voter's back pocket.

The question for voters to ask themselves, should an election come to pass, is which political leader is truly the most harmful to the economy?

Think about it. If you’ve already spent thousands of dollars, believing that you would get a sizeable portion of that money back, are you more or less likely to curb your spending over the coming months now that you have been told you may never see a dime of what you were promised?

On the other hand, if you’ve yet to spend a penny on home renovations are you more or less likely to do so now that Mr. Harper has put the “Home Renovation Tax Credit” up for grabs in a self serving political game?

For most Canadians the answer to both of those questions is pretty clear.

So which leader is the most harmful to the economy?

Is it really, as Mr. Harper would have us to believe, Michael Ignatieff, a man most of us know very little about? Possibly.

Or is it the current Prime Minister, a man who, by using the “Home Renovation Tax Credit” as a self-serving political hammer may well have single handedly done more to stifle discretionary consumer spending than the economic downturn itself?

Remember, even if the opposition parties rise to the bait and kill the rebate bill, if even temporarily, it was Mr. Harper who self servingly put that program on the chopping block and raised the axe high into the air.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Seal industry Supporters Offer Funding to PETA.

In what can only be described as an astonishing twist on the seal hunt debate a pro industry group calling itself Seal Industry Supporters of Canada (SISC) has publicly offered make a “very significant ” donation to the anti-sealing group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), but the offer comes with a catch.

SISC approached PETA with the offer today on the heals of PETA’s latest publicity stunt, one in which a monetary offer was made to the City of Halifax if it agreed to name its sewer treatment plant the “Seal Slaughter Stinks Plant”.

In an open letter to PETA executives SISC has issued a counter offer of their own in which SISC will donate a “significant” sum of money to the extremist group if they agree to change their organization’s name to one SISC members feel is far more descriptive of PETA’s ongoing activities.

To qualify for the funding SISC is asking that PETA change its name to Humans Using Naivety To Secure Easy & Affluent Lifestyles or HUNTSEALS.

When asked about the validity of the financial offer the SISC spokesperson described it as “quite serious”.

He went on to say, “For years PETA has used the mainstream media and Hollywood star power to distribute its misleading propaganda and as a means of convincing countless donors to part with vast amounts of cash.”

“PETA is heavily funded by largely well meaning but misinformed individuals who believe they are doing their part to protect endangered or abused animals. In the case of the Canadian seal population, this is not the case.”

“Although PETA depicts little white seals in their fund raising campaigns in reality the hunting of white coat seals has been illegal on Canada for several decades. The seal population in the region is not endangered, in fact it’s at a 40 year high (in excess of 5.6 million animals) and the sealing industry itself is one of the most tightly controlled, heavily regulated and strictly monitored animal related industries anywhere in the world.”

“What it boils down to is this. Images of fluffy white seals being towered over by large men bring in a lot of money for these groups. When was the last time you saw a truly threatened, though less lovable, species like a cod fish on a PETA poster? Never mind that the growing seal population eats millions of tons of treatened cod every year, they don't bring in donations so they don't get any attention. It’s that simple."

When asked to quantify the actual dollar value of the PETA offer, should that group decide adopt the name “KILLSEALS” the SISC spokesperson would only say, “Rest assured that it’s enough to buy a lot of first class airline tickets and pay for plenty of lattes at Starbucks so the PETA leadership can continue living the good life they’ve become accustomed to living.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fisheries Minister Rocks Boat

I never thought it would come to this but it has. Here I was enjoying a nice summer hiatus and today I find myself suddenly back in front of the keyboard writing in defense of actions taken by the Federal government of Canada in Newfoundland and Labrador.

That’s right folks, your’s truly has not only broken his summer respite but I’ve also been reduced to defending the actions of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), a federal agency that has all but destroyed the outport way of life and ruined Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy with their utter mismanagement of the North Atlantic fishery.

It’s not something I enjoy doing but when the situation calls for it what options do I have?

The reason for my inability to sit idly by (which I was doing quite happily) comes after the recent announcement of this year’s commercial cod quota by Federal Fisheries Minister, Gail Shea.

It seems the Minister (who is well known for a number of politically motivated and underhanded decisions since taking office) has left this year’s northern cod quota largely unchanged from the previous year. According to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW), “…quota increases are almost non-existent” and this, so it would seem, has fishermen across the Province very, very angry.

According to the FFAW’s David Decker, Minister Shea and her officials “either have no idea about their own science data, or are choosing to ignore it. (this is) another crippling blow" for the industry.

Clearly the words of someone who is angry with the current situation, but for what its worth, I’ll tell you what makes me angry and, at least in this case, it certainly isn’t the Fisheries Minister or DFO.

What gets under my skin, and the reason I find myself sitting at my keyboard today is the absolute unmitigated gall of the fishermen and the FFAW leadership who are once again screaming for an increased cod quota when they know full well that the cod stocks are in such poor shape.

Yes, the science shows that inshore stocks are showing signs of an increase, in fact rather encouraging signs. That said, the hope now is that as inshore stocks continue to grow they will help repopulate the offshore which where the species is still teetering on the brink of extinction, even 17 years into a moratorium.

Yes, the offshore fleets that are illegally fishing need to be stopped and Canada is not doing enough to fix that problem.

Yes, foreign ships skirting international waters on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks or Flemish Cap need to be stopped (blown out of the water would be my approach) and again the fed is doing nothing to fix the problem.

Yes, Canadian quotas for offshore fleets (of any species) need to be better controlled, bottom dragging needs to be done away with and so much more needs to happen, none of which is on Ottawa’s radar.

In short there are many things Ottawa can be blamed for when it comes to the fishery, including allowing the stocks to collapse in the first place, but when it comes being conservative when issuing quotas for rebounding inshore stocks the only blame I see in all this rests squarely with the fishermen and the union, not with Ottawa.

We all know it’s been a hard year in the fishery but is that an excuse to increase quotas and make a quick cash grab at the expense of the future viability of the fishery itself?

The FFAW is often the first to complain about fisheries mismanagement but they’re also the first to scream to high heaven when quotas are managed with the future of the stocks in mind.

Grab a buck today and to hell with tomorrow should be the motto in the fishery these days.

That’s an attitude that boils my blood.

Between endless federal governments and provincial governments, the fishermen and their union and the plant operators as well the fishery has devolved into a mess of monumental proportions. It’s a quagmire of muck and slime so twisted and convoluted that it would take a nuclear bomb dropped into the middle of it to disassemble it and untangle the individual components so they could be rearranged into anything even resembling a viable industry.

Fishermen consider themselves “independent business owners” yet they have no product (the fish is a public resource), they have union representation and they collect EI for more than half the year. What kind of independent business owners do any of us know who fit that description?

The fisheries union (FFAW) represents both the suppliers (the fishermen) and the plant workers. This means that in practice the FFAW is supposed to fight for the best per pound price for the fishermen when dealing with plan owners, and also fight for the best wages for plant workers, wages that can only come from the plant owners if they get a lower price from the fishermen. Add to this the fact that the FFAW itself has its own fish quota and operates a handful of fishing boats and the level of conflict becomes staggering.

Ottawa has always put political expediency ahead of fisheries protection or management (perhaps with the exclusion of this current quota which is why I’m really ticked at the FFAW). DFO has been negligent and corrupt in their management practices for decades and the state of the stocks is all the evidence of this anyone needs to see.

Consider as well that countless political leaders in Newfoundland and Labrador have made a career out of parlaying fish plants for rural areas into election wins and the blame for the overall mess in the industry casts wide net over everyone involved.

Believe me, if the verbal diarrhea flowing from the FFAW’s David Decker hadn’t raised my hackles today I’d be out enjoying a great summer day (thanks again by the way) but there comes a time in each person’s life when there is only so much B.S. you can put up with and this my friends is one of those times.

For (pick your divinity) sake, the cod fishery was decimated nearly 20 years ago and in all likelihood the crab, lobster and many other commercial species are headed in the same direction. It’s time for all the stakeholders to do what needs to be done. Let the chips fall where they may.

For starters quotas should only ever be set based on the most conservative science, as was apparently the case this week, never ever for political reasons, which is usually what’s done.

Yes there is no doubt fish caught in off of Newfoundland and Labrador’s shore should be processed in the Province but plant owners need to be given the freedom, with that parameter, to run their business as they see fit. If they want to close down most of their plants so the remaining ones will provide meaningful and full time work and so they can make a real profit for the investors they should be able to do so. In other words fish plants need to become an actual place of business that produce fish products not EI stamps.

Fishermen need to make a decision. Either they want to be employees of a fish producer or they want to run independent business enterprises. They can’t be both. If they are independent business owners then they should have their EI access cut off and lose their unionized status. If they want to be employees of the plants then the plants can buy their boats and licenses and give them a decent wage for fishing.

Yes, this will all mean great hardship in many places across the Province but at least it will finally bring some order to the chaos. What kind of life is it for people who spend year after year watching the industry decline all the while realizing their only real goal is to get enough stamps to make it to your next season of EI?

It’s time for some leadership and backbone, something clearly lacking among all the generally recognized stakeholders in this industry, with the exception of the one forgotten stakeholder.

Far too often forgotten with all the flapping mouths are the silent stakeholders, the public, you and me.

The fish stocks, if they belong to anyone belong to all citizens, not just the fishermen.
The seemingly endless tax dollars thrown at the industry (usually into a large empty and bottomless money pit) comes from the pockets of John’ and Judy Public. This means we all have a right to intercede in what’s happening. In fact we have more than a right, we have an obligation. Perhaps its time the silent stakeholders took a stand.

Well, this taxpayer has reached the end of his rope and is willing to say loud and clear for everyone to hear, “Enough is enough. Either fix it or shut it down completely”.

Meanwhile, back to my reason for writing today, Minister Shea and the quota she set this year (sorry for going off on a tangent but anything to do with fisheries issues tends to cause mass confusion), all I can say is, “good job” Ms. Minister. If you only performed as efficiently, properly and non-politically with regard to the numerous other aspects of your portfolio we might finally get somewhere with this mess.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Web Talk - Summer Break

With summer upon us and as "sun rays crown thy pine clad hills" it's time for Web Talk to take a short hiatus.

I hope those of you fortunate enough to be living in Newfoundland and Labrador will take the time (as I will) to get out and enjoy this beautiful part of the world. Those living elsewhere, please stop by for a visit to refresh your senses.

Web talk will be back later in the summer but in the mean time please feel free to stop by anytime and enjoy some of the past articles you may have missed.

Cheers for now,

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Just a moment

Please don't forget to take a moment for silence and reflection today. It's the least any of us can do.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

July 1st - Memorial Day Remembered

Once again Canada day is upon us and once again I've opted to publish an article that I return to each year at this time.

With Canada Day celebrations about to go ahead I sincerely hope we do not forget that while July 1 may be a day of celebration for Canadians it is also one of the most solemn and sad days for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

July 1st marks the anniversary of the battle of Beaumont Hamel where so many of Newfoundland and Labrador's best and brightest were showered with shells. A day when an entire regiment was all but wiped out.

This Memorial (Canada) Day we should not forget those valiant men.

July 1st - Memorial Day Remembered

With Memorial Day once again upon us, it seems appropriate today to reflect on the exploits of the so called “Fighting Newfoundlander” and remember those who fought or died in conflicts half way around the world.

When many people think of the Newfoundland and Labrador's military history they immediately think of The Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Although Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans have fought with the forces of other nations and continue to distinguish themselves today in the Canadian Armed Forces, it is with a special kind of pride that we remember the exploits of that particular Regiment.

Originally formed in 1914, The Newfoundland Regiment, as it was known at the time, consisted of what many refer to as the “first 500” or “The Blue Puttees” in reference to the blue leggings worn by the men.

An entirely volunteer regiment, the men of the “first 500”, along with those who joined them later, distinguished themselves in battle after battle during World War I.

So valiant were their efforts that they were later bestowed by the King of England with the title of “Royal”, becoming the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the name we know them by to this day.

After only six weeks of training at home, The original Newfoundland Regiment containing the “first 500” set sail out of St. John’s harbour on October 4, 1914. This first group contained some of the best examples of the type of young men Newfoundland and Labrador had produced. Many were athletes, some had been involved in various boy’s brigades and all were determined to show their pride in the Dominion of Newfoundland.

According to historical documents, the men of the Regiment had two primary goals in mind when they arrived in Europe. The first was that they were Newfoundlanders, and intended to be known as such; the other was that they had gone over to fight, not to do garrison duty in England.

At one point during their orientation on the Salisbury Plain the idea was floated that the Newfoundland contingent should join with a nearby Nova Scotia Regiment. Both groups were only the size of half a battalion and to the brass from England this seemed like a logical step. According to articles from the time the Newfoundlanders would have no part of it. They felt that if the two groups merged the contingent would lose its name, its identity and its individuality.

During the coming months the Regiment grew as new members arrived. In time, the proud men of the Newfoundland Regiment were given the opportunity they had wanted, a chance to fight for their homeland.

On the battle field these proud soldiers solidified their place in history.

The Regiment earned no less than 280 separate decorations, 77 of which were awarded to original members of the “first 500” of which 170 were killed in action. In fact, one in every seven men among the original force received some sort of military honour.

Many people have heard the name of Tommy Ricketts who was given the highest honour possible, the Victoria Cross, however many may not remember some of the other brave men who fought for their homeland under the most dire conditions.

Newfoundland and Labrador has produced many great heroes, many who are not as well known, but no less deserving of recognition.Take for example the story of Cyril Gardner, originally from British Harbour.

Lieutenant Gardner has the distinction of being the only known allied serviceman to receive the German Iron Cross during WWI.The Iron Cross which was handed out only to the bravest German military personnel was given to Gardner on the battlefield.As the story goes, Gardner’s unit was engaged in battle with a German patrol of 70 men. During the night, as hostilities wound down Gardner, who spoke German, took it upon himself to grab his gun and head out to the enemy encampment.Sneaking into the enemy camp, the Lieutenant turned his gun on the officers, capturing them unharmed. With their leadership removed the remainder of the troop immediately surrendered.

Lieutenant Cyril Gardner had single handedly captured an entire German Patrol.

Upon marching his prisoners back to his own encampment he was met by a British Officer who intended to shoot the unarmed prisoners rather than be saddled with caring for them.As the German soldiers looked on in horror Lieutenant Gardner once again demonstrated his sense of bravery by stepping into the line of fire to protect his prisoners and telling his superior officer that if one German were shot the officer would be the next one to die.

After a moment of hesitation the officer walked away and it was then that the commander of the German patrol, who had many medals on his uniform, stepped up to Gardner and removing the iron cross from his chest, pinned it on Gardner’s, to the applause and cheers of the German soldiers.

For Centuries, even before the formation of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have answered the call whenever it arrived.

Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans have been involved in major conflicts around the world since the mid 1600's, including:

The Anglo-Dutch Wars – 1652
The War of the Austrian Succession – 1743
The Seven Year War - 1756
The American Revolution - 1775
The Napoleonic Wars – 1796
The War of 1812
World War I – 1914
World War II – 1939

Add to this the number of young men and women who have proven themselves in places like Korea, Afghanistan, Bosnia and countless other areas of conflict or peacekeeping around the world, and we can clearly see that Newfoundland and Labrador has a lot to be proud of and, on this Memorial Day, a lot to remember.

On this Memorial Day, July 1st, and throughout the remainder of the year perhaps we should all take a few minutes to visit a local legion hall or war memorial, to stop and chat with an aging veteran and to offer a little show of thanks for the sacrifice these fine men and women have made to protecting our homeland and others.

Statistics show that every day in Canada an average of 80 veterans die. That’s more than at the height of conflict in World War II.

It only takes a moment to shake a veteran’s hand or buy one a cold beer. It might seem like a small gesture and it is, but even taking a moment to express a little gratitude may just brighten the day of some of our bravest and most deserving citizens.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Patronage Plumbs Peddled for PM's Purposes

This morning I stumbled across an article from the “Hill Times” that immediately caught my attention and captivated my interest. The piece was about none other than Prime Minister Stephen Harper

The headline read, “Harper criticized for not 'taking care' of former MPs, top staffers”.

The author referenced Conservative MPs and staffers who are worried because, “...Mr. Harper demands loyalty … (but) he doesn't show the same loyalty when MPs lose an election or staffers leave their Parliament Hill jobs."

Apparently those loyalists are, "disappointed that he has failed to "take care" of them in their post-Parliamentary lives.”

I have to say I was left in total bewilderment after reading this.

I mean boo hoo for the party hacks moaning to this reporter but what's going on here?

First of all let me say I’m strongly believe that political patronage and the “old buddy” network is a major part of the problem we have with politics today. Anybody who chooses to run for office or to work for a political “machine” shouldn’t have any right to expect to be “taken care of” when the party ends. They do of course but that doesn't make it right.

Knowing how I feel about this I’m sure you can understand my confusion.

Politics in Canada has been an elitist and closed “scratch my back” system for decades and to hear that suddenly Stephen Harper, one of the most underhanded and self serving of the bunch, may have suddenly decided to do the right thing and give up the practice had me flabbergasted.

I mean wasn’t it Stephen Harper who claimed he would never appoint senators to that most golden of retirement homes, the Red Chamber?

Wasn't it also Stephen Harper who did just the opposite by appointing 18 of them?

Didn’t he thank Mike Duffy for his partisan service and support during the last election and for Duffy’s crucifixion of Stephane Dion after a botched Nova Scotia interview (an action by Duffy and NewsNet that was later described by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council as unethical)?

Didn’t Mr. Harper also send former Newfoundland and Labrador MP, Fabian Manning, to the red chamber after Manning was ridden out of town on a rail in his home Province? Wasn’t that a thank-you to Manning for standing next to the PM in the House of Commons, laughing and clapping as Mr. Harper callously stripped hundreds of millions from Newfoundland and Labrador and publicly ridiculed Mr. Manning’s home province?

Could the Stephen Harper I know and dislike have changed so much in such a short time that his party insiders and toadies were beginning to worry about their future expense accounts and "rolling around money"?

I was so confused. How could some reporter have identified a lack of political pork barreling and cronyism as a serious weakness in anyone but of all people, Stephen Harper?


What was I missing?

I mean here is a Prime Minister who has proven time and again that he is not to be trusted in any way, shape or form. For Stephen Harper breaking a promise or “sculpting the truth" is as natural as breathing. So my question was this: Had the Prime Minister suddenly turned over a new leaf or was he just proving to those in his inner circle what many of us already know, that he can’t be trusted?

It's something they all should have been aware of by now but in the rarified air of Ottawa clear vision is something often encountered.

Was it something else all together?

Did the Hill Times get boondoggled by the Harper media machine into running a story that might allow the Prime Minister to be viewed as the only one willing to “clean up dodge” even at the expense of his loyal minions?

The whole thing left all me with so many questions my head hurt and I believe (just for a moment) my morning muffin threatened to reappear from the depths.

What was I to say about this new information staring me in the face?

At first I almost thought that even though the Hill Times wasn’t very flattering to Mr. Harper (They seemed to view this lack of cronyism was a bad thing ) I might actually be forced to sit down to write something complimenary about the man.

My blood ran cold.

I nearly passed out from the stress.

But I was saved the horror of defending Mr. Harper's actions.

As I lowered by now tense frame over the keyboard and the blood slowly began to flow back into my head I suddenly realized what was really happening. It wasn’t that Stephen Harper had decided to do the right thing by turning his back on old school politics, it was just a case of the true nature of the man once again reaching the public eye.

I guess all the conflicting facts and my desire to see political cronyism done away with had clouded my judgment and overwhelmed my nervous system.

Think about it, Stephen Harper hasn’t actually done the right thing by deciding not to offer cushy jobs to his cronies on the taxpayer dime. Instead he’s been carefully weighing the market value of those around him and acting accordingly.

Those who have little future value to him, savagely loyal or not, must be removed and forgotten in the interest of the Harper "buddy" portfolio. In this way the limited number of valuable patronage positions available can be offered to those who have continued political or personal value.

I mean if Harper just gave away those plumb jobs as a thank-you to every Tom, Dick or Sparrow how would he be able to buy future influence inside Ottawa?

Consider this, were the onslaught of senatorial appointments really a political thank-you on the PM’s part or a way for him to meet his own self interests?

I admit that at first I thought they were nothing more than a taxpayer funded pat on the back but on reflection, and in light of this recent information I’ve been forced to look for another explanation and it isn’t hard to find one.

Just squeeze your eyes into tiny slits, forget you’re human or even a primate and try to think like Stephen Harper. I know it hurts but if you try real hard the answers will come.

For anyone afraid of having their personality or moral compass get stuck in Harper mode stop now and I'll tell you what I came up with.

Mind you I didn’t have the time, inclination or article room to research all the senate appointments made my this PM but in the case of Duffy and Manning the answer is simple.

Those appointments weren’t Harper’s way of thanking two political hacks for climbing into his back pocket they served a much more important purpose.

Duffy’s senate seat ensures that Mr. Harper has a very experienced and well connected media insider at his back pocket and at his beck and call whenever he needs to create some spin. And here’s the really interesting part, it’s not costing the Conservative party a cent because the taxpayers are footing the bill for Mr. Duffy’s enormous salary and golden perks.

As for Fabian Manning’s appointment, that ones a lot simpler and less forward looking.

Harper still has a major pissing contest underway with the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Danny Williams, and he needed a way to retaliate against the Province for not electing a single Conservative during the last election. What better way to send a message to the Province and the Premier than to offer a highly publicized senate seat to the Province’s poster boy for “traitor of the decade”?

Can you say “slap in the face” Premier Williams? I bet you can.

Anyway, once the reality of the situation got a little clearer I slapped myself for being so politically naive and I felt much better, not for Canada which is still politically screwed, but about my personal well being.

My headache went away and things began to return to normal after a few minutes of deep breathing. It was then that another terrible thought occurred to me. What will happen after the next federal election?

According to the same “Hill Times” article that threw my morning into such turmoil, Mr. Harper may not always “take care” of his loyal supporters but the Liberal party has, “a fairly strong support network, not only political, but also corporate and academic” to help its loyalists.

Oh great. Once again we are faced with proof that the Canadian political system is nothing more than a joke. The banana republic of the North.

Now Canadians can either elect a ruling party that has no morals but which is pickier about feeding its loyalists at the trough or one that claims to have all the morals in the world while historically handing out patronage positions like Halloween candy.

Thank God we live in a democracy (well actually a democratic monarchy) where the public is free to decide which party had the best publicity machine leading up to election day.

Personally I think I’ll take next polling day. At least nobody will be able to blame me for “choosing” our next government.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Historical Perspectives in our School System

Over the past week a great deal of media attention and public hand wringing has been evident in the wake of a report by the Dominion Institute. This independent report looked at Canadian history education across the Country and came to the conclusion that there is a distinct lack of focus on Canadian history within the various education systems from coast to coast.

According to the study Newfoundland and Labrador, along with 3 other provinces or territories should receive a failing grade for the limited level of Canada history being delivered in provincial schools.

Members of the Newfoundland Regiment WWI

Personally I don’t know what the reason might be for specific levels of delivery in the other so called “failed” provinces but in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador I beg to differ with the position of the Dominion Institute that the situation is troublesome.

Remember that education is a provincial mandate and is controlled by the governments of each province. Remember as well that although Newfoundland and Labrador is indeed a Canadian province today this was not the case just 60 years ago. There in lies the difference between Newfoundland and Labrador and the other jurisdictions across Canada and the reason why the province should not have been lumped in with the rest of Canada for the purposes of this study.

Prior to 1949 (just yesterday really) Newfoundland and Labrador blazed its own trail, developed its own culture (or multiple cultures) and made its own stamp on history.

Historians, social studies experts and others will tell you without hesitation that it is extremely important to the social and mental well being of any culture that they understand their past because it is one of the biggest factors influencing who a person is.

Perhaps this is the reason for the trepidation expressed by the Dominion Institute and various media commentators since the report was released. Unfortunately they forgot that the history of Newfoundland and Labrador’s people is not, for the most part, tied to the history of Canada at all.

All you have to do is look at the sad story of aboriginal peoples across Canada to see what happens when a culture’s history is usurped and replaced by that of another. Over the decades many attempts were made to assimilate the native peoples of Canada at the expense of forgetting their own rich past. The results have been disastrous and are a major contributor to the problems many native people suffer with today.

In the case of Newfoundland and Labrador, at least in recent years, more local history has been added to the curriculum in an effort to ensure that people never forget their rich roots and rightfully so. In fact it is Newfoundland and Labrador history courses that should be made mandatory and more accessible in the schools of the province, not Canadian history courses.

As far as Newfoundland and Labrador is concerned a large percentage of the Province’s current population still remembers quite well when Canada became a part of our history and the events that have taken place since then. Taken in that light, the brief moment of time since 1949 hardly demands the cost of introducing and teaching a full Canadian history curriculum in our high schools.

No offense intended to the rest of Canada but in Newfoundland and Labrador teaching Canadian history as a side note to World history courses should be more than sufficient to ensure that what little shared past we have is recognized.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Newfoundland and Labrador Takes 10% Stake in Offshore Expansion

"That amount ($10 billion) is actually double the royalties collected by the province from all three projects to date, since 1997," - Premier Danny Williams

Speaking at the Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Oil and Gas Industries Association Conference in St. John’s on Tuesday Premier Danny Williams announced a long awaited tentative deal with a consortium of industry partners for expansion of the Hibernia South offshore project.

An agreement on the expansion was put on hold by the Province months ago when the government introduced its new energy plan. At the time government requests for clarification on some aspects of the expansion and the lack of an agreed upon royalty regime or equity position for the Province delayed the project.

On Tuesday Premier Williams announced to a packed house at the NOIA conference that a tentative agreement has now been reached that will see the province take a 10% equity stake. Depending on the future price of oil, the equity position, combined with provincial taxes and an enhanced royalty regime is expected to put $10 billion dollars into provincial coffers over the life of the project.

The royalty regime for the extension can top out at 50% once payout is complete and if specific oil pricing conditions are achieved. The final contract is yet to be completed so precise details of what those conditions are or what the province’s 10% equity stake will cost have not been released, though some estimates have put the cost at about $30 million.

The Hibernia South extension is estimated to contain more than 230 million barrels of oil and based on past estimates from within the oil and gas industry in the region those estimates are likely on the conservative side.

According to Premier Williams, "Hibernia South will increase and sustain production from the Hibernia field, preserving employment, while providing a significantly greater royalty return for the province than any previous project."

Friday, June 12, 2009

Comparing Report Cards - Harper vs. Williams

This week Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered his “report card” on the status of the federal stimulus spending. Ironically, Mr. Harper waxed poetic about how much money has been earmarked for specific projects, municipal leaders across the Country sat in stunned silence wondering where the money was.

Always one to turn a phrase to his advantage, during his address Stephen Harper was quite skillful in saying that money has identified for the many projects while knowing full well that approval and delivery are not the same thing.

What Mr. Harper intentionally failed to admit was that most cheques have not been cut and most tenders for development have not been issued because the money is still somewhere in the bowels of the Finance department tangled in red tape. Stimulus funding is wonderful stuff when it’s needed but it isn’t much good if the money doesn’t flow.

As much as the Prime Minister dislikes the place, perhaps Mr. Harper would do well to look toward the province of Newfoundland and Labrador if he wants to see how stimulus funding really works.

On the same day the Prime Minister delivered his report card to the Professor Ignatieff and the rest of Canada Newfoundland and Labrador Premier, Danny Williams, and several of his Ministers delivered an update of their own.

The Provincial infrastructure stimulus package included in the 2009/10 budget was set at $800 million dollars and just yesterday that amount doubled to $1.6 billion and the program extended to include the 2010/11 fiscal year as well.
The biggest difference between the Newfoundland and Labrador package and the one touted by Ottawa isn’t in the numbers or the duration but in the delivery.

Perhaps Provincial Transportation and Works Minister, Trevor Taylor, put it best when he said at yesterday’s press conference, “It's one thing to make unprecedented commitments but it's quite another to get this money flowing and projects tendered quickly and that's just what our government is doing."

"Right now our Tendering and Contracts Division is the busiest it has ever been. On average, at any given time, the Provincial Government has between 20 to 30 tenders in circulation. We currently have 107 tenders out, which is a record for this province."

"We are issuing and awarding our tenders earlier than ever before and we plan to maintain this aggressive tender schedule as long as the commodity and labour prices hold and the industry has the capacity to do the work. Also, we are duplicating the designs of many of our new schools and health care facilities which expedites the process and makes it more cost-efficient,” said Taylor.

While there is no doubt the economic downturn is affecting the Province, as it is the rest of Canada, with increased unemployment and a lower GDP there are some positive indications for improvement over the coming months.

Finance Minister, Jerome Kennedy noted that, "At a recent meeting of finance ministers across the country, the Federal Government indicated that Newfoundland and Labrador is now leading the rest of the country with stimulus flowing to the economy in 2009 and 2010 relative to our GDP."

"In addition, thus far this year, our province is leading the country in a number of economic indicators, including investment intentions, retail sales, labour income and urban housing starts," said Kennedy.

Perhaps one of the best features of the Newfoundland and Labrador stimulus package is that isn’t overly dependent on Ottawa to provide a share of the funding. 85% of the program’s funding will come from provincial coffers with the remaining 15% being shared by federal and municipal governments.

It’s a good thing there isn’t too much dependence on Ottawa. We all know where that has led the Province in the past. In this particular situation and at the speed federal infrastructure funding is flowing the recession is likely to be a distant memory by the time the first cheques go in the mail.

It’s really too bad Stephen Harper and Danny Williams aren’t on speaking terms or the PM might have picked up a few pointers on how to handle an economic crisis.