Da Legal Stuff...

All commentaries published on Web Talk are the opinions of the contributor(s) only and do not necessarily represent the position of any other individuals, groups or organizations.

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

Note: In the following “Newfoundland and Labrador” is sometimes referenced as simply “Newfoundland” or “the island”. This is due to the fact that some sections of text are derived from historical documents and/or publications that predate Confederation and, unfortunately, ignore Labrador’s importance.

Over the years I’ve written a great many articles about Newfoundland and Labrador’s position, or lack of it, within Canada.

With that in mind and with countless examples of inequity having been presented to the Canadian public by countless individuals, groups and provincial leaders for years I find it amazing that there are still people, mostly from outside the Province, who either, fail to, or refuse to, come to terms with the Newfoundland and Labrador situation.

What they don’t seem to realize is that each of the inequities brought forward and many, many more are, no matter how small, of the greatest importance to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. This importance lies in the inescapable reality that each one helps to form a critical link in forging a long chain of national discontent that is growing with each passing day.

To those who still wonder why such deep rooted discontent exists all I can say is this:

Any house built on an unsteady foundation is bound to display cracks over time. The longer those cracks are left untended the weaker the entire house becomes until it eventually has no alternative but to collapse.

The manner in which Newfoundland and Labrador was brought into Canada has tainted everything and everyone that came after and it has guaranteed that an underlying anger and suspicion is deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of Newfoundland and Labrador’s citizens.

Remember, if you knew it in the first place, that at one time Newfoundland and Labrador was itself a fully independent Dominion, just like Canada.

During the dark days of the depression, in the 1930’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, like many others, found itself struggling under a crippling debt load. As a result the people agreed to place themselves under the direct stewardship of Great Britain, on a temporary basis, with the clear understanding that upon regaining their financial footing full independence would once again be restored.

The story of how Britain played an instrumental role in fostering Newfoundland and Labrador’s financial instability and suffering prior to actually taking control over the Dominion is itself a long and distasteful story, but one that will have to wait for another day.

In any event, during the 1940’s Newfoundland and Labrador’s financial situation had indeed reversed itself and the former Dominion was once again financially capable of managing its own affairs, yet the independence promised to it a few years before was now denied by Great Britain.

Instead, in December of 1945, the British government announced that a 45 member “National Convention” would be elected by the voters of Newfoundland to assist them in coming to a "free and informed decision as to their future form of government".

This so called “National Convention” was elected in June, 1946 and given the following terms of reference:

“To consider and discuss amongst themselves as elected representatives of the Newfoundland people, the changes that have taken place in the financial and economic situation of the Island since 1934 and, bearing in mind the extent to which high revenues of recent years have been due to wartime conditions, to examine the position of the country and to make recommendations to His Majesty's Government as to possible forms of future government to be put before the people at a national referendum.”

Later that year the delegation traveled to London to determine what financial relations might be expected under (a) continuation of Commission of Government as it existed, (b) a revised form of the Commission, or (c) responsible (independent) government.

The reply was simple. Under the first option the financial relationship would remain the same and Great Britain would be responsible for Newfoundland and Labrador’s financial dealings; the outcome of the second option would depend upon the form of revision undertaken; and under responsible government Newfoundland and Labrador would bear full responsibility for her own finances.

In February of 1947 the newly formed “National Convention” passed a resolution to send representatives to Ottawa. Their mandate was to ascertain "what fair and equitable basis might exist for federal union of Newfoundland and Canada ". A similar resolution, to send a group to the U.S., was defeated by a majority of the Convention’s members and as a result never took place.

Seven members were sent to Ottawa in June of that year and in October Canada’s Prime Minister responded with a statement of terms which the Government of Canada would be prepared to recommend to Parliament as a basis for union.

After reviewing and debating the Canadian terms the 45 member delegation resoundingly decided against Confederation with Canada and recommended to the British government on Jan. 29, 1948 that only two choices be placed before the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, the restoration of Responsible Government or continuation of the British Commission of Government.

It’s worthy of note that the motion to exclude Confederation from the referendum was agreed upon by a vote of 29 to 16.

The British government however, after reviewing the decision, refused to accept it and instead ordered the Canada option added to the ballot.

The official statement out of England pointed to Canada's offer being based on long discussion, it spoke of the support for Confederation shown within the “National Convention”, and to the fact that the issues had been sufficiently clarified to enable the people to decide whether Confederation would commend itself to them.

Regardless of the position taken by the British government, the fact remains that the “National Convention” in reality did not support Confederation with Canada and the voting public was never actually informed or educated on what the terms of union with Canada would include until long after the vote was over and their futures had already been decided.

At the first referendum held on June 3, 1948, more than 88% of the 176,297 registered voters went to the polls. Responsible Government (a return to independence) won. It received 69,400 votes, Confederation 64,066 and continuation of Commission of Government (British rule) 22,311 votes.

In spite of the fact that a return to independence had triumphed, it was decided that since no single option was a resounding winner a second referendum was to be conducted and only the two top vote getters would be included this time around. One of those two options was Confederation with Canada, an option that the “National Assembly”, instituted by Britain itself and elected by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, had already rejected for inclusion on the original ballot but which Britain had ensured was there.

This meant that one of the options approved by the elected members of the National Convention would not appear on the second ballot and one that they had rejected after review and debate would remain.

In the second referendum held on July 22, 1948, approximately 85% of voters turned out. Stories of vote tampering, ballot box stuffing and physically pressuring or threatening voters were rampant throughout the entire referendum process. The well funded pro-Confederation side, the financing of which would make an interesting story in and of it self, claimed victory with 78,323 votes against 71,334 for independence.

On July 30, 1948, the Prime Minister of Canada who had long been in discussion with Britain over “the Newfoundland issue” proudly announced that the result of the referendum was "clear and beyond all possibility of misunderstanding".

Yet clearly it wasn’t.

There are several key points that this history lesson imparts to us.

The decision by England, to create a “National Convention” in the first place, rather than actually re-instating full independence to Newfoundland and Labrador, flies in the face of Britain’s mandate to ensure independence once the financial situation had been stabilized.

Only after independence from Britain had been attained should the citizens have been tasked with deciding if a referendum was warranted or what options should be included if there was one.

Once the “National Convention” delegation had been foisted on the people of Newfoundland and Labrador it should have been permitted to carry out its duties in an independent manner, free from interference by the British government.

When the Convention passed a resolution to send a fact finding delegation to Canada and rejected a similar plan to send one to the U.S. the decision was agreed to by Britain. That particular event might not raise any red flags however…when the Convention informed Britain that upon reviewing the Canadian position and after debating the option freely it had voted to strongly reject Confederation with Canada the “National Convention” was overruled and Confederation was placed on the ballot anyway.

In the end the second referendum saw a return of the delegation’s original plan for only two clear options but it was not the two decided upon by the elected delegation, in fact one of the choices was Britain’s pre-ordained solution.

Why was a decision by the delegation to reject a U.S. union acceptable to England yet the decision to reject a Canadian one not acceptable?

Whether the so called “National Convention” should have existed or not, once the people of Newfoundland and Labrador voted for a group of delegates that had been forced on them by Britain you have to believe that those voters had every right to expect the delegates they elected to make the appropriate decisions about their future, not the British government.

When the first vote was conducted the result was a win for a return to freedom for Newfoundland and Labrador. It won by more than 5,300 votes, yet it was rejected in favor of a second ballot.

The second ballot saw Confederation win by just over 7000 votes, by no means a landslide, yet this particular outcome, for a twice rejected choice (once by the Convention delegates and once by the people themselves), that had been forced on the public by the British government, was immediately applauded in England and hailed in Canada as a decision that was, “…clear and beyond all possibility of misunderstanding".

For anyone who has not come to understand why such deep-rooted problems have existed between Canada and Newfoundland & Labrador even after 60 years perhaps this little history lesson will help you see things a little more clearly.

None of us wants to live in the past, nor should we. Most of us would love nothing better than to move beyond it. For this reason we often speak instead of new issues, slights and neglect that arrive on the Province’s doorstep and which continue to color Newfoundland and Labrador’s perception of Canada as a ruling nation.

Yet even as those new assaults are discussed we do not forget the events outlined here. Though historical in nature they are still fresh in many memories and they continue to serve as the extremely shaky foundation upon which Newfoundland and Labrador’s entire relationship with Canada so precariously rests.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fishermen demand public inquiry

The following appeared in the Sou'Wester and it's worth a read if you ever wanted to see a clear example of how the fishery has been mis-managed by Ottawa.

Fishermen demand public inquiry
April 27th 2009

By Pam Snow

GREEN BAY/WHITE BAY, N.L. - There are 262 core licence holders, plus crew represented by the Small Boat Committee for Green Bay and the White Bay area, and all members are tired of a mismanaged fishery.The chair of the committee, Ray Wimbleton, said the blame rests on the shoulders of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

“It has been mismanaged for years,” claims Wimbleton.

“There are fish being dumped when it really isn’t necessary.”

Wimbleton said the individual quota laws for fishermen to follow, need to be revamped.

“If I have a quota of 20,000 tonnes and I drop a seine and get 25,000 tonnes; those fish are already dead, but I can’t give that extra 5,000 to a fisherman to meet his quota,” said Wimbleton.

“Instead, I have to dump that 5,000 tonnes of dead fish back into the water. It’s not because we want to do it – it’s because by law we have to do it. As fishermen we think it’s ridiculous because we want to utilize our resource, not completely destroy it.”

On behalf of the committee, Wimbleton has been writing letters to the Member of the House of Assembly (MHA), Member of Parliament (MP) and members of the opposition, in hopes of getting an inquiry the fishermen demand into fishery management by DFO.

“The general public says that all our marine resources are public property, to be managed by those in power for the good of the country and its people. Anyone managing a public property must be accountable to the public,” stated Wimbleton in a letter to MP for Humber-St. Barbe and Baie Verte, Gerry Byrne.

After recieving Wimbleton’s letter, MP Gerry Byrne said the concept of a public inquiry is a great idea.

“Reading the letter and listening to Wimbleton’s comments, it really makes you think about how the fishery has almost slid onto the backburner, so to speak,” he said. “The committee is expressing a great deal of frustration because the fishery is not on the fore-front of any agenda.”

Byrne fully supports an inquiry into the management of the fishery.“I have encouraged Wimbleton to focus on specific issues and what a commissioner should focus on,” he said. “Right now the committee has a broad based inquiry, the focus on the objections need to be tighter. “Then there’s the question of who should be the head commissioner as well.”

The fishermen are demanding to know why DFO has eroded the buddy-up system they have always had and who has access to the fish resource.

“How many processors, business people and foreigners have quotas of different species that can be sold?” questioned Wimbleton.

Wimbleton said it would be interesting to know exactly know much of Newfoundland and Labrador’s resource has been traded off over the years to foreign countries for industry development and how much is still harvested inside the 200 mile limit today.

“DFO operates on tax payers dollars, so how much is spent on real science? Who has received funding from DFO and for what purpose?” he said. “Is the money being spent to wisely manage and conserve our fish stocks or is millions of dollars being wasted through third party involvement?”

Wimbleton charged that knowledgeable advice is being ignored by DFO from fishermen.

“These are just a few concerns that really bother the fishermen.”Leo Seymour, from Harbour Round on the Baie Verte Peninsula, has been a fisherman for 38 years and said the demand for an inquiry is high.

“I talk to a lot of fisherman around the area and there are even people besides fishermen who want to see a public inquiry,” he said. “DFO is saying to us that there are too many fishermen and too little fish, but that’s not the case. There are not too many fishermen and too little fish.“There’s a big difference in what DFO is saying and what fishermen are saying about the number of cod stocks around the island. An in-depth inquiry would bring it all onto the table and would put the information out there for people to see.”

With 18 fishermen making their living from the sea in Harbour Round, Seymour said that’s the only life the residents know.“You take the fishermen out of Harbour Round and there would be nothing left,” he said.

“With all these tourism advertisements that the government have been releasing on television, they all focus on outport Newfoundland. But DFO and Government are slowly cutting the life line of outport Newfoundland, and I think if rural areas were to disappear tomorrow, there wouldn’t be one tear shed from anyone in government.”

Wimbleton agrees that the impressions from a recent meeting with DFO in Grand Falls -Windsor were the soon-to-be extinction boat fishery.

“There will not be a next generation of small boat fishermen, under DFO policy the door only swings one way, you can get out, but not in,” he said.

“ Why have the federal government of Canada and DFO decide that the small boat fishery of Newfoundland and Labrador must go, to become a page in history? If we are to become history, we must know why.”

DFO was unavailable for comment at the time this story was written, however in the Stock Assessment of Northern 2J3KL Cod for 2009 that was released in March, the report states “any fishery should be managed such that catches are not concentrated in ways that result in high exploitation rates on any stock components.”

If you would like to support the call for a full inquiry into the Atlantic Fishery you can find contact information for your federal MP and various media outlets in the links section at the upper left side of this page.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hysteria in Hogtown

The following editorial appeared in the April 15 edition of the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. I believe it's worth repeating here for anyone who may not have read it, as is one of the comments it generated from from a reader. Have a great weekend.


Hysteria in Hogtown

WHEN QUEBECERS surprised and scared themselves by electing René Lévesque as their first separatist premier, cartoonist Terry Mosher told them to "take a Valium." Thirty-three years later, some elites in Ontario could use the same advice.

Their take-a-Valium moment arrived Tuesday when Ontario received its first equalization payment from the federal government.

The $14.46 million was the first instalment of $347 million in equalization Ontario is entitled to collect this year. In the context of Ontario’s budget – with spending of $109 billion and a deficit of $14 billion – equalization is not going to be a huge factor in the economic life of Ontario this year. It amounts, for Pete’s sake, to $27 per Ontarian, or a third of one per cent of provincial spending.

Yet you’d never glean this from the hyperventilating that has accompanied Ontario’s exaggerated descent into that caricature rock-bottom corner of Confederation — "have-not" status.

"I think it’s a very sad day in the history of this province that we’re now going on the dole," Bob Runciman, Ontario’s interim Tory leader, told the Globe and Mail. A National Post editorial called for the end of equalization, now that Ontario "has sunk to have-not status" and Ontarians can no longer "subsidize the aspirations of the country’s have-nots" as "part of their patriotic duty." Liberal Finance Minister Dwight Duncan tried to blunt the supposed shame of it all by arguing that Ontarians, through their federal taxes, are paying themselves equalization (as if Canadians in other equalization-receiving provinces didn’t pay federal taxes).

What a lot of empty fuss and vanity over what is, after all, just one federal program among many for stabilizing provincial economies and public services. Why have Ontario politicians from Mike Harris to Dalton McGuinty been delighted to receive billions in federal transfers for industrial subsidies, social programs and health services without characterizing them as panhandling? Why single out equalization to stigmatize as "the dole"?

Ontario gets equalization this year because its tax base (a mirror of its economy) is underperforming relative to provinces that are being cushioned by resource revenues. Ontario’s weakness is driven by upheaval in the auto sector. So its $347 million in equalization is no more or less shameful than the $5 billion in infrastructure stimulus Mr. Duncan expects to get from Ottawa or the $8 billion Ottawa will probably contribute to sorting out General Motors and Chrysler in Ontario.

These are all stabilization measures to help people in Ontario get through a tough time that we hope is temporary. Their leaders should get over the fact that a small part of this stabilizer/stimulus is called equalization. Then maybe we could ditch the whole useless caricature of "have-nots," period.

wayne moores wrote:

Perhaps all the hysteria from Ontario politicans isn't the fact they are receiving funding from Ottawa, but the fact that it's out in the open.

For years while Southern Ontario in general and Toronto in particular passed themselves off as the center of the Universe, it was quietly raking in billions in subsidies of all sorts from the feds. Second only to Quebec in federal largesse, the only difference being that Quebecers felt it was their God given right to extort billions from Ottawa and made no bones about it.

Bombardier alone reaped uncountable billions(all it's operations in Que. and Ont).

Ontario always sneered at any regional development money as welfare and a waste. The same money doled out to GM and Ford(at a time when they were the most profitable companies in the world),in industrial grants, was money wisely doled out. Doesn't look so wise now, does it.

A little known fact about Michalin Tire opening up in Nova Scotia was that the powers that be in Ontario were seething that they located here at all.(Didn't those bloody Frenchmen know that Ontario was the only rightful place for any part of the auto industry!!!Bloody hell!!!)And let's not forget Ottawa itself, providing thousands of high paying jobs to people who pay Ont/Que income taxes.

Confederation itself was set up to save Ontario's bacon and it has worked out pretty well for them. Nova Scotia has payed a heavy price.Now that manufacturing is in decline perhaps the time has come for the West and the East.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ottawa To Address Forestry Woes - Only Quebec Need Apply

When the auto sector ran into financial trouble Ottawa was there, Johnny on the spot, to lend a helping taxpayer funded hand.

When the manufacturing sector stumbled Ottawa was there to offer taxpayer funded bridge funding.

When the banking sector hit a brick wall Ottawa dug deep into taxpayer’s pockets faster than a Younge Street pickpocket.

When the forestry slipped under water, while mills closed in places like Newfoundland and Labrador, and while laid off workers were being denied their severance pay, all that could be heard in Ottawa was the sound of crickets chirping outside 24 Sussex Drive.

There are two things the federal government never turns a blind eye toward. In no particular order those are: Ontario and Quebec (actually those both equate to large numbers of federal votes and as such are really same thing).

Large scale manufacturers, auto makers and major banks all have one thing in common. They are, by and large, headquartered in the only important part of Canada, from the federal governments perspective.

Well it turns out that while the federal government was enjoying a collective snooze after patting itself on the back for all the tax money it’s doled out recently, and while 50,000 forestry related jobs were lost right across Canada (and I mean RIGHT ACROSS Canada, from BC all the way to NL, not just as far as NS) somebody forgot to tell the political elite that they should do something for that industry as well. It looks like somebody finally did.

Ottawa may have turned a blind eye to the problems in the forestry sector up to now but not any more.

I can almost hear the warnings now, “Come on, we’ve got to do something. Never mind that troublesome crowd who lost their jobs in places like Newfoundland and Labrador but come on, Quebec is also being hit. Quebec for God’s sake!!!”

Suddenly out of nowhere Ottawa has begun making a show of having an interest in the forestry sector.

A joint federal/Quebec panel (note, the involvement of only one province) has been setup to see what can be done to protect Canadian forestry jobs (in Quebec of course).

Ottawa has, according to one political figure, “…fostered an agreement with the government of Quebec…” to the tune of 100 million dollars in loan guarantees to be delivered by the Quebec government. No doubt this is just a small down payment with future installments to come in the near future. You can bet your last dollar (if you have any left after taxes) that it won’t just be Quebec taxpayers footing that bill either.

Calls are being made for Ottawa to offer tax credits to the forestry industry (similar to ones now being offered in the U.S.). Credits that will save companies like Abitibi millions of dollars a year.

Yes indeed. Quebec stands to lose nearly 10,000 jobs unless something is done quickly and, as Ottawa is wont to do, the squeaky wheels have begun turning as they get well greased once again.

Unfortunately Ottawa’s sudden interest in the forestry sector is too little, too late and certainly too Quebec focused to do anything for the 50,000 non-Quebecers who’ve already lost their jobs or the thousands more who will in the future (outside of Quebec that is).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Canada-France Dispute Leaves Two Cultures Caught in the Middle

In a letter sent to Premier Danny Williams this week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada does not recognize France’s claim to a larger area of seabed around St. Pierre-Miquelon.

Harper informed the Premier that he has conveyed his position to French President Sarkozy, saying the maritime boundary between Canada and the French territory was settled in June 1992 after a decision by the International Court of Arbitration.

The reason for Mr. Harper’s letter is a French claim to the United Nations seeking an expanded economic zone that would allow them greater access to offshore resources.

Xavier Bowring, a member of a citizens group in St. Pierre says they are seeking a “new economic arrangement with Canada. We don’t want a war with Canada. We only want discussions, so we can have a piece of the resource — a piece of the pie.”

Like Newfoundland and Labrador itself the tiny French islands, with just 6000 residents, was hard hit by the 1992 cod moratorium but while their economy continues to flounder and die, the local residents — many of whom come from mixed St-Pierre-Newfoundland families — have watched Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy grow through offshore oil revenue.

St. Pierre-Miquelon’s offshore rights are confined to a small slice of territory just 2.5 miles wide and 200 long —— known locally as “the baguette.” An area that allows for very limited access to potential resources.

Islanders want either an enlarged French economic zone in which to exploit petroleum resources, or at least the right to share with Canada revenues from undersea natural gas finds that span across the tiny strip of seabed they have been allotted.

“Six thousand people cannot hurt the economy of Canada.”

“We don’t need much to live here and be in good economic health. We only want co-management of the resources around us — not simply those inside that ridiculous little baguette. Otherwise we won’t have a future here. This is our last chance.”

While some people in Newfoundland and Labrador may choose to view Stephen Harper’s letter to Premier Williams is a long overdue show of support for Newfoundland and Labrador my perspective on the subject is a different one completely.

The Harper government, in fact the Canadian government itself regardless of party stripe, could care less for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s the resources, not the people, that matter. It’s always been that way and it always will.

Make no mistake. The government of Canada isn’t taking a stand with France because they want to protect potential resource developments for the good of Newfoundland and Labrador but because of the benefits Canada itself reaps from those resources.

Newfoundland and Labrador, unfortunately in the view of some federal MPs, just happens to be in the area from which those petro-dollars flow.

I believe most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians can fully understand and empathize with the plight the residents St. Pierre-Miquelon are facing. After all, the tiny area is a small island community (two islands actually), that have been largely dependent on the Atlantic cod fishery for centuries and are controlled by a Country that only recognizes them as an afterthought, if at all. This situation is nothing new to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to be sure.

For a myriad of reasons it’s actually too bad the seabed itself and the resources within them are controlled in Ottawa rather than in St. John’s. The St. Pierre-Miquelon situation simply being another one of those reasons.

This is not to say that the Provincial government would or should be willing to cede rights to those resources any more than Ottawa would but at least with Newfoundland and Labrador leading the discussion there might be more room for open dialogue and perhaps even a livable compromise between the two closely linked peoples who know and understand each other far, far better than Ottawa understands either of them, even the ones within its own borders.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Message to EU - Stop the Slaughter of Baby Animals

Day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year millions upon millions of innocent lambs like the one pictured here are mercilessly slaughtered around the European Union and elsewhere in the world.

In places like Scotland, Australia, the Netherlands and even in Great Britain these poor defenseless animals are regularly massacred, their blood running into the earth, simply to satisfy the gastronomic yearnings of people around the world.

Every year the EU rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars from this barbaric practice.

When will it stop?

An upcoming Parliamentary vote to ban Harp Seal imports into the EU may finally provide an opportunity to end the barbaric slaughter of these defenseless baby lambs once and for all. It may also provide animal rights groups with the means to limit exports of meat from cattle, geese, ducks, goats and any other species a caring nation may wish to prevent EU member nations from freely exporting.

If the vote to ban seal products passes the EU Parliament the government of Canada intends to fight the legislation at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The Canadian government contends that banning a product for importation simply because it is deemed by EU members as having been produced “inappropriately” in their eyes is a clear violation of WTO trade practices.

The EU legislation is the first time any WTO member has attempted to block trade using such a method.

If the WTO supports the EU ban on seal products it will set a precedent that will allow any nation to ban products it deem as being “unsavory” in the way it was produced or which violates the sensibilities of its people with regard to animal rights. This includes lamb and other products exported from the EU itself.
Due to the nature of farming in various parts of the EU these poor lambs are not always killed humanely or consistently. Often individual farmers are left to perform the horrible act by cutting an animals throat, prodding it in the head with high powered electrodes or heaven only knows how they may decide to do it.
Although many of the nations involved have regulations in place in an effort to make the process more humane, the laws are ineffective and all but impossible to enforce. Too few inspectors and too little concern is given to enforcing those laws with any kind of consistency across such a large and multi-national area.
Often the lambs suffer immensely and nobody is there to hear them scream.

As animal rights advocates around the world await the decision of both the EU Parliament and potentially the WTO afterward, the thought that is likely on their minds, or should be, is how quickly the horrible practice of slaughtering baby lambs can be put to an end.

Monday, April 13, 2009

NL's Access to Quebec Hydro Grid Raising Questions

Nearly two weeks ago Newfoundland and Labrador Premier, Danny Williams, stood in the House of Assembly and made an announcement touted by papers across Canada as a turning point for his province.

The mainstream media and the Premier have since waxed eloquently about how Newfoundland and Labrador’s new ability to wheel hydro power through Quebec to American markets may herald the dawn of a new day.

The problem is that it actually means nothing of the sort.

Yes, Quebec has refused to allow just such an arrangement in the past but what does it really mean for the future of Newfoundland and Labrador or its ability to reach markets with the proposed Lower Churchill development?

It means absolutely nothing from that perspective which is why I find myself quite puzzled by the Premier’s apparent elation over the event.

The timing and tone of Premier Williams “ground breaking”, “turning point” announcement earlier this month, simply because Quebec will allow a token amount of power to be transmitted on their under utilized grid, has my gut telling me to be wary.

In order to wheel the more than 3000 megawatts to be generated by the Lower Churchill across Quebec a great deal of new capacity would have to be added to the grid and, just as in the past, every Newfoundlander and Labradorian knows, or should know, that Quebec has no plans to allow anyone other than themselves to build new transmission infrastructure inside their “nation” unless they own, control and reap the profits from it.

Over capacity is one thing. New capacity is something else all together.

Newfoundland and Labrador can kick and scream all it wants. Danny Williams can blow a gasket, grow a new one and blow that. The Canadian Constitution can be quoted chapter and verse on this issue (which supports Newfoundland and Labrador’s ability to access markets) and it can be proclaimed from the highest mountains but in the end Ottawa, as it always does, will acquiesce to the demands and desires of vote rich Quebec. Newfoundland and Labrador be damned.

None of that does, or should, come as a surprise to anyone living in Newfoundland and Labrador for more than five minutes. What has come as a bit of a shock is Danny Williams apparent need to “spin” the Province’s ability to export a paltry 200 megawatts of power, with Quebec’s blessing, as some sort of major breakthrough.

It’s more than a little odd to this observer that the Premier would be touting this as a victory and claiming it bodes well for future developments when that clearly isn’t the case.

Has political expediency and the need to “play well at home” trumped reality for yet another of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Premiers?

Has Premier Williams been listening to his own publicity team for so long now that he’s actually started to believe them?

Don’t get me wrong, on the whole I like what the Premier has done over the past couple of terms and I’ve been happy to back him on the issues he’s been strong enough to take a stand on, but this one has me baffled.

Why would the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador consider it a shining moment for his Province simply because Quebec made a token gesture at a time when they plan to develop a multi-billion dollar hydro project just outside the Labrador border?

Ever since that border was defined in 1927 Quebec has disputed its exact location.

Did Quebec really turn a page with this recent announcement or is Premier Charest hoping Premier Williams won’t make too much fuss about the fact that one of the grey areas in the 1927 border decision just happens to contain the headwaters that will feed Quebec’s massive Romaine hydro project?

As has often been said, “He who controls the headwaters controls the project.”

Recently I requested specific clarification from the government of Newfoundland and Labrador concerning the border and its relationship to the headwaters of the Romaine River. To an untrained eye, which I am not ashamed to say I have, it’s debatable as to which Province can stake claim to those waters.

To date there has been no response but I continue to wait (im)patiently.

When it comes to the “big” announcement a couple of weeks ago I’m not accusing anyone of anything underhanded but I certainly have questions.

In 2005 Professors Feehan and Baker released a research paper on the Upper Churchill renewal clause. That paper contained previously unknown evidence pointing to the use of coercion and inside information as the means by which Newfoundland and Labrador was forced into signing the disastrous Upper Churchill contract. It concluded that a legal challenge could be made.

Since that time the Williams’ government has never openly discussed those findings or pursued a legal challenge to the contract. Instead, the provincial government later released the Province’s long term energy plan. A document that makes no mention of attempts to rectify the Upper Churchill debacle and contains a plan that extends until 2041, the same year the contract will have run its entire course (without challenge).

In 2008 the Williams government quietly sent a letter to the joint Quebec/Federal panel reviewing the environmental impacts of the Romaine hydro project. The letter expressed concern about the misrepresentation of the Southern Labrador border on maps being used for the process. It made no mention of any concern with Quebec pushing ahead on a project that might depend on headwaters inside Labrador.

The letter was sent to the review panel without any fanfare, publicity or notification of the media. It was only through a chance discovery but one local reporter that the letter ever became public knowledge in the first place.

Why was so little concern expressed about the project and the headwaters and and why was the letter sent so quietly?

In recent months Premier Williams has publicly stated on several occasions that he has no concern with Quebec’s Romaine River hydro development. How can this be the case given our history?

After being fleeced for decades on the Upper Churchill, if the Romaine’s headwaters are indeed inside Newfoundland and Labrador territory doesn’t that mean that Newfoundland and Labrador should have a stake in the project?

Does the lack of concern mean the provincial government simply plans to let Quebec push forward with no financial benefit accruing to Newfoundland and Labrador from what amounts to yet another of its extremely valuable natural resources?

If so, why would anyone do that?

Could it be that the “token gesture” made by Quebec in allowing a small amount of power to be sold through its grid was a down payment to the Provincial government on a promise to support the Lower Churchill development once the Romaine has been completed?

If so, is a promise like that worth the paper it could never actually be written on?

These are questions that need to be answered.

There may indeed be very rational and reasonable responses to each of them but they need to be asked and answered.

I don’t mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist but I can’t help it. The celebratory position taken by Premier Williams, not to mention the copious level of high praise, encouragement, kudos and smiley faced pats on the back flowing like sweet molasses from the national media over what amounts to a mundane non-event, has me wanting those answers sooner rather than later.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Copy - Letter to the Editor - St. John's Telegram

The following letter was written and sent to the Telegram in response to an article on Friday by Brian Jones. It never ceases to amaze me that the tripe presented in Jones article is still being foisted on the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Not surprising I suppose when you consider that the paper is owned by a Quebec media company.

Here is the letter.

To the Editor,

In his Friday, April 3rd article, "Anti-anniversary antics", Brian Jones attempted to drive home the point that by not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a celebration marking 60 years of Confederation this Province is committing an "offense" against Canada.

Mr. Jones stated that even though we may have a "stack of complaints" with Canada we fail to understand that those complaints are with the government, not the "innocent bystanders", the people of Canada, who have been insulted as a result of our "obnoxious offense".

I believe it is Mr. Jones who fails to understand the situation.

Our fight is indeed with the government of Canada but that government is not an independent entity which mysteriously appeared out of thin air. Governments are elected by the people of a Country and are kept in power by those same "innocent bystanders" who Jones seems so worried about.

Jones contends that the Provincial government decision not to mark the anniversary indicates a misguided position by the citizens of the Province yet somehow also contends that any actions taken over the years by the Federal government do not reflect on the position of the citizens of Canada.

I hope the people of Canada truly are embarrassed by the silence marking 60 years and I hope that silence makes every Canadian look to discover why so many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians could care less about celebrating 60 years in Confederation. I'm sure their investigation will, as it should, lead them to an even greater embarrassment than Jones claims was perpetrated on them by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Myles Higgins

Thursday, April 02, 2009

NB Premier Demands Profit from NL Hydro Resources

On March 31, 2009 – the 60th anniversary of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Confederation within Canada – New Brunswick Premier, Shawn Graham, fired a shot across Newfoundland and Labrador’s bow by saying that his Province might well do to Newfoundland and Labrador’s Lower Churchill hydro project what Quebec did to with its Upper Churchill project decades earlier.

In 1969 - twenty years after entering Confederation, and while development of the Upper Churchill project was well under way, the Province of Quebec refused to allow Newfoundland and Labrador the ability to wheel power across their jurisdiction.

This situation led to the Newfoundland and Labrador government of the day to sign a contract that continues until 2016 (44 years), a contract that has already seen Quebec Hydro reap Billions upon Billions in revenues by purchasing power from Newfoundland and Labrador at bargain basement prices while reselling it at market values.

At the end of the initial 44 year contract, in 2016, an automatic renewal phase kicks in. That contract phase, which extends until 2041 (a further 25 years), will see Quebec Hydro, purchase power at even lower prices than under the initial contract, prices that were considered an unheard of bargain even in the 1960’s.

During the life of the contract Newfoundland and Labrador, the owner of the resources involved and producer of the power generated, has and will continue to receive just enough revenue to keep the turbines turning, the power flowing and the revenues rolling into the Province of Quebec.

Based on his comments this week, New Brunswick Premier, Shawn Graham, appears to be hoping history will repeat itself.

Because of the terrible contract Newfoundland and Labrador signed onto in 1969 and has lived with ever since, NALCOR, Newfoundland and Labrador’s energy corporation, is currently in negotiations with several utilities throughout the Maritimes, with an eye to circumventing Quebec by wheeling power from the new Lower Churchill project through Atlantic Canada.

Now, on the 60th anniversary of Newfoundland and Labrador’s entry into Confederation the Premier of New Brunswick, which sits on the U.S. border, is saying Provinces should not expect to build energy projects and then ship the electrical power to the United States through his Province.

“Not so fast”, Graham said this week.

"The marker that we're putting in the ground is: we're not just going to (permit) the erection of lines for electricity transmission in New Brunswick that benefit other regions, but not (us)."

"We don't begrudge our sister provinces in the region for having taken full advantage of their resources and their geographic location," the Premier said in his speech to the Economic Club of Canada. "But in New Brunswick, we are going to leverage every advantage we have to the absolute fullest and since our geography is so advantageous to us we are not going to give it up for another jurisdiction to simply run wires through our province.”

It seems that, just like the Quebec situation 40 years ago, after 60 years of a continually rocky relationship with Canada, nothing has changed for Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Province was geographically and politically isolated from the rest of the Country in 1949 when it joined, in 1969 when Quebec walked over the people there and in 2009 New Brunswick is looking for its opportunity take full advantage of Newfoundland and Labrador’s resources.

Today however there are three key differences between the current situation and the one that took place in 1969.

In 1969 the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador, by and large, were not as informed or educated as they are today.

In 1969 the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was not even heard of.
Today the U.S., as a potential consumer of Lower Churchill power would likely have a great deal to say under NAFTA if such an attempt were made.

In 1969 Newfoundland and Labrador was led by the so called “Father of Confederation”, the proud federalist, Joey Smallwood.

In 2009 Newfoundland and Labrador is led by a Premier who has presented himself to be a proud and very outspoken Newfoundland and Labrador nationalist in Danny Williams.

Nobody in Newfoundland and Labrador expects any Province to provide electrical transmission infrastructure free of charge, but any attempt to force another one sided contract by placing the Province under duress is simply out of the question.

When Quebec threw its weight around and blocked Newfoundland and Labrador’s ability to reach energy markets 40 years ago Premier Joey Smallwood met with Prime Minister Lester Pearson to discuss the matter.

According to historians, Pearson looked Smallwood in the eye and said, “Please don’t ask me. If you ask me I’ll have to say yes.”

Pearson was of course referring to the fact that the Canadian Constitution clearly states that no Province can impede another from moving goods or services across their jurisdiction.

At the time Smallwood approached Pearson Newfoundland and Labrador had only been a part of Canada for 20 years. Quebec was in the throws of a separatist crisis, terrorism was on the rise there and Pearson did not want to go head to head with the Quebec leadership or people in an effort to protect the Constitutional rights of Newfoundland and Labrador. Smallwood let him walk away from his obligation to do so.

Smallwood never asked the question and Newfoundland and Labrador, for the “good of Canada”, has lived with the resulting blow to its troubled economy ever since.

Today not much has changed in Ottawa but times are certainly different in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The current Premier of the Province and the citizens that have lived with the ghost of the Upper Churchill might not only ask the Government of Canada to defend the Constitution of the Country but will likely demand it.

New Brunswick Premier, Shawn Graham, may simply be blowing steam for some unknown political reason. He may not truly intend to take a page from Quebec’s past by attempting to block energy exports from Newfoundland and Labrador but if he does he’ll find that his Eastern neighbour isn’t as easy to take advantage of as it once was.

If such an attempt is indeed made and if Ottawa refuses once again to perform its Constitutional duty, their lack of action will serve no purpose but to hasten the ultimate break up of the Canadian federation.

How can a Nation exist when neither it’s Provinces nor its Federal government respect, defend or live by the very Constitution that defines it?

As of publishing, the region’s senior Federal Cabinet Minister and Minister appointed by Stephen Harper to represent Newfoundland and Labrador interests, Peter MacKay, has not commented on Premier Graham’s position.

UPDATE April 3, 6:55 AM - Sorry Graham but it seems the odds are stacked against you on your "protectionist" approach.

Since this post was published Premier Williams has stated to the press: "There's no point in people getting territorial on us and saying we're going to close off our borders, we're going to generate our own power and then push it out through, because that's just not the way it works,"

"What (Graham) obviously needs to understand " (is that) we have a right to go through there if we're in the queue properly and we can get the access through, then we pay New Brunswick a fair tariff."

Meanwhile, New Brunswick Opposition leader David Alward said the situation is nothing more than a publicity stunt launched by Graham's handlers.

"They're tying to show the premier as a leader, when in reality he has been all over the map," said the Tory MLA for Woodstock. "It's propaganda gone wrong.

Peter Mackay has said: "...energy projects could simply "bypass" New Brunswick.

Premier Rodney MacDonald had some tough words for his New Brunswick counterpart over the route of an energy corridor from the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project.

Premier Rodney MacDonald of Nova Scotia: "If they don’t want to take part in what is happening for the region, they can always be bypassed," (Sounds like Rodney is parroting the Federal Minister again doesn’t it? Sorry, but when it’s that obvious…” Moving on.)

"We are more than willing to see that power flowing through Nova Scotia. If that would mean bypassing New Brunswick and going through a subsea cable… we are more than willing to do that…There are requirements in place with regards to open access to the U.S. market which are actually dealt with by the federal government in the United States"

This isn’t the first time New Brunswick has threatened to block a regional energy project. during regulatory hearings into the $2-billion Sable offshore gas project, New Brunswick demanded jobs and access to the natural gas off Nova Scotia in return for having a pipeline cut across the province.

It could be difficult for Mr. Graham to try and block the flow of electricity, said Mr. Lumley.

It looks like, when it comes to accessing NL resources the province has lots of support doesn't it. Hmmmmm...

Meanwhile, the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador has also been touting a "new deal" to wheel power through Quebec directly to outside markets. Web Talk will have more on this "deal" and what it really means, in the coming days. - Myles

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Newfoundland and Labrador Reflections

Editors Note: Web Talk would like to inform readers that Robert Decker, the lone survivor of the tragic Cougar helicopter crash a few weeks ago that killed 17 people, was released from hospital yesterday and is on the road to recovery.

On behalf of Web Talk and all its readers we wish Robert all the best in the coming days and years.


Yesterday, March 31, I was sent the following item in an email from a very close friend, proud and actively engaged Newfoundlander and Labradorian, Darren Fancey.

I believe Web Talk readers might appreciate it as much as I did so I've published it here with Darren's generous and ready consent.

Thanks Darren for permitting me to publish this and for all you do day in and day out for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Some reflections on Newfoundland and Labrador's Diamond anniversary in Confederation:

Diamonds and Perils: 60th Anniversary of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada

Newfoundland and Labrador signed away our independence on March 31, 1949, so as not to wear the badge of the April Fool. There are many of course who feel that the signing could have been done on any day of the year, the very terms of confederation mark us as fools regardless.

In speaking with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians it is interesting to hear the varied opinion on becoming Canada’s last adopted child. “The best thing we ever did was join Canada” a young professional has said. Another political gentleman says “[he] doesn’t want to get Newfoundland and Labrador out of Canada, [he] wants to get Canada the #$%& out of Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Newfoundlandincanada posted a graphic labeled “Almost Canadian” two years ago. Today the phrase seems a little too optimistic. The updated graphic reads “Not Quite Canadian”, the colours of the pink white and green showing through a faded Canadian Maple Leaf. It is easy to lament the loss of a nation, but to embrace a new nation that has never truly embraced us, this is a different quintal of fish.

The royal commission report on Our Place in Canada, from which Newfoundlandincanada draws its name, speaks of Newfoundland and Labrador’s expectation upon joining Canada. It is certain that in that time we had amassed a tremendous debt, largely from our war efforts. It is also a point of history that we were beginning to come into our own. Investment into the Newfoundland and Labrador dominion by Canadian and especially the American war effort was creating a new wealth and employment throughout. It was expected that in joining Canada we could have our debt load reduced, without a burden of excess taxes and a standard of living mirroring that of the Maritime Provinces and in keeping with our sister provinces throughout Canada. Ferry services to be an extension of the highway system whereby taking the ferry across the gulf would be no more expense or burden than if by land. That was the clear intent.

Reflecting back with sixty years of vision it is all questionable. Marine Atlantic has been a great cost to travelers, with delayed shipping of goods and services, tourism greatly restricted because the hassle of these ships makes coming to the island or coastal Labrador just not worth the effort. We have for most of those sixty years the highest taxation, highest debt load and highest unemployment in the nation.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s debt load has meant that it must make decisions based on short term sustainability over long-term growth. The hill of gravel, which snakes across the island that once was a railway, is a testament to this shortsightedness. Our debt was one of the largest factors in our determination as a nation, and the expectation that Canada would untie that albatross was very real in the heads of the 1949 voters. Today though that debt remains. The battle to hold Canada to the commitment of Term 29 was lost. It would have allowed us some relief from that debt - some assemblage of equality with our fellow Canadians. Term 29 grew to become a convoluted system of Robin Hood ethics where all provinces were included in the stew and an allowance made based on an abstract and confusing system that few can understand or qualify. Term 29 became Equalization. Equalization morphed into the Atlantic Accord/Equalization scheme. We continue to thisday to negotiate our terms of union with Canada. From our brotherhood and sisterhood in the rest of this dominion they only know that from Term 29 to equalization to the Atlantic Accord, we have been the bastard adopted child of confederation, always going to mother Ottawa with our hand extended.

On this diamond anniversary of Newfoundland and Labrador’s place in Canada do we mark the birth of a province? The true vision of Canada from Pacific to Atlantic? Do we instead morn the loss of a nation? A loss of a cultural identity, a vibrant heritage blended into the gray of Canadian culture? Are we a province within a nation/ a nation within a nation/ or a nation without a nation? Time will tell the true story of this Newfoundland and Labrador, the Dorset Eskimo, Maritime Archaic, the Vikings, Beothuck, and Mi'kmaq, the European settlers, Canadians and new Immigrants. They are thrown into the experiment that is Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. Sixty years in the house of Canada and still we are not quite Canadian. Will we ever be?