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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.


Anonymous said...

The sad thing is that the tensions between St. Pierre and Canada will only sour interactions with the one visible group of Canadians most of them have contact with, Newfoundlanders. Like you said, two cultures caught in the middle.

Tell Ottwa to give St Pierre a portion of the money it makes from NL's resources if you want. I'd rather see them have it than Ottawa.

Anonymous said...

Patriot - I am wondering if you have had a chance to decipher the proposed coming together of Petro Canada and Suncor, where Suncor is touted to be the dominant company under the name Suncor and with all of the administrative operations to be in Calgary?

I listen to the Business Television News everyday and the details I have gleaned from every analyst, who has appeared on the shows and who were asked to comment on the arrangement, said that Petro Canada's Conventional resources, especially its Conventional Oil is superior than the Tar Sands of Suncor and when recommending stocks of the 2 Corporations, they recommend Petro Canada.

If that is so, I am wondering if the province of NL will be left further out of the loop with regards to its Conventional Oil resource which is under Petro Canada's control?

Patriot, since you seem to look at matters from different angles and you usually write an article on most matters which concern our province, I am wondering if you have had a change to form an opinion on the proposed arrangement of Petro Canada and Suncor with regards to how it will affect our province or am I way out in left field with regards to my thoughts on this subject?

As the old saying goes in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and elsewhere, it would have been better if we had asked a few stupid questions rather than none at all, and I believe that to be true in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, with regards to the lack of economy being created here, with compared to the natural resource base we have here and our great geographic location and I wish I had asked many questions in the past, especially the question of WHY did we not have a better economy?

If we had asked the stupid questions, maybe our politicians would have been less likely to have pulled the wool over our eyes the way that they did.

Sorry Patriot it is not directly related to your article but indirectly it is.

Patriot said...

To Anon 5:32pm

In all honesty I haven't given it much thought. It's just one oil company merging or taking over another. Either way both companies are headquartered outside NL so that wouldn't seem to make much difference.

I don't know much about this subject but it would seem that by forming a bigger company they would have a better ability to undertake more exploration and development activities which could be a good thing.

Also, with so much natural gas yet to be exploited here and with the tar sands needing a vast amount of natural gas to operate it might mean development of that resource.

Just random thoughts on the subject but if someone else has any insights feel free to pass them along.

And by the way, when a question is asked honestly, with a desire to seek knowlege there is no such thing as a "stupid question".

Anonymous said...

Only Stupid Answers!!!! Just finishing the quote ;)