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Thursday, November 25, 2010

End of the Williams Era in Newfoundland and Labrador

The first rumblings that something was up began early Thursday morning. This was quickly followed by a brief news release from the Premier’s communications director simply stating that Danny Williams would be going before the microphones to “discuss his political future”.

By 11:30 am Newfoundland time Williams did just that, stepping before the microphones in the foyer of Confederation building where he was greeted by thunderous applause and a chorus of “Danny… Danny” that continued for some time until the Premier asked for the chance to speak.

During his address, which lasted several minutes he discussed his government’s accomplishments and, as he is known to do, quoted several well known figures including the late Orson Wells when he said, “…if you want a happy ending, you need to know when to end your story…”

Danny Williams then announced that he will be stepping down as the ninth premier of Newfoundland and Labrador on December 3, 2010. At that time Deputy Premier Kathy Dunderdale will assume the leadership role until a new leader is selected.

According to Williams the reason for his decision was one of timing. He noted that much of what he hoped to accomplish when he became Premier in 2003 was now in place and he saw this as the right time to hand over the reigns.

During his tenure the Williams government improved the Atlantic Accord revenue sharing agreement with Ottawa, improved royalty revenues and ensured a provincial ownership position on offshore oil developments and most recently announced a 6.2 billion dollar agreement to develop part of the Lower Churchill hydro project.

As federal Liberal MP Gerry Byrne said today, “He’s got his bucket list done, that’s the bottom line. He’s accomplished what he set out to do.”

In spite of less than flattering headlines and commentaries in the national news media where pundits often referred to him as “Danny Chavez” or a “dictator”, Mr. Williams’ accomplishments were substantial.

Beyond those accomplishments previously identified his government also instituted a nationally lauded poverty reduction plan that saw the province go from having one of the highest poverty levels in Canada to having the third lowest. It was also during his tenure that Newfoundland and Labrador paid down 4 billion in provincial debt (approximately 25% of its debt load), moved from being a “have-not” to a “have” province for the first time in its history and nurtured a level of pride among the population that has not been seen in decades.

As a result Premier Williams’ level of support remained strong, in fact even after two terms in office his consistent approval ratings of 80% or higher (one recent poll placed his voter approval rating at 93%) was the envy of politicians across Canada.

Accomplishments accepted, the Williams government was not without its share of problems as well, including an ongoing doctor’s dispute, and the mistaken appropriation of Abitibi’s mill property in Grand Falls-Windsor (a mistake that happened during the adoption of a bill to appropriate water and timber rights from the company, a move that overall was very popular in the province).

According to MP Gerry Byrne, “He’s a loved and hated politician among the political class, but today whatever feeling of animosity people may have is replaced with envy.”

Federal MP Scott Simms told the Globe and Mail today that there are likely a few politicians breathing a sigh of relief – including Prime Minister Stephen Harper”, who ignored Mr. Williams and suffered electoral losses in his province.

Simms was referring of course to Danny Williams much publicized “ABC” (Anyone but Conservative) campaign during the last federal election. A move that saw the Harper government completely shut out in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Danny Williams doesn’t take the middle road,” said Mr. Simms, “He doesn’t relax. For Danny Williams it’s you’re either in for everything or you’re in for nothing. At that level of play it’s a pretty intense life,” Mr. Simms said.

“Williams has an iron fist and a golden touch. It’s going to be hard to find a similar successor in the Progressive Conservative party.”

“He’s one of a kind,” Mr. Simms said. “He just personified something that we wanted for so long. I think what [Mr. Williams] did was instill a sense of pride. ... I just thought he was the right guy for the right time.”

The question now shifts to what's next for Danny Williams.

Never one to sit idle it would be difficult to imagine he has plans to sit on a beach somewhere. No doubt someone with his resume has countlss opportunities in the private sector but unless it's a CEO position on the table, nobody believes Williams would consider it. He's always been a leader, never a follower.

What about federal politics?

Never one to mince his words, when asked today if planned to run federally his response was uncharistically "political" in nature. Williams neither discounted the idea or said he would be interested. He simply said it was not the driving reason behind today's decision but that he has had many people approach him with the offer.

Interesting since there would clearly be no room for the life long Conservative inside any federal Conservative party run by Stephen Harper. That bridge was burnt long ago.

Only time will tell what the (almost) former Premier will do next. In the mean time reaction to the Premier’s resignation has been pouring in from across Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the rest of Canada, ever since the unexpected announcement this morning.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Quebe's Shameful Power Play - National Post

From the National Post
The Bloc Quebecois are the W.C. Fields of politics -- they never vote for anything, they always vote against. Paule Bruelle, a Bloc MP from Trois Rivieres, provided the latest example of her party's ability to drain any room of positive energy by calling on the federal government to turn down Newfoundland and Labrador's application for $375-million in federal infrastructure funding -- not on the grounds that it may be a bad investment but because it would provide competition for Hydro-Quebec.

Newfoundland and Labrador, through its energy subsidiary Nalcor, and Nova Scotia's energy giant, Emera, have sought $375-milion in federal funding from the government's Private-Public Partnerships Canada infrastructure fund to help build a transmission link between a new generating plant at Lower Churchill in Labrador and Nova Scotia. The logical route would be through Quebec but Hydro-Quebec has already closed down that option by complaining it needs all its existing transmission capacity and the province's regulator has agreed.

Not only does the Bloc not want Newfoundland and Labrador's new green hydro power to go through Quebec, it wants to stop it going around Quebec too.

The worrying thing is that Jean Charest's Liberal government agrees with the separatists, claiming that federal funding would create an unfair trade advantage and result in a government subsidy for each kilowatt of electricity transported to Nova Scotia.

Only a Quebec government could make such a statement without feeling a sense of shame. The province likes to tout its green-energy credentials, but its environmental record is almost entirely dependent on the notoriously one-sided 72-year deal to buy Newfoundland and Labrador's hydro power, generated by the Upper Churchill Falls, for a fraction of its market price.

It seems hard to believe but the 1969 deal, which has seen Quebec make $20-billion to Newfoundland and Labrador's $1-billion, is about to get worse for residents of the Rock.

In round numbers, Quebec currently pays $2.50 per megawatt hour and then sells on the power at the market price of between $40-60 mw/h. Bad enough you might think, but that amount is set to fall to $2 per megawatt hour from 2016 for the remaining 23 years of the deal's duration. Wars have started over less.

This is the background to the screaming match that is brewing between Mr. Charest and Newfoundland and Labrador's Danny Williams. Mr. Williams is appealing the Upper Churchill deal on the grounds that there has been such a fundamental change in market conditions because of open access to the United States that there has been a breach of good faith.

The case is likely to be mired in the Quebec court system for years.

Undeterred, Nalcor has struck a deal with Emera that will see a new $2.9-billion generating plant at Muskrat Falls, linked by a new $2.1-billion transmission line to the Rock and then connected to Nova Scotia by the $1.2-billion subsea link. Newfoundland will keep 40% of the power generated, Nova Scotia will take 20%, leaving the remainder for sale to markets in the northern United States, a market where Hydro-Quebec is already strong. Muskrat Falls will leave Newfoundland and Labrador 100% emission free.

Ed Martin, Nalcor's chief executive, was in Ottawa Tuesday, trying to drum up support from the federal government. He said the deal will remove two to three megatonnes of carbon from Canada's total emissions and create about 6,500 jobs a year during the seven-year construction period. "It's a great investment opportunity for Canada and I don't want to leave them out," he said in an interview.

Whether or not the numbers add up is for the federal Finance department to decide. Ottawa's 8% stake in the Hibernia project that Nalcor has already bid upon adds the possibility of a side deal being added into the equation.

But what is clear is that the federal government should ignore bleating from the Bloc and the Quebec government about unfair trade practices, experts though they both may be on the subject.

The decision should be made on what is in the national interest -- something over which Mr. Charest, far less the Bloc, loses any sleep. If this federation is to flourish, Ottawa needs to speak for Canada.

By John Ivison

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Deal Inked on Lower Churchill Development

After decades of waiting and wondering the people of Newfoundland and Labrador learned today that the Provincial government has inked an agreement with Nova Scotia for development of a portion of the Lower Churchill Falls hydro project.

The agreement was announced at a press conference today attended by representatives of NALCOR (Newfoundland and Labrador’s energy company), Emera (owner of Nova Scotia Power) and the Premiers of Newfoundland & Labrador and Nova Scotia, Danny Williams and Darrell Dexter.

At this point all that is publicly known is that both NALCOR and Emera will partner in the development which will see 800 megawatts of power produced from the Muskrat Falls section of the Lower Churchill. The Larger Gull Island generating station which had been a part of the original development plan for the river will not be developed at this time and no timetable for its development was given.

NALCOR will build a generating facilities at Muskrat Falls (Cost 2.9 Billion). This facility will be fully financed and owned by Newfoundland and Labrador.

Emera, a publicly traded company, and NALCOR will jointly develop the transmission route to wheel the power from Labrador, through Newfoundland and on to Nova Scotia.

The subsea link between Labrador and Newfoundland will be built as a joint venture 71 per cent owned by NALCOR (cost 2.1 Billion) and 29 per cent owned by Emera (Cost = 600 million). Emera has agreed to finance 20% of the ongoing maintenance costs for the life of the agreement.

The subsea link, also known as the Maritime route, between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia will be built and wholly owned by Emera. (Cost 1.2 Billion)

It would seem there are still details to be determined relating to the Maritime link itself as officials with Emera have said that they are still negotiating agreements with NALCOR to build the subsea transmission link between the two provinces in return for access to 20 per cent of the energy from Muskrat Falls for a period of 35 years.

At the end of the 35 year contract the undersea transmission line will revert to Newfoundland and Labrador ownership for the sum of 1 dollar.

Investments by all parties into the project total an estimated $6.2 billion.

Click here to view Fact Sheets (NALCOR and NL Govt.)

Although both Provinces have asked the federal government for a loan guarantee and funding assistance to develop the sub sea link they announced today that they will move forward even if funding itself is not provided.

The entire development is still subject to regulatory approval in both provinces as well as to the approval of the boards of directors of NALCOR and Emera. In addition a native land claims treaty in Labrador must be ratified by Ottawa before the project can proceed.

Based on past history and the political implications of any Churchill Falls power contract, one might also expect that the voters of Newfoundland and Labrador will also have their say in the future of this deal.

Construction is expected to begin in 2013 with first power transmission by 2017

Based on what is known so far there are still many outstanding questions the people of Newfoundland and Labrador will be asking in the coming days.

The answers or lack of them is likely to have serious implications, either positive or negative, for the current Provincial government in the next election, scheduled for less than a year from now. Far more importantly they will have a far reaching impact on every individual in the Province for generations into the future.

Some of those questions include:

1) What are the remaining issues to be addressed in the reported “agreements” to be reached between EMERA and NALCOR for building the Maritime Link?

2) What is the overall capacity of the Labrador to Newfoundland link and the Maritime Link to Nova Scotia? Will one or both have the capacity to wheel at least a portion of the undeveloped portion of Lower Churchill Power if Gull Island is developed?

3) How will the proponents (NL and EMERA) finance their shares of the project? Is this financing in place or is the project contingent on finding financial backing?

4) Putting aside the employment created by this development, what is the actual return on investment for Newfoundland and Labrador in the short and longer term? In other words, will this project provide the Province with increased revenues in its coffers?

I’m sure as the next few days and weeks go by and we begin to learn more about this agreement a longer list of questions will begin to form. Hopefully answers will be given when those questions are asked. As they say, the devil is often in the details and while an agreement has been announced one has to wonder exactly what those details include.

At any rate, today is a time to have a quick (and well deserved) celebration before digging into the details in earnest (as we all should) to ensure that our future is as bright as it appears today.

Each and everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador needs to take some time to look at this with their eyes fully open and unfiltered by political bias or spin from any direction.

It does nobody any good to simply attack the deal for the sake of attacking. It also does no good to approve of it simply because it’s being presented by a popular government. Remember, nothing is written in stone until the people of Newfoundland and Labrador say it is. The strong people of New Brunswick proved that point not so long ago when the Provincial government there tried to ink a deal with Hydro-Quebec.

On the surface the agreement seems reasonable, and I hope it is, but until all the questions are answered nothing should be allowed to proceed. Nobody should ever forget the Upper Churchill. NEVER. If more questions were asked back then perhaps things would be far different in the Province than they are today.

Ask informed, unbiased and non-politically motivated questions. Probe the situation fully and rationally to determine where this deal ranks among past options.

the Province can’t run away from this or any deal because it has been burned in the past but neither can it simply accept the deal on blind faith.

Once bitten, twice shy. The outcome of this, for good or for bad, rests squarely on the shoulders of the public. If Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have learned anything from the Upper Churchill it’s that once a final agreement is in place there’s no going back.

This time around can be no excuses and nobody else to blame for not ensuring a better outcome.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Lest We Forget...

With Remembrance Day approaching once again, it's appropriate to reflect on the exploits of the so called “Fighting Newfoundlanders” and remember those from the Province who fought in conflicts half way around the world.

When many think of the Province'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 Regiment. Originally formed in 1914.

In WWI 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. The Province has produced many great heroes 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 have received the German Iron Cross. 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 “head” cut off so to speak, 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. 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 the Province has a lot to be proud of.

This Remembrance Day and throughout the Year we should all take some time to visit a Legion Hall or local 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 nation.

Statistics show that every day in this country 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 at the local Legion Hall. It might seem like a small gesture, and it is, but even taking a moment to express a little gratitude will brighten the day of some of our bravest and most deserving citizens.

In the mean time, why not follow this link to view a wonderful musical tribute to our veterans. The song, Pittance of Time is performed by Atlantic Canadian musician Terry Kelly. It's worth the pittanc of time it takes to watch. VIEW VIDEO

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A Christmas Miracle Comes Early

It may not be Christmas quite yet but it seems a seasonal miracle has happened none the less thanks to a recent article in the National Post.

Who would have thought a national paper would actually side with Newfoundland and Labrador on any issue, let alone in its struggles with Quebec.

Enjoy the Post article, but don't expect to read too many like this one in the national papers. Remember, as far as most Canadians are concerned the Country's border ends at Halifax.

John Ivison: Quebec should be embarrassed by powerline protectionism

My office phone rang the other day and the conversation went something like this: “Hello, it’s Danny Williams here,” said a familiar voice.

“Er…hello, Premier.”

“I’m not very happy about today’s column, where you compared me to Robert Mugabe….”

“Er…no, Premier.”

I’d written about allegations of intimidation during the last election in the Newfoundland riding of Avalon, where it was suggested Mr. Williams’ Anyone But Conservative campaign had led to tactics more familiar to political campaigns in Zimbabwe than Canada .

According to Mr. Williams, the allegations are untrue “on my father’s grave”. I tried to substantiate the rumours during the campaign, with no success. So until someone comes forward with some proof, we must take the Premier at his word.

In any event, it proved an interesting, if tangential, aside to the real issue I’d been writing about – namely, Newfoundland and Labrador’s attempted purchase of the federal government’s stake in the Hibernia oil field and Ottawa’s potential investment in a sub-sea electricity transmission line from a putative Lower Churchill hydro-electric project to markets in the south and west.

The province’s electricity corporation, Nalcor, has applied for $375-million in federal funding to help pay for the multi-billion underwater transmission line.

The main lesson that readers should take away from this story is what a sorry admission of failure in Canadian federalism it represents. The obvious route to markets in Ontario and the U.S. for Lower Churchill’s power is overland through Quebec .

Hydro-Québec claims that upgrades of up to $3-billion would be required to transport power through the province. Quebec’s energy board, the Régie de l’énergie, has sided with its own power corporation against Nalcor, even though it was prepared to pay for “reasonable upgrades” and up to $200-million in annual tariffs. Needless to say, Mr. Williams unleashed a broadside when the decision was announced in May, protesting Quebec ’s “arrogance and discriminatory business practises”.

You won’t read this in this column very often, but Danny Williams has a point. The Régie decision is an insult to add to the considerable injury of the existing, long-term Churchill Falls contract, under which Newfoundland and Labrador is forced to sell power for a quarter of a cent per kilowatt hour and then watch Hydro-Québec resell it for up to 36 times that price.

Both situations are a disgrace but only one is within the federal government’s purview to change.

The National Energy Board, an independent regulatory body created by Ottawa , has jurisdiction over designated inter-provincial power lines by determination of the federal cabinet. No such lines have been designated, leaving the field to provincial regulators. But a government that genuinely believed in making the federation work more effectively, not to mention saving Canadian taxpayers billions of dollars, would demand that Quebec open up its transmission lines.

Contrast this mess to the situation in Europe where the much-maligned European Union has stepped in to remove barriers to cross-border exchanges in electricity. New regulations mean transmission system operators are obliged to take new generation and compensation is paid by the operators of the national transmission systems from which cross-border flows originate.

If 27 sovereign states can reach agreement on a system that forgoes protectionism and monopolistic market dominance, in exchange for more competition and lower consumer prices, why can’t Canada ? Quebecers should be embarrassed.

John Ivason - National Post

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sell Lower Churchill Power to Quebec at a Guaranteed Price for the Next 30 Years

Those are the words that have necessitated today's Web Talk commentary.

Web Talk usually does its best, within reason, to avoid entering the political fray inside the borders of Newfoundland and Labrador, preferring instead to focus on external entities that affect the province, either positively or negatively. I’m referring of course to entities such as the federal government, other provincial governments and even large industries that affect us on a regular basis.

This is one of the few times when an exception to that general guideline is not only warranted but where, I firmly believe, ignoring or avoiding the issue of our local political environment would constitute a clear case of negligence on the part of this forum.

I’m speaking about the current mindset of the leadership and perhaps some of the membership within the provincial Liberal party.

Before going any further let me get all the mandatory disclaimers out of the way.

First of all I am not a member of any political party locally or federally. In past elections I have supported individual candidates from all three mainstream parties in the province. I support the current PC government on many of its actions but have also disagreed with their direction on some issues, both privately and publicly.

The reason I say all of that is with the hope, as unlikely as it is, that my explanation will serve to lower the volume level of those readers who will try to write me off as just another one of “Danny Williams’ Kool-Aid drinkers”.

There really isn’t much hope of heading those readers off at the pass so to speak but it’s worth a shot.

I’ll leave the subject of closed minds (on all sides of the political spectrum) for someone else to tackle.

My concerns today rest with the current state of affairs in Newfoundland and Labrador politics. I believe, for the average voter, the problem is two fold.

As previously mentioned, I agree with the Williams government on most of its agenda, thought sometimes not on the all the details. I also adhere to the old adage that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. In this light I would love to see a more diverse makeup at the House of Assembly after the next election. Specifically I believe it would be in the best interests of the province to see growth in the opposition ranks.

Most of us take it as a forgone conclusion (barring some sort of self destruction) that a PC government will be returned to power when the polls close next time around. That said, if left unchecked, too much power can lead to serious problems for us all and it’s for that reason I would love to see more Liberal and NDP members in the House. The status quo of a single party “invincible” majority is not a situation that should be allowed to continue in the longer term.

My previous point leads me directly into the second of my concerns, specifically the state of the Liberal party in Newfoundland and Labrador and the need to balance the opposition ranks without actually allowing the current contingent of party elite to gain any real power.

Call it partisan if you like (it isn’t) but that’s right I said we need to ensure that the Liberal party, as it exists today, shouldn’t be allowed to gain power in the province

To put it bluntly, as it now exists, should the Liberal party find itself elected as a future government, or more precisely, if the people of Newfoundland and Labrador were to find themselves governed by the Liberal party, in its current state, then God help us all.

No, that isn’t Liberal bashing, it’s self preservation in the face of recent events.

I’ve supported past Liberal governments in this province just as I’ve supported PC governments but when you look at some of the happenings at Liberal HQ these days you have to shake your head and pray that something changes, quite dramatically, before they are ever given the reigns of power again.

With their ranks nearly decimated in recent years and at a time when they should be focused on rebuilding they have actually gone ahead and named none other than Craig Westcott to spearhead their communications machine.

Really, Craig Westcott?

For those of you unfamiliar with the man, this is an individual who has done almost nothing in the past several years except bash the current Premier and not just when it was deserved, but incessantly and apparently for the sport of it. It’s almost like he has tunnel vision when it comes to the Premier and at the end of that tunnel is a set of crosshairs aimed squarely at the Premier’s head.

No doubt Westcott’s compulsion for Danny bashing was a major item on his resume that the Liberal leadership found attractive, but you have to ask yourself, does a compulsion to blindly attack make Mr. Westcott the best choice for the job?

Remember, this is the same person who was one of the loudest naysayers shouting from the roof tops that the sky was falling, yelling that Premier Williams was single handedly killing the oil industry in the province and driving away investment because a deal wasn’t signed on the Hebron oil project during negotiations a few years back. We all know how those negotiations eventually panned out now don’t we.

From the Liberal perspective, with Williams’ approval rating resting comfortabley near 80% for as long as anyone cares to remember, there is no doubt they would love to find a way to knock his numbers down. They need to realize however that when someone is THAT popular, no matter the reason behind the numbers, blind attacks are more likely to solidify his support base (it’s called closing ranks) rather that wearing away at it.

Negative political attacks may work well in U.S. elections and perhaps even in other parts of Canada but most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians don’t get a warm fuzzy feeling when someone they support is incessantly attacked, no matter the source.

Besides, the best way to win Liberal support is to show the public the Party’s strong points, not simply attack for the sake of attacking. In this light Mr. Westcott might very well end up being a liability rather than an asset. Just ask local Liberal member and former candidate, George Murphy, also known for his great work with the Consumer Group for Fair Gas Prices, who resigned his position as a Liberal party organizer after calling the appointment of Mr. Westcott an “insult”.

Enough of Craig Westcott (something I believe the Liberals should consider saying as well).

My biggest concern has far more to do with the future of the province than with the internal workings of the Liberal Party, the common thread between the two being a clear display of poor judgment in both cases.

In this case I’m referring to the words of Danny Dumaresque, long time member, executive and former president.

If Mr. Dumaresque’s way of thinking is any indication of the mindset that exists inside the Liberal Party then voters should run away in droves and members should look for the nearest exit from Party HQ.

With recent comments from Danny Williams that the province is looking at a phased in approach to development of the Lower Churchill project, media is reporting that the Liberal opposition would like more details on government plans. That’s fair enough. In fact I’m sure we would all like to know how a phased approach using the Maritime route can be undertaken in an economical manner. I have no problem there.

What scares me is a comment on the subject attributed to Mr. Dumaresque in which he appears to be promoting the sale of Lower Churchill power to Hydro Quebec at a set rate through a long term contract. Read the following excerpt from the local media and tell me if I’m wrong to be concerned.

“ … Hydro Quebec was prepared to buy the power. He says the corporation has been a good, paying customer... He says they are the only customer in North America that can take on 3,000 megawatts of power and guarantee a price for the next thirty years.”

Was that as scary for you to read as it was for me?

In my book Danny Dumaresque’s words sound awfully similar to the reality of the Upper Churchill contract, a reality that has tortured Newfoundlanders and Labradorians for decades and been burned into our collective psyche. Far too similar.

It would appear, based on media reports that Mr. Dumaresque, a very influential member of the Liberal party, would have us sell the power from the Lower Churchill to Hydro Quebec at a guaranteed price for the next 30 years. Wow!!!!

The only thing that seems to be missing from his comment is any reference to an automatic renewal clause that would allow Quebec to continue using that power for a further 25 years at an even lower rate.

I have to say, if those words don’t make voters shake in their boots and question the province’s future should power be placed in the hands of the current Liberal brain trust, nothing will.

One high ranking member clearly would have caved into big oil during the Hebron negotiations a few years ago and another would have us sign a new long term, set rate, contract with Hydro-Quebec for Lower Churchill power.

Under the circumstances I hope readers will excuse this short foray away from the usual approach of keeping provincial politics off the agenda here at Web Talk and understand the reasons why there was a dire need to weigh in on the subject.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I Had a Dream.....of Genie

Have you ever had that dream, you know, the one where you’re walking along a beach when without warning you stumble over a lamp,(or perhaps a Screech bottle) and a genie with a thick accent, wearing a Sou’Wester, suddenly appears through the fog offering you three “fishy” wishes?

No? Never had that dream? Fair enough. In truth I haven’t either, but wouldn’t it be great, especially if those 3 wishes actually came true!!!

Just in case something like that ever actually happens (I like to be prepared for any eventuality) I’ve spent some time thinking about what I’d wish for and I believe I know what my three “fishy” wishes would be.

First I wish our federal politicians would actually take steps to protect the fish stocks on the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks and on the Flemish Cap instead of just fishing for political points by talking about it.

Of course I wouldn’t want them to follow the same tired and useless direction they’ve taken in the past such as lobbying for unenforceable rules or penalties within NAFO or by plodding through tons of documents and legalese related to the dream of “Custodial Management”, the very definition of which seems to change depending on who speak with.

No, I’d ask for something far simpler and much easier to attain, in fact something that could be put in place in a very short time and with very little effort on Canada’s part.

You see while Canada’s legal right to unilaterally enact “Custodial Management” of fish stocks outside the 200 mile limit may be in question, the Country has every legal right under Article 76 of the United Nations Law of the Sea, to prevent foreign nations from disturbing the sediment and sea floor on the Continental shelf, which includes the Grand Banks and Flemish Cap.

No doubt the law was initially written to ensure mineral and oil resources couldn’t be pillaged by nefarious nations so you may well ask what invoking it might accomplish when it comes to protecting migrating fish stocks.

My response would be, “a great deal”.

You see the only way the 100 or more foreign vessels plying the Grand Banks and Flemish Cap at any given moment (with the approval of NAFO regulators) are able to turn a profit is through the use of bottom dragging gear that scoops up everything it encounters. Simple nets or lines just aren’t profitable any longer.

If you take away the ability to disturb the bottom sediment then you also take away the ability to bottom drag in the area. Take that away and you destroy their ability to profit from their adventures. It’s as simple as that.

No profit means no foreign fishing.

Other nations around the world have invoked the U.N Law of the Sea in a similar manner and with great success. Canada has not.

My second wish would provide Newfoundland and Labrador with some modicum of influence when it comes to fisheries management off our shores. Simply put, I’d wish for joint federal and provincial management of the fishery.

Some might say our politicians have been working on exactly that issue but it’s a difficult thing to accomplish. They might even tell you it would require opening up the constitution of Canada for amendment. Something very few political types even want to contemplate.

I’d question the accuracy of the information coming from those people if I were you and I’d also wonder just how hard those at the federal or provincial level have truly been working to resolve this issue.

In 1922, after years of refusal by Quebec to relinquish control of its coastal fisheries to Ottawa (even after multiple rulings against them) the federal Fisheries Minister invited Quebec representatives to a discussion on the issue. Following that meeting (that’s right, a “meeting”), full responsibility for management of coastal fisheries was transferred to the province of Quebec.

With the exception of the area around the Magdalen Islands, fisheries management was simply handed over to the province of Quebec. It wasn’t a case of joint management or of sharing responsibilities but of complete control.

Quebec continued to manage its own coastal fishery, unhindered by the federal government, until 1983 when the government of Quebec agreed to return control to Ottawa.

No constitutional changes were required, nor was there any need for decades of discussion, debate, reports, lobbying or pleading. It was simply done.

By comparison, over the past several decades the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have been practically begging the federal government, not for complete control of the fisheries, but simply for a shared management approach.

1986 – A Provincial Royal Commission recommended Joint Fisheries Management

1989 – A panel established by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) recommended Joint Fisheries Management

1998 – Another panel established by DFO also recommended Joint Fisheries Management

2003 – Yet another Provincial Royal Commission recommended Joint Fisheries Management

2003 – The Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution calling on Ottawa to implement Joint management of the fishery.

2003 – The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador released a white paper on Joint Fisheries Management

And in 2005, then leader of the Opposition, Stephen Harper, said he favoured joint management and the Conservative Party of Canada, in its Policy Directions document that year wrote:

“A Conservative government will adopt, with any interested coastal province or territory, a system of increased provincial management over fisheries through a system of joint management and joint fisheries councils modeled on the system proposed by unanimous resolution of the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly and as detailed in the government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s white paper on the subject as released in

The list goes on…

No constitutional changes were required to give Quebec control of their fishery, not constitutional changes were necessary to enact joint provincial / federal management of offshore oil resources and no constitutional changes are necessary to allow joint management of the fisheries off Newfoundland and Labrador shores. All that's requuired is the political will.

My third and final wish (it sucks to be limited to just three but Genies appear to be pretty strict when it comes to that rule) would be to provide certain protections and guarantees for small boat fishermen and coastal communities in the province.

By small boat fishermen I mean those who work reasonably close to shore and who still use traditional fishing methods. I’m not referring to larger corporate interests who share in the blame for the state of affairs we see today.

It’s these small boat fishermen who built this province and it’s they who did the least damage to fish stocks for the hundreds of years they practiced their way of life.

Unlike the unsustainable fishing practices of larger foreign and domestic enterprises, the small boat fishermen were not to blame for the collapse of the ground fish stocks yet they and the communities that depend on them have suffered disproportionately as a result.

Joint management of the fishery would put some control back into the hands of the provincial government which is far more answerable to the people than federal agencies and could even pave the way for the issuing individual quotas small boat fishermen.

All these fishermen need is some guarantee of fish to catch and legislation making it illegal for processors to refuse fish at the wharves, simply because a fisherman isn’t “beholden” to that fish plant, might go a long way toward ensuring the survival of the small boat fishery as well as many coastal communities.

So, with all that said, and with the likelihood of me actually stumbling across a “Fisheries Genie” being slim at best, the questions each of us need to ask ourselves and our political representatives, both federal and provincial, are:

Why hasn’t Canada taken the simplest of steps at the U.N. in order to protect Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore fish stocks; and

Why haven’t the Harper and Williams governments been able to enact joint fisheries management when a precedent, that doesn’t include a constitutional debate, already exists with Quebec and while both levels of government claim to believe it’s the right thing to do?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Flashback - Nationalism and our Place in Canada

I recently came across an article written by Craig Westcott for the "Express" about 10 years ago. I found it to be a a piece that clearly shows the broad spectrum of citizens in Newfoundland and Labrador who question our place in Canada and also speaks to a number of the deep rooted issues we face in the Canadian federation.

Clearly the arguements for change coming from individuals like myself are not just the realm of what the mainstream media might like to marginalize as "wingnuts" or the "fringe element".

Read on.

Newfoundland's business and political elite make the case for a re-examination of Confederation

It started with Craig Dobbin. The Canadian Helicopters Corporation chief was sick of hearing mainlanders slag Newfoundland for being an economic sinkhole.

When Canadian Alliance strategist John Mykytyshyn said Newfoundlanders were too lazy to move away for work, Dobbin lost it. He wrote a speech. Then he delivered it in a venue where no one in the local who's who could miss it -- a St. John's Board of Trade luncheon.

"Let me pose a question to you," the former John-Crosbie-ally-turned- Brian-Tobin-backer began. "Who got the better deal from Confederation? Newfoundland? Or Canada?

"If we're such a drain, such a sinkhole, let us go. Cut us loose, baby."

It was a startling speech.

But even more surprising was that several months later, a similar one was delivered by none other than Vic Young, president and chief executive officer of Fishery Products International.
Young, a former senior government bureaucrat and executive with Newfoundland Hydro, turned his verbal assault on Ottawa and Quebec, lambasting the Churchill Falls deal.

"I can assure you, if it were Newfoundland and Labrador that had a geographic stranglehold over the export of Quebec's hydro resources, then Quebec would have fought," said Young. "Quebec would have won, and Canada would have changed national energy policy tout de suite."

To the appreciative ears of the 600 people attending the Board of Trade luncheon where Young came out of the closet with his feelings about Confederation, he shouted, "Vive Terre Neuve libre."

With two of Newfoundland's most successful businessmen questioning the quality of the ties binding Newfoundland to Canada, all that remained to completely open debate was for somebody from the provincial government to weigh in.

And that's just what then-Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Walter Noel did in an address to the Rotary Club of St. John's earlier this month.

"I've long felt some of the ways our federal system operates have to change to enable us to enjoy Canadian standards," Noel confessed. "Important interests are working against us."

Strong words indeed. But why do they sound so familiar?

Confederation's costs

Memorial University of Newfoundland historian John FitzGerald has been listening attentively to the questioning about Newfoundland's place in Canada.

As an expert on the Confederation issue, FitzGerald can't help but be fascinated by it.

"I'm not sure that it's new," FitzGerald said of the points being raised by Dobbin, Young and Noel. "Although quite clearly, the people who are saying it now would have very little in common with A.B. Perlin and the Responsible Government League who were saying these kinds of things back in '48 and '49.

"What you have now is people stepping back and taking a cold hard look at this and saying, 'All right, what really is in our best interest?' I'm not sure you'd call it nationalism. I think you'd call it enlightened self-interest."

Call it what you want, but there's no denying Newfoundland's established interests -- including Noel, a scion of Joey Smallwood's Liberal Party -- are saying strong things.

Take Dobbin.

"This province pumps tons of money into Central Canada annually," said Dobbin. "The hydroelectric facility at Churchill Falls contributes almost $1 billion each year to the economy of Quebec. That one item alone equals our transfer payments from Ottawa each and every year -- that one item.

"We're sending Canada our graduates. The Department of Education has suggested that about a quarter of our university graduates cannot find jobs and end up leaving the province. We move away to work more than anyone else in the country."

But for real facts and figures on the costs and benefits of Confederation, Noel is the man with the numbers.

An economist by training, the Virginia Waters MHA has spent a fair part of his time in office analyzing Newfoundland's relationship with Canada.

He's still a proud Canadian, albeit a troubled one. That's because, according to Noel's calculations, the national federation is built around two provinces -- Ontario and Quebec. Every other province is secondary.

"Ontario has been the primary beneficiary of Confederation," said Noel. "When Canada began, Nova Scotia was wealthier than Ontario. Central Canada has prospered because it dominates the House of Commons and because the Senate never became what the Fathers of Confederation intended it to be."

As a result, Ottawa has developed policies that principally benefit Ontario, Noel said. Among them is the Auto Pact. Noel estimates that for every car made in Ontario, Canadians have to pay an extra $2,000 for it to cover the subsidies that are propping up that province's auto industry.
And Newfoundlanders pay higher prices for other Ontario-made goods because Canadian tariffs keep cheaper imports out.

"Years ago, we had to sell our cod in blocks to the United States because they had a tariff policy against having it imported in one-pound packages, because Canada had tariff policies that hindered the importation of American goods," Noel said. "That favoured Central Canadian industry. It constituted a cost for us."

It also delayed Newfoundland from developing its secondary processing potential.
Ottawa itself, added Noel, is a testament to how Confederation has benefited Ontario and Quebec.

"Ottawa is probably the leading economic growth centre in the country, primarily because of the extent to which the federal government is concentrated there," said Noel. "And the spin-off from having it there has generated the high-tech industry. Ottawa would probably be nothing more than a farm service centre if it wasn't for the federal government being located there."

Then there's Quebec. In 1996, said Noel, Quebec received 39 per cent of Industry Canada's research and development grants -- even though it has less than 25 per cent of Canada's population.

Quebec also got over 50 per cent of federal technology "partnerships" funding. The four Atlantic provinces combined got two per cent.

In 1998, Noel added, business subsidies to Quebec came to $528 per capita. In Newfoundland, the number was $202.

"We have always gotten a disproportionately low share of Canadian government spending for goods and services, and military purposes," said Noel. "Between 1995 and 1999, (federal) public service employment here was cut by 32.5 per cent, compared with the national average of 17 per cent and 12 per cent in Ottawa. Nova Scotia has 20 federal departmental Atlantic Regional Headquarters -- we have none."

Then there is the issue of equalization payments. In 1997, said Noel, federal payments to Newfoundland came to $2.1 billion. Off-setting that was the $2-billion Newfoundlanders paid in taxes to Ottawa. And once you calculate Newfoundland's per capita share of the national debt charges, pensions to public servants, and other costs, Ottawa's net contribution to Newfoundland was just over $1-billion.

"In 1997, Quebec Hydro alone received about $1.1-billion from the sale of Churchill Falls power, enough in itself to cancel our total net gain," Noel argued.

To these costs, Dobbin would add others -- loss of control of our fishery, which resulted in mismanagement that nearly wiped out the cod stock; paltry royalties from our offshore oil; and no control over our fiscal capacity to lower business and personal income taxes to attract business investment.

Incontrovertible proof

Noel and Dobbin raise good points, said FitzGerald.

"History is incontrovertible on some of this stuff," he said. "Ottawa did not support our request for a power corridor through Quebec -- Confederation failed us."

But, FitzGerald added, Newfoundland has lost out on seemingly smaller, but vitally important items, too -- like no longer being able to regulate its own airspace.

Because they are independent countries, Ireland and Iceland were able to open their skies and markets to international carriers, FitzGerald pointed out, unlike Newfoundland, which has to put up with the Air Canada monopoly.

"I think it is a very good idea to question this relationship (with Canada)," said the historian. "It would certainly help demolish the myth that's put out there by The Globe and Mail and the National Post that we're a basket case, that we're a drain on Canada. They've been slandering us now for 50 years. And it's interesting to see who is exactly subsidizing whom. In fact, we're both subsidizing each other. But isn't that what the nature of the country is supposed to be anyway?"
Explaining the terms

While Newfoundland's business and political elite are publicly questioning the problems of Confederation, those problems are not new. They find their origins in the famous Terms of Union that Smallwood and a small band of politicians and local mandarins "obtained" for Newfoundland nearly 53 years ago.

"My interest in this as an historian is looking factually at the Terms of Union," said FitzGerald.
The terms were negotiated by people who were appointed, not elected, to go to Ottawa on Newfoundland's behalf, FitzGerald said. The delegation was appointed by the Commission of Government, which itself was appointed by the British government.

"And what they were up against?" said FitzGerald. "They were up against the Mitchell Sharpes and Hugh Keenleysides and the Jack Pickersgills and the Rhodes Scholars and the professional civil servants in Ottawa who had been studying the (Newfoundland) question for 10 years.

"We had nothing like that kind of advice. Essentially, we were told to take the terms or leave them. Mr. (Prime Minister Louis) St. Laurent put it to us, 'This is the best we can do.' But those terms were never submitted back to the Newfoundland people. There was never any discussion on them. They were signed, sealed and delivered before anyone here knew what was in them.
"And the whole time Smallwood was up there, he was trying to get himself appointed premier. His idea was, 'What we don't get now, we can negotiate later when I'm in charge.' You can see why people would be disgruntled with the Terms of Union if you factually look at the history of the thing."

Since the terms were signed, FitzGerald added, a whole raft of other arrangements between the province and Ottawa have been made, covering everything from the railway closure to the running of Marine Atlantic.

"The terms are not the only thing we've got to look at," FitzGerald said. "We've got all these subsidiary agreements. The point is, we don't have a road map and until we do, we're really at the mercy of all these civil servants up in Ottawa."

A new deal

For Noel, changing our place in Canada will mean changing the minds of important interest groups on the mainland. But before Newfoundland can do that, he said, Newfoundlanders themselves have to realize that a new arrangement is needed.

"If we are going to get change, we have to agree on what it should be, pursue it with determination and work with allies across the country," Noel argued. "An effective Senate, like they have in America, would be the best means of strengthening our influence in Ottawa, in my opinion. What other way is there? Simply asking for more of a role in federal decision-making has not worked."

But longtime Newfoundland nationalists like painter Grant Boland believe Noel may have his work cut out for him. For too long the province has neglected its own culture and history, not even teaching it in schools.

"The absence of that kind of information leaves people ignorant," said Boland. "How can you expect people to be nationalistic if they don't know where they came from?"

Some nationalists suspect the powers-that-be are afraid to open up the curriculum to Newfoundland culture too much. It might lead to a reawakening of feeling for the independent country Newfoundland was.

"If separatism came, I think I'd embrace it," said Boland. "But it seems like a sleeping dog situation."

Separatism is the last thing Noel wants.

"I think if we explain our case properly to the rest of the country we will make progress," Noel said. "We don't have many alternatives. We are an integral part of Canada today and I think it's dreaming for people to talk about separating. Newfoundlanders don't want to separate from Canada. We're integrated economically and politically with the other provinces, and socially we have relatives all across the country. We want to be Canadians. But we want to have a fairer share of the benefits of being Canadians."

Questions of nationalism aside, FitzGerald believes the arguments being made by Noel, Dobbin and Young signify something important.

"The one thing that is overwhelming in this is that I think people are starting to realize generally that Canada's best interests are not necessarily Newfoundland's best interests," said FitzGerald.
"And that's a good thing."

Monday, September 27, 2010

NAFO Approves Higher North Atlantic Cod Quota for Spanish Fleet

Here we go again. International relations and politics once more trump good conservation and science as the North West Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) approves an increased quota for the Spanish fleet just days after fisheries scientists announce that there has been a small increase in cod stocks after nearly 20 years of a moratorium on the species.

In 1992 the cod fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador collapsed as a result of overfishing, both illegal and legally managed (or more accurately "mis-managed"). The fishery closure devastated the provincial economy throwing 15% of the employable population out of work overnight. Many more would lose their jobs in the months and years that followed as secondary industries dependent on the fishery also suffered.

The closure led to a mass outmigration of people. In the years following the collapse of the cod fishery the population of the province fell by a staggering 20% and is only now, like the cod itself, beginning to show some tentative signs of recovery.

Now, instead of staying the course, with stocks finally beginning to show some increase, the powers that be have decided its time once again to start raping the ocean.

At its meeting in Halifax last week NAFO increased catch quotas assigned to Spanish ships for the next year, with regards to two species: cod and Greenland halibut.

The quantity of cod which Spanish fleets will be able to catch will increase by almost 180 per cent, from 796 tonnes to 1,447 tonnes.

At the meeting, it was confirmed that cod stocks had recovered - though scientific evidence shows the recovery is small and stocks are still a mere fraction of what they were during the 1970's - in Newfoundland waters, so it was decided to increase the total allowable catch (TAC).

Participants in the meeting and ultimate decision to increase the quota included representatives from the European Union, Canada, United States, Cuba, Russia, Norway, Japan, Iceland, Korea, Ukraine, France, Faroe Islands, Denmark and Greenland.

Once again we see greed trumping common sense when it comes to all matters fisheries related. It's a sad day to be a lonely cod fish in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and Labrador. The question now becomes, how long before the last one is finally wiped from the face of the planet?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Today, as the Canadian military begins to arrive in Newfoundland to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Igor, 4 days after the storm has passed. I'd like to express the thanks of Newfoundlanders across the island for the assistance of these fine men and women (no doubt a large percentage of whom are from this beautiful place). Our thanks for their efforts goes without saying, but once again we see the effects of Ottawa's political decisions impacting our province. Not to maintain a military presence here in the province is inexcusable.

As military assets are being sent in from other parts of Canada it's once again clear that it only makes sense for Canada, if it does indeed consider NL to be a part of the Country at all, to station a sizable contingent of personnel and equipment from all branches of the service here in this isolated outpost on the North Atlantic.

This is a place that not only makes up Canada's Eastern most Ocean border approaches but, due to its location, is prone to major weather events. Thankfully most of those events are not as terrible as the most recent one. Ottawa's continued refusal to ensure a military presence here, on the border of the nation itself, says a lot about its attitude toward Newfoundland and Labrador as well as its motives for where military bases ARE maintained.

Something else that says a lot are the images of Igor's aftermath. They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Add Image

Friday, September 10, 2010

National Post: Williams slams Quebec hydro 'robbery'

Once again it's time to revisit the robbery Newfoundland and Labrador continues to suffer from at the hands of the Quebec government, Hydro-Quebec and, yes even the federal government (which played no small part in allowing the upper churchill fiasco to happen and continue to stand in the way of power export development in Labrador.)

The following appeared in the latest edition of the National Post and should be of interest to Web Talk readers:

Hypocritical, a bad neighbour, and guilty of "highway robbery": Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams called Jean Charest's Quebec government a few names in a St. John's speech, escalating a feud over hydroelectric power rights that has simmered between the two provinces for decades.

In a luncheon address to the St. John's Board of Trade on Wednesday, Mr. Williams denounced Quebec's opposition to Newfoundland's bid for federal funding to build a power transmission line from Labrador to Nova Scotia to potentially sell Labrador-generated power in the Maritimes and New England.

Calling Quebec's opposition to funding the project "shameful" and "abhorrent," Mr. Williams said Quebec "shafted us once" on the existing, 1960s-built hydro plant on the Churchill River and suggested it was trying to do so again with the proposed Lower Churchill project.

"[Quebec] wants it all, and that just doesn't go down well with me ... It needs to get out of the way of the progress of its neighbours," he said.

"The rest of the country and even Quebec itself is finally admitting that it has been getting away with highway robbery in Canada for decades."

The Quebec government has avoided the same kind of tough language so far. In a statement issued yesterday, Quebec Deputy Premier Nathalie Normandeau said the province does not oppose the construction of any undersea power transmission lines. What it opposes are federal subsidies for these on the grounds that they could distort the price and market for electricity. In a letter last month, Quebec asked Ottawa not to fund a joint Newfoundland-Nova Scotia hydro project on those grounds.

Mr. Williams characterized that move as "disgusting." His elaboration on that position on Wednesday was in keeping with his tendency to take aggresive stances against other Canadian politicians.

"Newfoundland and Quebec have been at loggerheads for a few decades now. The difference is, Danny Williams brings a very strong personal component to it. He has demonstrated
in relations with Ottawa and with other premiers that he [isn't] hesitant to butt in," said Nelson Wiseman, a University of Toronto political science professor, who noted public disagreements between premiers is rare.

That combative style plays well in Mr. Williams's home province, where his popularity ratings tend to stay above 80%.

"I guess his feeling is playing nice hasn't gotten them anywhere," said James Feehan, a professor of economics at Memorial University Newfoundland and the co-author, with Melvin Baker, of an article in the September issue of Policy Options magazine titled "The Churchill Falls contract and why Newfoundlanders can't get over it."

Driving Mr. Williams's anger is a desire to capitalize on Labrador's hydroelectric potential for the first time by piping power to the Maritimes, perhaps even finding a market for Labradorian electricty in New England.

The proposed Lower Churchill project could accomplish what the existing Churchill Falls project has failed to do for residents of Newfoundland and Labrador: namely, get hydro royalties flowing in the direction of St. John's.

For Newfoundlanders, Quebec's apparent blocking of attempts to develop the Lower Churchill project smacks of the Churchill Falls hydro deal signed in 1969, which has obliged their provincial power utility to sell electricity to Quebec for absurdly low prices. The deal angers Newfoundlanders still.

"There were events that took place that I think do not look all that clean in terms of business ethics. There were issues of conflict of interest, where Hydro-Quebec had an interest in [the Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation] at the same time," Mr. Feehan said.

Nalcor Energy, parent company of the Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation, launched a lawsuit against Hydro-Quebec in January. Several past attempts by St. John's to have the Churchill Falls deal changed or renegotiated have failed.

In the meantime, Mr. Williams reckons Newfoundland is selling Quebec more than $2-billion worth of electricity each year for around $50-million. The contract expires in 2041.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

MS Society Head in NL Resigns over Refusal to Back Clinical Trials

This post is a little off topic for Web Talk. Usually we deal with issues of political and social impact to Newfoundland and Labrador as it relates to the Canadian federation. Today however is a little different.

As someone who knows an MS patient very well, I believe its time the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, in fact right across Canada make it crystal clear to Health Canada and to provincial leaders that the time has come to distance itself from the recommendations of the MS-Society of Canada and move forward with clinical trials of the so called "Zamboni" technique for treatment of this dibilating disease.

While a ground swell of support for the trial has continued to mushroom across the Country and while NL as well as Saskatchewan have agreed to help fund those trials, the MS-Society itself has recommended that no trial should take place. Their reasoning is, if nothing else, self defeating.

According to the Society, while the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming, there is not enough clinical evidence to prove the treatment effective. If this is the case, then one has to ask why the Society does not want the trials to proceed. A process that would provide the evidence, one way or the other, on the treatment.

As a result of their stand the Chairman of the St. John's-Mt. Pearl chapter of the MS-Society of Canada, Ted Warren, has tendered his resignation. What follows are excerpts from his resignation letter. I believe his words speak far better on this topic than mine ever could and anyone reading cannot help but be touched by the case he presents.

“I am writing to express my profound sense of disappointment with the MS Society of Canada's decision to oppose clinical trials of the so-called CCSVI therapy for treatment of multiple sclerosis. I believe this attempt to undermine the growing national consensus supporting the need for such large-scale trials does a serious disservice to the very group the society professes to serve, namely those who live each day with this condition....”

“For those of us who have to live with the the harsh reality of MS ... the mornings when you awake to discover that one or more of your senses has been compromised by something that happened while you slept ... the days when you find you can no longer do the things that define you as a person ... the nights when you lie awake in terror, fearing how much more of yourself might be lost before the next dawn breaks ... for us, the personal accounts of recovery and return to the way things were before MS represent more than just compelling stories. They represent that all-too-rare opportunity for hope that we, too, can look to a better tomorrow. And that hope, in itself, is a powerful medicine...”

“I've watched the sheer delight in the faces of MS patients when they see a person who went from barely walking to building rock walls after receiving CCSVI treatment. I've shared their tears as we heard of a wife’s first dance with a formerly disabled husband who has now returned to all the precious joys of a ‘normal’ life. And finally, I’ve watched those same faces contorted in anger because the organization that is supposed to be devoted to helping them is refusing to acknowledge the sense of urgency that comes from the cruel reality of life with a degenerative condition.

“This is not a uniquely Newfoundland phenomenon. There are groups of MS patients in every part of this country who have been quietly lobbying for all 10 provinces to step up and fund a universal clinical trial for all Canadians living with MS. By stubbornly resisting this groundswell, the society has placed itself in the position of actively opposing an initiative that is supported by the vast majority of Canadians living with MS. Surely, an untenable position for this organization to take.

“What is perhaps most disturbing about the society’s stance in this matter is the lack of sensitivity it shows to the hopes and dreams of those who have the most to lose in this whole debate, namely individual MS patients. If there is any possibility that there might be an effective treatment out there, perhaps even one that can restore what has been lost, the MS Society should be doing everything in its power to make that treatment available to those who need it most at the earliest possible date. To do as the society has done this week and stand squarely in the way of this process is quite simply wrong.

“I urge you to reconsider this ill-advised, paternalistic policy before it is too late.”

There is no evidence, other than their position, to lead this writer to this conclusion but with so many stories of treatment success one can only assume the MS-Society of Canada is refusing to back this study because their own research has taken them in a completely different diretion. To switch gears now would force them to admit that they may have been wrong all these years and perhaps they fear such a situation would jeopardize their own research funding.

Thank-you Mr. Warren for looking into your heart and supporting the countless Canadians suffering from this terrible disease rather than backing the Society that is supposed to be looking out for the best interests of those same patients, not their own.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Williams Sets Record Straight at the National Post

As soon as the news hit the wires that the federal government had settled a NAFTA challenge from Abitib-Bowater over the expropriation of the assets in Newfoundland and Labrador pundits for the so called "national papers" coudn't wait to take another shot at NL and Danny Williams (or as they often refer to him, Danny Chavez, Village Idiot, or some other less than flattering term).

Today Premier Williams decided to set the record straight at the National Post. Here is what he had to say:

Danny Williams, Special to the National Post · Friday, Aug. 27, 2010

I am disappointed, yet not surprised, by the nasty attacks on me in the National Post ( "From Newfoundland, another tantrum," editorial; and "The Cuckoo of Corner Brook," by Peter Foster; both of Aug. 26). I certainly can take the criticism. Where I draw the line is at mean-spirited insinuations and inaccuracies about our province and its people.

In regard to the recent financial settlement between the Canadian government and Abitibi Inc., which resolved the company's NAFTA complaint, let me point out that Abitibi operated in our province for 100 years. After reaping untold millions in profits and also providing substantial employment for our hard working people, the company closed two mills, threw hundreds out of work, and walked away without even paying the severance these people were owed.

There is no doubt that the pulp-and-paper industry is facing difficult times globally. However, Abitibi broke its covenant with our government under the original terms of its operations in the province. We could not simply allow it to desert the workers while keeping rights to our timber, hydro and lands; valuable natural assets that were entrusted to this company based on certain terms and conditions. Our expropriation of those natural resources was the right thing to do for our people.

Additionally, I am compelled to respond to the following inaccuracies:

- From Peter Foster's Financial Post column: "[Williams] appeared to pull off a coup when the owners of Hebron-Ben Nevis offshore prospect ... returned [with] an agreement that included provincial participation and a 'super royalty' that kicked in if prices remained high...When oil price hit $147 a barrel in 2008, Williams looked like a hero. The oil price is now less than half of that."

Fact: Our super royalty kicks in when prices exceed $50 a barrel. Still seems pretty lucrative to me, despite Mr. Foster's further assertion that this was a "wealth destroying" game I had played.

- From the National Post's editorial: "The Premier's demands for super royalties from oil companies caused them to scale back development of the Hibernia South and Hebron offshore fields, which, in turn, caused the federal taxpayers to indirectly subsidize Newfoundland's budget for lost revenues."

Fact: What kind of logic does one use to say the federal government compensated us for projects that didn't even yet exist? Secondly, the paper fails to admit that because of our government's strong stance and ultimate success in these negotiations, both of these projects are proceeding as originally planned. These two projects alone will generate billions of dollars of revenue for Canada and all Canadians.

- From Peter Foster's Financial Post column of: "[Williams'] attempts to force oil companies to do expensive but unspecified R&Din the province led to a further request for NAFTA arbitration."

Fact: The referenced action was in fact taken by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB). This is a joint federal/provincial board that operates at arm's length. The action was not taken by me or our government, but it certainly had our support.

- From the National Post's editorial, referring to the EU seal ban: "Ottawa had to play hardball with the EU to keep the meat, skins and byproducts flowing."

Fact: Despite best efforts, the EU ban actually proceeded -- though court action by the Inuit people of Canada has temporarily paused the ban, which we hope will result in a rethinking of the issue by the EU. In any case, I think all Canadians would be proud that our government defends our interests against other countries.

I will never apologize for fighting to protect our natural resources and for getting fair benefits for the people who own them, even if that means taking on big corporations.

Let me close by saying this: Upon completion of Newfoundland and Labrador's current oil and mineral projects, the result in net revenues after expenses will be in excess of $225-billion for Canada. Criticize when you must, but it is time for the Post to start recognizing the contribution made by our province to this country. I am heartened that ordinary Canadians are much more inclusive and generous of spirit, and acknowledge the contribution not just of Newfoundland and Labrador to the Canadian Federation, but indeed of all people, provinces and territories.

- Danny Williams is Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ottawa Settles Abitibi NAFTA Challenge of NL Asset Expropriation

When Abitibi-Bowater closed its paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland and Labrador, in 2008 the provincial legislature immediately enacted legislation to expropriate the company’s assets in the province.

The move was made in an effort to ensure that Abitibi-Bowater did not retain control of land, timber, water and hydro generation rights it had been provided with under a 100 year old agreement that allowed the company to supply its logging and paper making activities in the province.

The provincial government, under the leadership of Premier Danny Williams, as well as many citizens, viewed the move as a necessary one to ensure that Abitibi-Bowater could not simply close its doors, throwing hundreds out of work, while continuing to tie up valuable resources that might be of use to other industries, or to use its power generation facilities to sell power in direct competition with the provincially owned utility.

At the time of expropriation the provincial government said it would pay Abitibi-Bowater fair market value for its buildings and infrastructure but not for the resource rights, which government maintained were directly to the mill staying open. The province said it would assess the environmental impacts left behind by the company and reduce any payment by the amount required to perform cleanup activities.

Although Abitibi-Bowater is often thought of as a Canadian company, with its corporate headquarters in Montreal, the company is in fact incorporated in Delaware.

Almost immediately Abitibi-Bowater launched a NAFTA challenge, essentially saying the Province had no right under the North American Free Trade Agreement to expropriate the property of a foreign owned corporation and seeking $500 million in compensation.

While the expropriation was conducted by a provincial government, Canadian provinces are not signatories to the NAFTA agreement, meaning the challenge landed squarely in the federal government’s lap.

Today, after nearly 2 years, the federal government has reached a settlement with the company valued at $130 million which is to be paid out after the company’s restructuring activities are complete and it emerges from bankruptcy protection.

At this point there has been no formal comment from the Newfoundland and Labrador government beyond a short statement saying, “we are pleased the matter is settled”.

It isn’t known at this point whether or not the province will help foot the bill but it has no obligation to do so since NAFTA is a federal agreement. Any payment from the province is unlikely however in light of the deep divisions between the Provincial Premier and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Williams to Charest: Butt out (again)!


New numbers today. It appears that the "ask" by NL and NS for a federal contribution to the cost of the undersea cable between the two provinces is $375 million (the entire effort is expected to cost between $800 million and $1.2 billion). Both provinces have requested the funding from Canada's green innovation fund through the public/private partnership program.

This is not a lot when you consider taht the cable would rest in federal jurisdiction (under the ocean), would supply clean power to Atlantic Canada and beyond and the amount is only, as one individual noted today, about 1 third of the cost of security at the G8/G20 conference held in T.O. recently.

Continuing with the topic of Quebec Premier Jean Charest's latest attempt to gain a stranglehold on all electricity generated, transmitted and sold in Eastern Canada here is an opinion piece from the Times and Transcript out of New Brunswick. It speaks volumes about the predatory tactics that are the norm with our neighbour to the west.

Quebec's meddling in the affairs of its neighbours may profoundly annoy Atlantic Canadians, but it's hardly surprising. La belle province sports a long history of promoting its interests, at others' expense, through back channels.

The latest example is a letter Premier Jean Charest recently sent to the Prime Minister's Office objecting to Newfoundland and Labrador's and Nova Scotia's joint application for federal funding to construct an undersea power cable between their two provinces. Apparently, granting such a request would constitute an unfair subsidy to the two Atlantic provinces.

If that's a joke, it's a good one.

Over the years, successive federal governments have poured countless billions of dollars into Quebec's aerospace and defence industries. They have propped up its dairy and pork producers, and extended preferential treatment (read: extra-equalization formula) to many of its state-supported social programs.

Less amusing, perhaps, is Quebec's peculiar definition of equity in the delicate balance of provincial interests that proscribe Confederation. It has built its energy behemoth - arguably, the most successful in the nation - on the bones of a patently unfair, 65-year-old deal that permits it to resell power from Labrador's Upper Churchill facility and reap the profits with no consideration for Newfoundland. And, despite repeated injunctions, it refuses to renegotiate the arrangement.

It also refuses to entertain the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador's recent request to wheel hydro-electric power from the Lower Churchill River through its transmission lines, a move, it surmises correctly, that would introduce competition to its currently hegemonic lock on U.S. and Ontario energy markets.

No province is ever expected to act against its own interests. But Quebec's heavy-handed approach to inter-provincial relations leaves a bad taste in the mouths of even its most ardent admirers, one of whom, it's entirely correct to say, is not Newfoundland and Labrador's easily angered, eminently quotable premier.

After learning about Charest's attempted fiat, Williams was practically beside himself last week, spouting a string of trade mark "Dannyisms."

What gives Quebec the right, he thundered, to interfere? Specifically: "What gives Quebec, or the Government of Quebec, or the premier of Quebec, the right under any circumstances to object to an application for funding by other provinces that have nothing to do with Quebec?

They don't want us to go through Quebec, and now they don't want us to go anywhere. I think these are really very predatory practices and I don't like it, and I'm not going to put up with it."

Nova Scotia Energy Minister Bill Estabrooks echoed these sentiments in a CBC interview: "In my opinion, the premier of Quebec should mind his own business. He's dismissing a very valid idea which comes from two provinces that have worked very carefully in terms of giving a reliable energy service to our provinces."

And not just "their" provinces. An undersea power cable would be the first step towards a true Atlantic energy grid - supplied with clean, renewable hydro-electricity - that could reduce costs for all classes of consumers in all parts of the region. It would also vastly improve the East Coast's position as an international energy exporter, stimulating robust economic development in all partner provinces.

Quebec's purpose, of course, is to savagely curtail these opportunities any way it can. Its aborted bid last year to buy the major assets of NB Power has left it in a bitter, petulant mood. If Charest can't secure access to the U.S. northeast through New Brunswick, then nobody can - certainly not dear, old King Danny for whom he holds no special regard.

In all of this, the federal government appears to be playing its cards exactly as it should.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper reportedly told Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter that Quebec has no "veto" on matters that quite properly fall within the framework of national decision-making. Which may be another way of saying the feds will consider the joint funding application on its own merits.

If so, then Charest's meddling is moot, if no less annoying for the squalling, squawking selfishness it represents.

By: Alec Bruce, a Moncton-based journalist. He can be reached via www.thebrucereport.com

Friday, August 20, 2010

Documentary Takes Stock of NL's Satisfaction with Canada

This past weekend award winning journalist and documentary film maker, Guylaine Maroist, traveled to the fair province of Newfoundland and Labrador from her home in Montreal. Her purpose: To help define the TRUE Canadian experience, a tall order by anyone’s estimate.

In an effort to uncover the underlying sentiments about our place in Canada Ms. Maroist and her crew spent several days in the province interviewing local residents, political figures and journalists, a process I was more than happy to participate in myself.

The discussions were broad and wide ranging but with a single underlying current: What do we really feel about the federation as a whole (or as some would say “a hole”, but that’s another story) and why do we feel that way?

I know from my discussions with her over the past several days that she found what she came for. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians may be called a lot of things, shy isn’t one of them.

The concept of Ms. Maroist’s upcoming documentary is a simple yet enlightened one.

As she tells it, the idea grew from her life in Quebec and what she witnessed there.

Most people in Quebec, according to Ms. Maroist, see Canada, with the exception of Quebec itself, as one homogenous nation of people. They see the issues facing Quebec as a case of “us against them”. Having traveled extensively Ms. Maroist says she knew there was a lot more to the nation than a single culture and that many other parts of Canada are also dissatisfied with their experience in the federation. She decided to capture those stories.

From a growing separatist movement in Alberta to decades second class citizenship in Newfoundland and Labrador, a lot of dissent exists across the Country, Ms Maroist hopes to bring this story to the nation and, perhaps as importantly, to those in Quebec, in an effort shed light on the truth about the real Canada.

During the shoot, which is expected to take several months, Ms. Maroist and her team will travel the length and breadth of Canada, visiting as many provinces as possible. Her film, tentatively titled “Dis-United States” is expected to be released nationally next summer.

Good luck Guylaine. It’s a story that needs to be told and I look forward to seeing the outcome.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

One American Appears to Understand NL better than Most Canadians

I came across an interesting blurb today in the Rutland Herald - out of Vermont. It seems that Vermont is the next state on Hydro-Quebec's radar for negotiating a long term power sales contract. It's interesting to see that some individual south of the border is aware of the situation existing between Quebec and NL, even it most Canadians, including those living in Quebec, are not.

Here's the piece, it can be found online at:

While negotiating hydropower contracts, New Englanders and New Yorkers should understand Hydro-Québec’s power from the north.

Québec is slightly larger than Alaska, adjoining Newfoundland and Labrador are slightly smaller than California. Precipitation is plentiful, and so is hydropower, much of it still undeveloped.

Americans are accustomed to electricity freely generated and sold via shared power grids. Government-owned Hydro-Québec does not share its grid, requiring ownership of electricity that it transmits. Buying the output of Newfoundland and Labrador’s huge Churchill Falls hydropower plant at a declining rate of about 0.2 of a cent per kilowatt-hour, then reselling it at market rates, Hydro-Québec’s gross profit, at Newfoundland and Labrador citizens’ expense, is approximately $1.7 billion annually on electricity for which it paid about $63 million.

In 2009, Hydro-Québec electricity exports were 10 percent of net sales and 22 percent of net income at an average cost of 2 cents and price of 6.8 cents per kilowatt-hour. Hydro-Québec compels Newfoundland and Labrador to subsidize electricity sales to us at lucratively competitive rates. Unsold hydropower is worthless. Buying it from Hydro-Québec, New Englanders and New Yorkers should ensure that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are repaid fairly for their power.

Working together, we can drive a hard bargain with a hard bargainer that is fair to all.

Now isn't that something. Cheers to the writer from Web Talk.