Da Legal Stuff...

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Is Democracy Dead or Just on Life Support?

What’s happened to democracy in Canada? Is it still alive and kicking, on life support, or as many now believe, truly dead?

On the federal level we have a Prime Minister in office that believes he can simply dismiss the elected representatives of the people with a phone call any time the heat is too much for him. The public continues to rail against his undemocratic actions while the PM simply circles his hand picked team power brokers and does as he pleases.

It’s an attitude that has become more and more prevalent throughout politics in Canada. Examples of the growing belief by elected officials that they have “absolute” power can be found right across Canada and at all levels of government.

Take the example of the government of New Brunswick and its determined effort to sell off the provinces publicly owned power utility.

The Graham government in New Brunswick was elected on a platform that promised not to privatize NB Power. It was a platform plank that helped propel them into office. Now, in their first term of office the Premier and his Liberal caucus are hell bent on doing the exact opposite of what they were elected to do.

Tens of thousands of citizens have joined an online group opposing the sale and even though the group, on a per capita basis, is 6 times larger than one fighting the prorogation of Parliament, the Graham government is refusing to listen.

Protests are held on a daily basis at the Legislature and in front of MLA offices yet they refuse to listen.

Letters, emails, phone calls and public confrontations with members of the Graham government, by the hundreds, are happening daily yet they refuse to listen.

The volume of letters to local papers and the public opinion polls show that a vast majority of the public is opposed to the sale. Court challenges have been brought forward and native groups are seeking an injunction to stop the sale yet they still move forward with the planned sale.

What does that say about democracy other than sounding the death knell?

The Graham government is claiming they are not privatizing the utility because they are selling it to another crown corporation, even though that corporation is owned by the Quebec government, not the New Brunswick government. Clearly this is a case of quoting the letter of their platform over its clear intent”.

They are also claiming that their recent decision not to sell the transmission capacity is a case of them “listening to the people” but is it really? When you consider that they are not selling the poles but giving up all the capacity on those lines to Hydro-Quebec for eternity the self serving hair splitting taking place in New Brunswick is flagrant.

As with the proroguing of parliament, the actions of Premier Graham are clearly self serving. They are certainly not intended to serve the public interest.

In recent days elected MLAs in New Brunswick have even resorted to attacking the voting public to whom they should be answerable.

According to several witnesses, MLA Wally Stiles, a Cabinet Minister in the Graham government, told protestors outside his constituency office in Petitcodiac on Monday, “If you f--king a--holes think you are going to win this you had better think again! And I am f--king well going to run for the Liberal Party again!"

Stiles later got into an altercation with a resident in a local restaurant. The situation had to be brought under control by a retired RCMP officer who happened to be dining in the establishment at the time.

These sorts of incidents are becoming more and more prevalent among elected MLAs each day.

When the Stiles situation was brought to the attention of Premier Graham and members of his cabinet the only response came from Energy Minister, Jack Keir who, in addition to showing no concern about the actions of someone representing his government appeared to indicate that because this writer is a Newfoundlander I must be unemployed. Either that or when he said, “…Come on over, we'll see if we can help you land a job?” I have to wonder if he was actually offering me something to gain my silence?

Indeed, the sort of undemocratic and unprofessional actions we’ve seen in Ottawa lately are spreading like wildfire across the entire Country and it’s a slippery slope when those elected to office respond to their constituents, as both Premier Graham and his Energy Minister recently did, by saying they intend to do what they want regardless of the feelings of the public because:

“I'm not concerned. Politics wasn't a career for me.” – Minister Jack Keir

By Myles Higgins

Friday, January 22, 2010


I was asked by a reader if I would be willing to post his views on the Churchill Falls situation here at Web Talk. As usual I'm more than happy to help stand up for this province in any way I can.

Here is the original link: CLICK

Friday, January 22, 2010

I find myself even more distracted than usual tonight. I have been trying to finish a very engaging piece of fiction that a friend was kind enough to mail me as a Christmas present.

As much as I would like to finish the last few pages, the phone did not stop ringing all evening. The topic of discussion has been the television news tonight and the Premier’s comments about Hydro Quebec, the new court challenge and the New Brunswick Power Deal 2.0.

As I indicated on Wednesday, this new deal, according to Hydro Quebec’s president, will continue to give the company a near-monopoly on the transmission of electric power out of Atlantic Canada on existing lines. With new hydro and wind energy projects on the downstream, Hydro Quebec has the market sewn up. As I posted yesterday, Jean Charest knows that Quebec’s future, its independence, is all connected to being the continent's largest supplier of green energy.

This leaves Newfoundland and Labrador in a fairly precarious position. Developing the Lower Churchill will certainly be difficult but it may even leave us at a disadvantage in 2041, when the 65 year contract expires.

For the same reasons as Quebec, we must find a way to unleash the potential of our hydro and wind energy; it will provide us with a timeless renewable source of income for generations to come. When Hibernia is an empty hole beneath the seabed of the Atlantic, when Voisey's Bay is as silent as the Dominion Mines in Bell Island, the mighty Churchill will still be churning out hydro electricity.

Most of the calls tonight were from past Liberal associates who were trying to convince me of the folly of my ways. The message was simple: that Danny Williams is going to cost us any deal with Quebec. That we need to negotiate a resolution to this impasse. That the right approach would soften Quebec and we could be partners in the long run.

A typical Liberal approach, I fear: go cap in hand. Take what we are given and be happy we got it. I have been immersed in this approach for most of my life. A mismatch for a party of the centre-left that subscribes to many of my long-held social and economic views.

I supported the creation of Nalcor. I supported an energy corporation when Paul Dicks proposed it as he sought the leadership of the Liberal Party, and I support it today. I support the investment of our tax dollars for equity positions in our offshore resources. I support challenging the 1969 Churchill Falls Agreement, which was initially designed to last only 40 years, from 1976 (the year Churchill Falls power came on-stream), to 2016. In particular, the current challenge by Nalcor in the Quebec Courts that will examine for the first time the mysterious 21st century renewal clause that allowed for the automatic renewal of the contract, without negotiations, for another 25 years starting in 2016. And it wanted a guaranteed, sub- bargain basement price even lower than the original price paid before the renewal.

I could sing the praises of the government’s approach from the rooftops. I do not see that as partisan, any more than I felt supporting the Premier on reforming the Atlantic Accord in 2005 was partisan.

However, this time it may be partisan, and personal, because it means that once again I am out of step with the myopic Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador. I am forced to stand up for what I believe in and reject the poisonous cool-aid that folks like Danny Dumeresque and Roger Grimes are spewing out these days.

I encourage folks to call the opposition office, to challenge these Liberals on their controversial and baseless views. This is not about Danny Williams giving his legal buddies in Montreal some cash, this is not about Danny Williams' ego, this is not about bargaining skills. It is about building a logical case in the hope of forcing a resolution to the straitjacket that prevents us from breaking free of the 2016 “blackmail clause” and transmitting Lower Churchill power through Quebec, or New Brunswick, to other markets.

These Liberals are entitled to their opinions, but they're not entitled to their own facts.

By Peter Whittle

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Newfoundland and Labrador Commits $1million for Haiti Relief

Premier Danny Williams, of Newfoundland and Labrador, today expressed heartfelt sadness upon receiving news of the devastating earthquake that plagued the country of Haiti on Tuesday.

“On behalf of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, I express our sincerest condolences and compassion to the people of Haiti, especially to the families of the bereaved and those injured in the earthquake and its aftershocks,” said Premier Williams. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and families who have been impacted and I encourage individuals in Newfoundland and Labrador to contribute to the relief efforts to the best of their ability. I have also placed a call to Governor General MichaĆ«lle Jean to express to her my deepest empathy for the people of her native country and the many friends and family who remain there during this terrible time.”

Premier Williams announced the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador will contribute $1 million towards the urgent relief effort now underway in Haiti.

“People all around the world, including those in Newfoundland and Labrador, are united as we come together and assist the people of Haiti in the aftermath of this devastating earthquake,” said Premier Williams. “Our thoughts and prayers are also with those who have embarked on the rescue and relief mission. We hope their strength, courage and compassion brings solace to the human suffering and loss in Haiti.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Potential New Beginning for Canadian Seal Harvest

The following are excerpts from articles presented by the CBC and the Toronto Star.

Inuit groups sue EU over seal trade ban
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
CBC News

Inuit groups in Canada and Greenland are taking the European Union to court over its import ban on products derived from the seal hunt.

The lawsuit, announced Wednesday in Ottawa, aims to overturn the ban, which was adopted by 27 European nations last year and blocks seal products from entering those countries.


Cultural bias alleged

The EU's trade ban includes a partial exemption for seal products from Inuit sealers, but the Inuit groups say the terms of that exemption are not clear.

"Inuit have been hunting seals and sustaining themselves for food, clothing, and trade for many generations. No objective and fair-minded person can conclude that seals are under genuine conservation threat or that Inuit hunting activities are less humane than those practised by hunting communities all over the world, including hunters in Europe," Inuit Tapririit Kanatami president Mary Simon said Wednesday in a release.

"At best this is cultural bias, although it could be described in even harsher terms."

Simon also accused EU legislators of adopting what she called a "legally defective" ban, despite "advance warning by their own lawyers."

The Inuit lawsuit is separate from the Canadian government's challenge of the EU ban to the World Trade Organization.

China gives Canada its approval of seal
Wednesday January 13, 2010
Toronto Star

BEIJING–The fur didn't fly here Tuesday. Instead, it strode down a Beijing catwalk without interruption.

The Canadian seal and fur industry brought its fashion designs to a premier Beijing fashion show yesterday, winning warm applause.


Canada was effectively thumbing its nose at the European Union Tuesday, the organization that banned the importation of Canadian seal products last year.

Instead, Canada has set about to woo the Chinese to open its gates to Canadian seal meat.

Shunned by Brussels, Ottawa believes China will do nicely as a replacement market and has tremendous potential, especially with its 1.3 billion people.

China already buys seal oil and fur from Canada. Meat would seem the next natural step.

And success might be at hand.

"We're very optimistic we'll be able to export seal meat into China," Canadian Fisheries Minister Gail Shea said here, following the fashion show featuring Canadian designs of sealskin and fur.

As she spoke she wore a ribbon of seal fur on her label, a sign, she said, of her support for the Canadian seal hunt.

There are two hunts per year: one in the Arctic held by Inuit, the other, larger one in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

More than 15,500 Canadians have seal hunting permits.

Shea said her delegation had good discussions with Chinese officials, as well as with importers who normally handle Canadian fish imports.

The Chinese don't normally eat seal meat. They have a small number of seals in the country, but they're protected.

Canadian officials said the Chinese would cultivate a taste for the delicacy – not a tall task given their prized and inventive culinary culture.

"We're now at what we think is the end of a process of formally lifting those restrictions (on seal meat)," said Mike Pearson, director general of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, who was part of the talks.

Neither he nor the minister, however, would predict when China will allow Canadian seal imports.


"We'd like to expand the market," she said in an interview. "China has a huge population and very good potential as a market for Canada."

Traditionally the Chinese were interested only in pelts, but in recent years they've begun buying omega-3 oils. Now there is research into developing a protein powder as well as the potential use of seal heart valves for transplantation into in humans.

"This (latter) is an exciting project with potential benefit to the entire world," she said.


But no one has persuaded the EU to reverse its ban on seal products.

Today the government is appealing the European Union's decision to the World Trade Organization.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Hydro Quebec / NB Power Sale – Debunking the Myths

Shades of Churchill Falls

Much like the Upper Churchill Contract, it appears New Brunswick is about to enter into a one sided deal with the devil, Hydro-Quebec. Unlike the Churchill this deal is forever and again unlike the Churchill, this one is being signed in spite of mass protests and opposition.

In October New Brunswick Premier, Shawn Graham, announced his intention to sell NB Power to Hydro Quebec after being elected on a platform that promised the corporation would not be sold. Opposition to this unexpected move was swift and has grown with each passing day. Currently 10’s of thousands of people have joined a group opposing the deal and, according to NB Power sources, even the CEO of utility has encouraged employees to write their MLA demanding the sale be stopped.

Since the surprise announcement much has been said on both sides of the debate, often making it difficult for the average person to know what the truth really is. This problem was only exacerbated when the Graham government hired an international Public Relations firm, at taxpayer expense, to “sell” the deal to voters.

Coincidentally, this is the same firm the former Bush administration hired to sell the Iraq war to the people there. Enough said.

It isn't just the people of New Brunswick who stand to suffer from their government's short sighted actions. Newfoundland and Labrador will also come out on the losing end of yet another Hydro-Quebec contract by losing any hope of accessing markets for Lower Churchill power through New Brunswick. The deal may also kill any chance Newfoundland and labrador has of dealing with anyone but Quebec when the Upper Churchill contract finally expires in 2041.

The problems this agreement bring with it are far too many in number to present in a single commentary but to uncover the truth about the "deal", at least from the perspective of New Brunswickers, all one really has to do is look to that provincial government’s literature on the subject. No, not to find the answers but to understand some of the Myths and spin the government is attempting to “sell” to the New Brunswick public.

With that approach in mind, I’d like to offer up the same 10 key points the Graham government recently sent out in brochures to the voters of New Brunswick as well as an analysis of those points, without the political spin.

Point 1: The $4.75 billion dollars received from HQ (for the purchase) would reduce the provincial debt by 40%!

Not true.

New Brunswick’s Auditor General, Mike Ferguson, clearly stated “…there will be no impact on the provinces net debt…”

In fact NB Power’s debt is held, maintained and paid separately from the provincial debt. NB Power has a debt to assets ratio similar to other utilities in Canada, including Hydro Quebec, and is quite capable of paying down those debts through customer revenues.

Not only would removal of that debt not impact the province’s overall exposure it has been clearly stated that the payment it (or not) has no impact on the province’s credit rating and in fact selling the corporation would decrease government revenues (from the utility’s profits, taxes and fees) by hundreds of millions of dollars that could be used to pay down the province’s actual debt.Instead those profits will accrue to the government of Quebec.

As an aside, Hydro Quebec plans to borrow the 4.75 billion dollar purchase price, in effect simply transferring NB Power’s dept to Hydro Quebec. Either way the rate payers of New Brunswick will end up paying those costs off through their power bills. It’s like buying a house vs. renting. It’s just a matter of whether you prefer to pay off your own home or someone else’s.

Point 2: The average household heating with electricity would save nearly $1,400 over the next five years.

Not True.

Government’s numbers are based on households using far more power than the average homeowner might expect to use. While a 5 year rate freeze may seem attractive the real savings, even accepting government’s highly inflated numbers, are close to .35 cents per day during the 5 year period, but that’s not the end of the story.

After the 5 year “grace” period rates will begin to rise with the rate of inflation and any power used beyond the so called “heritage pool” during the 5 year holiday (barely enough power to meet provincial needs today) will be calculated and those overruns plus all interest charges will be tacked onto the bills of every rate payer going forward. In addition, those increases don’t take into account additional charges for such things as system upgrades, new power sources, new transmission costs and the like which will also be added to bills.

The Auditor General noted “ordinary rate payers have been told that their rates will be frozen for five years and will only increase by the Consumer Price Index after that.” He continued to say, “The province needs to be clear about whether NB Power customers might face higher bills through other charges.”

As one individual recently put it, are a few pennies a day worth our future and the future of untold generations to come? This deal is forever.

Point 3: Don’t worry, after five years your rate increases are tied to inflation. Independent expert forecasts inflation should remain under two percent over the next 20 years.

The question here is just how accurate those forecasts really are. Most economists can’t predict when we’ll come out of the current recession let alone what the CPI will be in 20 years! Looking back through history is of little help (though it shows that using strictly CPI as a guideline rates would now be far higher they currently are) and no educated guess on the rate of inflation will be of any help going forward if oil reaches $140.00 a barrel driving up the cost of all the goods and services and taking inflation to entirely new levels.

Point 4: Hydro Quebec will not have control over our future rates. These will be controlled by the New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board.

This appears to say that selling NB Power will not mean relinquishing regulatory control. Under normal circumstances one might expect this to be true, however in this case it may not be.

The MOU clearly states (section 3.1) that “the Government of New Brunswick will change the regulatory framework governing the generation, transmission and distribution in New Brunswick to conform to the framework currently in effect in Quebec.

In other words New Brunswick’s regulator must conform to Quebec’s regulations regardless of what those might be, in effect putting Quebec in control of regulations in New Brunswick, not the local regulators who will serve as little more than a rubber stamp.

Point 5: New generation needs won’t mean larger rate increases because these will be controlled by the EUB.

The MOU limits the amount of power available in the so called heritage pool to 14 TWh for both residential and industrial customers. According to NB Power’s 2007-2008 financial report the province used 14.25 TWh during that period, exceeding the heritage pool allowance being put in place for the next 5 years and almost guaranteeing that the pool is too small to meet existing needs, let alone any future growth. This will mean any new industries hoping to move into the province will not be able to compete on an even playing field with existing industry, impeding all future growth.

As for the pool being too small to start with, according to the MOU section 2.2(b)ii the incremental cost of any power used over the allotted heritage pool will be deferred or set aside until the 5th anniversary when all costs plus interest will be recovered by Hydro Quebec through rate adjustments. This is over and above the annual rate increase based on the Consumer Price Index or other costs to be passed along to consumers.

Point 6: It’s OK to rely on another province for our energy needs because we have a long history of co-operation with the Province of Quebec.

In truth Quebec has no reason to look out for the interests of New Brunswick citizens and this is clear in the MOU. Creation of an artificially low heritage pool will prohibit new industries from accessing favourable power rates and seriously impede new growth.

There is also much reason for concern among exiting companies in New Brunswick that have supplied equipment, tools, vehicles and other necessities to NB Power for decades. Hydro Quebec already has relationships with suppliers outside of New Brunswick and will likely continue to leverage those suppliers that they are comfortable with going forward. In this regard the future for those local companies looks bleak.

Point 7: Don’t worry, New Brunswick would continue to have absolute control over energy policies and the agreement identifies New Brunswick as an energy hub.

In reality “New Brunswick’s” energy hub will be owned by Quebec, not New Brunswick, as will the 20,030 km of transmission lines and the crown lands they sit on.

While Hydro Quebec will indeed have to face the New Brunswick EUB when seeking rate increases several increases are built into the MOU (see previous points) and according to the MOU the New Brunswick regulator, far from being independent, will be obligated to conform to Quebec’s regulations.

So much any guarantees of total control over energy policies.

Point 8: This agreement is beneficial because Hydro Quebec is responsible for such costs as upgrading and maintaining aging NB Power facilities.

Not true.

Section 2.5 of the MOU ensures a fair return (fair being open to interpretation) through a contractual or a legislative guarantee to the owner of the assets (Hydro Quebec) through transmission and distribution rates! This is over and above the CPI rate increase and heritage pool overruns.

In addition, within 12 months of Hydro Quebec issuing the demand, New Brunswick is obligated to shut down and pay all decommissioning costs for Belldune, Coleson Cove and possibly Mactquac and the Lepreau generating stations, none of which Hydro Quebec is financially responsible for and all of which will be paid for by New Brunswick taxpayers, adding to the provincial debt. The bill is for this effort is potentially several billions of dollars which will have to be borrowed and paid back.

Point 9: We are told not to worry our power supply is secure and our NB Power employee’s jobs are secure.

This is difficult to believe since Union leaders have raised concerns that the MOU hasn’t convinced them that existing job or labour agreements are safe at all.

As for power security, when New Brunswick’s thermal power plants (see previous point) are shut down, power will need to be imported from Quebec’s James Bay or Newfoundland and Labradors Churchill Falls plants. Those plants are more than 1250 km from Fredericton. One doesn’t have to go too far into the past to see that greater distances mean greater risk of supply or that putting all dependence on a single supplier, one the province has no control over, is far from what most thinking people would consider energy security.

Liberal Point 10: Will New Brunswicker’s be consulted? Yes your government is listening and urges you to join the conversation on the government’s website www.lowerratesnb.ca

This is doubtful. To date an overwhelming number of complaints, questions and concerns have been raised with government and the result (as is clear to see from the preceding points issued by government) is little more than lip service and spin being offered up.

Citizen’s are demanding a delay of the sale until after the September election so they can decide for themselves but the Graham government is refusing this and has gone so far as to say publicly that the citizens of New Brunswick are not capable of making a decision of this magnitude.

Apparently the New Brunswick government believes the electorate is not intelligent enough to understand what’s going on. One can only assume they arrived at that conclusion after this same electorate supported their platform which included a promise NOT TO SELL NB Power.