Da Legal Stuff...

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Monday, June 14, 2010

The Israel and Palestine of the North

An opinion piece by L. Ian Macdonald in the June 13th edtion of the Montreal Gazette caught my eye today, as I'm sure it did every other Newfoundlander or Labradorian who read the headline, "Let it go Newfoundland".

The article, at least for me, was quite perplexing and, if it weren’t so clearly oxymoronic, might even have spurred some anger on my part.

In his column Macdonald offered up some less than sage advice to Newfoundland and Labrador about moving forward, not looking back, when it comes to dealing with Hydro Quebec and the Quebec government on the Lower Churchill development.

Apparently Mr. Macdonald has taken offense with Premier Williams’ latest words of war against, what Williams referred to as Quebec’s “…sense of greed, arrogance and entitlement…” and decided to use the pages of the Montreal Gazette to air his feelings.

After reading (and re-reading) the article I decided to remain calm, I mean how can anyone be angry with a writer who somehow managed, in a mere 800 words, to prove Newfoundland and Labrador’s case while supposedly claiming that the province (and its leader Danny Williams) are wrong?

In the article Macdonald essentially told Newfoundland to forget the past and move on with a deal on the Lower Churchill project. He claimed that the anger surrounding past transgressions by Quebec is what’s standing in the way of a deal.

Let’s look at his arguments then shall we.

Macdonald began by noting that the Upper Churchill contract, which sees Quebec reap outrageous profits from Newfoundland and Labrador’s resources, happened in the 1960’s and that the lopsided contract was really Joey Smallwood’s fault, not Quebec’s, because as Ian put it, “…the deal on the Upper Churchill was approved by Joey Smallwood, the first premier of Newfoundland” and “Newfoundland did get screwed on the Upper Churchill -screwed by its own premier.”

Well at least he admitted that Newfoundland and Labrador got screwed, that’s something.

Indeed a contract was signed and I agree that Joey Smallwood signed it, but when you put it into context, something Macdonald seems determined not to do, a far different story appears.

In reality Hydro Quebec and the Quebec government refused to allow Newfoundland and Labrador the ability to wheel power across their province to markets elsewhere, leaving Newfoundland and Labrador no option but to negotiate a contract with Quebec on their terms. As anyone knows, when you have nowhere else to turn, it’s usually a pretty one sided negotiation.

As for Joey signing the contract, indeed he did, and many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians still despise him for doing it. In reality however it was Hydro Quebec that stretched out the negotiations for years, nearly forcing the project’s development company into bankruptcy, before using inside information on the company’s impending insolvency as the catalyst to present a final “take it or leave it” contract.

The options at that point were limited. Sign the contract and live with the consequences for the next 60 years, period.

There are still decades left on that contract so as much as Mr. Macdonald may see it as a thing of the past to be put aside, in Newfoundland and Labrador it is not. It isn’t a thing of the past in Quebec either where billions in revenue continue to roll in as a result of it.

In his next attempt to convince Newfoundland and Labrador to “move on” Macdonald noted that Premier Williams even mentioned the border between Labrador and Quebec in a recent speech, saying, “…he is so bitter and twisted about the past that he can't get on with the future. Not content to rant about the injustice of the Upper Churchill, he even thought to mention the British Privy Council decision of 1927, awarding Labrador to Newfoundland, and ripping Quebec for still including Labrador on its map on the government web-site. Get over it.”

Once again the point was missed completely.

Get over it, really?

Yes, the border between the two provinces was decided in 1927 but the act of trying to encroach on that border is continuing to happen every day in Quebec.

Maps are drawn up all the time by Quebec government agencies, including Hydro Quebec, the Tourism Departments, even by Quebec agencies that regulate mineral and oil exploration, depicting portions of Labrador as being inside Quebec or noting that the 1927 border is not officially accepted by Quebec.

How is the ongoing act of border modification a thing of the past to “get over” when that border is directly tied to the head waters and rivers from which Upper Churchill power is, and hopefully Lower Churchill power will, flow?

In his efforts to put Premier Williams (and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador) in its place, Macdonald claims Newfoundlanders are like “Palestinians” because we will never reach a deal due to past grievances. Premier Williams he claimed is over the top in referring to Quebec’s “greed, arrogance and sense of entitlement.

In the next breath, and throughout the article he then goes on to say that Williams is right when he says that Newfoundland and Labrador is getting screwed on the Upper Churchill, that Quebec uses revenues from the Upper Churchill and from buying cheap off peak power from Ontario, then selling it back to them during peak periods, to fund better day care than anyone else in Canada, to offer the lowest university tuitions in the Country and to artificially freeze Quebec power rates, instead of capturing those revenues and lowering the level of equalization payments Quebec receives (more than any other province in the Country).

Call me crazy but whose point is Macdonald actually proving here? The examples presented sound about as close to a strong sense of “greed, arrogance and entitlement” as you can get.

For some reason Ian Macdonald seems to feel that Premier Williams was out of line when, he denounced, “Quebec's "agenda to deny competitive power to the rest of North America," and when he called the decision of the Quebec energy regulator "the most biased decision that I have ever seen in 40 years as a lawyer ...”. Saying “The decision was so absurd and wrong as to be embarrassing to Quebec."

Clearly Mr. Macdonald has been spending far too much time listening to his inner voices rather than doing some valuable research.

It’s clear from examining the Regie (Quebec regulator) decision on transmitting power from the Lower Churchill through Quebec, and on the appeal documents now filed by Newfoundland and Labrador, that the board and its findings are, or should be, a complete and utter embarrassment to Quebec, ripe with incorrect assertions and outright falsehoods.

Among many, many other “mistakes”, the Regie somehow came to the conclusion that the existing Upper Churchill power plant, built in Labrador and run by a division of Newfoundland Hydro, falls under the jurisdiction and control of Quebec, also claiming that the power lines on the Labrador side of the border (remember the border) are regulated and controlled by Quebec.

In the most insulting and idiotic statement of all the Regie noted that the Quebec transmission wing of Hydro Quebec was not aware of the 1969 Churchill Falls agreement. I ask you, if that ludicrous assertion isn’t an embarrassment to the Quebec regulator what in heaven’s name would be?

So, it seems that Danny Williams is no longer Canada’s Hugo Chavez, a name that was born and quickly died out after his dispute with the oil elite finally garnered the province a respectable energy agreement and proved that his tactics wouldn’t drive companies away from the region.

Williams is now, according to Macdonald at least, Canada’s answer to the leader of the PLO with Newfoundlanders the Palestinians. I guess that makes Quebec the much maligned and altruistic Israel of Canada, at least in Macdonald’s twisted and oxymoronic mind.

Quebec, a place where everyone simply wants to live in peace and harmony but where they must forever be vigilant to defend themselves against their neighbors in foreign lands like Ontario and the Canadian Palestine of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Ian must feel so bad for Quebec. If only Newfoundland and Labrador would stop picking on God’s chosen people.


Anonymous said...

Well Myles, I am simply going to say that it is absolutely fantastic to see you writing here again. The “Israel and Palestine of the North ” has to be one of the best pieces of writing you have done. After hearing that you were no longer going to write here at Web Talk, that you were going to semi retire the Blog, I cannot say what went thru my mind.

The inspiration that your writings have given me, have only made me more proud to be an ex-partite. I have never been more proud to say that I am from Newfoundland and Labrador. They have also made me more aware of what is going on in my home province.

I really don’t think you relies the impact that you have on us. And, please don’t think for a minute that your readers don’t know of the sacrifice that it takes to keep something like Web Talk going. I would never know anything, if it wasn’t for you. Yes, there are other Blogs that come from Newfoundland and Labrador but they don’t reveal the truth of the subjects that you cover. They simply don’t add up.

I guess the purpose of this comment tonight is not so much as to discuss the topic, but rather a word of encouragement. The hope that you will see what you do here, and relies what you do give to people that are fortunate enough to read your work Myles. Good Luck and God Bless.

A devoted reader.

Patriot said...

Thank-you for your kind words of encouragement Anon. Yes, it sometimes takes a toll trying to keep on top of such a wide variety of issues and still manage a (somewhat) normal day to day life but it is often worth the effort.

I admit that the time away from Web Talk was a welcome respite and while I'm back, I plan to write a little less than I used to. At least for a while.

It isn't just the effort, that's one thing, but the mental and emotional toll of examining all the issues we face in NL can be draining. Sometimes we all need a little time away.

Don't worry though, the site will remain up and, as topics of importance continue to crop up (as they always do) I'll be posting again.


Anonymous said...

Although not born in Newfoundland I mostly grew up there. I have often thought I would like to return but then I read your very informativ blogs and think better of it. Why is it Newfoundland can't get it right just once. The Fishery has always been thought of by Ottawa as that comment that came out of the BP gusher, little people. What does it take to get Newfoundlanders to move in a positive move just for the ethics side of things?? I'm happy you are going to continue writing as I wondered what had happened to you. I live way out west. Anyong

Jason said...

Hello from Ontario!

I found your website by way of Google, after searching about the Upper Churchill Falls project. I am interested in following the development of the Upper Churchill Falls project and see if NF can avoid the mistakes of the past.

I must say I had a different reaction to the Macdonald article. In fact, I thought it was insightful into understanding how Newfoundlanders view the original deal and how it clouds your judgement for developing the Upper Falls. At the time I also found the parallels to the Palestinian problem apt.

I don't mean to be inflammatory, but I believe your post reinforces and validates Macdonald's points.

There is no question, NF was outmanouvered by Quebec at the outset of the deal. NF had no option at the time other than going through QC to deliver power. There is a saying that applies here: 10% of something is better than 100% of nothing. Without QC participation, the project would not have gone forward.

Smallwood did not have a gun to his head to sign the deal. He could have said "no". His main problem was that he had no other viable option. QC had what is called the "upper hand" in a negotiation. And they played it perfectly.

The border issue is a straw man insofar that the border was set in 1927...who cares what the QC gvernment through its various appendages publishes or believes? Does it make any legal difference? No. Does it hurt your pride...yes.

Macdonald's article highlighted for me what NF needs to do to focus on the future and not the past. The key to the whole issue for further development has got to be the development of a transmission method through NS, rather than QC.

NF needs to play both options in order to negotiate the best deal. Having options is Negotiating 101 and is key for NF.

I wish you luck, because I would like to see NF capitalize on its rich natural resources and fourish in the 21st century.

Question is, will NF focus on the past and be a victim of a bad deal? Or take control of your destiny and build for the future?