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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


Anonymous said...

Why is it OK for Danny Williams to meddle in a deal between NB and QC, but not OK for Quebec to meddle in a deal between NL and NS?

Patriot said...

Anonymous said...
Why is it OK for Danny Williams to meddle in a deal between NB and QC, but not OK for Quebec to meddle in a deal between NL and NS?

The answer is simple: Because a Hydro-Quebec takover of NB powerlines would have closed the only alternative route NL has to access U.S. markets with Lower (or eventually Upper) Churchill power. So, it wasn't meddling in the affairs of others it was protecting our ability to access markets.

On the other hand, Quebec fighting NL and NS over federal government involvement in an undersea cable is simply another instance of Quebec trying to shut that door on us.

Quebec claims that they had to fund their own power lines and so should we. No problem and in fact NL does fund its own power lines, but the Ocean is not inside NL or NS territory, it is federal jurisdiction and as such the Fed should be involved. If we went it alone you can bet they'd want to have a say, so they should help pay.

Hope this helps clarify the situation for you.

Anonymous said...

If we went it alone? I thought Danny had already announced we had went it alone. Did we went it alone or not?