Da Legal Stuff...

All commentaries published on Web Talk are the opinions of the contributor(s) only and do not necessarily represent the position of any other individuals, groups or organizations.

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

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"Nobody’s paying attention so it doesn’t matter"

As Thomas Jefferson once said, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance".

Unfortunately, as individuals in nations such as Libya, Egypt and elsewhere offer up their lives for the opportunity to cast a ballot, in Canada we’ve very cunningly been led to a place where voting is something we avoid like the plague and the term “election” has become a dirty word.

Has Stephen Harper tossed aside the Jefferson approach to democracy in favor the Nixon playbook?

There are those who might be tempted to accuse this writer of crossing the line with such a statement but who is it that's actually crossed the line?

When, for example, did such self serving statements as, “…nobody’s paying attention so it doesn’t matter…” become a valid reason for rampant political acts of fraud, forgery and deceit?

I’m not sure anyone can actually pinpoint a specific date on the calendar, yet here we are.

I’ve been around long enough to know that politicians and parties have participated in underhanded acts since the dawn of time, but anyone who’s been following the Canadian political debate of late has witnessed a monumental shift from the age old secretive acts of deception to outright pride in the ability to pull a fast one.

Today the attitude appears to be that it’s OK as long as nobody notices.

As citizens we can waste our time blaming the politicians themselves if we choose but the reality, regardless of the level moral bankruptcy on display in Ottawa, is that most Canadians truly aren’t paying attention and the Nation’s leaders are getting away with it. In the dog eat dog world of politics those running for public office would be laughed out of their respective caucus rooms if they failed to take advantage of this fact and to promote this public inattention. It's sad but true.

The current attitued among Conservative party members can only be described as one of taking pride in their utter disrespect, even disdain, for every man, woman and child from sea to sea to sea.

There’s no doubt that all sides of the political spectrum are fully capable of underhanded acts, but anyone who has sat through even one interview with a Conservative MP, Senator, spin doctor or pundit lately will have lost count of the number of times they’ve been boldly told that “…nobody cares about it…” or “…it doesn’t matter because nobody is paying attention…”.

How sad is the state of our political system when a sitting government is comfortable relying on such platitudes without making even a feeble attempt to explain their actions?

In the past few months alone a sitting government Minister altered a document after it was signed off on by officials, 4 high ranking Conservative party members are facing criminal charges, Elections Canada and the courts have found the Conservative party guilty of nothing less than election fraud for “laundering” hundreds of thousands of dollars during the last election and the Speaker of the House has ruled against the government for refusing to provide financial information required by the Commons and for misleading Parliament.

Through it all, the only explanation offered by anyone on the Harper government payroll is to repeat the mantra of, “…nobody cares…” or “...it doesn’t matter because nobody is paying attention…”.

The saddest part about this shift in political tactics is that it’s actually working.

Clearly those who brush aside concerns about such reprehensible acts show how little respect they have for Canada’s political system, not to mention the public, but they are not wrong, at least when they say nobody is paying attention. People aren’t and as a result they are indeed getting away with it.

The attitude of today’s political elite allow them to downplay their illegal and/or immoral acts and serves the agenda of increasing the level of voter apathy across Canada. A reality that few can argue when you realize that during the last federal election slightly more than 58% of eligible voters actually went to the polls. The result: the Conservative Party formed government with only 37% support. Thanks to their ability to encourage their core supporters while reinforcing the feelings of apathy among those who don’t lean to the Right.

With the state of our political situation one might well expect voter turnout in the upcoming election to drop even lower. Not because nobody wants an election (another tag line popular in Conservative circles) but because the very act of disrespect that comprises the thrust of this article has, quite intentionally, left so many people with a bad taste in their mouths.

In this light, it’s not a stretch to say that the Conservative Party of Canada isn’t actually running a campaign against the Liberals, the NDP or the Bloc, but against the citizens of Canada.

(As a side note for readers in Newfoundland and Labrador, Fabian Manning has apparently decided to run for the seat in Avalon. You remember Fabian right? He's the one who, when last sent to Ottawa, stood beside PM Harper in the House of Commons cheering, laughing and clapping as the PM ridiculed the Province Manning was elected to represent over its demands that he live by his promises on the Atlantic Accord. Welcome back Fabian.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Federal Election Sparks Side Deal with Quebec

At the eleventh hour, after more than a decade of backroom negotiation, the Province of Quebec and the Federal Minister of Natural Resources, Christian Paradis, who also happens to be the MP for the Quebec district of Mégantic—L'Érable, have inked a deal on offshore oil and gas revenues.

The deal side steps Newfoundland and Labrador’s long standing Provincial boundary dispute with Quebec and could see Quebec reap as much as 9 billion from a disputed 30kilometer long oil and gas deposit situated between the two Provinces.

At issue is the “Old Harry” oil and gas reserve estimated to contain as much as 2 billion barrels of oil, a field nearly twice the size of the Hibernia oil field on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest said Thursday the deal to give his province the royalties from the “Old Harry” oil and gas reserve is "historic".

With this agreement Quebec will retain 100% of the royalties from their section of the oil field and the Federal government can head into the next election saying they have delivered for Quebec, but what becomes of Newfoundland and Labrador?

With the boundary dispute between the two Provinces left unsettled nobody really knows just how much of the oil field actually rests within the boundaries of Quebec making it impossible to determine just how much of the revenue truly belongs to La Belle Province.

In its rush to prop up political support in Quebec the Federal Conservative government has agreed to the arrangement with Quebec based on a much disputed boundary document worked out by the Premiers of Quebec and the four Atlantic Provinces back in 1964 but which was never signed off on by Parliament, as is required by the Constitution.

Decades after that agreement came into being, when the boundary between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador was finally settled, the courts ruled that the 1964 agreement was not valid but that hasn’t stopped Quebec or the Conservative government from using it in this case.

Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal leader, Yvonne Jones, says she is worried the Old Harry deal is federal "election bait" for Quebec.

"We could stand to gain a lot, or lose a lot. I think it's a real game of Russian Roulette for us”

"We need to get into the details of where the federal government is headed with Quebec on this particular deal. Is it election bait? How much of it are they giving away? Where is our stake into it, and at what point do we come into the picture?"

"I'm absolutely dismayed to learn today that the province of Newfoundland and Labrador was not engaged in this negotiation in any way."

For her part the newly minted Newfoundland and Labrador Premier, Kathy Dunderdale, said that the agreement with Quebec contains a dispute resolution clause the Province intends to invoke in an effort to ensure that the boundary recognized is not the one stitched together in 1964 but one that adheres to the International Law of the Sea as set out by the United Nations. A similar process was used to settle the Province’s boundary with Nova Scotia.

The concern for many in Newfoundland and Labrador is the speed with which the deal seems to have been finalized, what the details of the “accord” entail and the fact that Newfoundland and Labrador will be expected to utilize a dispute mechanism setup without any input from the Province.

Meanwhile, Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois has been quoted as saying that Quebec shouldn't have to get involved in an arbitration process to determine the boundary issues.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Newfoundland & Labrador Shut out of Atlantic Gateway Initiative?

The more things change the more they stay the same in Newfoundland and Labrador, or more precisely, WITH Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada.

Based on a recent article in the St. John’s Telegram and from information provided by the Liberal MP from Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, it appears the province may well be shut out of Billions of dollars in funding for the Atlantic Gateway project approved by Ottawa and the provinces nearly 4 years ago.

Excerpts from the St. John’s Telegram:

In October 2007, Trevor Taylor — then Newfoundland and Labrador’s minister of innovation, trade and rural development — signed an agreement with the three other Atlantic provinces and the federal government to develop the roads, railways and ports necessary to make the region a hub of international trade.

Peter MacKay, the Nova Scotia Member of Parliament and minister responsible for what was called the Atlantic Gateway, called the concept a “smarter approach.”

“Atlantic Canada has some very able people here now that are going to put their shoulder to the wheel and get the gateway rolling,” he said at the time.

All four Atlantic provinces are working together, pulling together and moving in the same direction with the federal government.” (The italics added by Web Talk)

Three and a half years later, the gateway is rolling, with projects underway or approved, 17 in all, worth a total of $229.2 million. In New Brunswick: seven projects, $126.2 million. In Nova Scotia: six projects, $92.5 million. In Prince Edward Island: four projects, $10.5 million. In Newfoundland and Labrador: zero projects, zero dollars.

The list of projects funded through the Gateways and Board Crossings Fund, obtained Tuesday from Transport Canada through a request made by members of the standing committee on transportation, infrastructure and communities, lists the individual projects and their costs.

That includes $87.5 million to twin 55 kilometres of Route 1 in New Brunswick, $36.5 million to upgrade and expand cargo handling services at the Port of Halifax, and $4.5 million for Route 1 realignment and intersection installation on Prince Edward Island.

Gerry Byrne, the Liberal MP for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte and a member of the standing committee, called Newfoundland and Labrador’s exclusion disturbing. He said he obtained the list when he and two other Liberal members of the committee requested an update on the strategy for the fund — which he said is about $800 million out of $2.1 billion in a broader fund that includes Ontario and Quebec.

The list of projects include airport work in Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and New Brunswick, announced late last month while the St. John’s Airport Authority’s 2009 request for help funding a new $25-million instrumentation landing system, which would help more planes land in foggy weather, has been unfulfilled.

Fraser Edison, chairman of the airport authority’s board of directors, said the economic benefits of getting the work done at the St. John’s airport should be clear, but they’ve been stymied for funding.

“As of today, nothing. No word whatsoever on it,” he said. “This would increase five per cent in the accessibility of the airport, and five per cent represents 70,000 passengers and 700 flights (a year).”

Likewise, the lack of roadwork approved is a sore spot for the Newfoundland and Labrador Road Builders’ Association, too.

Austin Sheppard, the association's business manager, says the province’s exclusion “leaves a sour taste.”

“I am heading off to meetings in Moncton in early May for the Atlantic Road Builders, and that’s one topic that always comes up for discussion,” he said.
The briefing notes from the deputy minister mentions federal commitments to Marine Atlantic, about $521 million, and Byrne says it seems as though the federal government considers that Newfoundland’s share of the Gateway fund.

“If that’s the case, that’s completely unacceptable. We have a constitutional right to that ferry service. The Atlantic Gateway funding is a discretionary program to build up Atlantic Canadian export capacity through improved transportation mechanisms,” he said.

“I think within the department they are actually building in the Marine Atlantic funding as Newfoundland and Labrador’s share. That’s not acceptable. … That ferry service is not a discretionary service of the government of Canada.”

Gerry Byrne: “Is it really the Maritime Gateway? Or is it the Atlantic Gateway?”

Sunday, March 13, 2011

And Then We Wonder Why.....

Ever wonder about free trade?

Ever wonder why, with all the oil produced in Canada, gas prices continue to climb and climb?

Hey, have you ever wondered (you'd probably have to live in NL to do so but...) why we can never advance as a province on a fiscal front?

Hell, you know something, in reality the following, from the Toronto Star, does'nt just tell the story of a messed up reality, it tells the story of a Canadian government bought off by corporate interests and more than willing to sacrafice the people of the nation.

Synopsis: NL is not allowed to sell oil to the rest of Canada and, when it comes to a dependable oil supply, Atlantic Canada is on its own.

Read on:

From The Toronto Star:...

Yes, we know Newfoundland has oil. But...it doesn’t have as much as we tend to think.

And what it does have is running out pretty fast. There are hopes in Newfoundland that some recent deepwater discoveries will soon bring new sources of oil online, but that oil is very, very deep in treacherous waters and it still has to be determined if enough can be reached and retrieved to make the investment worthwhile.

That explains, in large part, why Newfoundland and Nova Scotia last year made the historic decision to build an undersea power line from the vast hydro-electric resources of Labrador to the vast, power-hungry markets of the U.S. East Coast. Newfoundland’s offshore oil may run out in a few decades, but hopefully the raging rivers of Labrador will keep pumping water through hydro dams far into the future.

Just under half of Newfoundland’s (roughly) 300,000-barrel-a-day offshore oil production is processed at Newfoundland’s sole refinery at Come By Chance. The rest is shipped directly by tanker to refineries in the U.S.

The Come By Chance refinery was built in the early 1970s by American entrepreneur John Shaheen, who finagled a huge amount of financial backing from Joey Smallwood’s provincial government. The refinery processed crude shipped in from the Middle East at the time.

By 1976 — overwhelmed by the OPEC Arab oil boycott and astronomical price increases for crude — Shaheen’s company was bankrupt and the refinery was shut down at great loss to Newfoundland taxpayers.

In 1980, the $120-million refinery was bought for $10 million by the Canadian government through Petro-Canada, just to get it out of limbo.

The refinery was not reopened until 1986 when Petro-Canada sold it to Bermuda-based Newfoundland Processing (later Energy) Ltd. for the princely sum of $1 (that’s one dollar).

But here’s the really incredible part: A condition of sale was that Newfoundland Processing and any subsequent owners were forbidden FOREVER from selling oil products from the Come By Chance refinery to ANY Canadian market apart from Newfoundland & Labrador.

As a result, to this day, about 10% of the oil refined at Come By Chance supplies the Newfoundland & Labrador domestic market, while the other 90% is shipped directly to the U.S. Not a drop goes to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I., Quebec or Ontario.

Incredible, eh?

I don’t know for sure why that strange codicil was added to the sales agreement, but I am fairly confident in deducing that it was as a result of pressure from the private owners of refineries in Halifax, Saint John and Montreal who didn’t want a taxpayer-dollar-leveraged Newfoundland refinery cutting into their markets in the Maritimes and Quebec.

Perhaps it made sense at the time (I think not) but what it did do was cut off Eastern Canada from oil produced in Eastern Canada.

And where, exactly, does the oil come from that feeds those refineries in Halifax (Dartmouth, actually), Saint John and Montreal?

Why, it comes from all those dangerous places in the Middle East, Africa and South America that the U.S. is trying so desperately to steer clear of by glutting itself on Canadian oil.

The Eastern Canadian refineries used to get most of their oil from British and Norwegian sources in the North Sea and from the Persian Gulf states, but as those sources dry up or become more troubled, the refineries in Dartmouth, Saint John and Montreal have turned more and more to places like Libya (shiver), Nigeria, Angola, Venezula and Mexico.

Getting back to the Come By Chance refinery for a moment, it was sold in 1994 to the Vitol Refining Group, after which its name was changed to North Atlantic Refining Ltd.

In 2006, the refinery was sold to Alberta-based Harvest Energy and, in 2009, Harvest in turn sold North Atlantic Refining to the Korean National Oil Corporation, owned by the South Korean government.

So you’ve got the only oil refinery processing Newfoundland crude owned by the South Korean government, while the other oil refineries in Eastern Canada process oil pumped from wells located halfway around the world.

It’s enough to make you shake your head, as dear old Lloyd Robertson would say.

Skipping over to the other Atlantic Canada refineries, the one in Dartmouth, N.S., is owned and operated by Imperial Oil while the one in Saint John, N.B., was built in 1960 by the Irving family empire, the dominant economic force in New Brunswick in the 20th Century.

The Irving Oil refinery is the largest in Canada, daily processing more than 250,000 barrels of crude from the Persian Gulf, the North Sea and Venezula. The Irvings have their own fleet of tankers to bring the oil to Saint John, where the refinery dominates the city.

And now the multi-billion-dollar question: Why is Canada importing a million barrels of oil a day from other countries when it’s got its own oil supply?

Mainly because the same pipeline builders who decided to run “our” national pipeline through the United States also decided it was not economically viable to extend the InterProvincial pipeline to the Maritimes when its second leg — from Sarnia, Ont., to Montreal — was built in the mid-1970s. Which is really weird, seeing as how the pipeline extension was ordered by the Canadian government on national security grounds after the scare of the OPEC Arab oil boycott.

I think the decision may also have been affected by the Irving family’s determination that the Irving empire would retain greater control over oil flowing into the Maritimes if the oil kept coming by ship instead of pipeline. And I think the Irvings also determined they could get crude oil cheaper elsewhere in the world than from Western Canada. I guess nobody wants to be a hostage to a single provider. I always hated being a hostage of the monolithic Irvings when I lived in New Brunswick.

I’ll get back to oil pipelines and where Quebec and Ontario stand, oil-wise, in a minute, but I want to round off the Atlantic Canada discussion first.

There is one other major oil facility in Atlantic Canada, the super port at Port Hawkesbury, N.S., created accidentally as a year-round ice-free deep-water port by the construction of the Canso Causeway connecting Cape Breton with mainland Nova Scotia.

The Canso super port, however, has virtually nothing to do with Canada. It is almost exclusively a transshipment point to move oil delivered from the Middle East and Africa by massive supertankers to smaller vessels that then deliver the oil to U.S. East Coast refinery ports that can’t accommodate the ultra-large crude oil tankers.

Now let’s move on to Quebec

As I said a little while ago, the Interprovincial pipeline was pushed through from Sarnia to Montreal in 1975-76 at the behest of the federal government.

At the time, the Montreal area had four oil refineries. That number dropped to three, then two and finally one when Shell ceased processing operations at its refinery at the end of 2010.

Now Montreal’s only refinery is the Suncor facility (Petro-Canada before it was absorbed by Suncor in 2009).

And where does the Montreal Suncor refinery oil come from?

It comes by pipeline, but not from Western Canada.

Because the flow of more expensive oil from Alberta to Montreal had slowed to a trickle by the early 1990s. The eastbound pipeline was finally shut down in the mid-’90s and in 1999, the flow was reversed to carry overseas oil westward from Montreal as far as Sarnia.

Crude oil for the Montreal refinery and the westbound flow to Sarnia is from all the usual Mideast, African and South American suspect countries. The oil is delivered by tanker to the deepwater port of Portland, Maine, then pumped north through the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line.

The original Portland-Montreal lines were built during World War II when German U-boat activity in the Gulf of St. Lawrence was strangling the supply of overseas oil to Canada. Since Alberta’s major oil deposits weren’t discovered until after the war, the safe overland pipeline route from then-neutral U.S.A. was the best way to feed the war industries of Quebec and Ontario.

But times change.

As Alberta oil has become more competitive economically — and definitely more secure — new pipeline reversals are the order of the day.

Enbridge (successor operator of the Interprovincial network)Â is right now applying to the National Energy Board to change back the westward flow of oil from Montreal to Sarnia.

For starters, Enbridge wants to re-engineer its Line 9 pipeline from Sarnia to Westover, southwest of Toronto, to feed Alberta crude to Imperial Oil’s Nanticoke refinery on Lake Erie via Line 11 and to connect with U.S. markets through New York state via Line 10.

Take a look at this Enbridge map to see what I’m talking about.

Enbridge figures if it gets prompt approval, it can start work on the changeover this summer and have oil flowing east again by spring 2012.

Enbridge hasn’t applied for Phase 2 of its conversion yet, but that will follow as night follows day.

Phase 2 would see the oil again flow eastward on Enbridge Line 9 from Westover to Montreal. That will happen eventually and Quebec, at least, will no longer be totally dependent on foreign oil. But, like Ontario, it will suddenly become dependent on one or two pipelines feeding through the United States.

The biggest motivator for that change is that the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line oil flow can also be reversed. Thus safe and secure (if “dirty”) Alberta oil can then be pumped down to Portland, where tankers will carry it to U.S. East Coast refineries.

Who knows, maybe someday the Maritimes will finally get their own pipeline extension and finally get refined Canadian oil and gas from Alberta.

Better yet, why not let the rest of Atlantic Canada buy Canadian oil and gas refined in Newfoundland? What a concept...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Return of The Independent News Service

Like a pheonix from the ashes, the wonderfully free styling and much beloved bastion of free speech, The Independent, has triumphantly risen once again to challenge the established media in Newfoundland and Labrador.

With a staff of experienced writers, editors and contributors that have banded together to publish the real stories affecting Newfoundland and Labrador the online news services is a must read.

Once again the people of Newfoundland and Labrador can look to The Independent to report the truth mainstream media often glosses over, misses entirely and sometimes, perhaps most sadly, intentionally avoids.

Need I say more.

Check out the new online version of an old favorite at: The Independent