Thursday, March 29, 2007

Anger at Harper, Justified. Rationalizing Non-Renewable Exclusion for NL, Iffy

No doubt, few will argue that Stephen Harper broke a promise. In doing that, he gave many in Atlantic Canada, Sasketchewan, and the rest of Canada a huge reason not to trust him. As Rex Murphy suggested last week, he has become the type of leader he once despised. The hope that his promise gave to people in Newfoundland and Labrador was shattered and hence people are justifiably angry at him.

The fallout of our Premier protesting with feisty words and ads is no surprise. Any Premier ought to have been angry with Harper over this, and stand up for the province. The message was sent, received, will be repeated in the next election, but it's time to put it to the back burner right now to give full focus to home developments and promises. The Williams government has to obsess on projects that are stalled and dying. In this blogger's opinion, he has good intentions for the long term interests of the province. He's certainly not signing agreements with big oil just to say it was done under his watch. That's good, and bad obviously, but that potential is still there. He has gotten the message through that Harper can't be trusted out there, but needs to move on.

Rationalizing 100% Exclusion of Non-Renewables from Equalization Formula
Harper used several provinces to get elected, 21 seats in Atlantic Canada and Sasketchewan, the margin of his win. He will likely win big in the next election. But if Harper did not win the next election, or if there wasn't a Harper promise to remove non-renewables resources from the equalization formula at all in the first place, could their exclusion be justified on its own merit? And how? Of course there would be little, if any, controversy in NL if he had kept his campaign promise in last Monday's budget. It would have been a great opportunity to pay down the debt sooner, enhance infrastructures in the province, etc. But ultimately our province has to answer why should we be permitted to exclude non-renewables and be exempt from a cap on fiscal capacity. So people will ask, "what makes NL so special?" Some rationale rightly or wrongly might be, for example:

1. In 2005, we had the highest per capita debt load of any province at $23,280 (2005), much higher than the next highest, Nova Scotia, at $13,000 (2005)
Quebec Finance Minister Michel Audet announced last year that Quebec then had the highest per capita debt.

Like the other 7 provinces we do not want to receive equalization continually, but paying of our provincial debt will take generations.
We have to run a surplus of $250 million a year for 48 years just to get to no debt, and Alberta has passed that point. - Loyola Sullivan, 2006

2. NL chronically has the highest unemployment rate in Canada.

3. Significant and continuous outmigration and declining population.

4. Many see excluding non-renewables from the equalization formula as fair compensation for the lack of intervention of the federal government in the 1960's, after Quebec declined Newfoundland's request for a transmission line across Quebec for the Upper Churchill Hydro development. NL MHAs were ultimately responsible for approving the notorious 1969 deal. But in an interview with Cabot Martin, Smallwood said that his request to Lester Pearson to use federal authority to allow a transmission line across Quebec, was rejected before he could formally present the request out of fear it would jeopardize national unity. After 17 years of investigation, negotiations and preliminary development, NL and BRINCO ran out of money, choices and time. Quebec had a geographic advantage and would not budge from their position. Some called it a "revenge of geography" for a decision, decades earlier, of including part of Labrador as part of the province of "Newfoundland". (same source) As a result Quebec gets 96% of the benefits each year (roughly $800 million in 2005, compared to $20 million for NL).

5. Displacement of tens of 1000s of fishery workers resulting from the moratorium on northern cod. While many factors may have contributed to the collapse, one factor is mismanagement of the fishery.
"In our view, the major factor was clearly mismanagement."
- Report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans

In any future case where consideration is given to excluding 100% of non-renewables, some good clear rationale will have to be outlined. Non-renewables are finite, but also finite everywhere. If there are more arguments to support NL's case they would have to be compiled at some point.


Anonymous said...

You make some excellent points indeed. I think we really need to communicate why exactly we feel so wronged, if that's the right word, by this federation. The points you make are just the most obvious ones on what could surely be a long list. I think these points are totally lost on the mainland media and Ottawa. Our case is strong and no it's not just about Harper's broken promise, it runs far deeper than that.

kodak said...

Thanks for the feedback and your input Anon. I think you're right that old and deep wounds from the past still hurt, and do affect peoples' feelings on this issue. But unfortunately, rationales don't always stand up to objective considerations. While NL has a high per capita debt, and a huge debt, so does most have-not provinces. As well, the argument that non-renewables are finite, therefore, it is a limited opportunity to reap the full reward of the revenues, sounds good, but other provinces have non-renewables too, and again, we could be asked, why are we so different.

I guess my point in this post we would have to prove ourselves. If a House of Commons debate took place on excluding non-renewables for NL, for example, then arguments have to be backed up with very convincing rationales, and for perhaps some arguments, clear evidence. An example of the last point, is the often cited "secretive" bilateral fish trade, where our fish was "alledgedly" bargained in a deal to accomodate other country's industrial in the industrial mainland of Canada. I have heard this for years, but it has come so often in the blogosphere, that it would be interesting to see actual evidence of such a transaction. That is, if someone would provide a real source that can actually confirm such a bilateral trade took place, that would be good.

It was apparently mentioned in the Royal Commission on Our Place in Canada, but I have read that no reference was given to back this up. It could be out there in the heads of key people involved but I have do not know of any verified witness to a secretive bilateral fish trade, but would like to hear about it.

Outside a broken promise, NL could have to justify its case. I welcome more input on this. I am a regular Newfoundlander and still learning.

Speedcat Hollydale said...

Interesting post, a lot of thinking here....more interesting, WOW - what a blog roll. You are the master of the links. :-)

Speedcat Hollydale