One word describes
Premier Ball. That word is “charlatan”. Other synonyms offered by Wikipedia include
trickster, fraudster and hoaxer. All describe a person who is not forthright. Ball
is selling his “Atlantic Accord” deal as something to be proud of. It is
On Monday, April 1st,
the Premier announced in his own
words “an agreement that ensures Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are the
principal beneficiaries of their offshore resources, strengthens how those
resources are developed through joint management, and will also achieve
electricity rate mitigation.”
How “rate mitigation” for the Muskrat Falls project found its way into a
deal about the Atlantic Accord, as former Premier Brian Peckford noted in his
commentary, is baffling
Worrisome, too, is that Ball equates the “revenue stream” associated
with Canada’s ownership stake in Hibernia as fulfilling the “principal
beneficiary” principle, which he touts as a great victory.
He offered that context in the press briefing, and again on Wednesday
evening in his “Here and Now” interview. He seems unaware that the Accord Acts include
management, royalties, local benefits and other rights. The full context is ‘as
if the resources are on land’. “Principal beneficiary” has a wide meaning and long-term
implications; none were a priority for Ball. The subject is pushed off to be
negotiated over the next two years — not by March 31st of this
Only the exigencies of electoral politics are front and centre in this
deal. Ball has proven that Ottawa can play the boonies like a fiddle. He has
been bought for a song.
Not surprisingly, Peckford described the revenue payments as “meagre”. $2.5
billion over 37 years — to 2056 — equates to $67 million a year, fixed. Truly,
that is chump change given the amount of revenue Ottawa receives from multiple
sources engaged in the NL offshore oil business. Consider, too, that NL is
ineligible for Equalization Payments. Brian Tobin, for god’s sake, did a better
deal selling “Term 29” back to Ottawa. It was forgotten the next day!
There are plenty of ironies here, especially for those of us with long
memories. The Liberals are now doing in
Government what they did in the 1980s in Opposition — which was to undermine
the very idea of an Accord that puts jurisdictional rights and roles for NL
above tinkering by Ottawa.
A more recent irony is that the Tories used a “back-end loaded” scheme to
make power rates cheaper (relatively) in the early years to make the project
“saleable”. Ball’s Accord has the
revenue stream “front-end loaded” to sell the deal, too. If the Treasury doesn’t
break earlier, after 2030 ratepayers will surely wonder if we are all charlatans
for having bought it in the first place.
Of course, Ball’s and Ottawa’s money deal is not a serious program of
national wealth redistribution. It is only a “scheme” to delude today’s public.
If it gets the Government(s) through an election, dishonesty will have won
Admittedly, the Ball Government may have been warned about the growing
debt level and the risk of credit downgrade. The Bond Rating Agencies will be
pleased with any reduction in the Net Debt, which – through creative accounting
– will reflect Ball’s paltry deal. On that account, it will be more than
interesting to see what the Federal Finance Minister says about rate mitigation
That said, the response of a wise Premier to Ottawa’s fiscal games
should have been an order to his Finance Minister to bring down a Budget based
on fiscal prudence. Instead Ball caved to Ottawa – again. The local spending
problem is as intractable as it ever was, too.
While former Premier Peckford’s analysis was spot-on, an even greater
deficiency than the meagre monetary sum or any attempt to strengthen the Accord’s
original design is the complete absence of transparent effort by Ball to deal
with the Federal Government’s new environmental assessment approval process for
large natural resource projects. The process captures offshore oil exploration.
In a very serious way, it threatens the entire future of the province’s
Former NOIA president Bob Cadigan has spoken publicly on this issue and
conducted a very insightful interview on the CBC Morning Show on Wednesday
morning. (The CBC should make sure that Cadigan’s remarks are easily found.)
Cadigan warns that the proposed new environmental legislation could
delay exploration and development licences and, in the case of exploration, this
is already happening. Cadigan is not only right he may be understating the
enormity of the problem.
Already, exclusion zones have been designated for oil and gas
exploration, including in the Laurentian Basin. That, I suggest, is merely the
thin edge of the wedge. Once this legislation is enacted into law, every
interest group in the country will be enfranchised to oppose an exploration or
development permit. If you think Alberta is the solo target, the NL public had
better get ready for their own battle royal.
Think it alarmist, if you will. But the self-appointed environmentalists
are coming to shut down the NL offshore. It will happen sooner than you think,
and it will seem just as absurd as Paul Watson, or that other Paul’s protest of
the seal fishery. And you probably remember how successful WE were then.
To one of Cadigan’s points, some of those people, myopic and
uncompromising, are already helping shape federal environmental policy. They constitute
some of the bureaucrats influencing the legislation.
We have seen what little progress the Federal Government has made for
Alberta pipelines. Between the Courts and the hundreds of interest groups,
there will be no rescue for a weak provincial government — perhaps any
government — when new national legislation gives them grip.
The Premier is oblivious to all those realities.
Ball’s Accord is the deal of a charlatan. The public should tell him