07 January 2005

John Crosbie and hand biting

It's always curious when John Crosbie, one of the architects of the Atlantic Accord pops up in support of those who are now attacking his deal from all sides. It's curious because nothing has happened since 1985, when the deal was signed, that works to the detriment of Newfoundland and Labrador. Not a single thing.

It's also strange - actually more like incredible - when Crosbie lambastes a newspaper columnist who complains, among other things, about a premier biting the hand that supposedly feeds him. One wonders where the provincial government might be today were Crosbie still in his old position as Ottawa's representative in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Following is an extract from John Crosbie's 1997 political memoir, No holds barred, (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1997), p.357:

"The accord had three principles. First, the principal beneficiary of the resources should be the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Second, the resources should contribute to energy security for all Canadians. Third, producing provinces should be treated equally in revenue-sharing, whether the resource was on land or offshore. Peckford was ecstatic. 'There is no other document, including the Terms of Union, that will come as close to achieving economic and social equality for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador as this,' he said. '...To tell the truth, I didn't think we could get everything that is in that agreement...We've got a document that every single Newfoundlander who can read and write will consider the most important in the history of this rock.'

The reaction in Newfoundland was so positive that Peckford called a snap election. Our federal Tory government helped handsomely. We announced a $180 million highways agreement, with $112.5 million of the total to come from Ottawa, $3 million in funding for Memorial University, and $400, 000 towards construction of a new music school, among other worthy projects.

Peckford had no sooner won re-election with a comfortable majority, however, than he started biting the hand that had fed him so lavishly. When Finance minister Michael Wilson brought down the Mulroney government's first budget, it called for the partial de-indexing of tax brackets and social-welfare payments. Peckford promptly denounced these deficit-fighting measures as unacceptable. He and his Tories voted with the Liberal Opposition in the [House of] Assembly to pass a resolution condemning the federal government and our Budget. I felt that with friends like Peckford we'd never need enemies!"

A little later Crosbie relates a controversy over the Come-by-Chance oil refinery. (p.359)

"Both the Premier and his Finance minister, John Collins, accused the federal government of being insensitive to regional needs and of not paying attention to Newfoundland. At the time Ottawa was providing 50 per cent of the revenues of their government. I called a news conference to point out this interesting fact: 'Dr. Collins is suffering from at least two human failings,' I said. ' One appears to be greed, the other ingratitude. He seems to specialize in biting the hand that feeds him..."

Later in that same chapter, Crosbie relates yet another controversy, this time over a provincial demand for increased federal transfers. (p. 360)

"He [Peckford] told the press Newfoundland was facing fiscal chaos and would be in a 1930s-style financial disaster within two years unless Ottawa fundamentally redefined the province's place in Confederation. He demanded a new deal in regional development, equalization payments, established program funding, and fisheries jurisdiction. In Peckford's view, 'We've got, at the outside, two years and then it's 1933 all over again.' Peckford said he had informed Ottawa of the perilous situation in a document 'that would blow your mind.'

I held a press conference at St. John's a few days later, together with my caucus colleagues Morrisey Johnson and Joe Price. I pointed out that, if the province was facing financial chaos it was facing it despite the generous help of the government and the people of Canada."

Does any of that sound vaguely familiar to anyone?