27 January 2005

Roland Martin: Stop making things up!

Following is the text of a letter to the editor submitted to The Globe and Mail in response to a commentary by Roland Martin on the Atlantic Accord.

Mr. Martin is a former deputy minister of finance in Newfoundland and Labrador. He did not serve on the Newfoundland and Labrador negotiating team on the Atlantic Accord in 1984/85.

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Dear Editor:

Roland Martin does a tremendous disservice to readers of the Globe and Mail with his repeated misstatements of fact related to the current discussions between the Government of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador on the Atlantic Accord. (27 Jan, 05, p. A19, “Drum roll: a solution”)

First, Mr. Martin should be well aware that what Premier Williams proposed to the federal government almost one year ago is substantively different from the current provincial position. One year ago, Premier Williams merely asked that the existing Accord Equalization offset provisions be replaced by a new arrangement. Implicitly this would last until 2012, when the Accord offset arrangements expire. There is no evidence that he sought Equalization offsets lasting for the life of offshore oil production and irrespective of the province’s Equalization status until June 10 and afterward. Therefore, it is clear, and blatantly contrary to Mr. Martin’s assertion, that the federal government position is closer to the original Williams proposal rather than the current one.

Second, at no time has the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador ever publicly indicated that it sought a 16 year Equalization offset. This is a matter of public record.

Third, Mr. Martin persists in the completely false assertion that the principle beneficiary provisions of the offshore Accords relate solely to provincial government revenues. In the Atlantic Accord, it is clear from public comments by Prime Minister Mulroney and Premier Peckford at the time the Accord was signed that “principle beneficiary” included the province government’s right to set and collect provincial revenues as if the resources were on land (it does not specify a quantum), the provincial government’s right to co-manage development of the offshore resources, and the province’s right to have a guaranteed level of local industrial and other benefits.

Fourth, by his use of the “clawback’ argument, Mr. Martin leaves the impression that neither Nova Scotia nor Newfoundland and Labrador retains its offshore revenue. In fact, both provinces receive all the revenues to which they are entitled, in their entirety without reduction of any kind.

Fifth, Mr. Martin’s proposed solution actually conforms in general terms to the federal government’s December offer. What Mr. Martin does not state is that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has, to date, insisted on receiving Equalization offsets from the Government of Canada irrespective of its fiscal capacity. In other words, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador wishes to continue receiving double its oil and gas revenues from offshore oil long after it might have passed the “sustainability” indicators Mr. Martin proposes.

Sixth, Mr. Martin invents provisions of the Atlantic Accord that do not exist when he claims that the Accord was designed to have updated revenue sharing arrangements. Such is not the case and there is no public statement of any kind to support his contention. To the contrary, the statement of revenue-sharing principles in the Accord explicitly provides that Newfoundland and Labrador would be treated the same as all other oil producing provinces; not better, not worse, but the same. There would be no need to revisit the Accord revenue-sharing provisions since they are inherently flexible. Since Mr. Martin did not serve on the provincial negotiating team in 1985, one is puzzled at the basis for his claim.

Seventh and flowing from this, Mr. Martin persists in the contention that the current discussion is about revenue sharing. It is not. It is about Equalization, which is treated consistently and separately from revenues in the original Mulroney letter of 14 June 1984, the Atlantic Accord itself and in the implementation legislation. This is only about revenue sharing for those who contend that Government of Newfoundland and Labrador should retain not only 100% of provincial government revenues, as it does already, but also a portion of federal government revenues through Equalization, contrary to the revenue sharing provisions of the Accord itself.

A successful solution to the current offshore Accord impasse is possible. It merely requires that individuals like Mr. Martin refrain from their penchant for stating as facts things which are demonstrably and irrefutably false.

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