17 September 2006

The consistency of inconsistency

In February, 2006 Bond Papers suggested that the Williams administration should refuse development of the province's mineral resources unless every possible refinement and processing is done in the province.

That followed a more light-hearted post in January in which we uttered the cry that "not one isotopic teaspoon" of uranium should leave this province without being turned into energy and nuclear weapons.

The basis for the post was the insistence by Premier Danny Williams that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians get the full benefit of their resources. He blew off a multi-billion dollar deal on offshore oil on those grounds and since that deal collapsed in April, Williams has been pounding the Tobin "not one teaspoon" on every available surface.

There's even a section on this in the much-vaunted Williams Blue Book:
A strong mineral industry for the Province will be built on progressive legislation that will:

Require that ore concentrate be processed to a finished metal product in the Province where it is feasible to do so.

Link royalties and taxes to market prices and the extent of value- added activity undertaken in the Province.
Now anyone reading this has to bear in mind that the phrase "where it is feasible to do so" means simply where Danny says so. The financial and other logic against his posturing with the oil companies has fallen on the most plugged-up of deaf ears any premier of this province has ever worn.

But the Williams logic is spelled out in plain English in the Blue Book:
Our goal is to increase the activities associated with the processing of minerals in the Province and related business activities in the service and supply industries, such as construction, energy, engineering and environmental services, research and development, equipment parts and supplies, and financial and legal services.

That, of course, is merely an echo of the shouting Williams did about the Voisey's Bay deal with Inco that would allow ore to be shipped from the province until a commercial smelter/refinery can be built.

With that as background, it was surprising to read comments by natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale on the need to allow prospectors and mine developers to do essentially what they need to do with ore once it is discovered.

Dunderdale told The Sunday Telegram:

Dunderdale says the province won'’t place processing restrictions on prospectors and mining companies because it would just drive them away. Dunderdale says new technologies — which allow prospectors to take additional small amounts of material out of mines previously thought to be stripped or to be economically unviable — have also attracted mining companies to the province in recent years. [Emphasis added]
That's right.

The provincial government will not be placing processing restrictions on mining companies since those restrictions will just drive prospectors to look somewhere else in the world. Incidentally, elsewhere in the story, the value of mineral shipments from the province was pegged at $2.8 billion annually.

This is a truly outstanding example of the ability of the Williams administration to apply one set of rules for one project or industry and an entirely different set of rules for another.

In Stephenville, Williams was willing to commit upwards of $180 million of taxpayers money to subsidize power for the now-defunct Abitibi mill in the west coast town. Only a short few months later, Williams has rejected the idea of an energy subsidy for the province's major fishing enterprise because if he did that, he would face similar requests from others.

Danny Williams seems to have a remarkable ability to shift positions to suit whatever particular whim strikes him. In the case of the mining industry, Dunderdale's comments are right but they are also equally applicable to a host of other economic developments which are currently in the slings as a direct result of her boss not following the same policy.

Williams' Animal Farm -like approach to government may make for good theatre, just as Orwell's book was a good read, but there may well be other layers of meaning and other layers of understanding that must be achieved before we fully appreciate the import of Dunderdale's comments to The Telegram.

All animals may be equal, but there may be some who are more equal than others.