12 September 2006

Monkey tossing for England


The English have a phrase that if someone is especially good at something, then they could do it "for England."

Like say the guy loves to down pints of his favourite lager; well, he could "Drink for England."

Or, as Janice once said of her ex-husband - for all your Corrie fans - Les could lie for England.

Then there's the thing Danny Williams is famous for: blaming others for something or, as the phrase goes "tossing the monkey" as in putting a monkey on someone's back.

Well, it isn't telling fibs and it isn't drinking but Danny Williams and his gang of followers could toss monkeys for England if the gaggle of Monday news releases from his administration is any indication.

First, there was the scrum in which Williams announced he was giving up the ludicrous fight to put Andy Wells in charge of the offshore regulatory board. It was ludicrous since Williams kept arguing against positions he himself had previously endorsed. The whole sordid mess ended with a Supreme Court justice explaining that Williams' legal theories were nonsense.

[* see explanatory note below* Left: a decidedly unhappy-looking Danny Williams announces defeat in L'affaire Ruelokke. In making the announcement, Williams set a new indoor record for a politician clearing his throat during a scrum as a sign of his discomfort. The previous record was held by former prime minister John Turner.

Williams is also likely soon to break the record for a Newfoundland and Labrador premier saying variations on "quite frankly" during a media interview. The current record is held by Brian Tobin who told a reporter after the 1999 general election: "Quite frankly, I'll be frankly quite frank in answering your quite frank question on a subject which is, frankly, of quite some frank concern among those people who would be both frank and concerned if quite frankly people had been frankly quite frank with them previously."]

But according to Danny the whole thing was Stephen Harper's fault and the fault of "Big Oil", his latest name for the major oil companies. Seems Harper is in love with Big Oil and Big Oil's lobbyists have sway in Ottawa against poor little Danny. Of course, Williams entire argument is bullshit, but it is an example of trying to hang the blame for his own failing on someone else.

On top of that was the release from his natural resources shadow-minister - Kathy Dunderdale - complaining that the feds have not indemnified Inco about environmental pollution to enable the company to build a smelter/refinery complex for Voisey's Bay nickel at their original site at Argentia.

Notice that the headline on the release is about seeking an indemnity for future contamination at the Argentia site. Yet, the body of the release talks about an liability accruing to Inco for environmental damage at the site caused by about 50 years of American military occupation.


A little later in the release, there is reference to Inco wanting to build the refinery somewhere other than Argentia.
Inco notified government on November 30, 2005 of its decision to locate the planned processing plant at a site in the province other than Argentia, as per Section 4.6.4 of the Development Agreement. Based on its own assessment of environmental, legal and business risks, Inco has concluded that it is not economically feasible to use Argentia as the site for a commercial nickel processing facility. The company has since registered a proposed site in Long Harbour for environmental assessment.
That's perfectly true. Inco did propose moving to another site, a little farther up the coast from Argentia at a place called Long Harbour. There used to be a phosphorous plant there operated by a company called Erco.

But it isn't correct to suggest - as the release does - that the company would stay at Argentia if the federal government provided any sort of indemnity.

See, Inco has been operating a demonstration plant at Argentia since 2005. One of the big problems with a full-scale operation is that waste would have to be piped around sensitive habitats with the associated risk of contamination, clean-up costs and legal action. At Long Harbour, the company would have access to an already contaminated site with a readily available tailings pond a few feet away. There is also some question that Argentia has some areas that are too contaminated and would take too long to clean up.

Naturally, having looked at the issues involved, Inco announced last January that it would like to locate the full-size plant to Long Harbour for a lot of good reasons.

If all goes according to Inco plans, construction on the new smelter will begin in 2009 and be finished by 2011.

So if Inco isn't interested in Argentia any more, what's Williams doing telling his minister to complain about a lack of response from the federal government on an issue that actually isn't really an issue?

Well, it's just a big monkey being tossed. At Argentia, the federal government is conducting a huge environmental clean-up. At Long Harbour, clean-up and an indemnity would be a provincial responsibility.

Even though it makes a whole pile of sense to build the smelter at Long Harbour instead of Argentia - with nearby Placentia still benefiting from the development - Danny Williams is trying to toss a monkey on the federal government so that he doesn't have to take responsibility.

To make it even funnier, while Dunderdale is looking to keep the smelter at Argentia, her colleague in the environment department is busily processing Inco's application to build at Long Harbour. Left hand? Meet right.

Does anyone see a pattern developing here of blaming everything - and we mean everything - on the feds while the provincial government does little beyond hold meetings and issue monkey tossing news releases?

Funny that Danny Williams seems to some to be laying the groundwork for a separatist agenda. If we took Danny Williams' monkey-tossing at face value, there's likely a good argument he is laying the ground work for his own redundancy.

After all, if it is all Ottawa's fault, then why do we need Danny in the first place? To be at fault you have to be responsible for doing something and so far, Williams has been trying to show everyone how much he isn't responsible for.

That's what happens when you monkey toss for England.


*Note: An e-mail from cbc.ca/nl webmaster John Gushue pointed out that I incorrectly identified the CBC picture in this piece as having been taken at Williams scrum discussing Ruelokke. It wasn't; apparently the shot is a file photo from April. While the photo is indeed of Danny Williams and he is looking somewhat piqued, the shot was not from the Ruelokke-related scrum.