18 July 2007

Hebron talks going somewhere. Or nowhere. Maybe. Sort of.

A vice president of Chevron, the lead partner on the Hebron project, was in St. John's this week for meetings on an unspecified topic, as CBC reported.

Premier Danny Williams is downplaying the significance of the visit.

Sort of.

Williams seemed to be playing coy with reporters in Corner Brook on Wednesday saying only that James Bates "...could be in [town] for some interaction with some officials...".

The logical deduction from that comment is that Bates also might not be in town for talks with government officials.

Williams also said that while "at this particular point" he would not say negotiations were back on - obviously they aren't - he said that "[i]f there's going to be negotiations on the project, I would estimate that it would be sooner rather than later."

Williams also said the talks are exactly where they were when they broke off and that the provincial government's position is exactly where it was at that time.

Given the Premier's extensive use of conditional language - "could", "if", "would" - no one should be at all optimistic that talks actually will begin at all, let alone by the fall.

Maybe there's a clue in Bates' background and other appointments. Bates is general manager, asset development with Chevron Canada. He previously held an appointment with Chevron Nigeria. But, as the link indicates Bates also sits on the board of the Centre for Cold Ocean research and Development at Memorial University. Bates may well have been in St. John's in connection with that responsibility.

That would certainly explain the Premier's use of conditional language, since saying definitely that Bates was here for an exchange of information could have easily been acknowledged with the proviso that there are no negotiations. The Premier's vague response suggests that he was merely trying to keep alive the prospect formal negotiations might resume in the fall.

Straight answers like yes or no - something the Premier definitely didn't give in this instance - are usually a sign of credibility. Vagueness suggests something else.