17 January 2008

Endless re-runs

Strip away all the trademark and largely shopworn histrionics from the Premier and take a look at the recent exchange of correspondence with the Prime Minister.

Some interesting things come to light:

1.  For all the talk about a package of initiatives supposedly designed to get past the Equalization "impasse", the first letter written by the Premier after the famous late November meeting focused on one thing:  the Hibernia shares.

2.  There isn't a specific proposal here, rather the letter is intended to "clarify issues concerning the Government of Canada's investment in Hibernia."

3.  The deadline for the proposal was not the end of 2007 or even January 11, 2008.  Nope, as the Premier wrote, he believed it would be in the best interests of both the federal provincial governments if the matter was resolved before "the end of the new year [sic]", that is, the end of 2008.

4.  In the next letter, dated eight days after the first one, the Premier asks if a decision has been made and then requests a reply by Christmas.

5.  In the next letter written a week after that one, the premier raises comments made by Loyola Hearn.  He then takes issue with Hearn's comment that the federal government had received no written list of options from the provincial government.  The Premier cites his December 3, 2007 letter as evidence this is not the case and accuses Hearn of misleading the public.

Interestingly, the public can now read the December 3 letter, look at its contents and understand that Hearn was correct, at least on that point.

6.  The next letter, dated January 3, complains about comments attributed to Loyola Hearn.

7.  The Prime Minister's reply, dated January 15, focuses on the Hibernia shares since this is what was contained in the December 3 letter. The letter states the federal government's view of the costs associated with those shares, refutes several claims made by the Premier and then asks three simple questions with respect to the shares, based on the provincial government's recent purchase of shares in two offshore projects:

-  What portion of the federal interest is the provincial government interested in acquiring?

-  What would be the fair market price proposed by the provincial government for that share?

-  What is the view of the Hibernia partners to the proposed share purchase.

He concludes by stating that he looks forward to future discussions on the issue.

There is no rejection of anything, specifically, but there is a clear indication the federal government may be prepared to sell the shares.  That's consistent with Stephen harper's letter to Danny Williams during the last federal election.

8.  In his reply, dated January 16, the Premier begins by re-stating his position on a range of comments made in earlier correspondence.

On the specific questions, he states that the provincial government is interested in the 8.5% interest in Hibernia plus the additional Net Profits Interest option associated with the federal involvement in the project.

it is plain the Premier is not interested in purchasing the shares but rather proposes that the value, once determined, be deducted from the "net value gap".  In other words, he wants the cost to charged against the notional $10 billion Equalization debt.

The Premier interprets the last question as questioning 'our capacity to manage the project'.  The Prime Minister's question was legitimate;  the partners may be interested in purchasing the federal shares themselves.

Canadian Press got the headline wrong on one story, although the bulk of the story describes the premier's vitriolic reaction.  The shorter one carried by the Globe online is more accurate since the claim that the PM rejected the Hibernia idea is actually coming from the Premier, not from the factual record.

Interestingly, the Premier took umbrage at being accusing of misstating what the Prime Minister said in November in a private meeting.  Look at the December 3 letter and the later comments by Hearn.  So much for factual accuracy, let alone an understanding of when the new year ends.

There really isn't anything new in all of this. It seems like Canadian political life is simply mirroring American television during a writers strike:  endless re-runs.