22 December 2008

The power for good or evil

As Daniel Veniez writes in the Globe, provincial government’s have all the power needed to sort out the country’s forest industry:

Mr. Williams says his government has full legislative authority to expropriate AbitibiBowater's assets in Newfoundland and Labrador. He's absolutely right about that.

In a 2007 dispute with the Quebec government, cutting rights attached to two sawmills derailed a $285-million deal to sell Domtar's lumber assets to Conifex Inc. This required the transfer of cutting rights for three sawmills. Quebec's natural resources minister threatened to deny the transfer if Conifex did not rehire 445 laid off sawmill workers, saying cutting rights revert to the province with an ownership change. He was right about that, too. The deal didn't happen.

In British Columbia, the former NDP government used its legislative authority to dictate where sawmills would be located as a job creation measure. It had very little to do with the economics of running a business. That led to uneconomic mills being forced to operate. And that meant that they were gradually run into the ground. Popular politics for sure, but devastating policy.

In the local case, the Abitibi expropriation pretty much gives the lie to claims that the provincial government doesn’t control it resources.  It also makes a mockery of the claim from the tinfoil hat brigade about Confederation.  Their high commander was on CBC Radio just the other week describing an elaborate conspiracy that never existed to do things that never happened.  Only in Canada would such stuff make the airwaves as a credible contribution to a discussion of a major turning point in our history.

But that’s just digression.

Closer to home, the Abitibi expropriation has attracted a whole bunch of wild cheering but, as is plainly evident, the staunchest of the Premier’s staunch supporters have no idea what has gone on or why it has gone on.

They don’t need to think, apparently, since that would be bad.

The sort of grandstanding exemplified by the expropriation bill – done with all the requisite high drama and the now typical lack of concrete information is all popular politics.

Popular politics, yes.

But devastating public policy.