16 February 2009

Ruelokke, Rowe and the Rule of Opposites

A couple of years ago, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a comment by Danny Williams to the effect that Max Ruelokke as head of the offshore regulatory board would be a really bad thing.

How bad?

Andy Wells would be better kinda bad.

The hysteria surrounding that nationalist cause of that moment – Ruelokke is hardly a Newfoundland name, is it? – prompted at least one local journalist to question the value of the rule of law since it was obviously [insert eye roll here]working against “us”.

Ruelokke and the offshore board are looking a lot like O’Brien/50% and the 1985 Atlantic Accord: something that was officially “bad” when it suited the current administration’s purposes but which turned out to be good in actual experience.

It’s yet another manifestation of The Rule of Opposites:  what is correct is the exact opposite of what the official government line was at the time.

Hibernia management and Development Company and Petro-Canada are suing the offshore regulatory board over its rules on local research and development.

At issue: new offshore R&D spending rules brought in by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board in 2004.

Those rules require HMDC and Petro-Canada to spend a percentage of their annual offshore revenue on research, development, education and training activities in the province.

That money was estimated by the board in 2007 at $25 million annually, depending on world crude prices.
Under the new rules, the board has the right to suspend production licences if oil companies fail to meet their R&D spending obligations.

Both HMDC and Petro-Canada say the board has unilaterally changed the rules in midstream and they question its authority to do so.

Incidentally, the Hebron deal includes a huge give-away on research and development but that’s another story.

So this case has been working its way through the courts with the offshore board winning at every turn. The oil companies are now headed to the Supreme Court of Canada for the last legal round of the fight.

Odds are they’ll win again.

But you can’t help but notice that this is running contrary to the predictions from a certain segment of local public opinion.

The courts appointed by Ottawa, the courts that ruled “our” oil wasn’t our oil in the early 1980s are here standing by the crowd at the offshore board led by Max Ruelokke as they protect Newfoundlanders and Labradorians yet who, we were told emphatically, would not act to protect the best interests of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

And the appeals court justice who dissented from the majority opinion  - i.e. who sided with the oil companies - was a guy Jerome Kennedy recommended to go to the Supreme Court of Canada last September 6.  Kennedy’s recommendation of Mr. Justice Malcolm Rowe – along with Mr. Justice Leo Barry - was faithfully reported by the voice of the cabinet minister at the time, even if they don’t like you reading stuff from that long ago. (you can find the story through google but clicking on it generates and “error” message.)

Amazing as it seems, in the case of the offshore board – like Equalization - you really can’t go wrong most times by taking the government position of the moment and thinking the opposite.

And what about those oil companies like ExxonMobil that were “bad” in 2006 but which are now called “our offshore partners” by everyone from the Premier to his official spokesperson in natural resources?  Well, judge for yourself.

Your humble e-scribbler didn’t accept that they were enemies when some people wanted you to think that.  These days, they aren’t friends.  They are just companies doing business in the offshore and they should be treated as such. 

In the case of the suit against the offshore board the companies are just doing what they think is in the best interest of the people they represent: their shareholders.

That’s basically what the offshore board is doing on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Funny though how what happened is exactly the opposite of what some people wanted you to believe.