11 May 2009

Trade deals and petards

The premier’s excuses for not participating in talks on a European trade deal just get more bizarre as time goes by.

First there was the whole idea that Stephen Harper can’t be trusted to look after Newfoundland and Labrador’s interests so the best solution – according to Danny Williams’ logic – is to let Stephen Harper look after Newfoundland and Labrador’s interests.

Then there was the whole idea of a side deal which, of course is impossible constitutionally, not to mention practically.  As a European Union spokesperson put it:

"The Government of Canada is the only government with the authority to conclude international treaties under the Canadian constitution, so our interlocutor and negotiating partner will be the government of Canada,"…

The spokesperson indicated she’d apparently met with Our man in a Blue Line Cab to talk about seals.

But apparently, nothing else.

Then there was the whole go-it-alone thing, which consisted of nothing more grand than sending Tom Hedderson off to talk to a few ambassadors in a hastily arranged series of meetings on seals.

Now there’s this little gem, from Question period in the House of Assembly on Monday:

So there are other bigger issues. There is also the whole issue of the Atlantic Accord and what is going to happen when European countries do business in Newfoundland and Labrador.

What issue is he talking about? 

Or more accurately, which Atlantic Accord?

The 2005 one – the only one he usually talks about – doesn’t have anything to do with Europeans or trade.

The 1985 one – the real one – establishes a local preference policy for Newfoundland and Labrador companies doing business offshore.  The only way to get rid of that would be for the federal and provincial governments to agree to eliminate it.  That’s because the deal can’t be amended unilaterally.

Well, it isn’t supposed to be amended unilaterally.

Under section 60 of the 1985 Accord, neither party could amend the enabling legislation unilaterally. Until 2007, no one thought they might.  Then Stephen Harper amended the offset provisions in a rather sneaky way.

But the really odd thing is that the provincial government did not raise a single objection  - beyond some generalised gum-flapping about Equalization - to the amendment of the 1985 deal. 

Not a one.

No letters of protest.


To the contrary, when they opted for O’Brien 50 this past winter – and pocketed  Equalization cash in the process – they accepted the federal Conservative’s 2007 amendment as part of the deal.  In fact, as the premier has indicated recently, the provincial government decided at least as long ago as early 2008 to flip to O’Brien/50 in early 2009 in hopes of pocketing Equalization cash. Heck, they might have even signalled that privately at the time to the federal government.

So maybe the real reason the Premier is in a snit is because he’s worried that through all of this he’ll just be hoist by his own clever Equalization petard.  Rather than see the local preference rules of the 1985 deal preserved to the benefit of local companies, we’ll see them disappear.

That would go a long way to explaining the sudden about face the provincial government did on this deal back in February.  Maybe the feds made it clear that the local preference provisions of the 1985 deal were up for consideration and one of the things the feds could throw back in the Premier’s face was his own acceptance of the unilateral changes to the 1985 Atlantic Accord.  You can almost imagine the conversation:  “Danny, it doesn’t matter if you show up or not.  We can change the thing by ourselves if we have to – you just told us we could when you accepted the changes from 2007.”

Still, though, it doesn’t explain why he would sit on the sidelines rather than become personally involved.  After all, as he told the legislature: :[w]e are going to do what we have to do here to protect the interests of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and I could not care less what the rest of them do, I have to be quite honest with you.”

Well, to be quite honest with you, if the provincial government was really hell-bent on protecting Newfoundland and Labrador interests, the place to do that is at the table, inside the Canadian negotiating team.

Seal-bashing just doesn’t seem like a reason enough to turn down the invitation to sit on the team.  And like we’ve said before, if custodial management and shrimp tariffs are so important – and they are – the place to deal with those is at the negotiating table.

And look, if you really want to get a sense of how much is at stake for the province just look at what the Premier said himself in the legislature:

There are also a lot of very big, multinational, European companies that want to do business in Newfoundland and Labrador, because of our minerals, because of our oil and gas, because of our fishery, and we have to take the abuse from these hypocrites basically saying that we act in an inhumane and a barbarian manner, when they chase bulls through the streets in Spain, and matadors pierce bulls in a Roman type atmosphere, and we are out trying to earn a living.

So  - if we try and follow the Premier’s own logic – a vote by the European parliament that affects maybe a few million dollars that comes to the province from seal-bashing is way more important than billions in new economic development throughout Newfoundland and Labrador that would come from participating in the trade deal negotiations.


That makes sense.