25 October 2009

Kremlinology 10: Ah to be a Tory in Gander in October, when the dogs are fit to wag

When the political going gets tough, what better way to handle it than to launch a phoney jihad against a completely imaginary enemy over a completely imaginary dispute:

The Premier is gearing up for another fight on the national stage. Danny Williams says Hydro Quebec continues to try and block this province from developing the Lower Churchill, now refusing to sign onto a water management agreement for the Churchill River in Labrador.

For starters, Danny Williams is only pissed at Hydro-Quebec because they aren’t willing to take the ownership of the Lower Churchill he offered then. It’s not that they are so interested in the LC and Danny that they are blocking him, it’s really bothering him that Hydro-Quebec just isn’t interested at all.

And that’s after five years of desperately trying:

[Natural resources minister Kathy] Dunderdale told VOCM Open Line show host Randy Simms on Friday morning that over the past five years, the Williams administration “got a path beaten to their [Hydro Quebec’s] door” in an attempt to have HQ become what Dunderdale described as an “equity partner” in the Lower Churchill.

Dunderdale described the Lower Churchill “piece” as a “win-win” for Hydro Quebec. She said that despite efforts by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador there was “no take up [from Hydro Quebec] on the proposal.”

But the biggest thing you have to consider on this water rights agreement thingy is that if the two parties – NALCO and Churchill Falls-Labrador Company – can’t reach and agreement on their own, the whole thing will be settled legally and finally by the public utilities board.

No big public, hair-mussing fuss required.

Danny Williams knows this because that’s what he amended the law to say in preparation for just such an event.

Well, okay first the provincial government tried to screw with the contract – as someone else tried in the 1980 water rights case - but they got caught red-handed in that little bit of tomfoolery.

While Williams and his ministers tried to downplay it at the time, they were caught so far in the wrong they even had to call an extremely rare emergency session of the legislature to deal with the mess created by someone’s childish legalistic game.

Anyway, that’s another story.

CFLCO not interested in the deal on water rights Williams wants?

Well that’s no problemo.

The whole thing just falls along according to amendments made to the Electrical Power Control Act in 2007 by none other than Danny Williams’ own administration.

The public utilities board – headed by Williams’ new buddy Andy Wells – just imposes a deal on the two sides:

5.5 (1) Where 2 or more persons to whom subsection 5.4(1) applies fail to enter into an agreement within a reasonable time, one or more of them may apply to the public utilities board to establish the terms of an agreement between them.

(2) Where an application is made to the public utilities board under subsection (1), the board shall establish the terms of an agreement for the purpose of achieving the policy objective set out in subparagraph 3(b)(i).

(3) An agreement established by the public utilities board under subsection (2) is binding on the persons named in the agreement.


Job done.

Pas de sweat.

And lookit, the company involved here isn’t Hydro-Quebec, it’s the Churchill Falls-Labrador Corporation. That’s the company in which the provincial government’s energy company – NALCOR - owns a 65% stake.

And if you are still not convinced this is all yet another case of Tory dog-wagging, just consider that this evil foreign demonio Hydro-Quebec hates Williams so much and is working so hard to block the Lower Churchill they were will to sign a deal allowing energy from Labrador wheel across their province.

Wheel power and they make millions off the wheeling charges. Gee, that’s really putting obstacles in the way of the Lower Churchill. Yep, what better way to block the Glorious Lower Churchill project than demonstrating that Danny Williams can wheel power through Quebec to some other market than Quebec without any obstacles.

So what is all Danny Williams’ puffed chest really about?

Not even Ed Martin - the head of the provincial government’s energy company - seems to know.

But if one Ed doesn’t, maybe your humble e-scribbler can offer some easy suggestions on what issues are causing the provincial Conservatives to go hunting for a distraction:

- The by-election in the Straits is really not going well at all for the Tories. Then there’s Terra Nova to fight where the Tories haven’t even got a candidate yet and the Liberals wound up having two to pick from. Eight cabinet ministers in one day and four trips by the premier Hisself don’t seem to be working on the voters, at least not the way it is supposed to work.

Very frustrating when the old tricks don’t work any more.

- It’s really, really, really painful to make one decision and then be forced to make another. Think Danny Williams and the whole lab and x-ray thing. Jerome Kennedy confessed just this past week to what some of us have known all along: the decision to chop service was made by the entire cabinet.

That’s why they all stuck so hard to the line about “improvements.

That’s why they resisted changing their minds right up until the point they had no choice.

That’s why they tried desperately for weeks to try and blame someone else for the shag up rather than the people who actually shagged up.

It really bruises the ego to lose.

- And that’s on top of a string of “losses” including the Gros Morne one. Again, as much as they tried to downplay it, the whole emergency session of the legislature must have deeply embarrassed cabinet.

- There’s also the ongoing embarrassment of Paul Oram coupled with his decision to up and run when the going got tough. A cabinet minister resigns hot on the heels of another, thereby creating a mini-crisis in the government? Not a way to make the leader feel cheery. Paul Oram took himself off a raft of Tory Christmas card lists with his poorly executed exit.

- Unflattering comparisons to Roger Grimes? Lighten up a bit, people. It’s a joke.

- Let’s not forget the admission that the provincial Conservatives haven’t been doing such a fine old job of managing the public purse as they’d claimed. The word Oram used was “unsustainable.” Finance minister Tom Marshall said much the same thing.

- Then there’s the revelation that the government’s satisfaction rate ain’t what it was purported to be by the government’s own pollster. Between the opposition and local media, three recent CRA polls – never released publicly before – show that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador told CRA one thing but CRA told the public something else. The truth is sometimes painful but it does come out.

- Then there is the ongoing frustration of the Lower Churchill. As a story in the Telegram noted [not available online], NALCO has to go back and answer a whole bunch of questions for the environmental review on the Lower Churchill and that is now behind schedule. That’s on top of the lack of partners (see above), lack of markets - think Rhode Island - and the huge embarrassment to the government of being forced to abandon their original plan of slinging power lines through a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

On the whole it has been a very rough patch for the ruling Conservatives, at least from their perspective over the last six weeks and a bit more.

And what better place for provincial Conservatives to engage in some traditional Tory dog-wagging than the annual convention in Gander.

After all, that’s where ABC was born, at a time – as the House spending scandal broke in 2006, among other things – when things didn’t look all that rosy for provincial Tories in the short term.

Come to think of it, Loyola Sullivan packed it in not long after that, as did Paul Shelley and a few others.