03 December 2009

Too bad wishing didn’t make it so

There are times you have to feel sorry for Ed Martin. 

The fellow was hired out of a successful career in the oil industry to try and create a professional, competent energy company on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

After four years, he’s managed to create a company with a pretty good reputation in the oil patch locally.  There’s plenty of knowledge and expertise behind the blue windows on the Arterial.

Too bad for Ed that he and his gang are saddled  with a bunch pulling his strings who are viewed in some quarters as being like a crowd of petty potentates of some mythical banana republic.

Take, for example, this latest charade on Churchill Falls.

Ed Martin knows that left to his own devices he could deliver the goods on an energy deal. Martin isn’t the kind of fellow who would take a battleaxe to the head of someone he wanted to do business with.  When asked by Hydro Quebec and the Lower Churchill last August, Martin was the consummate professional:  confident, factual and assertive.

Even in the most recent version of the story to come dribbling from the government benches, this Article 1375 thing looks more like a political lash-up than a serious idea.  if you believe it, after three years of carrying on discussions of its own with lawyers and other geniuses, the provincial government decided to share the fruits of its labours with Martin.  Ed then got a separate legal opinion and off went a letter.

We must note at this juncture that Kathy Dunderdale established without question on Wednesday that her retraction of the “we are planning to sue everyone” story was bogus.  Well, it was a big clue she was going to deliver a nose puller anyway when she came down to the scrum accompanied by government’s chief lawyer at the time,  but now anyone can say with confidence that if there was inaccurate statement of facts in 2008 by Kathy Dunderdale, it wasn’t that the government was considering legal options related to Churchill Falls. Let’s just put it that way.

What Kathy and the former chief lawyer for government told the legislature on Wednesday constitutes an admission that, for all practical purposes,  cabinet runs NALCOR and its various subsidiaries.  The board of directors is irrelevant.  There are notional walls between the interlocking directorates of NALCOR but ultimately the thing is, a la Nigeria, pretty much a government department not a stand-alone corporation.

If the company were the company and government were the government, cabinet ministers would not spend three years and multiple trips to Montreal to look after business that should properly be left to the officers of the company.  If the company were not merely an adjunct of the government, Danny Williams and Kathy Dunderdale would not have spent five years carrying on secret discussions with Hydro-Quebec officials and politicians in Quebec trying to cut a deal on the Lower Churchill, without redress for the 1969 contract.

Should this latest bit of theatre ever get to court, Hydro Quebec will quickly and easily establish the crass political manipulations behind the little campaign about fairness.  They will be able to construct a longer chain of events and comments by the Premier and others which colour the actions of NALCOR and its subsidiary.  

At the very least they can throw up a plausible argument  that bad faith has abounded but that Hydro-Quebec has not been the perpetrator of it.  As a rule judges do not like this sort of stuff.  The current administration found out just how much judges dislike people jerking others about in Ruelokke or Henley v. Cable Atlantic.

Perhaps that is why the Premier is so shy about taking another of his cases to court.  What was it he said?  Something about the vagaries of court decisions?

Get real, people.

And at the end of it all, odds are good that -  as in the water rights reversion case -  Newfoundland and Labrador will be screwed by people playing at being lawyers and politicians.

This whole game of charades goes nicely with the question posed to Martin on Monday about the issue and the political tie-in to the legislature opening.  The simple answer for Martin should have been:  there is none.  Instead he had this enormous and intricate answer about going into decision mode, grunting, groaning and sweating before finally producing the Golden BB of a letter.

Someone, somewhere actually thought in advance of an obvious question and took the time to contrive an elaborate and prepared answer and rehearse Ed in it such that the end result all but screamed “bullshit!”

Sad that Ed should be put in such a spot.

To his credit, Martin continues to carry himself with great dignity.  Faced with the rejection by Quebec’s deputy premier of the idea of re-opening the contract, Martin told reporters:

"We made a good strong decision here. Obviously, we stand by it. We need to hear back from Hydro-Québec and, when we do, we'll determine what the next steps are," said Nalcor CEO Ed Martin.

He said Nalcor is giving Hydro-Québec until Jan. 15 to deliver an official response.

They won’t need that long. 

Martin’s HQ counterpart, Thierry Vandal, told The Gazette :

"It's more of the same," Vandal said in an interview yesterday with The Gazette.

"It's one for the lawyers."

He isn't budging from the view that "this is a valid contract and we expect it to be respected."

But you know, the more you look at this, the more you think that maybe there actually could be a successful resolution to the 1969 case and even development of the Lower Churchill if only…

if only you could just get the politicians out of the whole affair.

Too bad wishing doesn’t make it so.