28 May 2010

Are you smarter than a cheese grater?

You have to wonder sometimes how the province’s natural resources minister might fare if she had to go up against a crowd of fifth graders in the popular television game show.

Wednesday people were agog at her blinding ignorance about when the provincial government negotiated major offshore oil deals that delivered all the cash she and her colleagues have been spending the past seven years.

On Thursday, she pulled not one, not two, but three enormous gaffes at the same time in an exchange during Question Period:
Mr. Speaker, let me say it is very difficult to have a discussion with the Leader of the Opposition about responsibility for the environment when she demonstrated in the House earlier the week she does not even understand what level of government environmental responsibility for the offshore comes under. She was attributing to the Minister of Environment and Conservation, who has no responsibility beyond the high water mark.
It is really disturbing, Mr. Speaker, when it comes from a former Minister of Fisheries for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador who should have understood that her responsibility did not go any further than that either as far as the offshore was concerned. [Emphasis added]
1.  The federal jurisdiction adjacent to coastal provinces is the low water mark, not the high water mark on the shore. 

2.  Of all the provincial governments in Canada bordering water only one has a jurisdiction which goes beyond the low water mark.  Hint:  It’s Newfoundland and Labrador.

Under the Terms of Union, and as affirmed by Supreme Court decisions on the offshore, the boundary of Newfoundland and Labrador extends out to sea a distance of three miles, the territorial sea recognised by international law in April 1949.

3.  Now that doesn’t mean the provincial fisheries minister can suddenly regulate cod stocks inside three miles.  The reason is that fisheries regulation is a federal responsibility.

But – and here’s where Dunderdale made her third gigantic shag-up – the conservation and environment minister can exercise her responsibilities out to three miles. Johnson can and certainly should take an interest in a variety of environmental issues related to offshore oil operations.  After all, the provincial government manages the offshore jointly with the federal government through the appropriately named Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.

The federal government may have the law-making power for the offshore but under the 1985 Atlantic Accord  - that is, the real Atlantic Accord - it has a right and responsibility to exercise co-management on behalf of the people of the province. Johnson and her officials can work with their colleagues on matters of local concern.  It isn’t just up to the feds, as Dunderdale seemed to be saying on Tuesday.

It is no surprise that the current administration lacks a fundamental understanding of the powers and responsibilities it does have under the land-mark 1985.  They demonstrated that ignorance before in the argument over unilateral changes to  Equalization offsets under the 1985 Accord. So profound is the ignorance of the current crowd on these subjects, by the way,  that no less a person than Witch-Hunt Willie Marshall  - he of the sooper sekrit investigations squad - made an oblique and derogatory remark during recent events marking the 25th anniversary of the Accord signing about his successors not understanding the powers they have.

Now to be fair, the average fifth grader anywhere in Canada isn’t likely to know these things about the local offshore oil business.

But then again, the person hand-picked by the Premier’s to sub for him when he is under anaesthesia is supposed to know these things. We’d imagine that the person the Old Man felt is the best one to tackle what is arguably the second most important portfolio in the provincial cabinet after health care, would display a much greater level of knowledge about the fundamentals of so important an issue as the offshore than Dunderdale has shown.

Dunderdale is surrounded by an army of bureaucrats and lawyers all of whom are supposed to know these things and who are obliged to keep her briefed.  Either they aren’t doing their job or Dunderdale just isn’t up to hers. 

Given her track record, from the Joan Cleary fiasco in 2006 through the Abitibi fiasco to this latest bundle, odds are good is isn’t the bureaucrats who are a wee bit slack in doing their jobs.


It’s the Old Man’s choice who is slack in the jaw.

Of course, by extension, you’d have to wonder about the Old Man’s judgement on this and other similar choices.

But that’s another story.

May 28 - fixed typos "grater' and fare", deleted a wayward period and added another one that went missing.