05 August 2010

Quebec’s possible new role as an energy player

If exploration turns up a significant amount of oil and gas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, expect a ton of political weight to shift toward the province at the same time.

Rob Silver went down that road recently in his blog at the Globe and Mail. Silver posed a hypothetical situation in the federal government tried to introduce a carbon offset scheme at a time when Quebec is in the same boat as “Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia”. Quebec’s interest may well shift as does its economic situation, according to Silver.

On the surface that’s a penetrating insight into the obvious. Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, shifted its environmental policy based on nothing more profound than electing what Danny Williams described as a Reform-based Conservative Party.

Now most voters in the province – including a great many Progressive Conservatives - likely didn’t think that’s what they were getting into back in 2001 or 2003, but that’s what they got. No need to wonder any more why the sustainable development act never got farther than it did in 2007. The whole thing was nothing more than a political ploy for an election year.

In any event, Silver’s idea of a provincial government shifting its policy based on a shift in economic interests isn’t an amazing thought.

On another level though, Rob Silver’s comments provoke another thought related to Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Your humble e-scribbler tossed out the idea a couple of years ago that a “few years from now, the poorest province of the country will join the select group of provinces that do not receive Equalization. That will have a major effect on the balance of the forces in the country which is always maintained in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal triangle.”

The idea was that a normally outward-looking province and its people could alter the balance of power in the country, especially at the national level, once the province was no longer perceived as an economic basket case. Now part of that idea was premised on a new administration and a new policy beyond the current one and its isolationism and wastefulness.

Admittedly it turned out to be a bit of a stretch. Newfoundland and Labrador today is more isolated than it has been for most of the past century.  Its influence at the national level in Canada has never been lower. The decline is a direct result of reckless provincial policies since 2003.

One can only imagine what might occur in a world where Quebec has significant oil and/or gas resources in addition to its other sources of influence.

- srbp -