23 December 2011

More Muskrat Fun: HQ, NALCO and PEI #nlpoli #nspoli #cdnpoli

The Ghosts of Hydro-Quebec and NALCO:  A pair of readers fired off separate e-mails to point out an alternate  explanation for the “anything cabinet decides they can do” clause from the energy corporation legislation than the tack SRBP took.

They both pointed to comments made over several years by different politicians about making the local energy corporation act like Hydro-Quebec.  In the province those same pols love to hate, HQ gets involved in all sorts of public works.

The HQ spending supplements what the provincial government is doing and, as some of those pols noted, helps to keep a raft of what is essentially provincial government spending from the prying eyes of the Equalization cops.  The result is that Quebec gets to collect more Equalization than it might otherwise get if they transferred the HQ cash into the provincial treasury and had it counted as provincial government income for the purposes of calculating Equalization entitlements. To paraphrase one e-mail, you can also bitch at the same time about Ottawa not doing enough for your province as you collect all this extra money.

Those readers are absolutely right.  Some politicians had that as part of their goal for the energy corporation.  Usually they tied it with nationalising Newfoundland Power to create One Big Crown corporation.

Just to refresh people who might not have followed the whole discussion going back five years, the SRBP view is that Nalcor was essentially supposed to be like the old NALCO.  That was a failed Smallwood-era plan to use one giant corporation that controlled all the province’s natural resources to broker development.

NALCO with an R tacked on the end might not be able to control all resources but it would be able to assume an increasingly stronger role in economic development.  You can look at the exploration program and incentive grants created under the 2007 energy plan let Nalcor use its financial power to foster a leading relationship with smaller, cash-strapped local companies.  The fibre optic deal has Nalcor and the provincial government as the larger partner in the deal.  Even offshore, Nalcor’s exploration program can be seen as a way to step into areas where the private sector isn’t interested at the moment and where Nalcor can assume a dominant role.

Basically, though, the Equalization dodge and the One Big Corp idea aren’t incompatible with the idea of having the energy corporation assume a NALCO-like role in the economy.  The two ideas fit together rather neatly.

In a related story, federal New Democratic Party leadership contender Thomas Mulcair showed up in Prince Edward Island garnering supporter for his campaign.  Part of the story in the Guardian included this rather curious reference by a prominent Island Dipper:

"Tom supports policies which are good for P.E.I. including federal support for the Lower Churchill development which will give us a third electric cable and support for a moratorium on hydraulic fracking."
What Joe Byrne seems to be talking about is actually not a Lower Churchill project at all.  It’s a plan to run another line from the mainland to PEI.  There’s an SRBP post on it from January 2011 when the conventional media reported the federal government wouldn’t fund the project as a green initiative.

Other than that, the only time anyone talked about PEI and the Lower Churchill in the same breath was in 2005.  Back then a British Columbia company was looking at the idea of running a cable to PEI  directly from Labrador.  If memory serves, Nalcor was also thinking about the same option.  Apparently it never got to the point where anyone discussed it officially with the people running Prince Edward Island.

Of course with the Emera deal, there’s no reason to run another bunch of underwater lines to PEI. 

However, if the Islanders are happy to pay outrageous prices for electricity, the gang at Nalcor would be happy to speak with them.  They have just the thing you are looking for.

- srbp -