08 August 2012

Williams sides with Quebec on energy #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Danny Williams always likes someone who stands up for his or her province.

Well, likes them as long as the someone doing the standing up standing in the way of something Danny wants. .

Anyone who wondered why Williams turned up in the Globe praising British Columbia Premier Christy Clark can now make sense of it all.

You see, until now, some people put British Columbia in the position of Quebec in the dispute over electricity transmission with Newfoundland and Labrador.  BC was blocking Alberta’s right to transmit energy just like Quebec has blocked efforts to get Labrador electricity to markets other than Quebec.

But Williams’ view is different:  “Maybe Christy is just saying,” Williams told the Globe, “ ‘You’re not going to get a free ride but we do want to have a piece of your action.’ ”

Apparently, Williams believes everyone deserves a piece of the action. It is just a matter of negotiation. So, if Newfoundland wanted to move electricity across a couple of provinces to get to the United States, for example, the Nova Scotians and New Brunswickers would be entitled to profit from that in some way.


That would explain why Williams negotiated a deal to develop Muskrat Falls whereby Nova Scotians get 35 years of free electricity paid for right down to the last atom by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.  He was just being a nice guy and letting them get in on his “action”. 

As it seems, Williams was such a generous guy the Nova Scotians might wind up getting Churchill Falls juice as well all for the discount price of “nothing”. Williams’ hand-picked successor has been even nicer, by the way, giving the Nova Scotians more free electricity than Williams did under the deal signed last week.

And so what is the difference between BC and Quebec?  Williams isn’t really clear about that beyond describing the Quebec government as “selfish”. 

Truth be told, there is no difference. Quebec’s view has been for some time that provinces ought to regulate things like energy transmission across provincial territory. Newfoundland and Labrador governments in the past have taken the same view, incidentally. Final deals come from negotiation. Whether you like the outcome or not, that’s what happened in 1969.

That situation can’t occur again, at least as far as electricity is concerned.  Since American regulations in the 1990s opened up the market for transmission, Labrador electricity can move anywhere at competitive rates accessible equally to all. Williams said the Labrador power wasn’t stranded, by the way, in April 2009 when the provincial energy company signed a deal to wheel electricity from Churchill Falls through Quebec to the United States.

Williams only went back to the old bullshit  - and it is nothing more than bullshit - about Quebec blocking Labrador power after he couldn’t get them interested in negotiating a deal on Muskrat Falls or Gull Island. 

Not that he didn’t try, mind you. 

Desperately tried.

As Kathy Dunderdale said in 2009, she, Williams and Nalcor boss Ed Martin spent five years trying secretly to get Hydro-Quebec to buy a chunk of the Lower Churchill.  Williams was so desperate to get a deal that he even offered to break a solemn campaign pledge made to voters before 2003. 

Williams used to say publicly he would never sign a deal with Quebec that didn’t involve “redress” for the 1969 contract.  But, said Dunderdale on province-wide radio, Williams wanted to put redress to one side.  Hydro-Quebec still wasn’t interested.  After that he went back to Quebec-bashing.

What’s interesting in this piece though goes a bit beyond the fact that  Jane Taber is one of the few reporters anywhere on the planet who would be interested in anything that the Old Man has to say on anything, any more. It’s not even that Taber neglected to point out that Williams’ former ministers are touting the use of Muskrat Falls power not for sale to New England, as Taber writes, but for Labrador mining developments.  Williams is a director of one of the mining companies involved. 

Nope, what is amazing is that Williams’ comment supporting Christy Clark also endorses the position taken for decades by the Government of Quebec.  In that respect, Williams is undermining at least one of the two lawsuits that started while he was Premier.  One was aimed at altering the 1969 contract. The other was about wheeling power through Quebec.

In the first one, Nalcor has already conceded that neither party did anything wrong in 1969.  Here’s an extract from the claim:

13. When the contract was signed, neither party believed or had any reason to believe that the North American electricity markets would become more competitive, and CFLCo in particular had no reason to believe that future US open access regulations would in effect enable CFLCo to transmit energy through Hydro-Québec's transmission network to the US or other markets;

14. Nor was there any reason to believe that the commercial value of the energy sold would increase over time. To the contrary, it was generally expected that with the advent of nuclear power plants, the value of that energy might well decline over time;

And now Hydro-Quebec can cite no less an authority than recovering Quebec-basher Danny Williams.  After all, Williams believes that Quebec  - like any other province - is entitled to a piece of the action for any commercial enterprise like energy transmission across its territory.  They entered into negotiations and achieved a deal that, at the time, was fair to all.

Anyone who has followed Williams’ political career closely wouldn’t find any of this surprising. All principle converts to cash and the only goal is a piece of the action. But what they might find surprising is his apparently changed view on Quebec.  You see no local media have reported Dunderdale’s 2009 comments.

Maybe Jane would like to do that as a follow-up.