Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

To Quebec with Love

The one strength Quebec has is its ability to move as a collective whole. Despite its public act of the reluctant bride, Quebec follows federal politics probably closer than any other group of people. It moves as one when its interests are affected. It has the ability of foresight, and the wisdom to use it. It creates conditions that favour it, and radically opposes those that do not. In the end it can be pragmatic as long as its strategic interests are served.

The Muskrat Falls federal loan guarantee is one such case. For starters it does not see Newfoundland and Labrador as any threat to its virtual hydro monopoly. Its key to understand that. No threat at all. Even if the complete Lower Churchill were built, and Quebec completely surrendered the Upper Churchill, Newfoundland and Labrador would be outgunned five to one for production of hydro power. Then there is the years they've spent concluding strategic alliances outside the country. Case in point, Vermont. Quebec owns the two dominant power distributors in Vermont, and just signed a long term agreement to supply both of them with all their power needs. In other words, they own it. So much so that Kathy Dunderdale wouldn't even attend the annual eastern premiers and governors meeting there this year.

But how does a Muskrat Falls loan guarantee possibly benefit Quebec? Here is how it works. Just before the last federal election, when the guarantee became a political promise publicly, the legislature got together in Quebec and denounced the awarding of it. They didn't oppose it on moral or ethical grounds. Not on jurisdictional grounds. No they opposed it on the grounds that they never received such a subsidy on any of their hydro projects. They made their statement for the record and then the issue virtually disappeared. There was almost no discussion of it during the subsequent federal campaign. There has been no discussion of it from Quebec since.

The fact is they smell the opportunity. The opportunity to cash in. They have formally notified the federal government that they oppose "special" treatment of Newfoundland and Labrador in regard to loan guarantees for hydro projects as it gives us an "unfair advantage". Now all they have to do is sit back and watch the feds give the guarantee to us in writing. Once that happens they will be knocking on the door for a guarantee for all their hydro projects, and knowing Quebec, they will likely want retroactive compensation for their previous hydro projects as well. The ironic part of all this, of course, is it leaves Newfoundland and Labrador in a much weaker position vs Quebec, and it bolsters the financial position of Hydro Quebec. In other words, its one step forward for Newfoundland and Labrador and ten steps back. This is how Quebec plays the game. It's as predictable as the hours of the day.

Unfortunately, its also the way the government of Newfoundland and Labrador play the game, which leaves us as the permanent doormat for everyone and their dog to use. Make no mistake, it is self-inflicted. Whether it be the days of sending cod to foreign markets before its time and ruining the market for it, the rush to build three mills which in the end starved all of them, the rush to sign on and build the Upper Churchill only to effectively surrender it, or the current rush to build Muskrat Falls to power an iron ore explosion in Labrador that must and will flood the market thus rendering them unprofitable, the government here has always approached economic issues with blinders on. The result has been a constant state of reaction to poor decisions based on greed. Unlike Quebec, our government is not strategic. It does not understand how to play the game in confederation. It tries to project Newfoundland style protest politics onto the national stage with almost zero effect, and then it wonders "why we have no influence". It is not a matter of the rest of the country not understanding this province. It is not a matter of having no influence or being ignored. It is not a matter of why the rest of the country won't fit into this province's vision.

It is a matter of Newfoundland and Labrador understanding that it is a part of the political family of Canada, understanding how that political family works, and pursuing its ambitions within the family. The rest of the family does not care if provincial nationalists feel alienated by history or their place. What they want to see is Newfoundland and Labrador exercising the political and strategic tools afforded every province within the country. Imagine the loss of political capital in the rest of the country that Danny Williams created by hauling down Canadian flags. Again a short term move, for a short term financial goal, that in the long run hurt the province strategically.

Is it a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face? Is it a case of a history of poverty and struggle that resulted in a political and economic culture of short term gain for long term pain? Is it a case of leftover divisions from the confederation referendum days, and long held resentments that poison the waters? Or, is it all of these things? My money is on the latter. In the end though, it will be the people of this province that pay the price for this lack of wisdom, and not their politicians, which is unfortunately the way it has always been.

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