Let’s turn down the heart with Quebec
With the recent publicizing of the discovery of offshore oil on the maritime border between Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, off the south-west coast of the island in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, rumours of the next great battle between the two provinces are stewing.
On one side the leader of the opposition party in Quebec, the Parti Quebeçois ( PQ), Pauline Marois, is pressuring Quebec Premier Jean Charest to go on the attack. Marois says that Newfoundland and Labrador will steal the oil from Quebec by pumping all the oil and natural gas from the oilfield if Charest does not begin the attack. To date, Charest has resisted this and acted in a respectable manner.
On the other side, it is great to see that deputy premier and Minister of Natural Resources Kathy Dunderdale and our government have been civil about this and are calling for a tribunal to be set up to end the dispute. Settling things at the boardroom table, or even the kitchen table, is much more productive then throwing fuel on a burning fire created by previous and ongoing disagreements.
With regards to where the oilfield, named Old Harry, is located, Quebec is standing behind the 1964 agreement between four Atlantic provinces signed by our premier at the time, Joey Smallwood. That agreement puts most of the oilfield within Quebec jurisdiction. This province is arguing that the 1964 agreement was negated by a federal-provincial tribunal in 2002 and that we should have a new tribunal determine which jurisdiction the oilfield lies.
The stakes are high in this debate, since Old Harry is said to possibly hold double the oil and natural gas of the Hibernia oil field. Old Harry could hold as much as two billion barrels of oil and five trillion cubic feet of natural gas. With the prospects of Old Harry filling government coffers from royalties and fuelling the provincial economies, as the Hibernia field does, the dreams are big and the ambitions are high to have control of this resource.
Politics in Canada and resource distribution around the world is often laden with these heated battles that pit the people of one province or region off against another. That method of debate and discussion is ridiculous and unproductive.
There needs to be mutual respect between the people of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. We have had many battles in the past, but that does not mean we have to bear arms — figuratively — again over the offshore oil dispute. We are both a part of the nation of Canada, and pitting one part of the country against another just leads to further lack of progress that distracts us from spending our time on things that will make the country and each province greater.
Newfoundland and Labrador should aim to be the ‘ big person’ in all of this. Let’s bring together good information and good arguments to make our case. Let’s not, whether at the government level, within the media, or as citizens, resort to throwing insults at Quebec.
One has to ask, though; because of the pressure that Charest is getting from the opposition Parti Quebeçois in Quebec, and the fact that he is sitting at a very low level of popularity in his home province, will Charest buckle to the pressure and start a dispute to score political points? I hope not. Please, Premier Williams and Premier Charest, in co-operation with the Government of Canada, without backroom deals, without mud-slinging, let’s figure this out.