Us­ing his­tor­i­cal fact in­stead of po­lit­i­cal fic­tion

The Compass - - OPINION -

Hands up all who think premiers Clyde Wells and Brian Tobin and Roger Grimes — even Danny Wil­liams, had the op­por­tu­nity oc­curred in his time — must have signed the deals by which oil com­pa­nies and Voisey’s Bay Nickel be­gan sell­ing prod­uct into world mar­kets, and that, in the same way, Joey Small­wood must have signed that “in­fa­mous” power deal with Que­bec. Right? Ab­so­lutely wrong on all counts, and for one sim­ple rea­son: it was none of their bloody busi­ness!

That’s be­cause, on be­ing dis­cov­ered and devel­oped and brought up from the depths of the Grand Banks, the oil, for ex­am­ple, is the prop­erty of the rel­e­vant lease­hold­ing com­pany.

And it is that com­pany’s sole, un­fet­tered right to sell it to whomever, at what­ever price — give it away if they wish, so long as their obli­ga­tions to the province are fully dis­charged. (The right and re­spon­si­bil­ity of government, on the other hand — un­like what oc­curred in the forced re­vi­sion of the He­bron con­tract — is that we New­found­lan­ders re­ceive the ben­e­fits stip­u­lated in the lease agree­ment, no more, per­haps, but cer­tainly no less. It is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the pre­mier of the day to en­sure that it is so.)

Lit­er­ally thou­sands of lease agree­ments have al­lowed in­di­vid­u­als and com­pa­nies to en­ter legally onto our pub­lic lands and into our wa­ters, search­ing for and per­haps de­vel­op­ing de­posits of oil, coal, iron, gold, sil­ver, zinc, fluorspar, slate, as­bestos, cop­per; to har­vest fish and wildlife and tim­ber; to es­tab­lish camps for sports­men; to oc­cupy pub­lic lands for farm­ing and recre­ation …

You get the idea. In ev­ery case the re­sult­ing ac­tiv­ity, as­sum­ing the terms of lease are faith­fully car­ried out, is the pri­vate busi­ness of the lease­holder.

What about elec­tric­ity? Pre­cisely the same thing. Con­trary to ar­rant non­sense spouted re­cently in The Globe and Mail, by two or three cor­re­spon­dents to The Tele­gram, and by poor, be­fud­dled Pre­mier Kathy Dun­derdale, nei­ther Mr. Small­wood nor his government ne­go­ti­ated or signed the Up­per Churchill deal to sell its power to Hy­dro-Québec, only Brinco could — and did.

It’s a fact, con­firmed by the Moores ad­min­is­tra­tion in an is­sued doc­u­ment, and by Brian Peck­ford out of his own mouth.

In 1961, the House of As­sem­bly ap­proved unan­i­mously a statu­tory lease to al­low the mostly Bri­tish con­glom­er­ate Brinco to de­velop Labrador elec­tric­ity, in­clud­ing the $1 bil­lion project on the Churchill River.

In re­turn, the province would re­ceive a fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit then cal­cu­lated at $600 mil­lion or 36 per cent of the com­pany’s earn­ings.

There was mas­sive em­ploy­ment of New­found­lan­ders, elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of Labrador West, mak­ing pos­si­ble its iron ore in­dus­try and much of its in­fra­struc­ture, and a Lower Churchill pro­posal with a so-called “fixed link.”

But then came a change of government and takeover of the Up­per Churchill com­pany, de­scribed by Pre­mier Moores be­fore he died as “the worst thing we ever did.”

The province was sad­dled with Brinco’s $1 bil­lion con­struc­tion debt, plus the buy­back of its shares.

The ac­tion fore­closed an im­pend­ing law­suit against Brinco and Hy­droQuébec for in­fring­ing the water power lease, the foun­da­tion of the project.

And it blocked devel­op­ment of the Lower Churchill for 40 years. Wil­liam R. Cal­la­han writes from St.

John’s

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