An open letter to Premier Williams
I have been listening closely during this election, to see where you stand on the most important issues of the day. You have been masterful at setting the news agenda, somehow diverting the attention of the media and the public away from what, to me, are the most pressing questions of this election.
Kim Campbell once said that an election is no time for serious discussion of the issues. She was raked over the coals for that, but, unfortunately, what she said is correct. For some inexplicable reason, the most important issues become parked during an election, supplanted by empty promises, policy on the fly and partisan attacks on the other leaders.
Those things have their place, I suppose, and they add a bit of entertainment to an election. But Danny, by voting for you, we are voting for a Hebron deal, the fine print of which we know nothing about, and a decision to go it alone on the Lower Churchill which could double this province's debt. The line of questioning in this election has somehow missed these issues completely.
So I have some questions for you, followed by a simple gesture you can make that would put my mind at ease and win my vote. First the questions
First of all, why is it necessary to "go it alone" on the Lower Churchill development? In a July 29 interview with The Independent, you said you wanted to bypass the Hydro Quebec power transmission route "for all the obvious reasons". The reporter didn't ask what those reasons were, though they obviously' relate to bitterness about the Churchill Falls debacle. Have you even tried to negotiate a deal involving Quebec? Or are you refusing to negotiate the most logical and cost-effective development route because of resentment toward that province? I am not suggesting you do a bad deal. I am suggesting you at least explore the possibility of a getting a good deal, before potentially doubling our provincial debt on an undertaking like this. Pride is a wonderful thing, but when it involves mortgaging the futures of our children, I strongly question it.
My biggest question relates to the equity issue on the Hebron MOU, which still concerns me. We already own the resources, and companies pay us in royalties for the privilege of extracting them. Why then do we need equity too? I know it's to earn even more money. But to get that equity, we are spending millions up front to buy shares and millions more to develop the project, and then deferring royalties until the project is profitable.
Outside of the political symbolism of "owning a piece of the action", what are the real net benefits and risks of this? Because there are risks. If the price of oil goes south which is possible though not probable we will do poorly on our investment. Should a government be taking such a gamble when an enhanced or super' royalty alone would guarantee us oil riches, risk free? Is it wise to expose our children to these risks?
I am also wondering why we, the people of this province, can't see the details of the deal. We will own it twice, first as owners of the resource and then as equity holders, and yet still aren't allowed to know the content of the MOU. What's that about? And what about conflict of interest? How is government supposed to regulate and enforce safety and environmental performance when it is, in effect, regulating itself?
Finally, there is the issue of succession. I agree that the risks of taking equity are negligible, and perhaps we will eventually start making money by going it alone on the Lower Churchill. But what about the next premier? And the one after that? Will they have your business acumen? Will they even have a shred of common sense? What's to stop them from mismanaging these complex developments to the point that they collapse in a morass of bad debt? This is not just possible, it's quite probable given our track record of electing politicians who are mainly interested in buying our votes with our own money, and appointing political cronies to important positions.
But there is something you can do, Danny, to allay most of my concerns and win my vote. In fact, it would probably make a lot of people feel better.
If you are so confident that the price of oil will not decline, and that project costs will not spin out of control, then back it up. Put your entire personal fortune on the line. If the province ends up losing on the Hebron deal, you sign everything you own over to the people of this province, to help offset our loss in revenue.
This sounds like a fair solution. And I am not being facetious. I will donate $500 of my own money toward the legal costs to draft the contract wording.
And if you are not willing to bet your own fortune on the outcome, why should we trust you to gamble with ours?