Danny Williams says the province does not support Canada-EU trade talks.
At this point, we are not willing to sign on to support the negotiation of a new and comprehensive economic agreement with the European Union, Williams said, in a February 20 news release.
However, the province is an active participant at the table, despite the premiers going it alone bravado.
Last week, I emailed several questions to Jean-Benot Leblanc, Section Head of Trade, Investment and Science Technology with Canadas EU Mission, in Brussels, Belgium. My questions were referred to spokesperson Sophie Galarneau, who responded on the departments behalf.
I asked if Newfoundland and Labrador was an active participant at the table, and is as fully engaged as other provinces.
Officials from Newfoundland have been attending regular meetings and consultations between the federal and provincial/territorial governments on the Canada-EU initiative, as have other provinces and territories, Galarneau replied. Newfoundland and Labrador has been closely consulted on Canada-EU discussions over the past 18 months.
Galarneau was precise and measured in her answers, but was quite clear on this point: the province is involved in the negotiations.
Back in March, Premier Williams raised the possibility of this province negotiating its own deal with the EU. A Telegram article by Rob Antle quoted the premier as saying, if that means that there's an agreement between Canada and 12 jurisdictions, and there has to be a separate agreement negotiated with Newfoundland and Labrador, then I'm fine with that.
However, the same article threw cold water on the premiers suggestion, when it quoted an EU official as saying, The Government of Canada is the only government with the authority to conclude international treaties under the Canadian constitution
That position was confirmed in my communication as well.
In Canada, the federal government has the sole authority to negotiate and sign international agreements, Galarneau said. Our European counterparts are aware of this fact.
Putting that aside for a moment, I asked if it made any strategic sense for the province to boycott this process. If the premier had concerns about proper representation, would it make more sense to have a presence around the table?
The Government of Canada has strongly encouraged all provinces and territories to participate in negotiations so that we are fully able to pursue their interests in an eventual agreement with the EU, Galarneau said.
And it looks like the province is a lot more involved than the premier has been letting on.
The Government of Canada is consulting extensively with provinces and territories in preparation for negotiating meetings. Provinces and territories will also be attending the negotiations and participating in areas wholly or partially under their jurisdiction, Galarneau said, adding that the provinces are involved at an unprecedented level in the discussions, compared to previous international trade agreements.
Provinces and territories will be participating as members of the Canadian delegation in negotiations for example, on sub-federal government procurement. Provinces and territories have never participated in trade negotiations to this extent.
And Galarneau maintains that the province has been attending regular meetings with its provincial counterparts and the federal government. To ensure strong and coherent Canadian negotiating positions, federal, provincial and territorial representatives are meeting on a regular basis now to develop positions and will meet prior to each negotiating round, Galarneau said. In addition, provinces and territories will be participating directly in the negotiation with the European Union on areas within their jurisdiction.
Which raises the question: What was the premiers strategy back in February? Has it changed since then, or was it always just smoke and mirrors?
Heres one viewpoint, from Jason Langrish, executive director of the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business, as quoted in a February 23 story by Peter ONeil of Canwest News Service.
Based on the content of the Newfoundland news release, coupled with the souring of relations between Premier Williams and Prime Minister Harper that has been occurring now for some time, one might logically draw the conclusion that the decision to separate from his fellow premiers is a politically motivated act more than it is a statement of concern with the proposed negotiating alliance between the federal government and provinces, Langrish wrote in an e-mail.
Did Williams take this course to create the impression of not participating, so that, if the trade deal didnt go our way, he could wash his hands of it and place the blame at Ottawas feet? If so, it would have backfired, as most thinking people recognized the contradiction in the premiers position. (I dont trust you foxes with these chickens, so I am leaving the henhouse, as I put it back in May.)
Or is it pure political theatre, another round of Ottawa-bashing, with as much consideration behind it as his comment about negotiating a separate agreement with the EU?
Perhaps the premier thought, at the time, that he could negotiate such a deal until someone took him aside for a reality check.
Either way, I am glad the province is at the table, quietly or otherwise. This process is too important to be derailed by political shenanigans.