There are interesting, if difficult, times in Grand Falls-Windsor.
For several months now, an anonymous group of citizens calling itself Exploits Energy has been running a pretty clever advertising campaign in the local newspaper.
The ads, which appear in The Advertiser, reveal how much revenue is accruing to the provincial government, on a week-to-week basis. They challenge the province to return some of that revenue to the region. (The Labradore blog has compiled these ads in one place, for those living outside the central region.)
The ads are having a subversive effect in the community, fanning the flames of resentment that have been growing in the town, since Premier Williams galloped in as the conquering hero, one day after expropriating Abitibis hydro asset, then disappeared, taking with him revenue of roughly $1 million per week.
The Williams Government has announced spending in the region since then, but its chickenfeed pure tokenism in comparison to what the province makes from the asset.
The identities of the person(s) behind Exploits Energy are carefully guarded. However, they are a smart bunch, and they know how to run a public information campaign. Their ads contain an email address (email@example.com), though an earlier interview request by CBC news was declined because the group wasnt ready at the time to comment.
I tried again this week, with better luck. The group is now ready to talk.
Off the top, I asked why they felt it necessary to remain anonymous.
Our goal was to make this issue a topic of discussion locally to ignite some indignation and force (shame?) local leaders to take up the torch, said the Explots Energy spokesperson. Hopefully, the new municipal councils will do this. Our advertisements were never meant to be a springboard for our group. We have no political aspirations or agenda. In fact, the anonymity of the group was designed to ensure the spotlight stayed on the information and the issue, and not on the individuals presenting them. Of course, there was also the impact of the poisonous climate created by the Premier when it comes to his treatment of those who question or oppose the government. We felt that it would be far more effective to focus on the facts, and not provide a target for people like the Premier to use to distract the discussion from the real issue at hand.
Clever, given that the premiers approach invariably is to attack and denigrate those who question or criticize him, rather than address their arguments. In this case, the only target is the information itself.
I noted that there is considerable discontent on the street in Grand Falls-Windsor, and asked if MHAs Susan Sullivan, Ray Hunter and Clayton Forsey are in jeopardy of losing in the next provincial election.
The reaction from the area MHA's has been disappointing to say the least, said the spokesperson. Clearly there are larger influences at work here. Susan Sullivan, whose light was shining so brightly (new MHA, cabinet appointment) has probably dashed her re-election hopes due to her inaction and complicity. Clayton Forsey and Ray Hunter have also placed themselves in jeopardy. Many say that Ray Hunter has achieved his goal of a two-term pension, so does not care either way (his record clearly speaks to this). Municipal officials have been even more inept Mayor Rex Barnes and his council have failed to grasp the magnitude of this, and have, in fact, been shameless in praising the scraps falling from the provincial government table.
Municipal election candidates Beve Butler and Darren Finn are well-known supporters of the Williams Government. I asked Exploits Energy if they were getting involved in the municipal elections, by asking candidates for their position on reinvestment of Exploits hydro revenue.
There will always be the spectre of political party loyalties in municipal politics. Our primary objective is to push the issue by presenting facts not tainted by politics or by dynamics created by identifying the messenger. The power in our campaign has been that it forces discussion about the issue (Are the numbers right? Why does the Exploits Valley deserve hydro benefits?) and not on the information provider (Mr. Jones only wants a job out of this. Mr. Smith is a Liberal so he has it in for Danny).
I asked if there has been any pressure on the group, via email, to stand down or back away from their campaign, from government or other quarters.
Obviously nothing directly, but there have been messages circulated around town trying to smoke us out. Mayor Rex Barnes has been on local radio saying that whoever is behind this should make themselves known and join in the process. (Perhaps you could ask Dave Newell at The Advertiser this question he gets most of the grief from being our host!).
I did put that question to David Newell, editor of The Advertiser, because I, too, heard his paper had come under pressure from area MHAs.
To date, I have had no questions from anyone in government about the ads, however I have had many, many requests from citizens about the identity of the people behind it, Newell said, in an email. I think people here would like to know who is behind it. They also think that because the ads are in their paper, they have a right to know. Only a couple people at the paper have the knowledge of who pays their bill. Obviously, since it is a business contract, we have to respect their privacy and our business relationship.
I do know one thing, Newell continued. These people have nothing to gain personally over an equity stake in the power, in the establishment of a venture capital investment fund or anything else involving that revenue. Not directly, anyways. They are sincerely interested in the long-term survival and prosperity of this Valley. These are people who have families and jobs and businesses. If the community prospers, so will they. If the region survives, they hope their kids will grow up here. Its as simple as that for them.
Newell said there will soon be an announcement of an $800,000 annual grant from Nalcor to the town council, which he called a drop in the bucket.
I suppose it will be justified that this was the amount Abitibi last paid as a grant-in-lieu of taxes, however people should not forget the huge payroll the company had, the amount they paid to local contractors, the spin-offs to local businesses, and so on.
There are stories yet to be told about the closure of the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor. Stay tuned for more, in the weeks ahead