Taxpayers' coalition slams government for Abitibi settlement
Premier Danny Williams said Wednesday he is pleased with a settlement between AbitibiBowater and the federal government to end the legal battle over the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor.
© Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Premier Danny Williams met with the media at the Confederation Building in St. John's Wednesday morning reacting to Tuesday night's announcement the AbitibiBowater has settled with the federal government for $130 million.
The federal government agreed to pay $130 million to Abitibi for the mill and the hydroelectric assets which the province seized in the winter of 2008.
“I think it’s a fair compensation,” Williams told reporters.
“These are mature parties here — the Government of Canada and a major corporation — that have agreed upon a price.”
Despite the fact that the province seized the assets, it was Ottawa that was facing a NAFTA challenge by Abitibi, and federal lawyers decided a long, drawn-out legal battle would be more expensive than settling.
It will be the Government of Canada who pays the settlement.
Williams said that in a cordial conversation with Prime Minister Stephen Harper Monday, he was assured the federal government would not try to recoup that money from the province.
“As far as Ottawa is concerned, the prime minister has made it very clear that the Government of Canada is taking this liability,” Williams said.
“If you’ve got a couple of days, I can tell you all the reasons why Newfoundland and Labrador is not being treated unfairly here.
“We make a huge contribution to Canada, I’ve said it time and time again, through our natural resources and through everything we do.”
Some commentators on the mainland weren’t buying Williams’ positivity.
“I think that Danny Williams treats federal taxpayer money like his racecar: fast and loose,” said Kevin Gaudet, federal director fo the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “I get that the premier wants to look like the white knight, that’s kind of how he rolls, and he’s never better at it than when he’s using other people’s cash.”
“As far as Ottawa is concerned, the prime minister has made it very clear that the Government of Canada is taking this liability,” Premier Danny Williams
Gaudet said that the $130-million price tag is proof that expropriating Abitibi’s assets was the wrong choice.
After Williams made that decision, Gaudet said it was only a matter of time before taxpayers would have to pay up.
Opposition House Leader Kelvin Parsons said he’s glad the saga is over.
“We have to be very thankful, of course, to the federal government, because they just got us off the hook for $130 million,” he said. “I guess the question now is politically whether there will be any ramifications.”
On Wednesday, Williams acknowledged that things are far from finished with Abitibi.
Abitibi had minority partners in some of its hydroelectric dams, and those partners need to be compensated for the expropriation.
There is also an ongoing legal battle over who will pay for the environmental cleanup of contaminated sites across the province, including the mill property in Grand Falls-Windsor.
The provincial government is currently appealing that case to the Supreme Court of Canada, but Williams admitted Wednesday that is a bit of a long shot.
Ultimately, though, he said that he didn’t regret the decision to expropriate Abitibi’s assets.