There’s an old saying about money and moguls: if you owe the bank $10,000 and you can’t pay, you’re in trouble. But if you owe the bank $10 million and you can’t pay, your banker’s in trouble.
It’s got to do with scale: essentially, there’s a point at which your size creates its own kind of motion — or its own kind of inertia — and you end up being treated differently than anyone else might be.
Keep that in mind and ask yourself if it might apply to this question: if Vale/Inco has a problem with toxic waste spilled into Arctic waters, is that really their problem or, given their size, is it a problem for the provincial government?
Because Vale is having a problem — one that they may well be trying very hard to solve, and one that the federal government has recently charged them over.
Vale was charged with three charges related to the release of toxic materials into Anaktalak Bay in Labrador.
But just try getting anyone to talk about not only the issues involved in the case, or about Vale’s past record of failing a series of tests on effluent, and you find that everyone is pretty much mum.
Here’s how our news story spelled out that experience: “Questions — including whether or not the provincial government was aware of the allegations against Vale — bounced between the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) representatives, a provincial spokesperson for DFO, the Environment Canada communications office in Ottawa and provincial communications staff from Service NL to Environment and Conservation.
“There has been no response to any questions about environmental monitoring at Voisey’s Bay, interaction between regulators at the provincial and federal level, or the alleged environmental crime that has prompted the charges against Vale, other than to say the case is before the courts.”
Contrast that with the treatment that a different company got in this province, a company that was not a big investor, but instead, public paper-making enemy No. 1.
When the province was taking action against AbitibiBowater after the government’s accidental seizure of the Grand Falls paper mill, it not only issued news releases and talked publicly about the company’s involvement in contaminated properties, it went as far as to list properties as far-flung as woods camps that had been closed for decades.
Interestingly, the province hadn’t shown the same concern about the contaminated sites earlier — at least, not as long as AbitibiBowater was still employing hundreds of people at the Grand Falls mill.
Companies may not ask for kid-glove treatment or any kind of deference, and we’re not for a moment suggesting that Vale/Inco has sought anything of the kind.
It’s just that, with big corporations and big projects, sometimes it sure looks like it’s the banker that actually has the problem.