Hands up all who think premiers Clyde Wells and Brian Tobin and Roger Grimes — even Danny Williams, had the opportunity occurred in his time — must have signed the deals by which oil companies and Voisey’s Bay Nickel began selling product into world markets, and that, in the same way, Joey Smallwood must have signed that “infamous” power deal with Quebec.
Absolutely wrong on all counts, and for one simple reason: it was none of their bloody business!
That’s because, on being discovered and developed and brought up from the depths of the Grand Banks, the oil, for example, is the property of the relevant leaseholding company.
And it is that company’s sole, unfettered right to sell it to whomever, at whatever price — give it away if they wish, so long as their obligations to the province are fully discharged. (The right and responsibility of government , on the other hand — unlike what occurred in the forced revision of the Hebron contract — is that we Newfoundlanders receive the benefits stipulated in the lease agreement, no more, perhaps, but certainly no less. It is the responsibility of the premier of the day to ensure that it is so.)
Business as usual
Literally thousands of lease agreements have allowed individuals and companies to enter legally onto our public lands and into our waters, searching for and perhaps developing deposits of oil, coal, iron, gold, silver, zinc, fluorspar, slate, asbestos, copper; to harvest fish and wildlife and timber; to establish camps for sportsmen; to occupy public lands for farming and recreation…
You get the idea. In every case the resulting activity, assuming the terms of lease are faithfully carried out, is the private business of the leaseholder.
Electric power no different
What about electricity?
Precisely the same thing.
Contrary to arrant nonsense spouted recently in The Globe and Mail, by two or three correspondents to The Telegram, and by poor, befuddled Premier Kathy Dunderdale, neither Mr. Smallwood nor his government negotiated or signed the Upper Churchill deal to sell its power to Hydro-Québec, only Brinco could — and did.
It’s a fact, confirmed by the Moores administration in an issued document, and by Brian Peckford out of his own mouth.
In 1961, the House of Assembly approved unanimously a statutory lease to allow the mostly British conglomerate Brinco to develop Labrador electricity, including the $1 billion project on the Churchill River.
In return, the province would receive a financial benefit then calculated at $600 million or 36 per cent of the company’s earnings.
There was massive employment of Newfoundlanders, electrification of Labrador West, making possible its iron ore industry and much of its infrastructure, and a Lower Churchill proposal with a so-called “fixed link.”
But then came a change of government and takeover of the Upper Churchill company, described by Premier Moores before he died as “the worst thing we ever did.”
The province was saddled with Brinco’s $1 billion construction debt, plus the buyback of its shares.
The action foreclosed an impending lawsuit against Brinco and Hydro-Québec for infringing the water power lease, the foundation of the project.
And it blocked development of the Lower Churchill for 40 years.
William R. Callahan writes from St. John’s.