February 25, 2009

A question of constitutional contempt

Newfoundland and Quebec are facing off over a patch of territory that Quebec insists is theirs.

Under Term 2 of the Terms of Union of Newfoundland with Canada, which forms
part of the Constitution of Canada states: "The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador shall comprise the same territory as at the date of Union, that is to say, the island of Newfoundland and the islands adjacent thereto, the Coast of Labrador as defined in the report delivered by the Judicial Committee of His Majesty's Privy Council on the first day of March, 1927, and approved by His Majesty in Privy Council on the twenty-second day of March, 1927, and the islands adjacent to the said Coast of Labrador."

The pristine Romaine River is currently under threat from Hydro Quebec's estimated $6.5 billion development plan. Besides from being environmentally pristine, there's the small constitutional problem of the fact that this river is actually Newfoundland-Labrador property.

Quebec wishes to produce hydroelectric power on this river, regardless of the fact that it's actually in contempt of the Constitution of Canada. In a shocking show of blatancy, according to the Government of Quebec website, "Quebec does not recognize the portion of the Quebec / Newfoundland and Labrador border between Qu├ębec and Labrador as set by the Privy Council in London in 1927." ( LINK)

Tourist, official maps and Canadian Armed Forces maps depicting the Quebec patrol area now include that area of Labrador as well.

In the 1960s, Newfoundland, to put it mildly, got screwed by the federal government because they feared national turmoil. Newfoundland has gotten bad bargains in the past, which is great fodder for debate.

It all began during construction of the colossal Churchill Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador during the '60s. Newfoundland wanted permission from the feds to send electricity through Quebec to the northern United States and Ontario. Instead, Quebec insisted on buying the power outright. The federal government apparently could have stepped in and legislated transmission of power through Quebec, but being spineless, they let Quebec do what they wanted. Coerced into it, the deal was signed by Newfoundland's first Premier, the controversial Joey Smallwood, which fixed the sale of the electricity at 1969 prices, prices that in 2009 are ridiculously low.

In the end, Quebec is prospering with our water power.

For Newfoundland the cost has been billions of dollars. As poor as the new Canadian province was, this was a brutal blow that continues to bruise today.

Hydroelectric power drives Quebec's nationalism, but a lot of that power has come at Newfoundland's expense.

Premier Jean Charest hopes to take advantage of the clean-energy agreement signed by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper during the President's visit to Canada, and sell power to the States. There's a clock ticking. If the Williams government can't settle this in time, the potential of the Lower Churchill and Romaine Rivers will be lost.

Not only that, we risk losing some of our territory in an incredible act of aggression.

On moral and legal grounds, what side is right?