A Little Lesson on how Confederation works: A Brief Comment on Ms. Redford Words

 “I think from what we’ve seen there are very specific comments that I think are being made by the premier of B.C that will fundamentally change Confederation,” Redford explained. “We have a Confederation which allows for people in each province to benefit from the resources they have, to retain jurisdiction over those resources, and then to be part of a federal system that allows for transfer payments where there’s economic success — and those benefits get transferred across the country.”

  • Premier Redford turns up heat in royalty war of words with B.C.’s Christy Clark, By DARCY HENTON, Calgary Herald, July 24, 2012 [As Published on Ottawa Citizen.com])

Premier Redford should ask a Newfoundlander about the Upper Churchill Falls. If she did, she would find out that Canadian Provinces have ‘extorted’ each other for years. Shawn McCarthy wrote an article on this subject. In a piece called “Newfoundland bid to use Quebec hydro lines turned down”, (Globe and Mail.com, May. 12, 2010), he noted that “Quebec’s energy regulator dealt a blow to Newfoundland and Labrador’s plan to develop a massive power project on the Lower Churchill River, denying the province’s push to have Hydro-Québec transmit electricity to markets in the U.S. and Canada.”

At the time, Premier Danny Williams “slammed the Quebec energy board’s decision Wednesday as ‘a blatant disregard’ for the fundamental electricity market principle of non-discrimination.” In fact, he went further. For, he said that “What Quebec has done today is to tell the people of Canada and the United States that they will go to any lengths to ensure they have market dominance over electricity markets in north-eastern North America.” In fact, he argued that it was “completely anti-competitive.”

Or one could go back to the 1969 agreement between the two provinces. In 1969, Newfoundland wanted to sell electrical energy to the US. At the time, it was decided that the best way of selling the electricity was to use Quebec as a conduit. Quebec though had a cost; and, for years later, politicians in St. John’s complained about it. Quebec, Newfoundlanders would argue, took advantage of Newfoundland. The reason for this disagreement was simple: Quebec received the majority of the benefit. John Ivison of the National Post (Quebec’s shameless exploitation of Newfoundland gets worse, Nov 23, 2010 6:15 PM, Last Updated: 8:29 PM) argued that Quebec made $20 billion dollars from the deal, while Newfoundland only made $1 billion dollars. If Newfoundland lost out on $20 billion dollars because it was not directly linked to the US, imagine what BC will make from Alberta for being a conduit and for accepting a large amount of environmental risk?

This little history lesson also explains why the Federal Government will not get involved in this argument. For, if the Feds get involved in a BC/Alberta argument, the Federal Government will also have to get involved with any future argument between Newfoundland and Quebec. And that is just the beginning. For, if there is an Eastern Pipeline or Energy Conduit to be built, there will be even more disagreement and fighting. Does anyone think that the Federal Government wants to negotiate, renegotiate or facilitate all of these disagreements? I think not.

Federal Government involvement is even less likely because it would have to have a Constitutional Reason to do so. For example, the Federal Government has every right to regulate the pipeline because it moves between provinces. However, because of the BNA Act (i.e. sec 92 subsection 16), BC also has the right to add whatever environmental regulations it wishes on its side of the border. Such regulations could effectively kill the pipeline.

Or imagine if BC pulls the Environmental Card. If they did, the Federal Government would need to have an effective environmental process. Given that Harper Conservatives were looking to pass all of those responsibilities to the provinces, one can say that the Federal Government will likely not get involved at all in these interprovincial fights.

So with all being said, Ms. Redford, is getting a lesson on how this Confederation works. The problem for her is that the Confederation, as it is now structured, makes her life a difficult one. At least, on this one issue.

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