Saturday, 24 June 2017

BRIAN PECKFORD'S WAKE-UP CALL


It was a somewhat older, less feisty, more comfortably confident Brian Peckford who ascended the stage as guest speaker at the closing of NOIA’S 40thconference. But time had not altered his powers of communication or any of his enormous capacity to be singular with his audience, to entertain them and, concomitantly, to leave them feeling slightly less comfortable than when they first sat down.

As an ‘old’ staffer of Premier Peckford, in the 1970s and 80s (full disclosure), I had watched the performance many times, often jealously the rapport quickly established, the bond of trust unmistakable, all given an articulation that found clarity only because it was as physical and emotional as it was verbal. Like him or hate him many did both, and some at the same time he was a master storyteller.
Peckford never ever talked about silly stuff. He was always a man on a mission. He loved the cut and thrust of politics, found assurance in his ability to read a public through the medium of what he described as his “bellybutton”, and revelled when he bettered the opposition Liberals, or got his message to the media an hour or two before the Feds even if, most of the time, they held all the cards.


Only the unread regarded his political machinations as gamesmanship. The more astute would see them as levers, the mechanisms of shrewdness, the game not the plan.  Underneath all the theatre there was policy.

At its essence, politics without purpose is only about winning and losing. Real politics exposes and circumscribes amateurs and wannabes. Ring-fenced by values and goals, it truly is the art of the possible.

As Peckford started in, I wondered how he would contain himself in the face of all the bad politics, much of it from his own Party from Danny Williams to Paul Davis. Policy has become submerged to politics, losing its public purpose in the bargain… It has become something personal what is still not clear, but certainly something more self-serving.

The Liberals under Dwight Ball, assessed in a Peckfordian context, must seem to him a bunch having stumbled in from another planet. They possess no ability to turn forward a dial that ought not to have been reversed. The Tories had engaged in mind-numbing recklessness, certainly deception possibly chicanery precipitating Ball’s ascension to the 8th Floor in the first place.

After all, who was Ball but an interloper, bereft of either passion or policy a rogue element, cold and indifferent, an awkward man trying to graft himself onto a warmer, and fearful if far too needy body politic.

Ball vs. Peckford. There is no need for metaphor for what is obvious.

Peckford’s speech began about his roots in St. John’s, of all places. Who would ever have taken him, of all people, for a Townie? Of course, his father was a social worker whose career was spent in many places in the province, allowing Brian to claim no fixed address.

No one ever questioned his heritage or that, in every bone and sinew of his being, he was a Newfoundlander. No one questioned him, that is, except one former Premier who was quick to denigrate him and his public expression of concern over the Muskrat Falls project it, ostensibly, having held less value because he no longer lives here.

It must have galled him that, only one day after his NOIA speech, Nalcor announced overruns of another billion dollars, raising project costs to $12.7 billion.  

Little wonder that he noted that "the Government predicts it will receive $902,765,000 million in offshore oil royalties… and that the [amount] totals… more than all Federal Government cash transfers to the Province" this year and likely for a very long time.

He was pilloried for Sprung and deserved the criticism, however well-intentioned the project. But, if objectivity were allowed, unlike Muskrat, it was not covered up or lied about, it didn’t imperil the whole economy, and transparency was reported daily on the evening news. If only Muskrat had received the same attention!   

At NOIA, Peckford avoided discussion of Muskrat.   

For him, more utility could be found in reminding those with poor memories and the two succeeding generations (all taking the Atlantic Accord for granted) that it was an achievement hard won, that it ought to be celebrated, and that its continued existence would require the diligence of the current and future governments.

No one and I mean no one understands better than Peckford the avarice of the centralizers in Ottawa and their desire to reassert a vision of Canada that he and Mulroney eschewed, one that did not favour the sparse and politically powerless periphery.

The justification for shared jurisdiction over NL’s offshore resources was explained a thousand times in the 80s and 90s; the moment at the St. John’s Convention Centre seemed a tear in the fabric of time. Strangely, the relevance of that earlier fight had not diminished one little bit.

A mixed brew that combined the grab for the fast buck, political partisanship, insecurity, and Newfoundlanders’ inexperience with advancing their interests in the still-new confederal arrangement, all conspired to create a culture of deference to an Ottawa-centric federal  government. NL had made a terrible mistake agreeing to Terms of Union that failed to recognize that most of NL’s huge maritime area, though having vastly enlarged Canada’s landmass and sovereignty, also held most of our resources. "Pecky", as Frank Moores called him, was having none of that.

The story of the retrieval of those rights if only in part recorded a leviathan struggle that exposed the worst aspects of power politics, inter-province rivalry and self-interest, just as it illuminated the power of strong political leadership to keep a small society, barely capable of differentiating larger issues from petty partisan politics, from losing the historic opportunity afforded by giant offshore oil discoveries.

Some say that finding real leadership in politics is serendipitous. The history of Newfoundland and Labrador seems to affirm such a thesis. Well, serendipity had come home for a visit. And he carried a blunt message.

Put simply, the message was that we need to vigorously defend and preserve the Atlantic Accord, or risk seeing its erosion.

It is one thing for a weak Ball government to make a bad White Rose Extension deal even worse for political expediency. But imagine that the province had no mechanism to manage its still-fledging industry, to keep some local benefits here, or that approval of new field development was at the mercy, via Ottawa, of every interest group in the country from the Greens in British Columbia to big business in Quebec, or to the petty particle strainers in Nova Scotia.

Peckford warns that a federal panel’s proposal to give the feds a mechanism to review large projects under a new environment assessment process could result in the fraying of the role of the CNLOP-B and, ultimately, the Atlantic Accord.

What he didn’t say and didn’t need to is that we have to watch out for weak governments, like the current Ball administration, whose slavish deference to partisanship and to small federal hand-outs will hasten the loss of what was won in 1985.

The public should take note that is easier to hold onto what was won than to rely on serendipity again.

Peckford’s brief appearance was a tonic for a province starved of serious debate. It was a kick in the pants for a society far too complacent about its very survival.

We need serendipity to return a lot more often.

17 comments:

  1. Benefits of the Atlantic Accord have largely been squandered by the 7 Premier's from 2003-current by putting the one time oil revenue into the general coffers and starting a legacy/vanity project in Boondoggle Falls. O&M of MF was understated by $75M or 1% of the Province's entire budget - the gift that keeps on giving.

    DG2 MF total cost https://www.mun.ca/harriscentre/policy/memorialpresents/2012a/lower_chuchill_jan_2012.pdf p19 $6.65B(8% discounted)Isolated $8.8B MF was allegedly the LCO by $2.2B during this time. 0% discount MF $4.8B Isolated $8.9B making MF the LCO by $4.1B.
    However using the updated $12.7B MF cost it turns out to be the MCPO (Most Cost Possible Option) by $4 BILLION DOLLARS.

    12,000 GWH of overstated HRT generation between 2013-2037 or ELEVEN years of extra fuel usage based on our current 1100 GWH from HRT. 11 years X 3M bbls of oil X current price of oil (43$)= $1420M Nalcor inflated the fuel costs at HRT.
    Nalcor had oil pegged at $145 bbl by 2025, NL weathermen are more accurate..

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  2. Boats coming in here with no Canadian officers or no succession plan... in direct violation of the Atlantic accord!Foerign bottoms such as taklife 5 which was at Hebron over two years with no Canadian officers!Bunch of specialized vessels like subsea 7 and the big seismic vessel bet there are no rank officers.BTW I have reported this to CNLOPB but no action!Also reported to MP ,PF Collins have a lucrative buisness getting exemption for ships and crews to the detriment of nl seafarers

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  3. Did Peckford miss the important reality that the present federal government intends to crucify the NL and Alberta/Saskatchewan economy using the ill-fated and ill-advised carbon tax to the benefit of upper Canada ie. Quebec and Ontario! or is that his main point, missed by many???

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    1. Apparently Mr. Peckford is a climate change denier, who is committed to a carbon intensive "go for the gullies" tar and petroleum extraction and pipeline to the pristine coast type of public promoter.

      Pollution, (carbon) taxes are one way to reduce the world's dependence on fossil fuels, which tend to destroy natural habitat, while making a few people rich.

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    2. Who is there among us that can deny climate change that has been going on since the beginning of time!! Want some might look for is evidence of the many causes of climate change including a somewhat dubious and perhaps a minor role of carbon dioxide emissions? Let us know if you have the answer.

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  4. Anom; FWIW Quebec did not want that federal carbon tax. They want to use that cap and trade carbon auctions process (currently used by QC, ON and California).

    Still, I dont pretend it's any less damaging to oil producing regions thought - I'm not sure.

    But it seems to work well in mitigating some carbon production in a cost efficient way.

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    1. Cap and trade or direct taxation of citizens are these just different varieties of the same poison? Follow the money as they say, that is the only way to expose the whole scheme for what it is.

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    2. I agree, we sure can call it direct taxation, as are tobacco / alcohol taxes. And it also helps slow / mitigate carbon production.

      NL is not the only province being uneasy in this process.

      Despite being pro-environment, Quebec also felt penalized in the "carbon production start point volume" (my wordings) setting. It feels that being already the lowest carbon emission province, any further improvements would be relatively more expensive. (By exemple, about all Quebec homes have electric heating as opposed to fossil; no more room for improvements here).

      In other words, it feels being penalized by having already made its effort in lowering carbon emission.

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  5. Still looking for the evidence that links carbon dioxide production to climate change. If you find the evidence, let me know what it is please. I got sucked in by acid rain and CFC production also in the past!! Could it be political science mostly??

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    1. Much like looking for evidence that you actually have cerebral grey matter between you ears. Try an MRI with contrast agent and see of ot helps, and post results on UG.
      PF

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    2. PF must stand for "poor fellow" more to be pitied than blamed. Grey does matter, according to the auditor general government is not properly prepared for the senior problem coming our way. Still looking for the evidence. So far only political science!

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  6. I remember admiring Peckford for standing up to Tredeau, Peckford , defiant saying `Don`t put words in my mouth`, if memory serves.
    But Peckford, saying the Atlantic Accord was more important, or brought more money into Nfld than Confederation.....
    A bit much to claim, and I wondered if I had recalled that Peckford`s father was a welfare officer. Des says he was a social worker.
    I have heard many stories from old timers who lived through the Depression and the 6 cents a day of Commission Government. It was rural Nfld, that most wanted Confederation, having lived through such hard times. Maybe Peckford`s family never had it so bad, and overlooks this period of our history. I do not wave the flag, but I think the benefits of Confederation far outweigh the Atlantic Accord..........and more so,.... 80 percent of oil and gas offshore must remain in the ground, unless you deny science, and believe that climate change is a Chinese invention.
    I guess the oil industry needs a boost, and Peckford came to claim his legacy.......but 13 billion is wasted on the boondoggle,by Williams government, and the Liberals continue on that path. Muskrat.....the Legacy fund from our oil wealth........bring on the forensic audit.
    Winston Adams

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  7. Looking back, I thought a more impressive legacy, during the Peckford years, was the Law of the Sea negotiation, which meant that Canada, including NL would claim a 200 mile limit. Cabot Martin was a very knowledgable and persistent associate of Mr. Peckford, and gets most of the credit. Too bad it was too late to salvage NL's most important renewable resource, Cod.

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  8. If Peckford is afraid of a "proposal to give the feds a mechanism to review large projects under a new environment assessment process," then his reference to "the fraying of the role of the CNLOP-B" is really code word for fearing environmental oversight of regulatory process entirely biased toward digging more and more oil & gas out of the sea. Every problem the National Energy Board has had in properly carrying out the environmental assessment role that Harper thrust on it is only magnified in the case of the CNLOPB.

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  9. Little Alf was back in town for a visit to verify that the clouds of Muskrat Falls had moved in and as a result 'have not' has returned with a vengeance to rule NL for a long, long time to come.

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  10. What Brian Peckford didn't mention about the offshore was the fact that the GBS systems used to extract oil from Hibernia and Hebron were a disaster. For political reasons the systems were built using short term, high paid, unionized construction jobs (all of which are now gone-one of the reasons for Muskrat Falls-continuity of employment for construction workers) with a few lucrative local contracts thrown in for NL based companies and in exchange upwards of ten billion dollars or even more in royalties were given up to pay for the capital costs of these structures. It may well be with today’s price of oil that Hebron with its $14 Billion construction price tag will not produce any royalties for the provincial government until seven years of production at which time the field will be half gone. Newfoundland and Labrador would have been far better off if these same oil fields were developed using floating systems such as were used in Terra Nova and White Rose where royalties were flowing almost immediately and a policy in place such as in Norway where the royalties were placed in a sort of thrust fund and only the profit earned from the fund was allowed to be spent by politicians. These floating systems could have also been used for development of a Natural Gas industry that could have supplied us with electricity along with a wind turbine industry at a far cheaper price than Muskrat Falls. In South Korea there are several Natural Gas Tankers that have at least four 100 MW generators onboard. When under steam these generators produce power for propulsion using two electric motors but when they arrive in port, the vessels can either sell the natural gas stored onboard for heating etc. or produce electricity with the onboard generators and sell it via a shore connection depending on the port of call and its needs. This would have allowed us to sell Natural Gas at any time of the year to the US and European Markets without the expensive pipeline construction while at the same time supplying the island with cheap, affordable and reliable power instead of the very expensive Muskrat Falls hydro option.

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    1. Better still the development of Hebron should have been postponed for about ten to fifteen years until Hibernia was drained dry and the GBS system used in that field modified and refloated to the Hebron Field to extract oil with maximum negotiated royalties from day one of the fields production.

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