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Danny Williams, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador talks with reporters following a meeting with Prime Minister Sephen Harper in St. John's, NL, January, 2010. (Paul Daly For The Globe and Mail)
Danny Williams, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador talks with reporters following a meeting with Prime Minister Sephen Harper in St. John's, NL, January, 2010. (Paul Daly For The Globe and Mail)

Globe Editorial

Quebec, let the Churchill flow Add to ...

Under the hyperbolic rhetoric of Danny Williams, the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, there is sometimes a reasonable point. For example, Quebec should not be getting in the way of electricity transmission from Labrador.

Not only has a Quebec regulator, the Régie de l'Énergie, denied access to its transmission lines that would allow electricity to travel from the Churchill River in Labrador across to Ontario and elsewhere, by saying there is not enough capacity, but the Quebec government is also protesting against potential federal financing for an alternative, more difficult route, under the sea, from Labrador to Newfoundland, and thence to Cape Breton - and points beyond.

Premier Jean Charest has written to Ottawa to object to Newfoundland's application for federal infrastructure funding, and Jean-Marc Fournier, the Minister of Justice, has publicly said it would be unfair for the federal government to help pay for one province's transmission lines, when other provinces have built their own.

This is a non sequitur. Quebec is equally free to apply for infrastructure money, under what is after all a temporary program for projects being initiated now, not for existing infrastructure, such as parts of the electricity grid that is already alive and at work.

Mr. Williams's talk of "highway robbery," "hypocrisy," "predatory" behaviour, "unmitigated gall" would be easy to dismiss as the hot air of a habitual blowhard. In this case, however, it is Quebec Inc.'s probably futile attempt to elbow aside Labrador hydroelectricity that is discreditable.

It is understandable that Quebec has long insisted on its legal rights in an old hydroelectricity agreement by which it now pays too little to Newfoundland, just as it is understandable that Mr. Williams and his predecessors should struggle to set that contract aside. But Mr. Williams has made a special contribution to this vendetta; his virulent language helped scuttle a mutually advantageous electricity deal between Hydro-Québec and New Brunswick.

Enlightened self-interest would lead neighbouring provinces to develop east-west trade in power, even while they compete for access to the United States. As it is, Quebec and Newfoundland are both transfixed by New England's electricity needs, and Quebec is showing some cut-throat ruthlessness, beyond mere protection of its own commercial interests, despite the normally reasonable tones of Mr. Charest and his colleagues. This is one of the times when Mr. Williams's shrillness merits an attentive hearing.

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