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The Hatfields and McCoys of Confederation are at it again.
Hydro-Québec has launched a legal challenge that Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale condemned Tuesday as a "desperate move" to thwart her province's hydro expansion plans.
The dustup is simply the latest in a decades-old feud between the two provinces that is doing neither of them any good.
Really they should work it out. But neither government talks to the other except through the press and the courts. 'Twas ever thus.
Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador are both "nationalistic provinces engaged in province-building," explains Christopher Dunn, a political scientist at Memorial University in St. John's.
In the relentless drive of each to develop its economy, even if at the expense of the other, both sacrifice "various aspects of economic rationality – i.e, the need to compromise and work out deals," he said in an interview.
The bad blood stretches back centuries. First the French and the English, and then Quebec and Newfoundland, fought for control of Labrador. The British Privy Council set the current boundaries in 1927, declaring Labrador to be part of the colony of Newfoundland and not the province of Quebec.
"There hasn't been much love lost since then," says Ottawa consultant Tim Powers, a native of the Rock.
Quebec got its revenge in 1969, when it signed an agreement to acquire power from the new Churchill Falls hydro project at what turned out to be ridiculously low prices. Every effort by Newfoundland and Labrador to force a renegotiation of the contract has failed, a source of deep and abiding antagonism between the two peoples.
Even today, if you mention Churchill Falls in a St. John's bar, the language can turn very blue very quickly.
The contract runs until 2041 when, according to St. John's businessman Leo Power, "we're going to have the mother of all parties."
Now Newfoundland and Labrador are developing the Lower Churchill at Muskrat Falls. Many observers believe the best way to sell power from Muskrat Falls is through Quebec to the United States or Ontario. But efforts to negotiate a deal have gone nowhere. (Neither side, it appears, tried very hard.)
Instead the power will take the so-called "Anglo-Saxon route" from Labrador to Newfoundland and then to Cape Breton via undersea cables.
Unless, that is, Hydro-Quebec's legal challenge renders the plan unfeasible. (Steven Chase explains the dispute in detail here.)
Will things carry on like this till 2041 and beyond? Tim Powers thinks not.
"It has to end," he believes. Each province needs the other to maximize its energy potential. Each sells into the same markets. Each pays a price for competing rather than cooperating. Mr. Powers hopes that the next generation of leaders will be willing to deal.
"New leadership, less historical memory, a bit of selective amnesia might be helpful," he believes.
Prof. Dunn believes the premiers of Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and the Maritime provinces must work co-operatively to confront and reverse their relative economic decline, as Canada west of the Ottawa River grows in population, power and wealth. He calls for a "New East" consortium of governments acting cooperatively rather than competitively.
"We're never going to get anywhere in this province unless the first ministers are engaged in doing what first ministers do so well, which is to make agreements, to make summit-type decisions. And there is no mechanism for summit-type decisions," he observes.
Or Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec could just carry on clawing at each other, while the lawyers feed on the spoils.