NEWS: Harper loses bluff on dam-financing, fish-processing and CETA talks

The Globe and Mail reported yesterday evening, "In a speech Monday to the St. John’s Board of Trade, (Newfoundland Premier Kathy) Dunderdale described how Stephen Harper used (now-former Chief of Staff Nigel) Wright as a go-between in hard-driving talks aimed at getting Newfoundland to rewrite fish-processing rules in a manner that would please the European Union (to help conclude the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement negotiations)."

The article notes, "At the 11th hour of talks on a $1-billion federal loan guarantee for Newfoundland and Labrador’s Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, Ms. Dunderdale said, the PMO tried to make the aid conditional on the province agreeing to scrap provincial regulations that protect local fishery jobs. ...Newfoundland balked at the tradeoff, (but) Mr. Harper flew to the province anyway on Nov. 30 to officially sign the loan guarantee." One might presume Harper blinked because he too wanted the massive dam project built.

Maclean's magazine columnist Paul Wells comments, "(It's striking that) Wright was trying to herd the provinces to get a CETA deal six months ago and that the specific bone of contention remains outstanding. If CETA was Wright’s file, if his purported legendary touch on trade issues hit a speed bump this big, and if half a year has gone by since then, and if Wright’s gone now, then one starts to think CETA isn’t going great. ...If we get to the end of June and there’s no deal, it’s going to start to look like Wright’s ability to work magic on trade files started to fall apart last November at Muskrat Falls."

Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew says that kind of "legendary touch" is wrong.

He stated in a media release yesterday, "We always suspected the Harper government would bully the provinces into submission to EU demands in the Canada-EU negotiations and now we have hard proof. Minimum processing rules are vital to the Atlantic fisheries and we are glad to hear the Dunderdale government is not willing to sacrifice them. But the public needs to know right now which other provinces have been bullied in this way, for what policy changes, and which ones caved in to federal pressure."

The Council of Canadians has commented on a number of related issues.

1. Fisheries
The Globe and Mail article notes, "Newfoundland regulations stipulate that fish brought ashore in the province be processed there – a rule that ensures jobs for local fishery plant workers. The European Union is prepared to dramatically reduce tariffs on some fish and seafood imports – currently as high as 25 per cent – if this rule is dropped. The Harper government is keen to make the tradeoff."

In December 2011, the St. John’s Telegram reported, "The Council of Canadians is urging the Newfoundland and Labrador government to reject a plan from Ocean Choice International, which would see only 25 per cent of the total catch of redfish and flatfish processed in the company’s plant in Fortune, and the rest sold whole to markets in Europe and Asia."

Council of Canadians vice-chairperson Leo Broderick stated at that time, "Giving into Ocean Choice at this time is very dangerous. In return for Canada’s lowering high tariffs on fish products going into the European Union, the EU is seeking changes that would limit our governments’ ability to protect fishery resources and fish processing jobs at home. These include the elimination of export restrictions on unprocessed fish and foreign ownership limits in the fish processing industry, and new rights for EU boats to fish in Canadian waters and then take the fish back to Europe for processing. Newfoundland and Labrador Government must say no Ocean Choice and no CETA."

2. Muskrat Falls
The Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam project, that is scheduled to be operational by 2017, includes a 32-metre high north dam and a 29-metre south dam. The Sierra Club Canada says, "The Lower Churchill Project would see the construction of two large hydroelectric dams on the Grand River (also known as the Churchill River) in Labrador, including a dam at Muskrat Falls. It would lead to significant and long-lasting damage to Grand River and its watershed, and to the wildlife it supports such as the threatened Red Wine caribou herd."

Last October, CTV reported, "Providing cut-rate power to mining companies in Labrador should not be a prime reason for developing the Muskrat Falls hydro megaproject, says a growing cast of critics. …Government rhetoric in support of Muskrat Falls has in recent months highlighted potential mining projects in Labrador West. …Teck Resources owns a copper and zinc mine in central Newfoundland and Vale operates the Voisey’s Bay nickel mine in northern Labrador."

When former Conservative cabinet minister Peter Penashue resigned his seat in March over an election spending scandal, he boasted as an accomplishment, "I have worked to secure federal support for the development of Muskrat Falls…" But as APTN reported, "Penashue (was) dogged by criticism over personal and business ties to the $7.4 billion Muskrat Falls project in his home riding."

Blue Planet Project campaigner Meera Karunananthan wrote in a recent report, "Nalcor, the power utility of Newfoundland and Labrador, is forging ahead despite tremendous opposition by the Nunatsiavut Inuit people, the NunatuKavut and Quebec Indigenous groups, as well as environmental organizations like the Sierra Club." Elizabeth Penashue, a respected Innu elder and Peter's mother, has stated, "I’m very, very concerned (about) what’s going to happen. It’s not only the fish that are going to die. I don’t know how many animals are going to die."

3. Nigel Wright
Last August, the ethics commissioner launched an investigation into a May 23, 2012 meeting that included a representative of Barrick Gold, then chief of staff Nigel Wright, and Stephen Harper’s new chief of staff Ray Novak. The meeting was reportedly called because Barrick was concerned that comments made by Harper against Argentina’s claim on the Falkland Islands could negatively impact on the mining company receiving the permits they needed from the Argentine government for the controversial Pascua Lama mine.

One year later, the details of that meeting are still not known and the ethics commissioner has failed to release a public report on her investigation of the matter. The Council of Canadians is calling on Mr. Novak to clarify the nature of the meeting and is asking ethics commissioner Mary Dawson to complete her investigation of the meeting and for her report to be made public.

For more, please read:
MEDIA RELEASE: Harper government bullying provinces to accept EU trade deal
NEWS: Council raises concerns about Ocean Choice International plan
Sustainability of Canadian fisheries at risk in CETA negotiations: report
NEWS: Harper backs Muskrat Falls dam for cheap power for mining companies
NEWS: Conservatives lose by-election in Labrador
UPDATE: Ethics of PMO meeting with Barrick Gold left unanswered