The right to wheel energy: sacred for Alberta; nonexistent for NFLD

It would be an exaggeration to say the right wing voices who dominate Canadian media commentary have risen in unison to condemn BC’s pitch for a share of Northern Gateway pipeline spoils, but the clamor has certainly been one-sided.

BC Premier Christy Clark’s “attitude,” wrote Kelly McParland, “is disastrous for Canada.” John Ibbitson called Clark’s demands “dangerous,” and urged Prime Minister Harper to step in. Rex Murphy bemoaned the premiers’ declining “intellectual and emotional connection to the national understanding.” Andrew Coyne called it “extortion.” Rob Russo told CBC Radio the fabric of the nation was at stake. A Globe and Mail editorial declared, “there is little precedent for the sort of compensation Ms. Clark is calling for.”

Really? No precedent? Contrarian reader Ivan Smith recalls a precedent:

There is a glaring omission in all news reports I’ve seen — not a whisper of a hint of the striking similarity between BC’s attitude toward Alberta in this energy dispute and the attitude of Quebec toward Newfoundland in 1969.

The 1969 power contract between Hydro-Quebec and the Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation has been a matter of enduring resentment in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Actually, BC’s attitude is far less confrontational than was Quebec’s in 1969. All BC is asking is a share of the oil royalty. If BC followed the example of Quebec in 1969, it would be demanding that the oil coming through the pipeline be sold to BC as it crossed the border. Then BC could do with that oil exactly as it pleases, with no interference from Alberta.

Compared to this 1969 example of how to handle energy sent from one province to another, BC’s demand for a share of the royalties is moderate indeed. But the media has failed to mention this.

As Yul Brynner once said, it’s a puzzlement.

It’s a measure of just how fully Rex Murphy has lost his bearings that he could declaim his way through an entire column on this subject without once recalling his home province’s egregious fate as a would-be exporter of hydroelectricity.

One neocon commentator who did not overlook this sorry chapter in the annals of Canadian disunity was Brian Lee Crowley of the Mcdonald-Laurier Institute:

Occasionally we regrettably fail to uphold this standard, like when, in the 1960s, Ottawa allowed Quebec to rake off all the economic benefit of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Churchill Falls hydroelectric project. That was to abet an injustice for which Newfoundland is still paying dearly. All because Ottawa shamefully preferred politics to its nation-building responsibilities.

Forty-three years into the Hydro Quebec-Churchill Falls contract, Newfoundland has been forced to build two undersea cables in order to export and sell Muskrat Falls power generated in its own territory. Scarcely any of our Albertaphilic pundits even seem to notice.


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