We’re the owners; show us the cards

By Ivan Morgan
October 6, 2023 Edition

Whenever I write about the Churchill Falls hydro contract someone hollers at me. Or sends me messages pointing out what I got wrong. Or accuses me of being a “traitor.” It’s a contentious issue in these parts.

Clever people have explained to me that Hydro Quebec thinks in 20-year horizons. In other words, they plan ahead. Which is why this province is now negotiating with Quebec about a new contract when the current Upper Churchill contract expires in 2041.

Justice Richard LeBlanc, who capably presided over the Inquiry into the dog’s breakfast that was the Muskrat Falls project, suggested in his recommendations that a non-partisan panel of experts be chosen to “determine the best approach to be taken by the Province in its attempt to ensure maximum long-term benefits from the Churchill Falls generating station and other potential generation sites on the Churchill River.” In other words, how to make sure we get a good deal.

That was done, they have done their work, written a report, and given it to government. You and I, who own majority shares in CFLCo, which controls Churchill Falls, don’t get to read it. 

Government says it needs the document to remain secret as the details could compromise negotiations.

Personally, I think that is a load of malarky. Is there anyone in this province (outside, it would appear, the Premier’s office) who thinks Hydro Quebec hasn’t already done all the necessary research and knows all our “secrets” before they came to the table? Is there a person in this province who thinks we are going to outsmart Hydro Quebec? Hydro Quebec is a minority shareholder in the company which controls Churchill Falls. Surely you have watched enough cheesy American soap operas to see what happens when minority shareholders are left in the dark.

Now that I have that off my chest, I will also say that clever folk, people I trust, tell me the report must remain secret.

Fine . . .

But the less secrecy the better.  We all need to know, step by step, what’s going on. We all need to know what our ask is going to be. This cannot be a coming down from the mountain with a “We got it!” deal situation. Transparency must be the key factor here. We need to know what we are asking for.

One wonders what Hydro Quebec thinks of us. Bitter at the lopsided contract, we set out to show them who’s boss by bankrupting ourselves on a smaller Hydro project that doesn’t work properly. Please email me if I have any part of this wrong and set me straight.

I have heard people talk of 2041 in terms of revenge. Cut Quebec off and let them freeze in the dark. Not helpful. The current deal, signed in 1969 (not by Joe Smallwood or our government) was a bad deal. Despite what some people say, there were people at the time who knew it was a bad deal. I remember my Dad pounding the dinner table (and being amused watching the roast jumping around on the platter) hollering “No one signs a 40 year deal!”

We have a chance of a better deal going forward. It won’t be a sweetheart deal. From where I sit Hydro Quebec holds a lot of the cards. Transmission has to go through Quebec, the Maritime link doesn’t seem to be of use in moving power around Quebec. The federal government isn’t going to intervene on our behalf and force Quebec to give us fair passage to markets in Ontario and the US. We have to pay off a ruinous hydro project. We are broke.

Not exactly sitting pretty.

We are not in a good position. This is too important for petty politics. Too important for a “legacy.” This is a decision about our collective future. 

I would like to further Justice LeBlanc’s recommendation and keep this process non-partisan.  We need to make any decision together. Not only should we be kept up to date on negotiations, but maybe we should hold a referendum on whatever deal gets drafted. There are billions and billions of dollars at stake here. We should all have a say and a vote. There was no real debate on Muskrat Falls and look where that got us.

No need here to list off the reasons why we need the cash. We need the cash. Getting a good return on our hydroelectric power is more important now than the deal we got on our offshore oil.

We just need a good deal, and a say in choosing it.

 Ivan Morgan can be reached at ivan.morgan@gmail.com

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