Monday, October 23, 2006

Voisey's Bay: Avant Moi, le Déluge

This is probably one of the most famous historical remarks of all time. While generally ascribed to Prince Metternich, he borrowed it from Mme. Pompadour, who laughed off the warning of her ministers at her extravagance by saying, "Aprés nous le déluge"”.

In the original context she meant that all could fall into ruin after her; she was here for a good time. Anyone who ever visited Versailles can see what kind of good time was had by her and her court. Looking around you'll quickly conclude that these people were fairly asking for a violent revolution. She was right in the end - after her came much ruination.

Since then the meaning has changed. Now it's often given to mean that the speaker is the main force staving off ruination. In other words, "without me, all will fall into collapse".

While Premier Williams has not yet explicitly expressed this view that I've heard yet (lots of time for that to come - the election is 12 months away), another closely related view has frequently been explicitly expressed: "Avant moi, le déluge".

For those for whom core french was a challenge, it means "before I came along there was ruination".

That should sound familiar because it was just about the first major public policy statement issued by this government. On January 5, 2004, Premier Williams went on province-wide television to tell us that we were going bankrupt, that there would be no civil service pay increase and, by the way, Happy Holidays.

Since there we have heard a steady diet of stories about how miserable and incompetent all prior government have been before this one came along. Just think about all the disasters: not just general fiscal disaster and the Upper Churchill but also the Hibernia deal (gave up royalties for jobs),the original Atlantic Accord (not enough power and/or money) and the White Rose and Terra Nova developments (just plain bad).

We didn't even have any sense of pride about ourselves until Premier Williams and company came along to give it to us. Now we have a shiny new brand to admire and keep us warm on cold winter nights.

And of course there's the Voisey's Bay agreement - Grimes' Crime.

Premier Williams always insisted it had loopholes big enough to drive a truck through. He was against the deal at the time and roundly condemned it every opportunity he had. And that was fair, he was Leader of the Opposition at the time and that was his job.

Recently there was the quixotic quest by the provincial government to bully the federal government into giving environmental indemnity to INCO at the original Argentia site for all possible problems for all time. In other words, an open-ended commitment by the federal government to remediate whatever environmental problems there might be from the past, present of future without limit.

Little wonder the federal minister demurred. Taking on that kind of limitless obligation would have been irresponsible. Still the province pushed the case to the wall.

To this day the Premier continues to condemn it for being a bad deal. Lately he's gone on to be more specific: he expresses doubts that the nickel smelter will ever be built in the province. And he's more than happy to share those thoughts on a moment's notice.

The problem is that he seems to be the only one who thinks that way. Inco has repeatedly stated in no uncertain terms that there will be a smelter here.

Mind you there was some question as to exactly where it might be. It turns out that the original location required many kilometers of pipe though several watershed areas to take away the waste. That was never an appropriate spot to situate it.

Since then the company has found another spot just a few miles away that avoids constructing an environmental disaster-in-waiting. They are moving forward with the paperwork and public consultations to make it a reality.

It looks like there is a very real chance that this province will suffer from having a cutting edge nickel smelter with all the associated employment and royalties whether this government likes it or not.

Now the government, with the shameful backing of the opportunistic official opposition, has issued a vacuous and bogus call for "compensation" for the town of Argentia because the facility will be going to Long Harbour instead.

In watching government raise one issue after anther and throwing up one obstacle after another, one has to wonder if the government is hoping to create enough problems so that INCO will finally say "That's enough, we give up, no smelter".

Then Premier Williams will have been proven correct after all.

And at no cost to any of us.

Except of course all the capital expenditures so far, some considerable operational spending, jobs that will stimulate the local economy and a ragged reputation as a jurisdiction hostile to business investment.

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