"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The road to heck is paved with non-committal "commitments"

It’s a good thing Danny Williams planned to stay out of the federal election campaign.

After the Premier received his weasel-worded letter from Stephen Harper, in response to his own, Danny said:

On the Trans-Labrador Highway, there is a commitment for a 50-50 cost share of support for the Trans-Labrador Highway, which is a major undertaking which our government is committed to do…
The only problems with this masterless piece of Conservative spin, by a person who had said he wouldn’t get involved in the federal election?

As noted earlier, Danny Williams never asked for 50-50. And Stephen Harper never offered it.

In his letter, Danny asks all three party leaders:

Does your party support a Federal-Provincial cost-shared agreement to complete the TLH?
He does not ask for any specific dollar-share figure. “Cost-share”, in and of itself, means simply that: the two orders of government would share the costs. It does not mean, in and of itself, that they share the costs equally. There were federal-provincial cost-sharing agreements on earlier phases of the TLH, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which were cost-shared 70-30, 60-40, and according to other formulae.

Harper’s response?

Yes, a Conservative government would support a cost-shared agreement to complete the Trans-Labrador Highway.
There’s a first time for everything: the last time the Conservatives were in power federally, their idea of a cost-shared agreement for the TLH was a paltry $8-million out of the over $800-million Roads for Rails agreement. There were more Conservative re-elections to be bought in more ridings on the island in the 1988 federal election, and the 1989 provincial election, than in Labrador. Pure coincidence, of course. (And it didn’t work, anyway.)

The 50-50 figure that Harper supposedly promised is entirely a figment of Danny’s imagination. (It's also a 10% discount from the 60-40 that Harper was touting during the Labrador by-election in 2005!)

Similarly, Jack Layton writes Danny:

The NDP supports the timely completion of the Trans-Labrador Highway to an acceptable national standard. The addition of the TLH to the National Highway System requires the commitment to a cost-shared federal-provincial agreement to complete the highway, which we support. We note the commitment of the Province if [sic] Newfoundland and Labrador to contribute $50 Million to the project, indicative of the priority that the province has placed on the issue.
The last sentence is a bit bizarre. Layton seems to be spinning on the Premier’s behalf, playing up the province’s supposed commitment to the TLH.

The province has no such thing: if your financial commitment is entirely contingent on federal matching funding, you have not committed to anything. Why do the province’s so-called commitments to Labrador – whether the TLH, an auditorium, the recognition of the LMN – always come with (federal) strings attached? Can the province not spend its own, no-strings money on the TLH, while keeping $50-million in reserve for an eventual cost-shared program?

The answer to both questions, of course, is that it makes it so much easier for the province to play Blame Ottawa, rather than tackle any of the major Labrador issues within its own jurisdiction.

Note, too, that Layton also does not give a cost-sharing formula. Is that 50-50, 90-10, 70-30? If Danny sees 50-50 in Harper’s letter, surely he must also see it in Layton’s. Yet Danny says he only got commitments from Harper?

But Danny, of course, is above politics, and is not playing favourites in this election. He says so, so it must be true.

That brings us to the PM’s response.

It should, of course, be noted that the progress to date on the still-incomplete Trans-Labrador Highway is despite the level of federal involvement over the years, not because of it. Of the $500-million or so, in constant dollars, which has been spent on the project since the early 1970s, about $450-million, or 90%, has come from the federal government’s coffers. Only 10% has been provincial-source funding. It is the province, not the federal government, that has failed to pay its fair share of highways in Labrador, an area of provincial responsibility.

The two biggest chunks of federal money – the 1983 DRIE contribution o roughly $60-million, which built the Wabush-Churchill Falls road and bridges over the next decade, and the 1997 Labrador Transportation Initiative, $340-million in federal funding which upgraded the old Brinco tote-road from Churchill Falls to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, built the South Coast highway and access roads, and is still being used on the early stages of Phase III – both came during federal Liberal governments. This level of federal support for the construction of a highway, other than one on federal lands, is unprecedented outside the territories.

That’s a fact which has not gone unnoticed in other provinces, by the way.

The 1997 LTI was signed off on by the incumbent PM, in his former capacity as Finance minister.

In 2006, as PM and as party leader, Paul Martin wrote Danny, committing $5-billion towards the Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund, far more than Harper’s laissez-faire infrastructure plan. And the PM properly notes that the province has to put the TLH forward as a candidate project, something, for some obscure reason, it has never bothered to do.

Some provincial commitment, Premier.

So it’s a good thing Danny Williams wasn’t going to get involved in the federal election. If he had, he might have had to consider the party leader’s promises with a critical eye, with a lawyer’s acumen, and with the intelligence of a Rhodes Scholar. And he might have then had to reconsider his support for Norm Doyle and the party that gave the Trans-Labrador Highway the 20-year hoist back in 1988.

If only Norm Doyle had made a real commitment to the Trans-Labrador Highway while he was in cabinet, as provincial transportation minister, then Danny Williams wouldn’t still be having to shift the blame to Ottawa, for his own government’s limpid “commitments” to Labrador and its highway system, in 2005.

The road would have been built by now.

Yet Danny Williams is voting for the guy who helped stall, not build, the TLH.

Thanks to the vision, and commitments, by Rompkey, O’Brien, and Martin – not one of them a Conservative – the TLH is two-thirds done, with 90-cent federal dollars.

Where’s the provincial commitment?Where’s the Conservative one?


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