The provincial government is sometimes too clever by half.
In his letter to the party leaders
during the federal election campaign, Chairman Dan asked the parties to commit to funding the completion of the Trans-Labrador Highway:
Key to the economic progress of Labrador is the completion of the Trans-Labrador Highway (TLH). The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador was pleased with the Federal Government’s decision to add the TLH to the National Highway System. The time has come for the Federal Government to commit to the completion of the TLH, in partnership with the province.
Does your party support a Federal-Provincial cost-shared agreement to complete the TLH?
Note the premise in the preamble: "The time has come for the Federal Government to commit..." Never mind the fact that the federal government, of various stripes, has already outspent the province, 90 cents to 10, on the construction of the TLH. Or that Danny Williams' government hasn't put one penny of money into the TLH that didn't come from the federal government in the first place through the 1997 Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund.
In his reply, Stephen Harper said
Yes, a Conservative government would support a cost-shared agreement to complete the Trans-Labrador Highway.
Danny didn't ask for a 50/50 split.
Harper doesn't offer one.
But that didn't stop Danny from cheerleading for his Conservative cousins. As he was quoted in the January 18 edition of the Telegram:
"The Conservative and NDP responses were very encouraging on several fronts, including support for a loan guarantee for the development of the Lower Churchill, support for the reinstatement of the Gander weather office and support for a cost-shared agreement on the completion of the Trans-Labrador Highway, among other issues," Williams noted.
In the late provincial budget
, Chairman Dan ratchets it up a notch, announcing:
$15.0 million for Trans-Labrador Highway Phase I sealed surface, subject to Federal cost shared commitment.
As recently announced, $25.5 million to further construct Phase III of the Trans- Labrador Highway, including 50 kilometres near Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Cartwright. Another $15 million – subject to 50-50 federal-provincial cost-sharing – will be put towards a sealed surface on Phase I of the Trans- Labrador Highway between Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Wabush.
Emphasis very much added.
The figure is used again today
Government will invest $26.7 million to further construct Phase III of the Trans-Labrador Highway - including 50 kilometres between Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Cartwright - and another $15 million, subject to 50-50 federal-provincial cost-sharing, to start application of a sealed surface on Phase I of the Trans-Labrador Highway between Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Wabush.
Of course, the budget documents have very clevely obfuscated three figures — the $50-million in "investments" for Labrador, the $15-million in conditional money for surfacing parts of the TLH, and the "50/50" cost-sharing agreement that Danny and his Minions are desperately flailing about trying to convince people they actually have with Harper in respect of the TLH.
Questions for discussion:
Since Danny didn't ask 50/50, and Harper didn't offer it, what is his authority for the "50/50" figure? Where does it come from? Where has 50/50 ever been committed to for any part of the TLH, other than in a one-off project in 1992?
If the provincial "committment" of $15-million for Labrador is entirely contingent on federal, "50/50" money, can the province be truly said to be committed at all? If the province can afford $15-million, why should the money be conditional? If the TLH is truly a provincial priority, and truly "key to the economic progress of Labrador", shouldn't the province of which Labrador is a part be spending the money anyway?
What happens if Harper honours the spirit of his letter and offers cost-sharing on a basis less than "50/50"?
When is the province going to commit unconditional money to the TLH, especially bearing in mind the dismal record of provincial participation in funding the project, to the tune of barely 10% of the cost, over the past 30 years or so?
Is Labrador an "integral part of the province", to use Chairman Dan's phrase, any day of the year other than the ones on which provincial taxes are due?
Has Danny, by bandying about this "50/50" figure as if someone had ever actually said it, set Harper and his party up for a manufactured crisis, and a fall? If so, how long before he pulls the plug?
Why does Chairman Dan, and, in fairness, his predecessors in other parties, get off the hook when they try and put Ottawa on the hook for half the cost of public works in Labrador, for no other evident policy reason than those works are in Labrador? Is Labrador 50% a territory or something?
And, most importantly: why is no one in the province, especially in the legislative press gallery, asking these questions of the people who should be answering them?