Some interesting comments today from Trevor Taylor on the Trans-Labrador Highway front.
In a CBC Radio Noon interview [audio available here
] probably scheduled before The Scandal
blew everything else away, Trevor becomes Danny's appointed Minister of Rain, delivering the bad news that all is not rosy on the TLH. Conveniently, he also sets up the play for Danny's future, already-scripted rupture with Harper and Company.
(As Trevor says, when Anne Budgell starts to make him squirm, "And I think that these questions, with all due respect Anne, you should be asking Minister Cannon these, not I. ")
To start with, when, oh when, is someone going to point out to Trevor, Danny, and the public at large, that a provincial "committment" to the TLH that is entirely
conditional on dollar for dollar
matching funds from the federal government, is not actually a committment at all?
Seriously: if you make your dispensing of money entirely contingent on an event that has not happened, nor is likely to, have you promised to dispense anything? Say, "I'll give you fifty bucks if Elvis walks in that door with Marilyn Monroe." Have you promised fifty bucks? No.
Trevor describes this year's provincial TLH "committment":
...certainly we made our commitment on surfacing the Trans-Labrador Highway last October, November I guess it was. We budgeted for it this year. But that’s pending of course the feds coming along with their 50% of the costs.
Question: when did the "feds" commit to "their 50% of the costs"? (Partial answer: not here
Trevor also says:
The feds have still not concluded exactly how that gets shared out, how it’s going to be divvied up, so to speak, between the provinces, how much of that may be allocated to the Trans-Labrador Highway or if it’s just going to be a block funding for the National Highway System, those types of decisions we’re still waiting from the federal government. We estimate that it will cost $100-million to put a hard surface on the Trans-Labrador Highway, fifty from us, fifty from the federal government, because it does qualify, it’s now a part of the National Highway System.
Question: The entire
Trans-Labrador Highway, right from Labrador City to L'anse au Clair, including
the yet-unbuilt Phase III from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Cartwright Junction, was added to the National Highway System. Does the province consider paving about one-third of this length (Wabush to Happy Valley-Goose Bay), without completing Phase III, or paving it or Phase II, to be "completing" the Trans-Labrador Highway? Does Stephen Harper? Or Lawrence Cannon? Are Danny and Trevor prepared to finish the other two-thirds of the TLH, up to hard-top standards, with provincial funds alone? That would be spectacular news, and might even get the cumulative provincial contribution to the TLH up to 40% or so of the total costs.
And what program, exactly, does the TLH "qualify" for? Usually things that "qualify" qualify for something. Qualify is not, in this context, an intransitive verb. There's an object in the sentence. What's the object, Trevor?
Trevor also explains the unorthodox budgeting procedures of his department:
Us the province['s committment] to this construction season was $7.5-million. The budget says $15-million. The way the budget works, when you identify this, there’s your expenditure line of $15-million, but in that same section of the budget there would also be a revenue line that would identify $7.5-million federal, for a total of $15-million this season.
Question: Is this orthodox, or even legal, provincial budgeting procedure, to vote an amount (the $7.5-million federal "revenue line") which doesn't even legally exist at the federal level?
Trevor says, when asked by Anne Budgell whether the province would go ahead with its funding in the absence of federal matching dollars:
Well that’s a decision that I unfortunately can’t make on my own. This is a decision that cabinet can make, but our concern is if we start down this road without the feds, then we’re going down this road alone.
Question: Considering that 90% of the money that has ever
gone into the TLH has come from federal sources, isn't it fair to ask why the province won't make any solid, and unilateral, funding commitments to the TLH, above and beyond anything that might be cost-shared?
What signal does it send to Labrador from Danny "integral part of our province" Williams and his government if their "commitment" to the "integral part of our province" is entirely
contingent on federal matching payments, especially ones that Stephen Harper didn't actually promise
(Again, for those who don't quite get the point of the Harper letter, nowhere in it does Harper commit to cost-sharing on a 50-50 basis, notwithstanding Danny's spin to the contrary.
And what will it mean for Labrador's vote in the future referendum, if Danny's notions of "integrality" come at a 50% discount? ;)
It is pretty hard to play Blame Canada for the fact that 57 years after Confederation the TLH is still unfinished — Canada, after all, has kicked in the vast majority of the funding so far.
While it is easy, heck quite proper, to hold the Conservatives to account for their election promises, Trevor and Danny owe the public honesty on what exactly was promised.
Harper promised to cost-share the completion of the TLH, not
to merely pave the vote-rich (and more importantly, most-likely-to-vote-provincial-PC-rich) Lab West-HVGB axis. He did not promise to cost-share it at a 50/50 ratio. If Danny and Trevor consider this paving project to be "completing" the TLH, they have a lot of explaining to do south and east of the Grand River Causeway.
However, even a lesser federal involvement in percent terms, over a longer stretch of highway, could easily surpass a federal 50% share of paving 1/3 of the road in raw dollars...
...if, and only if, Danny Williams' promise about making Labrador "feel like an integral part of our province" actually means anything.
After all, Labrador's drivers pay provincial taxes, too.
Even from Cartwright and south.