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

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ultra vires

Everyone knew, or should have known, that as the coastal Labrador highway was extended north from Red Bay to Cartwright, with feeder routes to St. Lewis, Charlottetown, and Pinsent’s Arm, that government would look at rationalizing the network of eight local airstrips in southeastern Labrador.

And sure enough, they did.

First, by way of backgrounder, the money to build the airstrips in the first place, as well as funding under the regular five-year funding arrangements for relatively routine maintenance and upgrading, came (comes) from the federal government. However, the airstrips are, in fact, property of the provincial government, and are operated by the provincial Department of Transportation and Works.

So it was that in 2000, the provincial government established the Coastal Labrador Transportation Committee. In 2001, that provincially-appointed committee released its report.
In 2002, the provincial government announced, among other things, that “Port Hope Simpson will become the site of a regional airport”.

In March 2006, the provincial government released a report which the provincial government had engaged EDM consultants to prepare on the pre-design of a Southern Labrador Regional Airport in Port Hope Simpson. (PDF link.) Despite the solemn 30-day pledge (hi, Liz!), the provincial government had had the report in its possession for fully a year by the time they released it.

All of which made it all the more surprising that in the 2007 Great Big Rebranding And Reannouncing Of Stuff That The Government Was Going To Do Anyway — also known as the (cue dramatic music) NORTHERN STRATEGIC PLAN!Danny Williams-Government promised:

The Provincial Government will continue to:
Finalize the decision on central airport for Southern Labrador

The statement reveals the Newfoundland Nation’s conception of time to be as alien to western civilization as that of the Najavo. The Provincial Government will continue to do – that is, progressively – an action which is usually thought of as instantaneous or of very short duration – “finalize” – and which has already taken place in what Euro-Canadians call “the past”. Remarkable!

Later in 2007, The Danny Williams-Government Party, a provincial political party, running for re-election provincially, took credit, as an accomplishment in its first term in provincial government, for:

airstrip rehabilitation and equipment for north and south coast communities;

And that, folks, was pretty much the last time that Danny Williams-Government publicly associated itself with the regional airport in Port Hope Simpson.

Oh, you could go looking for more recent information or statements in the remarkably vacuous and uninformative annual “reports” and “activity plans” of the Ministers’s Advisory Committee on Labrador Transportation. Some of them, laughably, didn’t even have their files renamed from the “Activity Plan Template” that was spoon-fed to everyone who had to fill one out. Really, though: you have to go out of your way to be that unreporty in your reports, and that unplanny in your plans.

Then, yesterday, Trevor Taylor told assembled and credulous reporters in Capital City:

I guess, as most people would know, going back about five years ago, I guess it was, a decision was made [passive voice] to pursue [not build?] an expanded airport at Port Hope Simpson and close down the remainder of the airports, the other couple of airports in the region. As you know, the airports in Labrador are federally funded, and we’ve made it known to the federal government that that’s where we wanna go, we’ve been a year now without an agreement on Labrador coastal airports, um, um, you know, it’s a priority for us, we’re prepared to go there, y’know, Port Hope Simpson and we’re also looking at what we may need to do in Nain as well. So, the only thing I can say I spose, and I don’t mean to dodge it, but, y’know, the ball is solidly in the federal government’s court.


“It” (is that the airport in Port Hope Simpson, or a new coastal Labrador agreement?) is a priority for “us”. “We” are prepared to go there. “We” are looking at what “we” may need to do in Nain.

But the ball — meaning the invoice — after all the provincial committees, provincial consultants, and provincial political credit, is a federal responsibility.

If it’s a federal responsibility, then isn’t the province overstepping its constitutional bounds by doing everything connected to the Labrador airstrips which it owns… except funding them?

But hey, the airport costs money, and, more importantly, it’s in Labrador.

So, unlike, say, Deer Lake Airport, Newfoundland, where the province of which Labrador is supposedly a part is putting up a third of the total cost of an expansion (and half the federal-provincial share); or unlike Stephenville Airport, Newfoundland; or unlike in Quebec, where they know a thing or two about airport-related autonomy and how to pay for it, Trevor Taylor’s government is quite happy to call the shots autonomously, commission the studies autonomously, take the credit autonomously, but when it comes time to pay the bills, the same government that seeks “financial autonomy vis-à-vis Ottawa”, utterly predictably, expects Ottawa to provide 100% of the autonomoney to be autonomous with.

Trevor continues:

There was a number of letters written on this going back some years ago, I mean, I don’t know that we need to put in a proposal, I mean, a letter identifying what our priorities are, and there was a report that was commissioned [passive voice] back in 2003, I suppose… that’s just a cop-out on the part of the federal government. They know clearly what we want done [passive voice] in Port Hope Simpson and if the only thing holding them up from moving forward in Port Hope Simpson is a proposal from us, then I can guarantee you they’ll have it in short order. And expect the construction to start this year.
The constitutional law bar wonders, can the federal government get in on the same act, pawningoff expensive stuff onto provincial governments just by writing letters? Neat trick. Some less-credulous reporter should ask the province if they run around doling out money to municipalities or other applicants and supplicants on the basis of a letter identifying priorities. One would hope that the proposal, when it arrives in Ottawa, in short order no less, isn’t an “amateurish and not formal and not professional… Mickey Mouse powerpoint presentation.

One last note: it’s good to see Trevor Taylor and his shop so eager, as they say, to put their autonomous shovels in the ground on a Labrador airport, once the autonomoney flows. They haven’t been so keen of late:
In recent years, there have been delays in signing contribution agreements at the Provincial level, which has resulted in issuing tenders later in the construction season when fewer contractors are available to perform the work.



At 11:07 PM, June 12, 2009 , Blogger Mark said...

Wally, expecting Trevor Taylor to understand the constitutional division of powers is unreasonable.

Cripes, next thing you'll be asking him to conjugate a verb.


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