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

Monday, March 21, 2005

Tom Rideout's TLH stance is unbackupable

Cast your mind back to April 3, 1997, the day that the provincial government announced — for the first of many, many, many times — that it would build the Trans-Labrador Highway:

"[W]e intend to see that every dollar is used to build the Trans Labrador Highway, and to maintain necessary ferry services in Labrador," said Premier Tobin. "This compensation package makes it possible for the province to complete the Labrador West to Happy Valley-Goose Bay section, and a highway between Cartwright and Red Bay. However, it will not complete the link between Cartwright and Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The province will provide additional funds to complete that portion of the road," he added. [SOURCE]
Not for the first time, a provincial Premier didn't quite graps the import of his own words. So, in relatively short order, the province began backpedalling on its own promise to use its own-source provincial revenues to build a provincial highway in the province. So, the Premier and his Ministers started using the following, obviously boilerplate language:

When we announced the Labrador Transportation Initiative in April of 1997, we realized that we would still have to find a way to link Central Labrador to the coast, a distance of nearly 300 kilometres.

We had lobbied Ottawa to help us complete the link, but our efforts, thus far, have not yielded any results.

I should note that our commitment to Phase III is not contingent on federal funding. Having said that, however, the opportunity for federal participation still exists. [SOURCE]
"Obviously boilerplate", because the same language was repeated here, and on other occasions which have been purged from official history.

No one seems to have asked, why and how should there be "an opportunity for federal participation" for the remaining segment of the Trans-Labrador Highway (a) when the federal participation has been paid up front over the past three decades, to the tune of nearly 90% of costs to date; and, especially, (b) when the province promised to pay the full freight for Phase III back in 1997.

Fast-forward to March 8, 2005.

Tom Rideout, now the Minister of Transportation, is re-re-re-re-announcing the Trans-Labrador Highway. He re-re-re-re-announces a bunch of projects that have been carried over from last year's work, adds a few new ones for this year, and — significantly — funds them from the Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund that was the subject of Brian Tobin's announcement eight years previously.

And, to complete the autologous Liberalism transplant, Rideout adopted Tobin's own backpedalling on the promise to spend provincial revenues on a provincial highway in the province.

"Government is strongly advocating for the federal government to include Trans Labrador Highway (TLH) as part of the National Highway System, creating a road link between this province and the rest of the country and making TLH road work eligible for federal funding." [SOURCE]

The local media, however, finally seem wise to the Multi-Material Stewardship Board's co-option of the entire provincial government apparatus, as evidenced by the re-re-re-re-re-re-announcing of re-re-re-re-re-re-cycling of (transferred) money. Rob Antle, writing in the Telegram on March 10th, poured cold water — or perhaps a warmer liquid — all over Rideout's announcement.

Rideout's blood pressure sufficiently elevated, he penned a letter to the Telegram which was printed on St. Patrick's Day, thereby satisfying the paper's quotient of blarney:

With the recent announcement of $40 million for work on the Trans-Labrador Highway (TLH) that will be allocated for the 2005-06 budget year, there seems to have arisen some confusion regarding the ownership of this money. It is, of course, provincial money.

In March 1997, the province entered into an agreement with the federal government to accept responsibility for providing marine services on the coast of Labrador in exchange for $340 million and two vessels. The province agreed to maintain the marine freight and passenger services at such levels and with such subsidy, or other public financial assistance, in support of such services, as the province deemed appropriate for the various locations and sites on the coast.

There was no further direction on how the funds were to be spent, beyond providing the marine services, which the provincial government continues to do. At that time, the agreement did not commit the province to fund the TLH.

On Dec. 19, 1997, government enacted the Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund Act, setting up a board to administer the fund. It is, therefore, totally under provincial control. It was a decision by the provincial government of the day to specifically allocate a portion of this funding for transportation initiatives such as the construction of the TLH.

In which Tom does two curious things: he takes credit for a previous government's policy initiative, and political credit for the very-federal Labrador Transportation Fund.

It is true, absolutely, that the province now owns the Labrador Transportation Fund. But it is a blatant misrepresentation — a lie — to say that there is any confusion over the ownership of the money. No one is confused over the ownership of the money, but neither is anyone confused over the source: EVERY CENT OF THE LABRADOR TRANSPORTATION FUND CAME FROM HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN IN RIGHT OF CANADA.

Every penny.

So, what Tom Rideout, and the previous provincial government, to be fair, have reduced themselves to, is this: they are the collector of revenues generated in Labrador, the lobbyist for transfer payments from Ottawa in respect of funding the provision of public services in Labrador, and...

... that's about it.

They have, in short, made themselves into an exact facsimile of what they (unfairly) accused the federal government of being during the Atlantic Accord debate: money-grubbers. And buck-passers, to boot.

A word of advice to Danny Williams: If you really want to make Labrador feel like an integral part of the province, to use your code phrase, this a really lousy way to go about things.

The real question, Tom Rideout, is not how to make the Trans-Labrador Highway eligible for more federal funding.

The question, Tom Rideout, is hot to make the Trans-Labrador Highway eligible for any provincial funding at all.

And that doesn't mean funding that the province owns, either. Your legalistic word games in the Telegram are simply unbackupable. When will the TLH be eligible for funding out of the significant, out-of-whack by comparison to its per-capita share, contribution that Labrador makes to the provincial government's coffers?

Don't go cap-in-hand to Ottawa to bail the province out of a promise which it made, in respect of a piece of provincial infrastructure it should be building even in the absence of promises.

If Labrador is, or is to be, an integral part of the province, and not just in respect of the ability of the province to collect resource revenues and allocate resource usages, then it must be a two-way street. If you raise provincial revenues in Labrador, don't be surprised when you are called up on to spend provincial expenditures in Labrador. Don't pass the buck, political and financial, on to Ottawa.

Labrador is not a territory. Labrador is part of the province — a province — some province, somewhere — isn't it?

Do you happen to know which one?

If you reduce yourself to the role of money-grubbing middle-man, collecting the revenue, while (ineffectually and inappropriately) "lobbying" Ottawa to pay for the things your government, rightfully, under the Constitution, should be paying for, then Labrador, you will discover, will rapidly become much less "integral" than you care to realize.

And you will also find that the idea, long abroad, of cutting out the money-grubbing middle-man, has won its second wind under the tenure of the Premier who promised to make Labrador feel like an "integral part of the province".


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