Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Coming to Terms

“The force and effect of the Terms of Union have been spent.”

— St. John’s lawyer Stephen May, writer of the 2003 report, The Terms of Union: an analysis of their current relevance, for the Royal Commission on Renewing and Strengthening Our Place in Canada.

•••

So much for the Terms of Union protecting NL lighthouses from the political rocks.


Section 31 of the 1949 marriage contract between Canada and Newfoundland clearly states that the feds take over the following services:


Lighthouses, fog alarms, buoys, beacons, and other public works and services in aid of navigation and shipping.


Could the Terms be any clearer?


How then, can the feds declare 45 NL lighthouses (976 in total across Canada) as surplus to its needs?


Including iconic lighthouses at Cape Spear, Ferryland Head, Grand Bank, Heart’s Content, and Woody Point.


That doesn’t mean surplus lighthouses will be bulldozed.


Individuals, community groups or municipalities can take them over, but they’ll have to take on the maintenance costs as well.


Which they’re not exactly thrilled about.


Let's leave the contamination for another day.


Question is, what’s the good of Terms of Union if Ottawa ignores them?

•••

Section 31 (Public Services, Works and Property) of the Terms of Union not only outlined how the feds would take over responsibility for lighthouses.


But the Newfoundland railway — including steamship services.


And the Newfoundland Hotel.


And the Gander airport.


Gone.


Gone.


Gone.


Section 31 also covers “protection and encouragement” of fisheries.


What a monumental joke that’s been.

•••

The Terms of Union also guarantee a ferry service between North Sydney and Port aux Basques “in accordance with the traffic offering.”


The way West coast Liberal MP Gerry Byrne sees it, that means traffic should be shuttled across the Gulf as it turns up.


Load and go.


Traffic should not have to adjust to Marine Atlantic’s schedule (in the form of its new reservation system, which local truckers say doesn’t work for them), but the other way around.


Byrne has even encouraged the trucking industry — and the provincial government — to take the feds to court for failing to live up to their constitutional obligation.


No takers as of yet.

•••

It’s not the first time I’ve heard it advised that the feds should be sued for not living up to the Terms of Union.


It’s been said for years that Ottawa should be taken to court for failing to properly manage the commercial fisheries, so many of which teeter on the brink of extinction.


As lawyer Stephen May wrote in his 2003 analysis of the relevance of the Terms of Union, any agreement to revise the Terms may be difficult to achieve without the agreement of other provinces.


An agreement, however, provides the only means to develop Terms that are relevant to the resolution of current issues facing Newfoundland and Labrador.”

•••

The Terms of Union have been officially amended on at least two occasions — to rename, officially, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador; and to enforce changes following the 1997 referendum to abolish the province’s denominational school system.


Maybe it’s time to reopen the constitutional can of worms and renew the marriage contract.

3 comments:

Dave said...

While I agree that many parts of the Terms of Union have nrglected, I'm not sure if lighthouses can really be a strong argument. These lighthouses are not being closed, rather replaced by automated lights. As a boater, I commend the Feds for how their work in regards to navigational aids. Many of the shoals around our coast that were never marked have been marked in the last 15 years. To suggest that the Feds must maintain a manned lighthouse because that is what was there in 1949 is nonsense. Any mariner would tell you that nav aids have come a long way since 1949. If we are honest with ourselves, in the day and age of radar, GPS, VHF radios, and sattelite phones, are manned lighthouses really necessary?

Anonymous said...

Where in the terms does it say that every lighthouse has to be operated in perpetuity? If the lighthouses are the property of the feds, the feds can do as any property owner, and sell or disacquire as they will.

The pre-confederation Nfld government didn't keep every lighthouse in perpetuity either.

Starrigan said...

Well spoken, by a couple of obvious federal PC's.