Monday, September 17, 2012

Renegotiate - Power Struggle Part 10 of 12

Independent surveys find most Ontarians and Quebecers support reopening upper Churchill contract

The results show Ontarians and Quebecers are relatively uninformed when it comes to the issue of hydroelectric power generated from Labrador’s Churchill River. Only 32.8 per cent of respondents in Ontario and 24.6 per cent in Quebec have any knowledge of a potential Lower Churchill development. 

Tenth in a 12-part series. 

The defunct weekly provincial newspaper, The Independent (2004-2008), carried out extensive research and investigation into the Upper Churchill. From the contract’s signing in the 1960s, to the realization of its incredible lopsided nature towards Quebec, the shadow of the deal looms today over the potential development of Labrador’s Muskrat Falls. The following is the 10th in a series of 12 articles published in The Independent.

Clare-Marie Grigg
The Independent
Dec. 4, 2005

Two surveys commissioned by The Independent show over 50 per cent of Ontarians and Quebecers believer the notorious Upper Churchill contract between Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador should be renegotiated. 

As for the potential Lower Churchill, the majority of respondents in both provinces doubt Newfoundland and Labrador has the financial means to develop the project independently, believing the federal government should offer financial support.

The Upper Churchill contract — signed in 1969 and set to expire in 2041 — awarded Hydro-Qu├ębec Churchill Falls power at a low, fixed rate, without the benefit of an escalator clause. 

Since 1972, Hydro-Quebec has gathered an estimated $23.9 billion in revenues, compared to Newfoundland and Labradors $680 million (The Independent’s figures as of November, 2004).

The potential development of the much smaller Lower Churchill hydroelectric project (2,824 megawatts compared to the Upper Churchill’s 5,429 megawatts), billed as the most cost-effective undeveloped hydro site in North America, is currently under consideration. 

The province is examining outside expressions of interest, as well as the possibility of independent development. 

The surveys, recently completed by St. John’s-based Telelink, asked a range of identical questions to a random sampling of residents in Ontario and Quebec. The polls focused on two provinces’ perceptions of the people and economy of Newfoundland and Labrador, with a particular emphasis on hydroelectricity.

Results of the surveys are being released as part of The Independent’s three-part series, Power and perception, which began last week. Relevant articles and analysis accompany the weekly data and a complete overview of the polls will be printed in the Dec. 11th edition. 

A little over 800 respondents were polled in two separate surveys — half in Ontario and half in Quebec — between Nov. 12th and 20th and findings are considered accurate to within plus or minus 4.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The results show Ontarians and Quebecers are relatively uninformed when it comes to the issue of hydroelectric power generated from Labrador’s Churchill River. Only 32.8 per cent of respondents in Ontario and 24.6 per cent in Quebec have any knowledge of a potential Lower Churchill development. 

Ontarians showed slightly more understanding than their Quebec counterparts when questioned about the lopsided Upper Churchill contract. In Ontario, 71.4 per cent of the respondents, claiming to have knowledge of the Upper Churchill, thought Quebec had received more benefits from the deal. In Quebec, only 52.5 per cent thought their province had come out on top. 

Cindy Roma, CEO of Telelink, says the figures are “surprising.” 

“I thought it was interesting that they, in Ontario, overwhelmingly got that Quebec had a good deal there,” she says. “Surprised in Quebec that only 20 per cent thought Newfoundland and Labrador was getting a good deal — they obviously don’t really know much about it, they wouldn’t be able to say that.” 

Out of the 71.4 per cent of respondents in Ontario and 52.5 per cent in Quebec who showed some understanding of the Upper Churchill contract, 57 per cent and 50.9 per cent respectively thought Quebec should renegotiate the deal. 

Meanwhile, 18.8 per cent in Ontario and 11.4 per cent in Quebec were on the fence or undecided, suggesting the two provinces are somewhat sympathetic to Newfoundland and Labrador’s position. 

Part of the problem Newfoundland and Labrador has experienced over the development of the Churchill River stems from Quebec’s refusal to allow a power corridor through its territory — as well as the federal government’s past refusal to intervene and force the issue.

Only 11.2 per cent of Ontarians thought Quebec should have the exclusive right to make decisions concerning the transmission of power through that province and 83.3 per cent thought the feds should intervene if an agreement couldn’t be reached. 

In Quebec, 55.4 per cent thought their province should have the exclusive right to make decisions on the transmission of power and 55.7 per cent felt the feds should intervene in the absence of an agreement.

“Ontario was a clear no and Quebec was a clear yes, it can’t be any more cut and dried than that,” says Roma. “But … if that was Newfoundland and Labrador, we’d also feel that we’d want to say we had the right to negotiate our own terms. I don’t  think that’s a bad thing.”

Quebecers had a little more faith in Newfoundland and Labrador’s finances than Ontario, with 29.4 per cent believing the province could fund its own Lower Churchill development; in Ontario, the response was 19.7 per cent.

An overwhelming 85.6 per cent of Ontarians thought the federal Government of Canada should step up with funding and 68.6 per cent of Quebecers agreed.

“(It’s) really interesting that they didn’t think we had the money for the project and they didn’t mind if the federal government supported it,” says Noma. “Great. I’m pleased they felt that way, but I’m surprised. I thought it would be much higher on the no side.”

As for the obvious lack of knowledge the general public in Ontario and Quebec have regarding the power flowing from the Upper Churchill into mainland grids en route to market, Roma says it’s hardly surprising (29.6 per cent of Ontarians were familiar with the Upper Churchill Falls hydroelectric power development and only 25.6 per cent of Quebecers.) 

“I don’t think that’s surprising. If somebody asked me about the wheat in Saskatchewan I wouldn’t necessarily have an opinion on it either.”

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