Monday, September 17, 2012

'Revenge of geography' - Power Struggle Part 12 of 12

Quebec policy on Churchill penalizes Canada’s ability to cut greenhouse gases

“We will never permit, under any condition, others to build a transmission line on Quebec territory, or let others transport energy produced at Churchill Falls, whatever destination of the energy, whether it be the United States or the other provinces.”
— Former Quebec premier Jean Lesage in 1965 during negotiations regarding the sale of electricity from the Upper Churchill. 

Final 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 late 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 final in a series of 12 articles published in The Independent.

By Joan Forsey
The Independent
Nov. 16, 2007

It’s been called the revenge of geography: Quebec’s refusal to allow Newfoundland and Labrador to transmit electrical energy through its territory. 

In other words, there shall be one market for Labrador electricity — Quebec, and on Quebec’s terms. 

Quebec’s revenge-on-geography policy, dating from the 1960s, was designed to penalize Newfoundland because it, and not Quebec, was confirmed as owner of Labrador by a British Privy Council decision in 1927.

As just about everyone knows, that policy has enabled Quebec to reap (rape?) billions of dollars from the upper Churchill — an estimated $19 billion by the end of last year.

What is less widely recognized or at least acknowledged, is that Quebec’s revenge-of-geography policy also penalizes Canada as a whole, Ontario in particular, and in doing so contributes to global warming. 

That’s because in cutting off Newfoundland and Labrador’s access to electricity markets, the policy has blocked the development of the clean, renewable electrical energy of the lower Churchill for more than three decades — thereby limiting Canada’s ability to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Every political party in Canada claims that reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the environment is a top priority. 

Yet how many politicians — apart from those in Newfoundland and Labrador — have you heard speak out against the revenge-of-geography? 

Granted, politicians wouldn’t call it that; they’d pussyfoot around it. 

But how many have raised their voices to say, “Canadians want clean, renewable power from the lower Churchill,” and followed up by pressuring the federal government to facilitate its development and access to it? 

Ontario Finance minister Dwight Duncan, who until last month was Ontario’s minister of Energy, is among the relatively few. 

Of course, Quebec’s revenge-of-geography policy has had other adverse effects, apart from those on the environment.

By cutting off Newfoundland and Labrador’s access to energy markets and blocking the development of the lower Churchill hydroelectric project for so many years, it has denied Canadians access to what Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro CEO Ed martin has said would be relatively cheap power.

It has also prolonged Canada’s dependence on the United States electricity system, and reduced Canada’s security of supply (remember the blackout in central Canada caused by problems in the U.S. system in 2003).

If none of that matters to the federal Conservative, Liberal, and New Democrat parties, surely their oft-stated commitment to protecting the environment should motivate them to speak up.
For example, it’s time for Stephen Harper, Stephane Dion, and Jack Layton to acknowledge the following.

No. 1: Quebec’s revenge-of-geography policy has limited Ontario’s ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve its air quality. Ontario has already twice extended its deadline to get rid of its coal-fired power plants — from 2007, to 2009, to 2014.

Ontario’s Finance minister Dwight Duncan visited the Lower Churchill site when he was minister of Energy.

“It’s astounding, the opportunity there, both for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, the First nations, the Innu people, and for the people of southern Ontario. It’s a wonderful opportunity … the power is economic, quite apart from the obvious green benefits associated with it,” Duncan told a “green power corridor summit” in Ottawa earlier this year.

“I look forward to the day,” he said, “when Ontario doesn’t have to pay $200 to $300 a megawatt hour to a coal plant in Ohio to import on a hot summer’s day and we can spend money in Newfoundland and Labrador and Manitoba to help build our north, help our First Nations, get those communities off diesel and clean up our environment.”

Revenge has meant that, rather than being able to buy clean, renewable energy from Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario has had to continue to produce its own greenhouse gases plus pay Ohio to produce the greenhouse gases that float up from Ohio to pollute southern Ontario even more.

(However, Ontario will be able to get clean electrical power from Manitoba, thanks to the $586.2 million the federal government said last March it would give Ontario to help fund green projects, among them an electricity transmission link to Manitoba.)

No. 2: The revenge-of-geography policy limits Canada’s ability to become the leader it says it wants to be in addressing climate change. 

The federal government, in October’s Speech from the Throne, said, “The world is moving on to address climate change and the environment, and Canada intends to lead the effort at home and abroad.”

The federal government could, if it were serious about wanting to “lead,” facilitate the development of the Lower Churchill’s clean, renewable energy and help make it available to those, like Ontario, seeking to protect the environment.

But that would annoy Quebec. And for the federal government, winning House of Commons seats in Quebec is obviously more important than fighting climate change. 

No. 3: The revenge-of-geography policy all but kills the idea of a truly national energy grid.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which backs such a grid, has pointed out, “Canada has the resources and potential to become a clean energy superpower. In order for that to be realized, action is required to facilitate transmission from areas of supply to areas of need.”

The lower Churchill is an area of potential supply; Ontario has long been an area of need. But Quebec policy has restricted Labrador’s access to markets for decades.

It is true, however, that Quebec, which sells electricity to the United States, has since the mid-1990s been bound by U.S. regulations requiring suppliers to open their transmission line to competitors. 

However, if the revenge-of-geography policy continues, Quebec could deny Newfoundland and Labrador access to its transmission lines on grounds of lack of capacity.

So should a “national” energy grid ever materialize, it could well turn out to be, in reality, a “nearly national” energy grid, leaving out Newfoundland and Labrador (as in the case of the nearly national newspaper, the nearly National Post).

It’s no doubt politically incorrect to say this, but all the results of the revenge-of-geography policy serve to highlight, not just hypocrisy of the federal government, but also the hypocrisy practiced by Quebec with regard to environmental concerns.

An Angus Reid climate survey earlier this year found that of all provinces Quebec was most in favour (77 per cent) of Canada living up to its Kyoto commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

In May 2006, Quebec’s Environment minister urged other provinces to pressure the federal government to honour the Kyoto protocol. And back in 2002, a Quebec Environment minister stated “Quebec is fully prepared to do its share, its fair share, to help achieve Canada’s reduction objectives.”

One would think that its “fair share” would include facilitating, if it could, the development of clean, renewable energy anywhere in Canada — even that of the Lower Churchill. 

But the latter would require Quebec to allow Newfoundland and Labrador to transmit electrical power through its territory — which is highly unlikely.

Jean Lesage, when he was premier of Quebec, stated the case clearly in 1965 during negotiations regarding the sale of electricity from the Upper Churchill. 

“We will never permit, under any condition, others to build a transmission line on Quebec territory, or let others transport energy produced at Churchill Falls, whatever destination of the energy, whether it be the United States or the other provinces.”

So Quebec, the sole province to urge the federal government to ratify Kyoto, is also the sole province with a long-term policy (nearly half a century) that has actually limited Canada’s ability to fulfill its obligations to Kyoto.

But don’t expect federal politicians — despite their professed commitment to protecting the environment — to mention it. There are 75 federal seats in Quebec.

Joan Forsey, a Newfoundlander living in Toronto, is a former journalist who has been researching and writing about Canadian economic and political affairs for more than 30 years, including seven years as a writer on the staff of the late prime minister Pierre Trudeau. 

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