Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. premier who battled Ottawa for offshore benefits warns complacency threatens future projects

Former N.L. premier Brian Peckford battled the federal government for offshore benefits and he warns enforcement of that agreement is getting lax.

'We must not allow any dilution of what had happened in the [Atlantic] Accord,' says Brian Peckford

Former N.L. premier Brian Peckford warns of the erosion of certain provisions designed to ensure the province gets its rightful share of offshore oil and gas benefits. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The Atlantic Accord has helped Newfoundland and Labrador reap the rewards of offshore oil and gas projects, but the former premier who fought the federal government to get the agreement warns vigilance is crucial. 

"We must not allow any dilution of what had happened in the accord," says Brian Peckford, who served as premier from 1979 to 1989.

"We can't allow it to happen — somebody's got to keep reminding them about this you know, because it really has been, as we all know, a saviour to this province."

Peckford delivered the keynote address Thursday at the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil & Gas Industries Association's (NOIA) 2017 conference, held in St. John's this week.

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney and former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Brian Peckford signing the Atlantic Accord at the Hotel Newfoundland in St. John's in 1985. (CBC)

Peckford battled with the federal government in his pursuit to get a deal — one eventually signed in 1985 — that would provide revenues to the provinces for offshore projects, as if the natural resources were on land.

"Some day the sun will shine and have-not will be no more," Peckford said in 1982, a quote that lives on in the provincial psyche. 

N.L. 'needs an industry, not a project'

Peckford said there are two major concerns he has heard from the industry when it comes to being complacent with the provisions set out in the Atlantic Accord.

The first involves a possible slow down in the process of environmental assessments — and Peckford insists time is money. 

"We're all in favour of environmental assessments ... but you can go on too long and put too many processes in place that it could lose your opportunity to move ahead," he told reporters following his speech.

Bob Cadigan, president of NOIA, says the assessment process has already slowed for certain projects. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

"[That's] very, very important or otherwise we are going to lose an opportunity which will go to Guyana or some other place in the world where they are just starting a new industry."

The second issue, according to Peckford, is the erosion of the provisions in the accord that protect local oil industry suppliers.

"Some of these larger companies that are starting to come in in the last few years are starting to change that supply chain regime, which is very important ... That's starting to break down now," he said.

Peckford says slowing down environmental assessments could prompt companies to take their interests, and projects, elsewhere. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Peckford said "all the leadership" in the province needs to stand firm — otherwise, expect dire financial consequences.

"Some of the provisions of that thing are getting weakened. See, what we want here is an industry, an ongoing industry. A few dollars is great, but in order to get the real good dollars ... we must have an industry and not a project," he said.

Muskrat Falls needs to be 'rescued'

Peckford ruled out a return to provincial politics, though his impassioned speech and at times dramatic delivery on Thursday could have easily been mistaken for a campaign speech.

"No ... my time is gone," he said laughing, referring to himself as "75 going on 50."

His hat may be out of the political ring, but Peckford's opinions won't be tamed — especially when it comes to Muskrat Falls.

"Whatever can be done to rescue this thing and not cost any more money has to be done," Peckford said, adding the electrical demand the project was in part based on was "exaggerated."

Upstream side of the spillway of the Muskrat Falls project, which Peckford says needs to be 'rescued.' (Nalcor Energy/Submitted)

Peckford doesn't have a specific answer on how to fix the megaproject, but is adamant the Atlantic Accord must continue to be enforced in order to ensure this province keeps getting its rightful share of benefits from oil and gas projects.

"Every morning, Newfoundlanders have to get up, those who are involved, and say, 'I'm going to reinforce what somebody else fought for for me,'" Peckford said.

"We fought hard for all of this and I don't want to see any of it diminish."

With files from Mark Quinn and Terry Roberts