Nfld. & Labrador

Warning or speculating? PC leader sounds alarm over Atlantic Accord talks

Ches Crosbie claims Newfoundland and Labrador will lose the principal beneficiary status of the Atlantic Accord under Dwight Ball.

A single word is raising red flags for Ches Crosbie, but Premier Dwight Ball says nothing has changed

PC Leader Ches Crosbie says Liberal Premier Dwight Ball will lose Newfoundland and Labrador's benefits under the Atlantic Accord. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Ches Crosbie is offering a warning for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador that the province will lose the principal beneficiary status of the Atlantic Accord under Premier Dwight Ball.

"Something suspicious is occurring. I am very much concerned that this present government under Mr. Ball is engaged in a project to give up our principal beneficiary rights under the Atlantic Accord, in return for some short-term cash to get them through the election," the leader of the Opposition said during a news conference Tuesday morning, evoking former premier Danny Williams' fight with Ottawa, which ended with a $2-billion cheque from the federal government.

Crosbie says there has been a change in language used by the provincial Liberals over the last several months. According to Crosbie, members of the Liberal party have begun referring to the province's deal in the Atlantic Accord as "primary" beneficiary, not "principal" beneficiary, he said, suggesting "primary" is a lesser term and the province is giving away its benefits. 

"Why the change in language, to use a term that is found nowhere in the agreements that are being negotiated? Something very worrisome is occurring," Crosbie said.

"'Primary' beneficiary is not found in any of these fundamental documents, the Atlantic Accord being our most important piece of legislation since the terms of the union in 1949."   

However, when pressed by reporters for evidence there's something more out of line from the Liberal camp than a supposed word change, Crosbie simply gave vague answers.

Language interchangeable

In response, Ball said the words "principal" and "primary" have been used interchangeably over the past decades — and in the present. 

"There's never been any discussion that we've had about changing the word 'principal' to 'primary.' That hasn't happened and it won't happen," Ball told the media Tuesday afternoon.

Ball says the words 'principal' and 'primary' beneficiaries have been interchangeable for decades and that nothing will change. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Ball said Crosbie is nervous the provincial Liberals will receive a positive outcome from discussions about the Atlantic Accord.

"That would be a good day for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, but in Ches's world it would be a bad day for Ches Crosbie," Ball said.

"The last thing that Ches Crosbie wants is to see a successful discussion with the federal government. See, that doesn't fit his doom and gloom agenda." 

What happened?

The Atlantic Accord was signed in 1985 to give 100 per cent of the revenue from the province's offshore resources back to Newfoundland and Labrador. But in 2003  the Royal Commission on Renewing and Strengthening our Place in Canada revealed Newfoundland and Labrador was receiving only 15 to 20 per cent of the benefits.

The resulting renegotiation with the federal government lasted months and saw Williams order Canadian flags from provincial buildings.

"It is that agreement, the 2005 Accord fiscal arrangement, that contains the clause that Mr. Ball is utilizing to write a letter to the prime minister last year requesting that we revisit and review the provisions of that arrangement, and of the accord, to ensure that they are working as intended," said Crosbie. 

"Mr. Ball would have you think that the negotiation must be complete by the end of March this year. Well, that's not so, when you look at the actual wording of the provision in the 2005 arrangement."

Crosbie said the negotiations just have to begin by the end of March and can run until there is a "just result."

Ball argues the commitment was made in the letter he wrote to the prime minister, and March. 31 will be the end date. 

Expecting the worst

Ball leaves for Ottawa Thursday to continue Atlantic Accord discussions, which Crosbie criticized as happening in "complete secrecy."

"We don't know what the objectives of the province are, we don't know what's at stake, we don't know whether they're talking about hundreds of millions, possibly of tens of billions. We don't have a clue," Crosbie said.

Ball said he will keep Newfoundlanders and Labradorians updated on the discussions with Ottawa as they draw closer to end of the negotiations on the Accord, and is not ruling out the possibility of going for equalization or offset payments. 

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