Nfld. & Labrador

Dwight Ball open to a deal with Quebec on hydroelectricity

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball says it's only responsible to keep an open mind when it comes to hydroelectricity discussions with Quebec.

N.L. premier says there are possibilities for an agreement — if the deal fits

Ball says it's responsible to keep an open mind when it comes to hydroelectricity discussions with Quebec. 1:02

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball says it's only responsible to keep an open mind when it comes to hydroelectricity discussions with Quebec.

After Quebec government leaders said Tuesday they wanted to "bury the hatchet" with Newfoundland and Labrador on hydro, Ball told CBC News he's open to making a deal — if it fits.

We learn lessons, we'll take the lessons from our history.- N.L. Premier Dwight Ball

"It's an opportunity that we will pursue, it's the responsible thing to do as premier of this province," Ball said Wednesday.

"It's all about where the benefits are for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."

If the deal fits

It's far too early to talk about specifics, Ball said, and he's yet to speak to Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard on the subject.

The best opportunity for the development of Gull Island, as an example, would be through Quebec.- Dwight Ball

But Ball said he's always open to working with other provinces if it helps people of this province.

Ball said he's seen "no lineup" of people looking for a piece of the Muskrat Falls megaproject — which is significantly over budget and behind schedule.

But the partnership prospects for the planned Gull Island development, also on the Churchill River, might be brighter.

Pierre Arcand, Quebec's minister of natural resources, told reporters on Monday that Premier Philippe Couillard has been talking to representatives from Newfoundland and Labrador's provincial government. (Radio-Canada)

According to Ball, Nova Scotia has already expressed interest, and a deal with Quebec could make sense.

"It's always been said … the best opportunity for the development of Gull Island, as an example, would be through Quebec."

The Maritime Link, which would link Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and is being built alongside the Muskrat Falls project to bypass Quebec, won't have the capacity to take Gull Island power, Ball says.

Halifax-based Emera is paying for the $1.6-billion transmission line, and will get a block of power from Muskrat Falls in exchange.

Long history

Quebec's Minister of Natural Resources Pierre Arcand told reporters on Tuesday that his government is looking to improve relations with Newfoundland and Labrador on hydro. That could include revisiting the Upper Churchill agreement.

Churchill Falls remains a sore point for many Newfoundland and Labrador, because of a long-running contract signed decades ago with Hydro-Quebec. (CBC)

The contract, which runs from 1969 to 2041, means Newfoundland and Labrador now makes only $2 per megawatt hour from Upper Churchill power.

The deal is notorious in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nalcor Energy has estimated that Hydro-Quebec has reaped about $25 billion from the agreement, while Newfoundland and Labrador has seen $1.5 billion.

The contract has been challenged in court 17 times, according to Ball, with Newfoundland and Labrador's provincial government losing at each time.

Ball said his government will learn from the past, but won't be afraid to talk with Quebec again.

"My job as premier of this province is really not to dwell too much on our history," he said. "We learn lessons, we'll take the lessons from our history.

"My job is to protect the future of our province."

Extending a hand

Jean-Marc Fournier, Quebec's minister for Canadian Relations, said his government is extending a hand to Newfoundland and Labrador — and encouraging it to think differently.

We'll see where this takes us, there's no sense in rushing into things right now.- Dwight Ball

"Right now, we're litigating the past. Are you interested in looking at this differently in the future?" he said in French to reporters on Wednesday.

"That's where we are. And if we're able to start a conversation like that, I think it's a winning formula for everyone."

Jean-Marc Fournier, Quebec's minister of Canadian Relations, says his government is extending a hand to the government of Newfoundland and Labrador. (Radio-Canada)

Meanwhile, Ball said he's not surprised to hear a changing tone coming from Quebec government.

"What we saw yesterday coming out of Quebec is really another sign of something that we've been noticing for a few weeks," he said.

While he's not yet thinking about dropping the pending Supreme Court of Canada challenge against the Churchill Falls project, discussions with Quebec are an opportunity the province, he said.

"We'll see where this takes us, there's no sense in rushing into things right now," said Ball. "These are very early days."

With files from Mark Quinn and Radio-Canada

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