Nfld. premier writes PM to solve offshore dispute

Nfld. premier writes to PM asking for meeting over offshore royalties. Federal officials say no meeting until province flies Canadian flags.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams has written to the prime minister, seeking to break the impasse over offshore energy revenues, though federal officials warn there will be no meeting until the Canadian flag is flown in the province.

Williams, who did not release copies of the letter, said he has explained to Prime Minister Paul Martin why he feels the most recent federal offer is not good enough, and why he believes Martin can put things back on track.

"At the end of that letter, I requested that...[we] finally finalize this and have him honour his promise and his commitment to our people," Williams said.

Williams said he would like to meet with Martin as well as Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm and Alex Himelfarb, Ottawa's top-ranking civil servant. Williams has said he doesn't want to negotiate any further with federal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale.

However, federal cabinet representative John Efford said there will be no deal on the Atlantic Accord as long as the provincial government refuses to fly the Canadian flag.

Williams ordered the removal of all Canadian flags from provincial government buildings on Dec. 23 until a deal was reached.

"I can't imagine anyone negotiating while the flags are down," said Efford.

The federal message will get more play in the coming days, said Efford, as Ottawa rolls out a communications campaign to explain its offer on the Accord to Newfoundlanders.

"If we failed on anything, we have not explained things to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and it's time for us to do that," said Efford.

The Newfoundland and Labrador premier says the Canadian flag will remain off poles at provincial government buildings, and brushed off Efford's warnings.

Nova Scotia and Newfoundland have been pressing to retain 100 per cent of offshore energy revenues without paying a penalty in clawbacks to equalization payments.

Williams walked out of October's first ministers meeting on federal-provincial equalization payments, saying Martin reneged on a deal to allow the province to keep all of its oil and gas revenues.