CANADA

PECKFORD'S LEGACIES

NEWFOUNDLAND FACES A CHANGE OF LEADERSHIP WITH GREATER CONTROL OVER ITS RESOURCES

MARC CLARK January 30 1989
CANADA

PECKFORD'S LEGACIES

NEWFOUNDLAND FACES A CHANGE OF LEADERSHIP WITH GREATER CONTROL OVER ITS RESOURCES

MARC CLARK January 30 1989

PECKFORD'S LEGACIES

NEWFOUNDLAND FACES A CHANGE OF LEADERSHIP WITH GREATER CONTROL OVER ITS RESOURCES

CANADA

The arguments have already begun about how history will judge Newfoundland Premier Brian Peckford. Shortly after noon last Saturday, as howling snow squalls swept across St. John's, Peckford announced that he will step down as leader of the province and its governing Con servative party at the end of March, a decade after he gained those positions in the same month of 1979. Peckford's friends say that he leaves office convinced that he has altered Canada's course by changing the direction of Newfoundland. At the very least, he convinced many Newfoundlanders that they will never know pride and prosperity until they win con trol of their own resources. "Peckford's mes sage was so credible and so authentic that Newfoundlanders recognized in it the roots of their history," said Mark Graesser, a political scientist at Memorial University in St. John's. "Joe Smallwood brought Newfoundland into Confederation. Peckford tried to give New foundland back its autonomy, within Confederation."

the contest begins to replace the leadership—and perhaps to chart a new direction—for Canada’s youngest province in its 40th anniversary year of joining Confederation. Although Peckford battled Ottawa for more control over offshore oil and fisheries, along with hydroelectric power and industrial development, the province remains Canada’s poorest. That remains the overriding challenge for the next Newfoundland government. The outcome of a provincial election expected soon after a Tory leadership convention in March also comes as the provinces are engaged in trying to resolve major national issues—constitutional amendments, the operation of free trade with the United States and the revision of tax-sharing powers with Ottawa. Said Peckford in his resignation announcement: “We must redouble our efforts to ensure a powerful position within the Canadian family.” Peckford

announced his departure at a news conference, after informing his party that, “as you know, I have always held the view that a decade is a sufficient period of time to be the leader of a political party.” Waving a cigar as he read from a prepared text to about 40 reporters and 200 Tory onlookers, the premier deNEWFOUNDLAND

dared, "I have tried in my few years in public life to secure a more solid arrangement within the Confederation of Canada." He said that history will decide whether he succeeded, but added, "I believe a foundation has been laid that can never be uprooted." Peckford, 46, whose mother, Allison, sat on a red velvet chair near him at his news confer ence, said that family considerations also played a role in his decision to quit. He was divorced and married his second wife, Carol, while in office and has three children by his first marriage. The former high-school English teacher said that he was not leaving the pre miership for another job but hoped to see some offers in the months ahead. Several members of Peckford's cabinet, in cluding Finance Minister Neil Windsor, Fisher ies Minister Thomas Rideout and Leonard Simms, president of the Treasury Board, were expected to seek the Tory leadership, as was former federal r~iP John Lundrigan. The Con servatives hold 34 of the 52 house of assembly seats, compared with 14 for the Liberals and two for the New Democrats, with two seats vacant. Although the five-year mandate of the present assembly runs to April, 1990, several Newfoundlland Tories speculated that their new leader would likely go to the polls this spring, perhaps after recalling the assembly briefly. Liberal Leader Clyde Wells said his guess is that there will be an April election. The next premier will inherit a mixed basket of unfinished business-and controversies. Two energy megaprojects that Peckford pur sued doggedly are on the verge of approval: the

$5-billion development of the offshore Hibernia oilfields, and a deal with neighboring Quebec to further develop the vast hydroelectric power potential of the lower Churchill River in Labra dor. Peckford also leaves the embarrassment of the Sprung greenhouse, a hydroponic cu cumber project in suburban St. John's that has turned sour after a provincial investment of $16 million. There is also the simmering dis pute over fishing rights in waters between Newfoundland and the French islands of St Pierre-Miquelon. Provincial Conservatives predict agreement with Quebec within months to build two new hydro projects in Labrador. Finance Minister Windsor said Quebec officials have tentatively agreed that, as part of the deal, they would renegotiate a 20-year-old contract that obliges Newfoundland to sell Quebec electricity generated by the present Churchill Falls power plant at a fraction of its true market value. In a 1983 book titled The Past in the Present, Peckford wrote that between 1972 and 1982 Newfoundland earned $100 million from Churchill Falls, while Quebec got a windfall of $2 billion. Provincial officials also predict that the massive Hibernia project will go ahead, although final negotiations continue in Toronto and Ottawa among federal officials and representatives of the oil companies involved, led by Mobil Oil

Canada Ltd. Newfoundland’s active involvement in the negotiations ended in July, when the province signed agreements with the oil companies and the federal government. For Peckford, who had repeatedly said that Hibernia was Newfoundland’s “last chance” to gain prosperity, the project was the crowning political achievement. Cabot Martin, a St. John’s lawyer and adviser in the Hibernia talks, said last week that Peckford, having achieved his dream, began to think of retirement.

Peckford’s offshore oil quest began more than a decade ago, when he was minister of energy under Premier Frank Moores. At a time when Ottawa claimed primary jurisdiction over offshore resources, while the provinces otherwise owned most mineral rights, Peckford insisted that Newfoundland had to take control of its off-coast resources to achieve prosperity and equality with other provinces. His critics said that Peckford became obsessed by the pursuit of that goal.

Political scientist Graesser said that Peckford has a stubborn streak that sometimes worked to his disadvantage: in 1982, he turned down an offer from the Liberal federal government to develop Hibernia that was very similar to the one he eventually signed. At the same time, Peckford ignored mounting criticism of his personal style, including a $450,000 redecoration of his office and a near doubling of his personal staff. “Somewhere on the road to Sprung, Peckford changed,” Graesser said. “He is not the man who dominated Newfoundland politics in the early 1980s.”

Still, Graesser said, surveys show that Peckford remains by a wide margin the most respected political leader in the province. And Peckford said that a poll of 500 Newfoundlanders taken in December shows the Tories still in first place with 38-percent popular support, compared with 33 per cent for the Liberals and 11 per cent for the NDP under Peter Fenwick. “In the end,” said Martin, “it will be up to each Newfoundlander to decide whether it was 10 years well spent.”

MARC CLARK

GLEN ALLEN