CANADA

A parable of bombs and fishes

DALE EISLER December 29 1980
CANADA

A parable of bombs and fishes

DALE EISLER December 29 1980

A parable of bombs and fishes

Sometime back in 1949 the Canadian Army dumped a load of obsolete but live ammunition into the St. Lawrence River near the tiny fishing village of Grandes-Bergeronnes. Now-31 years later—the miilitary is issuing through newspaper advertisements its first warning to fishermen that their nets might drag up some of the bombs and artillery shells which “contain high explosives and present a risk to life and limb.”

There would have been no danger sign posted even now, Maclean ’s learned last week, except that one fisherman did net a bomb while trawling in 275 metres of water in mid-river, 250 km downstream from Quebec City. Thinking it a nice souvenir, he brought it home and for four years kept it in his house until, in 1979, he had misgivings and reported his catch to police. A disposal team dispatched from Canadian Forces Base Bagotville blew up the old bomb and an investigation began. There was no record of dumped ammunition at defence department headquarters Trudeau was. Outraged by Trudeau’s comments in the House that there was no evidence of oil rigs heading south, McClelland sarcastically invited the PM to visit Fort St. John, B.C., “and see the trail of dust behind the trucks and rigs leaving town.”

Although the only substance to come out of the mini-summit was the call for a meeting of all provincial energy ministers, there was the added drama of Saskatchewan again suggesting that it may meet the federal government in court if Ottawa applies its new domestic oil and gas tax to Saskatchewan’s Crown corporations. Premier Allan Blakeney says the province might withhold the eight-per-cent tax and the 30cent per thousand cubic feet levy on natural gas. “It looks like at this point that we simply might not pay the tax and they can come and get it,” Blakeney warned the day before the energy ministers announced their collective distaste for the new energy deal. The other option is to pay the tax under protest and take Ottawa to court on the basis that it is an unconstitutional federal tax on provincial Crown corporations.

The impact of the federal energy plan strikes a telling blow, argued the ministers. Leitch estimated that more than one-third of the rigs in the 570-rig Western Canada drilling fleet have either stopped working or have moved out of the country and claimed 12,000 jobs will be lost directly in the industry and 30,000 more across the country. In Saskatchewan, where there is a normal drop in drilling during the winter, the decline, so far, has been less acute. With 50 rigs digging during peak months, Mineral Resources Deputy Minister Bob Moncur predicts those that leave this winter “simply won’t be back in the spring.” The B.C. picture is equally bleak, with a 60-per-cent reduction in the number of land parcels on which the industry will bid in upcoming oil and gas rights sales.

The ministers were also buffaloed by Ottawa’s breakdown of oil revenues under the new arrangement and suggested the public had been deliberately misled. They argue that the federal share of oil is closer to 31 per cent than the 24 per cent forecast by Ottawa. Also, the provinces get only 28 per cent, not the 43 per cent promised in the Oct. 28 budget. Says McClelland: “If the figures are a mistake, then it’s a hell of a big mistake.” However, Ottawa is not likely to buy provincial arguments for oil prices closer to world levels and less federal tax intrusion to keep the industry profitable. A report released in Ottawa the very day the ministers met showed petroleum industry aftertax profits increased by 54 per cent in the first half of 1980. — DALE EISLER