Newfoundland’s fight for respectability

November 28 1983

Newfoundland’s fight for respectability

November 28 1983

Newfoundland’s fight for respectability


Newfoundland has long quarrelled with the federal government over the ownership and management of the oil reserves under the shallow seas of the Grand Banks off the province’s east coast. In February the Supreme Court of Newfoundland awarded ownership of the resource to Ottawa, and the Supreme Court of Canada could render its decision on the matter as early as next month. Premier Brian Peckford has led Newfoundland ’s fight with a zeal that has earned him an anti-Canadian reputation in some circles. In an interview with Maclean’s Atlantic Bureau Chief Michael Clugston, Peckford, hi, declared that while the recent formation of the Party for an Independent Newfoundland was a predictable outgrowth of the acrimonious federal-provincial fight, he himself places Canada’s urgent energy needs ahead of the province’s offshore claim. The turbulence is not confined to the premier’s political life. Two weeks ago Peckford’s private life came under public scrutiny when his wife, Marina, 35, talked to reporters

about their decision to separate (they have two children). The premier, however, refused to discuss his personal relationships.

Maclean’s: Is last month's formation of a separatist party—the Party for an Independent Newfoundland—romantic

melodrama or is there more to it? Peckford: I would say that it is real—I think it comes out of frustration. Two years ago I predicted that unless there was some reconciliation [with Ottawa], some accommodation for our position, watch out—there is going to be some trouble. And now we have it, in some

kind of political reality. The degree to which it is serious is still to be determined. I take the position that it is regrettable, but predictable, and may be a force to be reckoned with in Newfoundland politics over the next two or three years, depending on what happens over that time.

‘Without firing a shot, Ottawa is doing more damage to Newfoundland than the United States did in Grenada ’

Maclean’s: Your critics claim that you and your party exacerbate the state of mind that gives rise to separatist sentiments. They point to your finance minister, Dr. John Collins, suggesting changes in the Terms of Union and to your September reference to Newfoundlanders as ‘lepers’of Confederation. Peckford: I did not set out to have this little party form itself on the periphery of Newfoundland politics. I would lay just as much blame, if not more, on Ottawa for creating this party. It has been their impasse, not ours. We express our frustrations in various ways, and certain words and phrases are quickly picked up by other people and used against us. The many, many more Confederation-positive things we say

are not emphasized. I will continue to express myself in words that mean something to me. And if they strike a chord, and that somehow incites somebody to be more separatist than before, then I am sorry. It is not conscious; it is not deliberate.

Maclean’s: How do you expect the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on the offshore rights?

Peckford: My own perception is that given the decision of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and the narrow way in which that court approached the subject, it is more probable that the federal government could win, because the majority of the people sitting on the Supreme Court of Canada have a Canadian conception of resource development, not the global one. That being the outcome, we will then argue from a strict moral equality point of view — that it is unacceptable and that law comes out of people. People do not come out of law; people make law. There must be a consensus to make new laws which better reflect the inequities in Canada—of one part of the country being poor even though it has the resources. We have made compromises as a province, and I do not think that has been given enough exposure in the whole Canadian debate over what Newfoundland wants vs. what Canada wants. It was not fair for us, if we were going to con-

tinue to call ourselves Canadians, to insist that national self-sufficiency was secondary to Newfoundland’s interests. It has to be primary in everybody’s interests. We have agreed that national self-sufficiency and security of supply would have to be satisfied before some of the more provincial objectives kicked

into the picture. So, if elements of the agreement are not acceptable, we will have a comprehensive nationwide campaign to show how unfair it is. Maclean’s: Do you think that such a campaign is likely to sway Ottawa? Peckford: Given the [bad] news about Nova Scotia’s gas reserves and the ongoing depletion of oil in Alberta, we may be at a point in the history of Canada where the economics might take precedence over the politics: that the economics of Hibernia would take precedence over such sentiments as The hell with Newfoundland’ because they only have seven seats. Therefore, the federal government may succumb to a formula that is more equal, something Newfoundland can accept rather than what Ottawa would otherwise [settle for] from a sheer political analysis of the situation. It is a question of trying to reach self-sufficiency in oil in Canada, which is a general and very strong national priority.

Maclean’s: Still, the federal government could just go ahead and develop the offshore anyway it chooses, without reference to Newfoundland.

Peckford: Unilateral action is inconsistent with the moderate approach that the Liberal government has taken on foreign affairs and other matters. Ottawa would lose an awful lot of support-moral and political—throughout

the rest of Canada if it decided to try to ram Newfoundland into the ground. The federal government watched the United States go into Grenada, which I support but about which Ottawa has grave doubts. Ottawa takes an awfully moderate approach toward Grenada when it has a province in its own Confederation that it is doing more destruction to, without firing a shot, than the United States ever did to Grenada. Maclean’s: If you are putting Canada’s energy needs ahead of Newfoundland’s desire to control the offshore, how would the revenues he split?

Peckford: Somewhere around 75 to 25 of what was available for governments, in Newfoundland’s favor until we came closer to the Canadian average [of wealth]. That would be a fair trade-off for relinquishing control to Ottawa. Maclean’s: Has the recent fishery restructuring agreement with Ottawa paved the way for improved federalprovincial relations?

Peckford: Not necessarily. We would like to project it into a thaw in relations, but unfortunately that is not necessarily following. But it gives some direction to us both.

Maclean’s: You have long wanted to make it possible for the many Newfoundlanders who have left the province to be able to return to live. Last year, for the first time in years, more people moved to Newfoundland than moved away. Is that an aberration or the start of a trend?

Peckford: There are a lot of people who just want to come home so they can shoot their moose, jig their fish and still have a job. That is our lifestyle. Because the recession has hit so badly in other places, it is just as good to be in Newfoundland as anywhere else right now. It is better for them to be home, because they can grow a few vegetables in their back garden and get a bit of wild meat and a bit of fish and live a lot cheaper in rural Newfoundland than they could ever live elsewhere in Canada. In rural Newfoundland you can live just on the cash that you have in your pocket. Maclean’s: Some of your critics say that you maintain a paternalistic view of rural Newfoundland—the romantic view that countryfolk do not need or want the cash for color TVs and other material goods that urban dwellers strive to acquire.

Peckford: I am not saying that. I am not a Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I am saying we can have the best of both worlds. Maclean’s: Do you still snare rabbits? Peckford: Yes. I shot a moose four weeks ago. I jigged 15 codfish last Saturday. I do not need the meat. It is just a good pastime and it will save me money, too. Tonight I am off to the symphony. I bet you did not know there was a symphony in Newfoundland!