As the deadline for Atlantic Accord negotiations approaches, Progressive Conservative Party Leader Ches Crosbie wants to know why Premier Dwight Ball is negotiating the deal in private.
The provincial and federal governments have until March 31 to finish their negotiations surrounding the Atlantic Accord, which governs how and where royalties flow from the province’s offshore oil sector.
The last time major negotiations took place with the Atlantic Accord, then-premier Danny Williams made it a public fight between this province and Ottawa — from which a $2.6 billion cheque flowed into the province.
Crosbie says he’s hearing from sources close to the matter – which he did not reveal to The Telegram – that there could be some large-scale changes to the arrangement coming. Specifically, Crosbie is concerned that a pan-Atlantic Canadian framework could be coming as a result of the negotiations, making the Atlantic Accord have a more wide-reaching application than just this province.
“While in the last round of these discussions in 2005 the public was well appraised of what the issues were and what the goals of the arguments back and forth were. They are not now. These negotiations are being carried out in secret,” said Crosbie.
“If they do come to some accommodation or arrangement of negotiated solution, we don’t know what it is they’re trying to solve.”
The negotiations between the province and the federal government have been on-going since at least April 2018. Since then, there has not been a lot of public commentary about what is happening at the negotiating table, as Crosbie points out.
Premier Dwight Ball has been repeatedly pressed for information about what’s at stake in the negotiations, with little to provide.
Ball says he does not want to carry out these negotiations in public.
“These are discussions that we’re having and there’s a number of items that we need to discuss. It’s on the basis of Newfoundland and Labrador being the primary beneficiary,” said Ball.
“It’s important now that we continue to work for this and build on the success that we’ve already had with the federal government in attracting billions of dollars to revenues to the province.”
Typically, the provincial budget is announced in late-March or early-April, meaning the negotiations could be completed in time for the province’s financial document.
Ball says the budget discussions and Atlantic Accord discussions are not tied together.
“The Atlantic Accord review is not directly tied to the budget process, but we want to this dealt with under the timeframe we’ve been given,” said Ball.
“It’s not directly tied to the budget process, but it would have an impact on future budgets.”
With rumours circulating that the timing of the review and the provincial budget could spell an argument for an early election call, Ball says he intends to stick with the legislation and send the province to the polls in the Fall.
“We’re still planning, as I’ve always said for a fall election.”