Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a pleasure to speak to this motion today.
Usually when we stand to speak, we make some reference to the previous speaker. I will do that, but very briefly. I just listened to two things that the hon. Leader of the Opposition said.
He said that the Atlantic accord must be respected. I know he will have to run off as he is a busy person, but let me tell him that the Atlantic accord, in every aspect, will be respected. I do not know whether he heard me. I will say it again. The Atlantic accord will be respected.
He also said he is against the cap. Let me quote from the hon. member on two or three occasions. When asked just in March about excluding 100% of resource revenues from equalization, he said, “No, no, I would not commit to this”. He said:
--it would be ill-advised to grant such special treatment to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland or any other province...it is essential to maintain equitable treatment of all the provinces within--
He said, “Some provinces want special treatment to maintain their incoming benefits, even as their fiscal capacity increases. I disagree”. This is the Leader of the Opposition who just said he is against the cap.
He also said, “A province that receives equalization payments cannot see its fiscal capacity growing above the fiscal capacity of a province that does not”. What do we call it? We call it a cap, C-A-P.
I could go on. There are a number of other quotes and I only put that on the record to let people know how much they can rely on somebody who says he will give his word. It depends on the time, the place and the occasion, so we will dispense with that.
Let me talk about the issue at hand. Let us look at a little bit of history here. We have a situation where people opposite think that people on this side, the governing party, somehow or other are going to shaft the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.
They are hanging their hats today on the fact that, unfortunately, one of our members, a pretty good fellow and a good friend of mine, a great member, decided that he would not stay with the party and vote for the budget, that he would go across.
I say perhaps that if the gentleman had waited another few hours, if he had been privy to some of the results of some of the work that he and others of us have been doing, he would not have done that
However, the interesting thing about this is that the members opposite, strictly for political reasons as we know, but that is the name of the game and I am not saying we would not have done it had the opposite been true, are lauding the fact that somebody crossed the floor on principle.
Well, they had a member who voted for the budget, who voted against his party on principle, and he is now sitting as an independent, so that is what they think about people who stand on principle. That is the name of the political game also.
The interesting thing about it is that the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador is also joining with his newly found feathered friends on the other side and lauding the fact that somebody stood up on principle and walked across the floor.
The interesting thing about this is the comparison with what his colleague, his counterpart in Nova Scotia, is saying. The Nova Scotia premier was calling the member to say, “Please do not do it, because you cannot do any good for us over there. We are working out a deal--”, unlike Newfoundland, by the way, “--with the federal government that will take care of our concerns, or at least that is our hope. We believe we can do it by working collectively. Will you stay there and work with us to make sure we get the deal?” The member did not listen. He went across.
I find it a bit hard to understand when the premier of the province affected, in this case Nova Scotia, said “stick with it boys, and let's get a good deal”, and the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador said “run across the floor, give up, come home, we don't want a deal”. He might not want a deal, but the people of Newfoundland and Labrador want a good deal, and that is what they will get.
I will give the House a bit of history here. What is this all about? If the government had not recognized the fact that there was a fiscal imbalance in the country, then we would not be here today. This would not be an issue. We recognized that there was a fiscal imbalance. The past equalization program threw a few dollars at the provinces that made the loudest noise. As all of us know, that was not very successful.
The government started talking about addressing the fiscal imbalance. In order to do that, we needed a formula that everybody would accept and buy into and one in which everybody could participate.
Leading up to the last election, our party said in our blue book that if we formed government, we would be satisfied to take 100% of the non-renewable resources out of the formula. We are not denying that. It is there in black and white in our blue book and on web pages and so on.
We did not dump that when we were elected. In the election and after the election we said that we, as government, were willing to take 100% of all non-renewable resources, and not just oil and gas, out of the equalization formula.
The equalization formula affects 10 provinces and three territories. They are affected by whatever formula Ottawa puts in place. Consequently, they will decide if this is the best formula for them collectively. Of course, each province will ask if this is the best formula for it.
The premiers met on several occasions and the finance ministers met. They could not agree on the formula. The majority of them did not want what we offered in relation to taking out 100% of all non-renewable resources.
People at home are saying that the Prime Minister broke a promise. It was not the Prime Minister; it was the party and then the government. I am not denying that. We made a commitment. We were ready and willing to do that. We did not say to the provinces that we would not do that. The provinces had a whole year to put together a formula, including what we had committed, to address the fiscal imbalance of the country. The majority of the provinces said that it would make it worse for them rather than better. They said that they needed something else.
Back several months ago, the talk about equalization and fiscal imbalance centred around the O'Brien formula. The government of the day, Liberal members opposite, initiated an independent study by highly qualified people, chaired by Mr. O'Brien, who brought forth a formula to address equalization. That became the talk of the town. Everybody, including all the premiers, realized that was probably where they were headed and they started to scramble to get the best they could out of that formula. This is all on the record. I am not it making up.
The Premier of Newfoundland made a request to the Prime Minister that the Atlantic accord be protected. The two provinces, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, had different agreements. They were not special agreements. They were not fancy side deals. They had agreements with the Government of Canada that they had worked hard for, which recognized the fact that their offshore oil and gas resources were located offshore, outside the land mass, and were supposedly controlled and owned by Canada.
Agreements were put in place to have the resources recognized, basically, as if they were onshore, that the province would be the prime beneficiary, that it would get 100% of the revenues from the developments of the offshore oil and gas.
In 1985 the original agreement was signed with the then Conservative government of Canada after the former Trudeau Liberal government had denied it for years. The minister of energy, who in Newfoundland denied it and would not give it the control of our offshore oil and gas benefits, was the former leader of the Liberal Party, Mr. Chrétien. The prime minister was Mr. Trudeau.
When the Mulroney government was elected, that deal was signed. There is a picture on my wall, if anyone wants proof, of Prime Minister Mulroney with Minister Crosbie, the regional minister, Senator Pat Carney, who was the minister of energy at the time, along with Premier Peckford from Newfoundland and the then minister of energy, Mr. Marshall. Sitting in the background with myself and others was one of the members on the other side, who is clapping his hands for a great agreement for the Conservatives.
When we moved forward, in 2005 the Williams government, led by finance minister Sullivan, negotiated some improvements to the Atlantic accord. It sounded great when the premier came home, not really cheered then by the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.
The premier came down the escalator waving the cheque, and we all remember it, saying, “We got it, we got it, $2 billion”. Imagine coming into Newfoundland and Labrador with a $2 billion cheque. I would bet that members, if we did a quiz, and I would love to do a quiz, would say that the $2 billion is above and beyond, that it is great stuff.
What is was an advance on Newfoundland and Labrador's income. It is just like if you were making $20,000, Mr. Speaker, and I know you make a little more than that, not at all what you deserve for the job you are doing. I was watching the hockey game last night, as a lot of people were, and thinking about the referees. They work an hour a night, basically, and get paid a lot more than you. I think you would make a tremendous referee because a lot of them are not of physical stature to break up the rackets. With a pair of skates and a much bigger salary, you would do it.
If you, Mr. Speaker, were making $20,000 a year and somebody suddenly gave you a cheque for $200,000 and you came home waving it, everybody in the family would be delighted. However, what you did not tell them is that for the next 10 years all of your net income would go into the bank because you just got a $200,000 advance.
Newfoundland and Labrador received a $2 billion advance. That is all it got, nothing extra, nothing that did not belong to it, nothing above and beyond what it would get over time. Newfoundland and Labrador received it so it could pay down our the tremendous debt. The premier almost had a contest asking how people wanted it spent when he knew, because it is written in the agreement, it had to go toward the debt. It is all fun and games.
All of it has not been drawn down yet, but it will be over the next few years. There is still somewhere around $1 billion, or a bit less. Some people think that if anything happens such as caps the province will lose it and it will be clawed back. Absolutely not. Let me state it clearly and categorically that the advance money given to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, regardless of what happens, will not be clawed back.
Any payments the province get because of the Atlantic accords will not be capped. The accord will not be capped. The accord is protected. Write it down. Look at Hansard. Cut it out. Show it to me in five years. We will not know those things right away simply because the province is still receiving equalization money.
The unfortunate thing about it is it province is not receiving much. In our province, as we say at home, we are getting well off. We are starting to become a have province. I am proud of that. I think the members opposite are proud of that. However, as anybody knows, we cannot have our cake and eat it too. I do not think anybody is really asking for it, if they understood what this is all about. What we do not want is for something that we own, something that we were promised, something that we were given, to be taken away.
Let me assure the members it will not be taken away. How do I know that? Because I have been working on it. I have not been sitting, complaining. I have not been running around the country, yelling and screaming and complaining about Ottawa not doing anything, when I have not even asked it, when I have not met with it and when I have not negotiated. We do not get deals unless we negotiate.
This year our province is receiving $477 million in equalization. Next year we will receive only $197 million. It is not, if our economy keeps going, the year after that we will get nothing.
Why our equalization is going down is because our revenues from resource development, in particular, including the offshore oil and gas, have been going up. We have not lost any of the money. Anything we have lost in relation to the total revenues we would receive has been given to us by what we call offset payments, through the Atlantic accord, and people think this will end. It will only end when the accord fizzles out.
When the accord agreement was signed in 1985 to give us this money in lieu of clawback, in lieu of equalization losses, it was due to expire in 2011. Nobody has this by the way. It is not a bad deal and others would love to have it. The $2 billion upfront payment, which we could bring home and wave around, was an advance payment. We are not getting a cent directly from government these days in relation to offset payments. It is all kept because the government gave it to us in advance. When the advance is paid off, we will start getting real money again.
The other thing they did a couple of years ago, in 2005, is they negotiated one extra year on the length of the accord agreement. The accord now ends in 2012. What does that mean? That means that in 2012 that is it. Our province will not get any more of these offset payments, unless in one of the two previous years, 2010 or 2011, we are on equalization. If we are receiving equalization, the accord is extended until 2020. If it is, and I hope it is, we will continue to receive every benefit from that accord because we have committed, with no changes to the accord, no capping of the accord, despite what members say.
To finish, in relation to equalization, there is not a chance, according to economists, that we will be on equalization in either of these years to qualify for the accord payments, unless we go to the new formula. If we go to the new formula, because of the 10 provinces, we might then qualify. If our province does, the theory is we will be capped. The Atlantic accord will never be capped.