When former Newfoundland-Labrador premier Danny Williams wanted something from the Canadian federal government, or was not happy with something the feds had done or planned to do, he did not hesitate to let them know. I know this not because I am an avid observer on policy matters that concern Newfoundland-Labrador. I know this because I watch national newscasts and always skim the front pages of national newspapers. Williams went public with his concerns, and spectacularly so. He couldn’t care less whether his federal interlocutors were Big “C” Conservatives like him: if he wasn’t happy with them he let them—and everyone else—know.
For a rather entertaining example of Williams’s public lobbying, have a look at the video clip at the end of this post.
Williams’s efforts did not prevent the prime minister from winning two subsequent elections, the second with a strong majority. But they did pay off where it counts, in economic benefits for his province. After he retired as premier, his successor reaped the benefits of his squeaky-wheel strategy, in the form of a federal promise of loan guarantees for a massive hydroelectric project.
Brad Wall, another conservative premier (the Saskatchewan Party, which he leads, began life as a coalition between Conservatives and Liberals but mostly Conservatives), is not as pugnacious as Williams. But he is just as effective, as witness his successful effort a year ago to lobby the feds to block the $36 billion purchase of Potash Corp.—the giant Saskatchewan-based fertilizer company and NGNP industry partner—by BHP Billiton.
The common element in Williams’s and Wall’s public lobbying is, of course, that it was public.
Contrast that with Ontario’s effort to obtain some kind of federal support for a purchase of nuclear reactors by Ontario Power Generation, the provincially-owned electric utility. The premier, Dalton McGuinty, has avoided any public mention of the issue. He has let his energy minister, Brad Duguid, carry the ball. But even though Duguid has been an energetic, eloquent, and believable spokesman on the issue of new reactors at Darlington, his federal counterparts have not been willing listeners. At every opportunity, they decline to comment on whether the feds would even consider offering any kind of support.
That is because federal nuclear support for Ontario new build would be a cabinet-level issue, specifically one for the Priorities and Planning Committee. As you can see, Duguid’s federal counterpart, natural resources minister Joe Oliver, is not a member of that committee. And as you can also see, the federal prime minister chairs it.
So nobody should be surprised that when Oliver is pressed to clarify the feds’ position on Darlington, he offers no clarity at all. This is his boss’s turf.
There is a hierarchy in government. When a provincial premier has a problem, in the end he or she often has to take it up with the prime minister. The prime minister is not going to respond to public advocacy by a provincial minister who is not the premier.
This means that it is the Ontario premier himself who should now be doing the public lobbying on new Darlington reactors.
It is not McGuinty’s style to hammer the prime minister à la Danny Williams. He’s more like Brad Wall.
But he should get cracking. He’s in the middle of an election campaign, and he has an opportunity to push for a major infrastructure project that would instantly become simultaneously the biggest job creator in the country and the biggest green energy effort on the continent.
His NDP opponents have decided to take Greenpeace’s advice and push for a natural gas strategy. On both criteria cited by the NDP in pushing against nuclear—safety and cost—their alternative, natural gas, is demonstrably inferior to nuclear.
McGuinty now has a shining opportunity to distinguish himself and his party from such a hare-brained, economy-hostile platform.
Will he seize the opportunity?
Here is Danny Williams voicing displeasure with the prime minister: