Thursday, October 29, 2009

Morning whip (2009-10-29)

Two stories on my mind this morning: The NB Power sell-out and the war crimes trial in Montréal.
1) NB Power has sold most of its core assets to Hydro-Québec for over $10 billion. New Brunswick gets to pay down a huge part of its debt ... but I cringe at this sale for two reasons. First, since it will be the concrete tower across from Montréal's Chinatown that will now control the transmission lines in two provinces it could effectively block Newfoundland and Labrador from its attempts to sell power from the next phase of Churchill River to the States. An argument can be made that this violates the free commerce provision of Article 121 of the 1867 Constitution but every province has ignored it since the founding of this country and courts have never even dared to enforce it.

But the bigger issue is my second reason: That you don't sell assets built with public money for firesale prices. Public assets should remain in the public domain unless there is a compelling reason to sell them -- and "net" or "straddled" debt is not good enough. Power should be produced and sold at cost, with all profits going back to the rate-users in the form of levelled or lowered usage rates. In this case, residents in NB will have their rates frozen for the next five years but what happens after that?
More ominously, what happens if Québec ever did separate? How to control the price of power then? Even if it doesn't happen, I think there's a heavy price to be paid down the road and people won't like it. Just look here in Ontario at 407, which is owned by a consortium of Spanish, Australian and Canadian interests. Tolls are about four times higher than the average across the E-Z Pass system and the asset (the highway) was sold for about a quarter of its true value. Yes, I do use the highway occasionally to get around rush-hour traffic, but I honestly can't wait until the carpool lanes on the QEW are completed.
We in Hamilton certainly didn't like it when our water utility was run for a time by Enron and then by British and German interests. Public power and water should mean that -- publicly owned, publicly administered, publicly accountable. A bunch of bureaucrats in a glass tower and in another province doesn't count.
2) Désiré Munyaneza of Rwanda became the first person to be convicted under Canadian of war crimes committed during the 1994 massacre back in June. Today Munyaneza got the maximum under our law: Twenty-five to life.

All well and good, but that it has taken fifteen years for justice to happen is simply unacceptable. Even more unacceptable is the banality of evil that existed in the highest corridors of power amongst the Western allies at the time, a refusal to stop the murder of a million people. Why aren't Chrétien and Major and Clinton being tried for their wilfull blindness? If those being killed were white, you can be damn sure the Security Council would have authorized deadly force for the "peacekeepers" under Roméo Dallaire who had terms of reference that made their job impossible -- and in the end, cost ten of the blue hats their lives because they were massacred as well.

Forget state immunity -- one forfeits his or her right to diplomatic immunity if his or her actions or lack thereof directly or indirectly leads to the death of a civilian in the course of a hate campaign conducted by one or more belligerents or irregulars.

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