Furey says upcoming talks with Quebec premier are discussions, not negotiations, on Churchill Falls

Premier Andrew Furey says upcoming talks with Quebec Premier François Legault are 'discussions,' not negotiations, about Churchill Falls. (Mike Simms/CBC - image credit)
Premier Andrew Furey says upcoming talks with Quebec Premier François Legault are 'discussions,' not negotiations, about Churchill Falls. (Mike Simms/CBC - image credit)
Mike Simms/CBC
Mike Simms/CBC

On the eve of Quebec Premier François Legault's visit to St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey downplayed the significance of any discussions about the Churchill Falls contract.

Furey, speaking with reporters Wednesday, said "very high-level" discussions would happen Friday but wouldn't go so far as to call them negotiations.

"At this point I would use the word 'discussions' and not 'negotiations.' What happens after Friday, I will certainly provide an update," he said. He added, however, that Legault seems to be approaching the talks "with a sense of urgency" to secure new sources of energy for Quebec.

"I think if you look at the disruption in the energy markets, specifically as it pertains to Quebec, there is an urgent need in Quebec, not just for export but for domestic use," Furey said.

In January, Furey said there wasn't a guarantee negotiations would even happen, adding it was important to note Hydro-Quebéc still owns nearly 35 per cent of Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation Limited. At the time, Furey said if negotiations were to happen, he was "comfortable" with Newfoundland and Labrador's negotiating position.

On Wednesday, he reiterated that point.

"Newfoundland and Labrador is in a great position, and we will make sure that we exercise the appropriate timeline to do the right deal for Newfoundland and Labrador," Furey said.

"Since I took over we managed to take care of Muskrat Falls with the rate mitigation deal. We are in a good position because of that. The economy has turned around. We're not on bended knee to Quebec. Quebec is coming to us."

Churchill Falls supplies nearly 15 per cent of Quebec's electricity needs. The contract, which took effect in 1969, is set to expire in 2041, and has been a sore spot for Newfoundland and Labrador for decades. The province is locked into selling electricity to Quebec for the rock-bottom price of 0.2 cents per kilowatt-hour to Quebec, which sells

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press
Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Legault has said there's interest in expanding the Churchill Falls dam and building a new project at Gull Island, also on the Churchill River.

On Wednesday, Legault told reporters said striking a new deal will take time and won't be easy.

"There's an opening for both sides. Of course it will have to be a win-win agreement," he said.

"We know that it's important for us to renew the contract after 2041 as soon as possible because it needs about 15 years before building a new dam. So we need to know what will be our capacity starting in 2041."

Legault said Newfoundland and Labrador will have some demands, which he said he will listen to and balance to find a deal that is a good fit for both sides.

Need a gesture of good faith: Brazil

Interim PC Leader David Brazil said the situation is "alarming" and "confusing."

"We're reading that the premier of Quebec is talking about coming here for negotiations. The premier of Newfoundland and Labrador is talking about having discussions. We need to know what's happening on Friday," Brazil told reporters.

"Is there already a deal that's been struck? Is there already some conversations about what Quebec will benefit from this? What the time frames will be? The initial conversation here should be about how do we rectify the wrongs of the past and make sure that in good faith there's a negotiated deal that benefits the people of Newfoundland and Labrador."

Brazil said there's a lot of making up to do for the last 60 years and there has to be a gesture of good faith and Furey needs to release the details of the meeting after it happens.

He said he would like to see some compensation paid to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Furey said there haven't been discussions among officials from Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador about a new Churchill Falls contract, other than the conversations he has had with Legault over the last 2½ years.

The premier wouldn't provide details Wednesday on what will be discussed in Friday's meeting, saying he didn't want to reveal Newfoundland and Labrador's commercial interests ahead of time.

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