Furey, Legault meeting on Churchill Falls ends with agreement to talk more

Quebec Premier Francois Legault, left, and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey speak to reporters after a meeting about Churchill Falls on Friday. (Matthieu Potvin/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Quebec Premier Francois Legault, left, and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey speak to reporters after a meeting about Churchill Falls on Friday. (Matthieu Potvin/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The meeting lasted less than two hours, but Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey and Quebec Premier Francois Legault emerged from their sit-down about Churchill Falls agreeing on a few things.

One is that the deal between Newfoundland and Quebec is a bad one. Another is that Churchill Falls is worth a lot of money these days — last year, Hydro-Québec raked in a record $4.6 billion in profit, one-third of which comes from selling the cheap power guaranteed by the Churchill Falls contract.

They also left the meeting, which Furey described as "historic," with a plan to put together a team to talk about the infamous contract and what happens when it ends in 2041.

But there were few other details coming from what the pair both described as "high-level talks."

Injustice or bad deal

Legault arrived in St. John's on Thursday and had dinner with Furey at the restaurant at The Rooms provincial archives and museum.

The two leaders held a photo op ahead of their morning meeting — a meeting Furey wouldn't refer to as a negotiation.

Furey started the news conference talking about the "deep sense of hurt that exists within the culture and fabric of Newfoundland and Labrador because of that contract."

Legault followed with an acknowledgement of that hurt.

"I fully understand the frustration and the anger that you have, that you feel about the Churchill Falls contract," he said.

But even though Furey referred to a "real injustice — the fiscal injustice," Legault would only say he considered it "a bad deal."

"We cannot rewrite the history, but we can shape the future together," he said.

"I've been in business for a long time before politics, and I've learned that it's always better to have a win-win contract for the long term if we want lasting and fruitful partnership," Legault said.

It's a phrase Legault kept going back to, in both French and English – win-win or gagnant-gagnant.

Furey also used the press conference to debut a new-for-him phrase — "the art of the possible" – using it at least six times while speaking to reporters.

The phrase is part of a quote from 19th-century German statesman Otto von Bismarck, who said, "Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best."

François Legault/Twitter
François Legault/Twitter

Big profits

In Hydro-Québec's 2022 annual report, released earlier this week, Quebec's Crown energy corporation reported its highest-ever earnings, up almost a billion dollars from the year before. Nearly $3.5 billion of that money went back to the Quebec government.

Hydro-Québec's annual report noted the average export sale price in 2022 was 8.2 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Furey has described power needs in Quebec as "urgent, not just for export but for domestic use," and Legault has made renewing the deal a priority as the province tries to lower emissions and meet its growing electricity needs.

Furey — responding to the export prices and citing disrupted energy markets — said the generating station "gets more valuable by the day."

Interim PC Leader David Brazil says a few things need to be clarified, including the difference between "discussions" and "negotiations," and what exactly is being discussed or negotiated. He also said the province is entitled to some form of financial compensation or support.

"This would be an opportunity for Quebec and the Hydro-Québec to show good faith before they go into a long-term negotiations," said Brazil.

He said the biggest issues are whether the province has the best team to enter negotiations with Quebec, and whether Quebec will bargain in "good faith."

"I'm urging the premier not to rush anything here. Don't sign a long-term agreement if it's not in the best interest of Newfoundanders and Labradorians as part of this process."

Torngat Mountains NDP MLA Lela Evans said negotiations for any new deal must include consultations with Newfoundland and Labrador's Indigenous people.

"A part of that fair deal is making sure that Indigenous parties are engaged, and that they're part of agreements, long-term agreements, and they're not going to be negatively impacted by changes made by a provincial government acting unilaterally," she said.

Both Furey and Legault said they consider Indigenous consultation ahead of any new developments to be a priority.

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