The Saint Croix Courier

St. Stephen, NB

2006 March 8

Thompson firm on LNG


ST. STEPHEN — No gauntlet was thrown down, there are no fences that need mending, and no ultimatum was delivered.

That's the word from New Brunswick Southwest MP Greg Thompson on how things stand between him, the federal government and St. Andrews Mayor John Craig.

Thompson, who is the federal Minister of Veterans Affairs, spoke on a number of issues at a meeting of the St. Stephen Milltown Rotary Club Monday in his first invitational speaking engagement since winning re-election in this riding and being named to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet.

Interviewed after the meeting, Minister Thompson commented on a recent statement made by Mayor Craig, who said he was giving Thompson and the Prime Minister 60 days to act on the issue of whether Canada would allow liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers to travel through Head Harbour Passage and the Passamaquoddy Bay to offload at terminals in Maine, one of which is situated directly across the bay from St. Andrews.

The media said the mayor had delivered an ultimatum; Mayor Craig said he hadn't.

"In this business of politics things can be spun out of context, I suppose is the easiest way of saying it," said Minister Thompson.

"John did call my office to make sure he made it perfectly clear that he wasn't sort of laying down an ultimatum for me or the prime minister because he knows what our position is on that.

"He wanted to make that perfectly clear — that it was not an ultimatum and I accepted that. I think some newspapers chose to portray it as sort of laying down the gauntlet, which was not quite the case.

"There's no hard feelings, because even myself, I guess from time to time, I'm taken out of context. You have to be careful what you say in this business.

"That was a case of the spin on them was greater than the words spoken by the mayor," said the minister, who noted that he had not spoken personally to Mayor Craig on the issue.

Minister Thompson said he didn't feel Mayor Craig delivered any message in "dictatorial terms."

The minister said the call to his office from the St. Andrews mayor was an effort to make sure that both he and the Prime Minister were aware that St. Andrews was appreciative of "what we were doing, what we've already done."

And as for whether Canada will allow the supertankers carrying LNG to travel in internal Canadian waters, Minister Thompson said the answer to that remains unchanged.

"No means no," he stated emphatically.

"As the prime minister has stated we will use every diplomatic and legal means to defend our position," said Minister Thompson.

"We're saying those waters are internal Canadian waters and we're saying 'no' to LNG. So there would be no point in applying (for permission from Canada) because we've already said 'no.'

"I'm not an international lawyer, but my opinion would be that they'd have to take it to an international court of law to determine whether they can in fact go through those waters.

"But we're saying they are internal Canadian waters. We're saying 'no' for the obvious reasons and it will be up to them to challenge that position," stated Minister Thompson.

One of the Rotary members, who is a resident of St. Andrews, called the three proposed LNG projects in Maine "a nightmare," and asked Minister Thompson what the community could do to emphasize to the government how important it is that the projects not be allowed to become reality.

Minister Thompson, who lives in the area and brought the concerns of the New Brunswick communities that would be affected to his Conservative caucus before the election, said he thinks Ottawa has already got the message.

He said the federal government echoes the concerns of Premier Bernard Lord in saying, "we don't believe this is a good project and as the premier said, this is not a smart location and not a safe location."

Minister Thompson said he felt everyone had done their homework and, very early in the game, the Conservatives took a stand that remains unchanged to this day.

"So you've got the prime minister now saying this is not a safe location and that we reserve the right to say 'no'," said Minister Thompson.

"And when he says and we say that we'll use every diplomatic and legal means to defend that position, that's about as good as it gets."

Minster Thompson said that he met last summer with a number of American government leaders in the United States on the LNG issue as it pertains to Charlotte County.

Among those he met with was Richard Hoffman, the director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, who told him that Canada has a right to say 'no' to the passage of ships through its waters.

When questioned why the proponents of the LNG projects keep holding public meetings and talk as if Canada won't be able to stop them from happening, Minister Thompson replied people couldn't expect the proponents to say anything but positive things about the LNG projects.

He noted, however, that they do leave out quite a few factors when presenting their case.

"One of those factors is that there is some reservation within the United States itself in the regulatory agency on where they would stand in terms of if we did say 'no.' Some of them in government are saying if Canada makes that decision, in the words of Richard Hoffman, 'it's over'."

"Why don't we say 'no' now?" Minister Thompson was asked.

"We have said 'no'," he replied.

Minister Thompson speculated the project proponents may eventually challenge Canada's position through an international court and the case would be arbitrated by international law to see "whether our position holds or their position holds."

"In the meantime, there is a regulatory process in the U.S., and that's not exactly a slam dunk either," said Minister Thompson.

He said the proponents never present that process in their discussions with the public, because it is one they haven't gone through yet.

"That's a fairly exhaustive process in itself, and there's no assurances even in the American regulatory side as to whether that would be a 'no' or a 'go'," said Minister Thompson.

"You have to remember the proponents of the project are very aggressive and they're going to say what they want to say and they're going to take a position that's obviously supportive of the project and that will never change."


© 2006 Advocate Media
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.

The Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB