Panel shows Ottawa not interested in fair royalty deal, N.S NDP say

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's Opposition NDP says Ottawa's appointee to a panel that will settle an obscure federal-provincial dispute that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars for the province shows the federal government isn't committed to reaching a fair deal.
The federal government has named Brian Lee Crowley as its representative on a three-member panel that will decide how much money Nova Scotia will receive under a complex and long-neglected royalty agreement known as the Crown share.
New Democrat Graham Steele said Crowley, the founding president of the right-leaning Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and now an adviser to the federal Finance Department, has made it clear he believes Nova Scotia is owed nothing from Ottawa.
''It's not too much of a stretch to suggest that he will already have made up his mind, namely that Nova Scotia should get nothing,'' Steele said in an interview.
''It indicates to me that the prime minister doesn't hold Nova Scotia in very high regard.''
The panel will be led by former Nova Scotia Supreme Court chief justice Lorne Clarke. Nova Scotia has appointed Halifax lawyer Dara Gordon to represent the province's interests.
Despite his concerns about Crowley, Steele said Clarke and Gordon were excellent choices.
''That's why we feel reassured that the result, whatever it is, will be fair to Nova Scotians.''
Crowley rejected the NDP's concerns about his views, insisting that his job is to interpret existing agreements rather than stake out a position.
''What all the members of the panel have been asked to do is act as independent examiners of the existing arrangements and to determine exactly what those documents commit both governments to do,'' Crowley said in an interview from Ottawa.
''I have not made up my mind about it. I think there's an important distinction to be made between determining what people are entitled to under the rules and what the rules should be - I've not been asked to comment on what the rules should be.''
Crowley, who has suggested federal equalization payments keep have-not provinces poor, said he has an open mind and believes the panel will work together to reach a fair settlement.
Chisholm Pothier, spokesman for federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, urged the critics to look at Crowley's resume.
''He's a highly respected and accomplished academic with extensive experience in public service and public analysis in both the private and public sector,'' he said.
''With those qualifications, the federal government is confident he will do an excellent job on the panel and that's why we appointed him.''
Premier Rodney MacDonald said he was confident the panel members will work together to come up with a fair settlement.
''The whole panel's job is to argue what is the right number,'' said MacDonald. ''At the end of the day, that's their job.''
The establishment of the panel, which will make a binding recommendation in March, was part of an agreement reached last October between Premier Rodney MacDonald and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to settle a dispute over equalization.MacDonald has said the province faced a $1 billion shortfall but the October agreement provides Nova Scotia with a guarantee that it will not lose any offshore energy royalties.
As well, the agreement said Ottawa and Nova Scotia would settle its dispute over the Crown share.
That dispute stretches back to 1986, when Ottawa promised Nova Scotia compensation for giving up its ownership interest in offshore resources.
But the federal government has never paid that compensation to Nova Scotia, which believes it's owed hundreds of millions of dollars.

Organizations: Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, Nova Scotia Supreme Court, NDP

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Ottawa

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