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Churchill Falls paper published in national public policy magazine

Drs. Mel Baker and James Feehan.

By Mandy Cook

An academic paper, published in the Dalhousie Law Journal and written by two Memorial scholars about the infamous lopsided Churchill Falls contract, is receiving some national play amongst Canadian politicians and senior federal policy advisers.

A summary version of that academic paper, “The Churchill Falls Contract and Why Newfoundlanders Can’t Get Over It,” by Dr. James Feehan, professor of economics, and Dr. Mel Baker, Memorial’s archivist-historian, has been included in the September issue of Canada’s premier public policy publication Policy Options.

The magazine is produced by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, an independent, national non-profit organization that seeks to improve public policy in Canada by generating research, providing insight and sparking debate on current and emerging policy issues facing Canadians and their governments.

Originally published in the spring 2007 issue of the Dalhousie Law Journal, a condensed version of the article was requested of Dr. Feehan and Dr. Baker by Policy Options editor and Montreal Gazette columnist L. Ian MacDonald earlier this summer. The request came about via Memorial’s Division of Marketing and Communications.

In response to Mr. MacDonald’s June 13 Montreal Gazette editorial criticizing Premier Danny Williams’ reaction to the unfavourable regulatory ruling in regard to transmission access through Quebec for the Lower Churchill development, Memorial University Gazette editor David Sorensen initiated an e-mail correspondence with the columnist. Since Mr. MacDonald had also criticized the premier’s complaints about the Churchill Falls contract, Mr. Sorensen provided Mr. MacDonald a copy of Dr. Feehan and Dr. Baker’s original paper as well.

“I felt that Mr. MacDonald didn’t have the whole story,” said Mr. Sorensen.
The exchange resulted in an invitation from Mr. MacDonald to the Memorial scholars to prepare a shorter version of the original paper for publication in the September edition of Policy Options.

“Inclusion in the magazine provides an opportunity for greater national awareness on the issue,” said Dr. Feehan. “Given the readership of Policy Options, the summary article will hopefully give experts in public policy issues a better understanding of what happened. Maybe it will lead to some of them deciding to read the more extensive article in the Dalhousie Law Journal.
Churchill Falls remains a contentious issue, especially in Newfoundland and Labrador. The value of the research is to inform the debate.”

Dr. Feehan and Dr. Baker both agree that their paper’s publication in the magazine at this point in time is consistent with the typical amount of coverage the Churchill Falls contract garners with the media and the public.

“The Churchill Falls issue seems to follow cycles,” said Dr. Baker. Dr. Feehan added: “It hits the news for a while and then peters out, only to re-surface some time later. Recently, Premier Williams brought it to attention in the context of the difficulties in getting the Lower Churchill development started. Earlier this year, the Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation [CFLCo] initiated court action in the Quebec courts to challenge the Churchill Falls contract. These types of events trigger national media coverage.”

Although Policy Options is read by a variety of influential individuals within the Canadian political, bureaucratic and academic landscape, Dr. Feehan said it is “difficult to know” how many people will read the issue or what kind of impact it may have – locally or nationally.

He pointed out, though, that the story of the Churchill Falls contract continues to generate heated debate amongst Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, as well as occasionally driving the provincial political mandate.

“However, as for the provincial government's actions, I'm not sure there is much of a link between them and how our findings may be received. The provincial government and CFLCo /Nalcor are pursuing their objectives (e.g., assessing development options for the Lower Churchill, challenging the Churchill Falls contract in court), whereas the research has really been focused on explaining the facts, explaining what happened, with regards to Churchill Falls.”