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The Great Gatsby


Earlier this week, Premier Danny Williams disparagingly referred to Justice Clement Gascon as "The Great Gatsby." Surely, that reference to the title character of F. Scott Fitzgerald's famed novel was uttered hastily while the premier was discounting the recent decision of the Quebec Judge regarding AbitibiBowater and a potential multi-million dollar cleanup of the Grand Falls mill. In the novel, Gatsby, an independently wealthy man to be begin with, has his dream of love corrupted by a desire for money and the dishonesty of others. In the end, the pursuit of happiness turns into a search for more of the almighty dollar, which backfires for all involved.

Earlier this week, Premier Danny Williams disparagingly referred to Justice Clement Gascon as "The Great Gatsby."

Surely, that reference to the title character of F. Scott Fitzgerald's famed novel was uttered hastily while the premier was discounting the recent decision of the Quebec Judge regarding AbitibiBowater and a potential multi-million dollar cleanup of the Grand Falls mill.

In the novel, Gatsby, an independently wealthy man to be begin with, has his dream of love corrupted by a desire for money and the dishonesty of others. In the end, the pursuit of happiness turns into a search for more of the almighty dollar, which backfires for all involved.

The AbitibiBowater saga is all about money, most of it being paid out, it seems, by the people of this province.

But we can't be sure, since no one is able to give concrete numbers yet.

The environmental cleanup is said to be worth at least $200 million, with legal fees around the whole matter now at near $8 million surely increasing with the upcoming May 12 Quebec Court of Appeal case regarding Justice Gascon's decision. Severance to workers cost roughly $37 million. Another $59 million for Nalcor to take over payments owed by Fortis for the Exploits River Hydro Partnership. NAFTA claims might total $300 million or more, but, of course, that is a federal matter. No doubt taxpayers of this province will pay for it one way or another, though.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador rushed into Buchans in early October to announce the cleanup there, which was a relief to those residents living under a cloud of uncertainly - and lead dust - for years.

The very same government issued clean up orders to the former AbitibiBowater mill and other areas shortly after. We now know the mill was owned at that point not by Abitibi but the government.

The only clean up that has been done at the mill property was performed by local contractors in March 2009 to remove hazardous waste from the site. Those contractors are still not paid.

There are questions as to who will pay for any of this clean up of the Abitibi properties, but there is no cleaning being done at present.

Why not?

The government ordered the former owners to remediate their properties, holdings that the people of the province now own because of the bungled expropriation.

Government has stepped in to make the Buchans area safe to live in.

In the House of Assembly last week, Environment Minister Charlene Johnson said Abitibi has a year to submit a remediation plan to government for clean up in Botwood, Stephenville, Grand Falls-Windsor, Buchans and some logging camps. Until that plan has been received, she could not give the House "a firm, actual cost."

The day before, on April 21, Premier Williams said Abitibi "owes us anywhere from $200 million to $300 million in environmental liabilities for the mess that they left us."

Around every turn in the Abitibi expropriation, there is something that stinks, and it is not the sulfur used years ago in the paper making process.

One thing is for sure, though.

Like the Great Gatsby's dream of success in love, the Williams' government's bid to secure the riches from hydro power for the people of the province seems to be backfiring.

At the end of the day, it may very well cost much more than the water of the Exploits can generate.

David Newell

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