Crosbie says pact for security perimeter is logical next step

Newfoundland and Labrador Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie, a champion of free trade with the United States while in federal politics, says a North American perimeter security pact is a logical next step.

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie, a champion of free trade with the United States while in federal politics, says a North American perimeter security pact is a logical next step.

“In light of what’s been happening in recent years, and particularly since the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, this appears to me to be perfectly sensible,” he said in a recent interview.

“The United States is a huge customer of ours and we of the United States. And security now being such a major issue for every government, it seems to me that this would be quite a proper step if it can be worked out.”

A widely anticipated meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama was delayed this month as officials grapple with complex details.

Proponents say harmonized tracking of anyone who enters and leaves the continent could ease security at the Canada-U.S. border, freeing up the flow of vehicles and cargo.

Canadian business leaders have complained of costly log jams since 9-11.

Critics of the potential pact say increased collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security would raise privacy and sovereignty concerns.

Crosbie commented on those talks as he reflected on his tenure as the Queen’s representative in the province and on a tumultuous life in public service.

He is more than midway through a five-year vice-regal term as he prepares to celebrate his 80th birthday on Jan. 30.

During an interview at his office in Government House in St. John’s, Crosbie touched on the legitimacy of coalition governments, the lack of zeal for the provincial Tory leadership, the health scare that led to his acquired taste for dark rum and the legacy of former prime minister Brian Mulroney.

As speculation swirls of a federal election this spring, Harper has publicly warned that opposition parties would try to form a coalition to thwart another Conservative minority government.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that, in a parliamentary democracy, coalition governments (are) permissible,” Crosbie said.

“The Governor General has to be satisfied that they represent a majority of the members of the House of Commons. And if that’s done through coalition, and you’re head of the coalition, it’s perfectly legitimate for you to be appointed prime minister.”

A key point is whether that body has a leader who can win a vote of confidence, Crosbie said.

On the provincial front, Crosbie was surprised at the lack of interest in the top Progressive Conservative job vacated when former premier Danny Williams dramatically quit politics last month.

“This hasn’t happened too often,” said the former Tory warrior who proudly bears the scars of both federal and provincial leadership battles.

Just one potential contender — a small business owner with thin ties to the provincial party — arose to challenge acting premier Kathy Dunderdale, hand-picked for the interim job by Williams. But the party rejected the legitimacy of Brad Cabana’s support among bona fide Tory members. He has appealed the decision.

“When I ran in the federal leadership (in 1983), our polling indicated I had the support of about three per cent of the delegates,” Crosbie recalled. “I said: ’Shag it. I don’t care if there’s three per cent. I’ll try it anyway.’

“Nothing would stop me running if there was a leadership.”

He finished a strong third behind Mulroney and Joe Clark.

Physically, Crosbie is a shadow of the strapping, larger than life federal minister who could disarm even the toughest crowd with a single sound bite.

A tall man who once tipped the scales at 220 pounds, he dropped to 178 pounds after a bout of viral pneumonia almost two years ago. He lost much of his sense of taste after treatment of a lower throat ailment, he said.

He has gained back a few pounds but was never much of a vegetable eater. “Since I can’t taste the bloody stuff, I’m not interested in eating it.

“Rum is my drink now because it’s got a taste to it,” Crosbie said.

He prefers the richness of dark rums such as Fernandes or Lamb’s.

“Screech is all right in a pinch.”

As he flipped through a copy of the provincial economic review for 2010, Crosbie marvelled at how offshore oil wealth has vaulted Newfoundland and Labrador from the have-not doldrums.

The province is now eclipsing other parts of Canada in growth as it forecasts a modest budget surplus. Tourism is soaring as an award-winning ad campaign draws record numbers to the Rock.

“It’s very gratifying to see how well we’re doing.”

In a crystal decanter at Government House is a sample of the first oil drawn from the Hibernia discovery well in 1979. Beside it, a glass plaque dated Jan. 23, 2009, marks one billion barrels of oil produced offshore.

Fighting for the federal support needed to develop the Hibernia oilfield preoccupied much of Crosbie’s 17-year political tenure in Ottawa ending in 1993. He credits the steadfast backing of Mulroney — a man he says history will treat with respect.

“He will go down as one of our major prime ministers. He’s going to look much better than he may look at the moment, or because of all this business with … (German-Canadian arms dealer Karlheinz) Schreiber.

“You have to take the bad with the good,” Crosbie said of politics. “You ask people to vote for you because you’re going to do everything you can for them — and then you’ve got to try to do everything you can for them. No matter what. ”I hope that’s what I tried to do.“