Tuesday, May 08, 2007

No quotas, no chance, no way

It's not the first time this provincial government has tried to get through the back door what they failed to get at the front door. But this time the lives and livelihoods of a huge number of vulnerable plantworkers and harvesters from all across the province are being held hostage.

Let's review: FPI has made arrangements to sell chunks of itself to a host of interests both inside and outside the province. These sales are governed by the FPI Act such that the government of NL must provide approval for these asset transfers.

So what is Minister Rideout's position? Does he want to expedite the sale of these interests in order to get people back to work as soon as possible?

No. Instead this government has decided to strike with sudden power grab. The Government of Canada, insists Minister Rideout, must turn over control of groundfish quotas that FPI now holds to the Newfoundland and Labrador government. He says the provincial government is making its unusual request so that Newfoundland and Labrador communities remain the primary beneficiaries of quotas that FPI currently holds.

This looks like nothing more than an expedient attempt to politically blackmail a federal minister on the ropes.

Remember that there is no doubt anywhere that, legally and constitutionally, the federal government is the sole authority over harvesting in the oceans. So what Rideout is asking for is for a unilateral transfer of federal authority and constitutional jurisdiction.

Oddly, federal Minister Hearn is not quite so enthused to do that when exactly the the same provincial benefits can be achieved through simply setting conditions on where groundfish can be landed. It's done all the time. But now, today, in this case, that's not good enough for Rideout and company and so war with the feds on yet another front must be waged.

Premier Danny Williams said he was not surprised by the federal Conservatives' stand, particularly in the midst of an ongoing battle over equalization.

He is wrong; equalization has absolutely nothing to do with the substance of this issue and he has to know that. The fact is that there is no way under any circumstances that the feds are about to formally transfer any authority to the province when a simple administrative process would do the job.

FFAW president Earle McCurdy said his members are worried about a political struggle overshadowing their need to get back to work.

They should be worried.

For the same reasons this fishing restructuring process has stalled under new demands by Premier Williams in the 11th hour, thousands of oil sector jobs across the province have already evaporated. The experienced and trained oil workers are mobile and their skills are in high demand in other jurisdictions - they are out of sight and out of mind.

But these idle plantworkers and harvesters are more likely to stay where they are and become a festering problem.

This government's ability to handle issues of major provincial economic public policy is hampered by it's hamfisted inability to play with others. Let's hope government is more sensible over fish than oil.

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