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Fast and loose

First, let's get one thing straight: Stephen Harper can't be trusted. Harper and his cabinet have proven this many times over the past eight years

His promise, before becoming prime minister, to remove oil revenues from the equalization formula was his first big whopper.

And the trend has continued.

Premier Paul Davis already knew this. (If he didn't, it would reflect an alarming disengagement with respect to recent federal-provincial relations.)

So, when Davis stated as much after an unfruitful meeting with the prime minister Dec. 12, his script was already written. He had hoped against hope for a change of heart from Harper - perhaps a heart growing three sizes that day - but Mr. Grinch typically let him down.

The $280 million Ottawa promised the province last year to give up minimum processing requirements (MPRs) as part of the Canada-Europe free trade deal appears to have evaporated.

The way in which negotiations unfolded in the spring of 2013 has been examined on these pages numerous times.

Federal minister Ed Fast used cautious words to keep obligations vague. Even his agreement on what the fund would be earmarked for was not firm.

Davis points to a correspondence in which Fast concedes the fund will "address industry development and renewal as well as worker displacement."

But here's Fast's full statement: "We are prepared to instruct our officials that the transition program address industry development and renewal as well as worker displacement."

Not exactly contract language.

And Newfoundland has a bigger problem. While it can be broadly demonstrated the feds reneged on some sort of deal, the province has done a poor job explaining why the fund was necessary in the first place.

Here's then premier Kathy Dunderdale in October 2013: "Within the industry itself and within government, we don't see any impact coming from an exemption to MPRs for the European Union."

And here's Keith Hutchings, in a letter to the editor a year ago: "Some critics have tried to create the impression that without minimum processing requirements for European markets, provincial plants will be unable to compete internationally and will fold. This is somewhat insulting to both small and large fish processors in the province, which are already competing very successfully in international markets."

So, losing MPRs was not going to be a problem, but the province needs money just for playing along?

There are plenty of good reasons to demand money from Ottawa when it comes to the fishery. Mismanagement of the cod stocks, for example. Or the gutting of federal research and enforcement. But getting rid of a protection the province says wasn't needed anyway is a hard one to sell.

Essentially, it's like asking for a bonus for being good boys and girls.

St. John's Telegram

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