The Game is Afoot

It has been a while since the old Navigator time machine has been fired up and taken for a spin.

Hopefully it should not take too much coaxing to turn over the engine as we take a quick hop back to the days following October 19, 2015. A four-year spin should hopefully not burn too much fuel, since we are not sure if time machines fall under the new carbon tax legislation or not.

Anyway, let’s take a short walk back to the days after the Liberal red tide washed over the shores of Atlantic Canada. Justin Trudeau batted a perfect 1.000 in this region — winning all 32 federal seats. No small feat, even in a region with strong, entrenched Liberal roots.

But right now, it is unclear whether red will be the pervasive colour after this fall’s federal election on Oct. 21, or if we will be seeing splotches of blue, orange or even green sprouting up through the cracks.

By the increased level of federal funding announcements (see this month’s Waterfront news brief section), notably from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and a constant parade of MPs and cabinet ministers in this region as of late, it appears there is also a lot of uncertainty from the governing Grits as well.

As with any governing party, many votes will depend on its record. In other words, did the government live up to the many promises and commitments it made to secure the votes needed to win?

Regarding the fishing industry in Atlantic Canada, the party of Justin Trudeau made many promises and received many specific requests. In 2015, there was a general consensus that issues related to the fishery in Atlantic Canada had suffered from a lack of attention on the federal front for some time and a change in Ottawa could only improve this deplorable situation. With the help of our time machine, let’s review this ample list of 2015 pledges, asks and wants.

At the time, many processors in the Maritimes were facing massive worker shortages and were demanding rules changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP). Has this situation been improved? Not really. The Liberals did tweak the TFWP a little, but processors are still facing critical worker shortages today.

How about improvements to overall quota allocations? This has always been a tempest in a teapot and the majority will agree that not much has changed — despite what side of the industry fence you are sitting on. And the few attempts the Liberals made to “improve” certain quota allocations did not exactly work out as planned — remember Clearwater Arctic surf clams? And that’s just one extreme example.

Do you remember the much talked about CETA fishery fund? Many in Newfoundland and Labrador certainly do.

Depending on who you talk to, it was supposed to be the immediate transfer to Newfoundland and Labrador of $280 million, the federal government’s share of the $400-million innovation fund that was created as part of the CETA (The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) negotiations to build the province’s fishery of the future (the province to contribute the other $120 million).

Well, the CETA fund kind of never did come to fruition, not as it was perceived in Newfoundland and Labrador anyway. From its ashes emerged the Atlantic Fisheries Fund (AFF), a contribution program funded jointly by the federal, provincial and territorial governments. It will invest over $400 million over seven years to support Canada’s fish and seafood sector. The federal government is to provide 70 per cent of the funding, while 30 per cent comes from participating provinces and territories.

It appeared the federal Liberals quickly learned they could not give to some and omit others.

What about a simple and straightforward topic known as joint management of the fishery? And no, we are not referring to legally smoking weed on the wharf — which you can do now by the way. That promise was kept.

While the hot tamale of joint management gets bantered about during each election, no industry stakeholder ever expects much progress to made on this front — no matter who is sitting in the Fisheries and Oceans minister’s chair.

Perhaps the parade of characters holding this office during the current administration might have something to do with little progress being made on this front.

Many fisheries insiders and prognosticators were predicting it was a foregone conclusion that, with 32 MPs to pick from, the new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans would be coming from Atlantic Canada. Will that did not exactly work out as planned. Few would have guessed that DFO’s new boss would be a rookie MP from Nunavut. Remember the now beleaguered Hunter Tootoo?

Even when an Atlantic Canadian finally got the post, namely one Dominic LeBlanc, the controversy did not exactly end. Trudeau finally parachuted a minster from British Columbia in to try and hold down the fort.

But to be fair, the Trudeau Liberals have lived up to some of their 2015 fisheries-related election promises.

The controversial and divisive LIFO (last in, first out) policy related to the shrimp fishery has, for the most part, been reformed.

The Liberals have also lived up to the commitment to improve search and rescue infrastructure and equipment across the country, including reopening marine rescue substations closed during the Stephen Harper era.

The Liberals, in their 2015 election platform, also promised to review changes to the Fisheries Act and restore funding to the federal ocean science and monitoring programs. The federal Liberals committed to increasing the amount of Canada’s marine and coastal areas that are protected, to five per cent by 2017 and 10 per cent by 2020, restoring $1.5 million in annual federal funding for freshwater research and investing $200 million in technology for the natural resource sector including forestry, fisheries, mining, energy and agricultural sectors.

And, for the most part, the government is relatively on track to meet these targets.

So, what happens now? Unfortunately, until we get an upgrade, The Navigator time machine can only travel back in time, not forward, thus we can’t tell you the outcome of this fall’s federal election.

Were enough fishing-related promises kept to appease the harvesters, processors and others depending on this industry for them to mark an X for the Liberals? Or will the torch be passed back to the Conservatives for another four-year go around?

This is a tough one to predict, but you can be guaranteed that there will be a litany of fisheries policy promises and commitments coming over the following weeks. How many will be kept down the road? Well, that’s real question now isn’t it? Let the games begin.

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