Will the Fishery be a Top-Tier Government Priority?

As our thoughts begin to turn to that most festive of giving seasons, the last thing anyone wants to read right now is yet another post-federal election analysis.

Enough already you might be screaming at this moment, if you have even made it past the word election in the lead sentence.

But in the spirit of the season, let’s look at this early gift of a minority federal government that Santa or somebody has flicked under the proverbial fisheries Christmas tree.

Did you ever receive a gift from a friend, relative or acquaintance that you absolutely knew that no thought or consideration went into it? It is poorly wrapped with cheap, reused Christmas paper — probably has globs of tape on it and is partially torn open exposing the contents — possibly containing something that you gave them a year or two ago.

Do you know that feeling? Yes, this election outcome kind of feels like that crappy gift — you don’t care about it, didn’t really ask for it, but now you are stuck with it. So, what do you do now?

While the federal Liberals did not the run the 32-seat table that they did in 2015, the Justin Trudeau team still surprised a few by winning back 26 seats in Atlantic Canada. So, the Prime Minister has lots of potential candidates to chose from to fill the Fisheries Minister’s portfolio. But then again, who would have guessed that a rookie MP from Nunavut would fill the role in his inaugural cabinet four years ago? And the most recent minister was from British Columbia, so this is a hard one to call.

Obviously, with the new layout of the country, Atlantic Canadian fisheries stakeholders would prefer to see a regional minister holding down this job. With the Prime Minister’s Office having to deal with immediate pushback from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec, the amount of attention the folks on this end of the country will be getting will probably be few and far between. So at least a federal Fisheries Minister would, theoretically, keep regional industry issues on or near the cabinet table.

As for fisheries campaign promises, the Liberal platform was rather vague — probably done on purpose.

“From coast to coast to coast, the health of Canada’s oceans matters — to the people whose livelihoods depend on them and to the marine species, including whales and commercial fishing stocks, that cannot exist without them. To protect these important waters, we have moved forward with some of the strongest ocean conservation and protection plans in the world. To keep Canada’s oceans healthy, we will move forward with more investments in marine science and fighting invasive species, and will work with coastal communities, Indigenous communities and others to better protect fish stocks and marine habitats from changes resulting from climate change. This will include introducing Canada’s first-ever Aquaculture Act. In British Columbia, we will work with the province to develop a responsible plan to transition from open net pen salmon farming in coastal waters to closed containment systems by 2025.”

Other than the eye-raising comments about open net pen salmon farming in B.C., which has members of the aquaculture industry up in arms, it seemed like the Trudeau government means for business as usual in fisheries. On the flipside, one could also interpret these vague platitudes as a subtle way of telling those in the fishery that their industry will not exactly be at or near the top of the priority heap in this new political climate.

And speaking of the new political climate, what are the chances of anything actually being accomplished in a an obviously diverse, divisive, minority government? Many political commentators have given this government 18–24 months before it erupts into chaos and melts down and Canadians are off to the polls again.

However, everyone does not share that pessimistic view.

The country’s largest and most powerful fisheries union, the FFAW-Unifor, is actually calling the minority government an opportunity to advance fisheries issues.

“The election of a minority government should send a clear message to our elected officials that Canadians want to see more cooperation amongst the parties,” said Keith Sullivan, President of FFAW-Unifor.

“FFAW-Unifor will work with both Liberal and New Democratic Members of Parliament for Newfoundland and Labrador and hold them to the commitments made during the campaign.”

“Fighting for vibrant, sustainable coastal communities has always been a top priority for our union. We are optimistic that this progressive, minority government will share this goal and swiftly work to implement election commitments that will secure a future for the thousands of workers and families who rely on Newfoundland and Labrador’s inshore fishery.”

In response to a FFAW-Unifor’s Federal Election Questionnaire, both the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party made, what the union called “strong commitments to improve enforcement of owner-operator and fleet separation policies, to continue supporting the allocation of the first 115,000 metric tonnes of Northern cod to inshore harvesters, to take immediate action to address rising seal populations, to reform employment insurance in order to make it fair for seasonal workers and to ensure fish harvesters have a voice and a seat at fisheries science and management decision-making tables.”

With a monopoly of the seats in the last sitting of Parliament, the governing Liberals did live up to some of its 2015, fisheries-related election promises, including: reforming LIFO (last in, first out) policy related to the shrimp fishery, improving search and rescue infrastructure and equipment across the country, updating the Fisheries Act and restoring funding to the federal ocean science and monitoring programs.

But realistically, with anti-government sentiments coming from Quebec and western Canada, not to mention the vitriol that will be flying back and forth across the floor of the House of Commons, how much constructive, fisheries-related policy will be dealt with in this new Ottawa?

On the surface right now, all 338 MPs might be saying that they will try and get along because nobody wants to trigger another election. But how long will that last?

The late British politician R.A. Butler might have summed up the current political climate when he said “In politics you must always keep running with the pack. The moment that you falter and they sense that you are injured, the rest will turn on you like wolves.”

Merry Christmas folks. It is going to be an interesting ride.

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