I don’t miss Danny Williams very often, but this was one of those times.
Williams was a master manipulator and the one trick he used over and over to swell public admiration was to continually play the “us versus them” card every chance he got. And by God we lapped it right up!
It was Us against the greedy oil companies. It was Us against Paul Martin on the Atlantic Accord. It was Us against Stevie Harper. It was Us against Quebec. And the list goes on and on and on and on.
Last week, an academic fellow told us that Europe is looking for Newfoundland and Labrador (and Quebec) to do away with minimum fish processing requirements as part of any Canada-Europe free trade agreement. It was further suggested that Ottawa is putting pressure on us to do the same in order to get this so-called Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) thing done.
In a report called Globalization, Trade Treaties and the Future of the Atlantic Canadian Fisheries, Scott Sinclair of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) said the proposals being floated around the free trade agreement threaten the Atlantic fishery’s sustainability.
He also says that if the province decides to do away with the minimum processing requirements it will lose a substantial amount of control when it comes to maximizing the benefits of fish resources for the people of the province.
As you might expect, politicians of all stripes have been piling on the bandwagon ever since, calling for heads to roll and commitments to be made insisting these requirements be upheld in any negotiation with Europe on free trade.
As much as the political wagon-hitching makes me throw up in my own mouth, I must admit it made me long for the days of Williams (swoon!). Oh! How he would’ve latched on to something like that! I can see him now, spewing venom and anger, dropping verbal nukes on our new adversaries. Those $%#@&$% Europeans! Or, alternatively, that $%#@&$% crowd in Ottawa!
Ah, the hyperbole would have been at the napalm level at least.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much ado at all. So, without the political theatre to distract, we’re left to ask some actual questions about this thing.
Is it possible a huge international free trade deal between Canada and Europe is being held up by a few fish in Atlantic Canada?
Considering that the province is already in the business of getting rid of minimum processing requirements (see the deal with OCI and Fortune) and sees it as the future model for fish processing, so would it really matter anyway?
How does getting rid of minimum processing help Europe economically? Won’t places with low-cost labour and shipping like China get the bulk of the processing action?
Sinclair says the federally established owner operator and fleet separation policies are safe. Oh wait, he added, maybe they’re not depending on the language that gets used in the agreement. So which is it?
It’s obvious some big changes are coming to the fish processing business in this province and country, and recent moves are starting to raise the biggest question of all: at what point will there be no fish processed on land in Newfoundland and Labrador?
With markets changing, economic uncertainty, currency issues, inflating expenses, plants closing, labour shortages, government and companies moving towards a larger vessel/whole shipping model on groundfish, the growth in groundfish numbers, and with shellfish resources like crab and shrimp on the decline in some areas off Newfoundland and Labrador, that day may be closer than anyone realizes.
Jamie Baker is the managing editor for The Navigator magazine, www.thenavigatormagazine.com