Liberal MP Gerry Byrne wants to know what, exactly, the federal government is paying $280 million for.
Earlier this week, Premier Kathy Dunderdale announced that they’re setting up a $400 million fund for fisheries industry development tied to the new Canada-Europe free trade deal. The province will kick in $120 million and Ottawa will pay $280 million.
Since the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Europe was signed in principle two weeks ago, Dunderdale has said it will have no negative effect on the province’s fishery, despite the fact that it requires the government to partially lift minimum processing requirements (MPR).
Byrne says he doesn’t buy it.
“What we do know is that they have identified a problem and that they’re prepared to apply $280 million and $120 million in some sort of fix to the problem,” he said.
When Dunderdale announced the money on Tuesday, she said the money wasnt’ to offset economic impact.
“While the economic impact of it wasn’t significant anymore in terms of the European Union, politically it was significant, culturally it was significant, and we needed to talk about what we were going to do about that,” she said.
Byrne said that simply can’t be true.
“The federal Treasury Board of Canada would not approve $280 million for a political problem,” he said. “You can’t just go and say listen, we’ve got a political problem with CETA; I need some cash to buy off Newfoundland. It doesn’t work that way.”
Byrne sat on the Treasury Board back when the Liberals were in government, and he’s the party’s Treasury Board critic so he said he’s got a bit of experience with what’s required to get a big hunk of money approved by the federal government.
“In order for the federal cabinet to authorize $280 million, a cabinet paper has to be prepared with the consent of Treasury Board and Finance,” he said. “That cabinet paper must: define the problem, identify sources of revenue to solve the problem, identify solutions to the problem and clearly articulate the outcomes.”
Byrne is calling on the federal government to release those cabinet papers to give people a clearer picture of what’s involved in the CETA deal.
The Telegram requested a comment from International Trade Minister Ed Fast. He did not do an interview with The Telegram.
His press secretary, Rudy Husney acknowledged that the CETA deal will have a negative effect on Newfoundland and Labrador fish plant workers, and that’s what the money was for.
“The program will address fish and seafood industry development and renewal as well as workers whose jobs are displaced in future as result of MPRs no longer being applied to product destined for the EU,” Husney wrote in an email.
“Details of the program, beyond this general intent and the cost-sharing, are still to be sorted out between the federal and provincial governments. We are committed to working closely with the N.L. government on the development of these details, and we have instructed officials to proceed to do this.”
The $400 million fund doesn’t actually kick in until the CETA deal comes into force, which is expected to be in 2015.
Byrne said that doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense.
CETA includes restrictions on what sort of subsidies can be given to industries, in the name of levelling the field economically.
He said by waiting until after it’s come into force to spend the $400 million, it’s just tying the hands of government.