Former politician Loyola Sullivan, now a vice-president with Ocean Choice International (OCI), was the keynote speaker Thursday at the annual Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council Employer of Distinction Awards at the Sheraton Hotel St. John’s. Sullivan used the occasion to call for sweeping change in the way the province’s fishery is regulated. Members of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union used the occasion to continue its fight with OCI over using replacement workers. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram
Canada’s former fisheries conservation ambassador says an ethics complaint against him has no basis.
Liberal fisheries critic Jim Bennett has asked the federal ethics and conflict of interest commissioner to investigate whether Loyola Sullivan violated conflict of interest guidelines by taking a vice-president position with Ocean Choice International (OCI) after four years in the ambassador role.
Sullivan resigned as ambassador to run for the Conservatives in last year’s federal election and took the Ocean Choice position — his brothers Martin and Blaine are the company’s CEO and chief operating officer, respectively — after losing the election.
Bennett says federal rules require a 12-month “cooling-off period” before a high-ranking official takes a position in the private sector that could take advantage of the office held.
But Sullivan, speaking after the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council’s annual awards luncheon — where he delivered the keynote speech — said the complaint has no basis.
Sullivan — whose speech echoed comments made by other Ocean Choice officials in calling for regulatory reform for the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery, which he said is on “life support” because of government overregulation — said he provided his job description to the commissioner and was told there was no difficulty with him taking the position.
He said Bennett has blown things out of proportion.
“As ambassador, I had no direct or significant dealings, I had no dealings, absolutely zero, with any Canadian company in terms of doing their business in Canada. Absolutely none,” he said.
“My job was solely to represent the minister. I was employed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and I represented the ministry on international matters and didn’t weigh in on any domestic matters. I didn’t participate in domestic decision-making.”
He said he doesn’t think his job as ambassador gives him an advantage in the forms of connections to people in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, at a time when the company is looking for policy changes that would benefit Ocean Choice.
“I’m not a lobbyer (sic) with DFO. That’s not my role. My role (at Ocean Choice) is to deal with resource management and sustainability,” he said.
Locked-out trawlermen — Ocean Choice workers critical of the company’s use of replacement workers to crew the Newfoundland Lynx fishing vessel — held an hourlong protest in an attempt to give Sullivan the “Best Scab Employer” award for Ocean Choice International.
Greg Pretty, industrial director for the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ union, which represents the workers, said it was a paradox for the keynote speaker at an event to honour employers come from a company that is using replacement workers and has recently closed two fish plants, putting more that 400 people out of work.
“We thought that was worthy of our own award, and we crafted the award and we went down there today and passed out leaflets, copies of the award, to people who were going into the dinner,” he said. “They can’t be allowed to get away with that type of behaviour in this province, and they can’t be accepted not only by the general public, but by the employers of this province.”
Sullivan, though, said he’s an employee of Ocean Choice — not an employer, despite the protesters’ award.
“I’m an employee. I work the same as hundreds, thousands of people, work with OCI. I’m the same as them out there,” he said. “I’m employed by them. I’m not in an ownership position, and I go to work every day and come home, and do my job, the same as they do. I’m not an employer. They want to make me an employer, well, fine, I think I’d need to have a share of a company if I’m an employer.”
Asked what he thinks of his employer’s use of replacement workers, Sullivan said he doesn’t speak on behalf of the company.
“I don’t speak on behalf of OCI. I’m not an owner, I’m not involved in the ownership of the company, and that’s something for them to speak with. I’m an employee who get up and go to work every day at 8:30, and I work until 5 or 6, and sometimes into the night,” he said.
That explanation held little weight with Pretty of the union?
“Loyola’s an employee?” he scoffed. “He’s carrying the ball for them publicly. He shows up at DFO meetings and represents the company at those, so he’s OCI. He’s one of the Sullivan brothers that operate OCI.”
Richard Alexander, the Employers’ Council’s executive director, said he was disappointed the FFAW chose to hold its protest during the awards.
“It’s a free country and they have the right to protest, but I think it’s unfortunate that they would pick the Employer of Distinction awards to have a protest like that,” he said. “What is the Employer of Distinction award? It’s to praise employers who are valuing their employees, and then encouraging other employers to do better and follow suit and do more for their employees and treat their employees as vital and integral to the employers’ success. So the fact that you would protest an event that’s trying to encourage employers to do more for their employees really goes against the whole point of the protest, I would think.”
Pretty disagreed with Alexander’s assessment.
“He’s still sooking about increases to the minimum wage, so I’m sure he’s mortified by the fact that unionized, locked-out workers would have a problem with OCI. I’m sure he doesn’t understand it,” he said.