But processing jobs may still be on the line in E.U. trade negotiations
Premier Kathy Dunderdale talks to reporters following the premier’s spring address to the St. John’s Board of Trade at the St. John’s Convention Centre Monday.
— Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Premier Kathy Dunderdale said on a cold night at the end of November, she stared down Prime Minister Stephen Harper over the Muskrat Falls loan guarantee, and she won.
Dunderdale said Harper pushed pretty hard to get the government to make concessions on the fishery and onshore minimum processing requirements in exchange for the Muskrat Falls loan guarantee, but Dunderdale wouldn’t agree to a “quid pro quo.”
But at the same time, Dunderdale said what she wouldn’t trade away in November may be negotiated away around a table in Brussels, Belgium, in the next couple weeks, as Canada and the European Union put the final touches on a free trade deal.
In a speech to the St. John’s Board of Trade Monday, Dunderdale said her government doesn’t often get the credit it deserves for the work it’s doing, and that was especially clear on the loan guarantee.
She gave new details on the behind-the-scenes frantic negotiations that took place in the leadup to the Dec. 1 loan guarantee announcement, and what it might mean for the future of the province’s fishery.
“I’ve got to tell you, I never worked for anything so hard in my life as I worked for that loan guarantee,” she said. “He made a commitment to us in the election of 2011; my job was to hold his feet to the fire, and that’s what I’ve done.”
The provincial government requires that fish landed in Newfoundland and Labrador have a minimum amount of onshore processing.
For months, rumblings coming out of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations between Canada and Europe have indicated that the European Union wants minimum processing requirements dropped as part of the deal.
Dunderdale said on the eve of the loan guarantee announcement, Harper’s then-chief of staff, Nigel Wright, was pushing the province to make concessions on minimum processing requirements in the fishery.
“You want to know what the racket was about on Nov. 29? It was about the fishery, and the prime minister wanted a quid pro quo on the loan guarantee,” Dunderdale said. “Poor old Nigel Wright, ears still ringing when I smacked the phone up.”
In the final hours before the loan guarantee was announced, the Prime Minister’s Office announced Harper would be visiting Labrador. Dunderdale told reporters that no deal was reached between the province and Ottawa on the loan guarantee, and she had no plans to travel to Labrador.
Dunderdale told reporters Monday that was brinksmanship; a deal hadn’t been finalized, and it almost all fell apart at the 11th hour over the minimum processing requirements issue.
Dunderdale said again, as recently as the May 24 long weekend, International Trade Minister Ed Fast was in Newfoundland to speak to Dunderdale.
While she said she wouldn’t agree to a trade-off between Muskrat Falls and the fishery, Dunderdale wouldn’t rule out negotiating away minimum processing requirements at the CETA negotiations in Brussels.
“When you’re doing any kind of a negotiation, there’s a give and a take. And so everything goes on the table and you might say, ‘I’m prepared to give this if I can get that,’” Dunderdale told reporters. “Like anything else, if there was going to be any kind of a trade-off, then you have to see what does that do for the fishing industry.”
Dunderdale said she expects the negotiations to wrap up in the next two weeks, but at the same time, she said it’s up to the people of the province to decide whether the government should eliminate minimum processing requirements.
“There’s more work that needs to be done, and we’re certainly prepared to have a discussion within the industry here at home, and within the population at large,” she said. “Fish is another one of our natural resources.”