Liberal fisheries critic Jim Bennett
Liberal fisheries critic Jim Bennett is sticking to his guns, demanding that the government do more to save the New Ferolle fish plant, but he also admitted to the Telegram that he may have made false statements in a news release on the issue last week.
On Wednesday afternoon, Fisheries Minister Derrick Dalley sent out a news release blasting Bennett, calling his comments about the New Ferolle plant “irresponsible and misleading.”
In recent months, the government has been criticized for increasingly partisan, vicious news releases written by ostensibly non-political public service communications staff in government, and distributed using the government apparatus.
In this case, though, Dalley said he just wanted to correct information that was flatly dishonest.
A June 10 Liberal news release said, “the minister has agreed to a move which will see the community lose its whelk license at the whim of the operator.”
Dalley said that’s simply not true. “I guess my release was in response to Mr. Bennett’s release, because quite frankly he indicated in his release that the minister has agreed to move a whelk licence from a community,” Dalley said. “It was absolutely misleading, false, wrong, lie, call it what you will.”
Bennett admitted to The Telegram the information in his news release may not be accurate. He said he approves releases, but doesn’t actually write them, and he’d have to go back and read what he actually said.
“I might be wrong on that,” he said. “If I’m wrong on that, I’m simply wrong. I need to go back and read what I actually said. I don’t know if transfer is imminent or if it said it has been transferred out.”
Apparently there was a newspaper ad in the local paper for New Ferolle advertising that the owner is looking at moving it out, but Dalley said there’s no application before the licensing board, and a request hasn’t made it to the minister’s desk.
Bennett said his core point, though, is still solid; the government should be doing more for New Ferolle, and he said he thinks it’s funny that the minister is going after him.
“I find it amusing when the minister attacks the critic — and they do it regularly,” he said. “I think the critic is the one that’s attacking the minister, and the minister should be saying exactly what the facts are, but instead of that, this government has a tendency to attack the messenger when they don’t like the messenger.”
The government sold the New Ferolle plant to Deep Atlantic Sea Products for a dollar in 2009. Since then, Bennett said the owner has been failing to pay fishermen and “riding roughshod” over the community. He said the company has been moving equipment from the plant.
“To add insult to injury, his trucks show up, and they’re trucking the product to his plant in St. Mary’s. So the fishermen are slow getting paid, the product is being shipped out, people are screaming blue murder,” Bennett said.
Dalley said Bennett seems to believe there’s more that can be done, but he’s just playing politics.
“Ultimately, it’s a private company,” Dalley said.
“I can’t go in and tell them they have to operate, nor can I go in and kick them out.”