Southwest coast marine park would create fewer jobs, minister says
Environment Minister Tom Hedderson says he doesn’t need a government study to see that the southwest coast of the province would be a perfect candidate to establish a marine conservation area
But it’s not going to happen, because the provincial government has other hopes for that part of the province.
Parks Canada had offered to pay for a feasibility study to look at the possibility of setting up a marine conservation area
in the waters off the southwest coast,
but it needed the go-ahead from the province.
But Hedderson said the government turned down the offer because it has high hopes for oil and gas exploration, aquaculture and fishing in that neck of the woods.
“Why then would we do Step 1 of a process to go down that road (towards a marine conservation area) and build up expectations?” Hedderson said.
“Once we give it over to the feds, it’s like any of the parks. You’ve given it over to them, and they then have total control over that piece of geography.”
In that part of the province, communities are desperate for any sort of economic boost. Burgeo mayor Gerald MacDonald said one of the big reasons for pursuing the marine conservation area was that it would likely bring 25-30 jobs and, hopefully, some tourists.
But Hedderson said the government has its sights set on bigger goals.
“Aquaculture could be 125 jobs. Hydrocarbon development down there could be hundreds of jobs,” he said.
“Do you want us to say, ‘OK, go ahead with that,’ and get 25 jobs? And in the future have to say, ‘Gee whiz, I wish we hadn’t done that.’”
But at the same time, Hedderson couldn’t point to any specific work being done in aquaculture or oil and gas or anything else on the southwest coast.
“Like any other part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, we certainly encourage business to set up in various areas, and we’re constantly indicating that there’s lots of opportunity,” Hedderson said. “And there’s lots of opportunity in that particular area, and hopefully somewhere along the way there will be some exploration done that could open up that situation.”
That likely won’t do much to satisfy MacDonald.
When he spoke to The Telegram, he said the government really needs to take action.
“What I’m saying to the government is look, you’ve got to do something,” he said. “You’ve either got to give us the green light with the marine conservation area, or you’ve got to put some other sort of employment in the community.”
Part of the consternation for Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons and other advocates for the marine conservation area is that the government seemingly turned down the proposal in February 2012, and then didn’t tell anybody for almost a year.
Hedderson said that was a mistake, but it wasn’t deliberate.
He said when he found out about it, he got in touch with Parsons and other interested parties.
“It was more of an internal review and decision-making, and that for some reason or another, it was not communicated,” he said. “I certainly made my apologies and corrected that, and said on a go-forward basis, I’d try to make sure that my department was more responsive in matters such as these.”
For now, Hedderson said he’s not making any promises that there’ll be a big aquaculture development or oil exploration any time soon, but he’s happier to leave that door open.
“There might not be a significant opportunity come by for another two years, three years — I have no idea,” he said.