Premier Kathy Dunderdale says she doesn’t like to do her negotiating in public, but she’s more than happy to be judged on the final results.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale rushed home early Friday from a trade mission to Brazil so she could be on hand for a free trade announcement between Canada and the E.U., which Dunderdale has been negotiating behind the scenes during the past year. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
On Friday, Dunderdale was still on a plane back to Canada when three of her ministers held a news conference announcing the province’s participation in CETA (Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement) — a massive free trade deal between Canada and the European Union.
This is actually the fourth big win for the province, negotiated by Dunderdale and her government in the past year.
First there was the billion-dollar federal loan guarantee for Muskrat Falls; then a deal with the province’s public service’s unions, holding them to a five per cent raise over four years — well below the rate of inflation.
Then, earlier this month, the province signed a deal with Husky Energy to build a new wellhead platform at Argentia for the White Rose West expansion — it’ll mean around $3 billion for the province in royalties, taxes and return on investment.
And now, there’s CETA, which could dwarf them all in terms of the scope and the significance for the province.
And for the most part, all of those deals were negotiated behind the scenes, without any big fights or histrionics.
There were a few flare-ups in the last year, but speaking to The Telegram late Friday afternoon in her office at Confederation Building, Dunderdale said she likes to do her deals quietly.
“A lot of people expect us to do this work like it’s WWF, you know, but we don’t have to have a great big brawl out on the steps of Confederation Building to achieve our goals,” Dunderdale said. “I prefer the hard bargaining at the table, and leveraging whatever it is we have to maximum return to the people of the province.”
Dunderdale acknowledged that she maybe doesn’t get the political credit some of her predecessors got when they took down flags, or started wars over fish.
“Nobody can argue that premier Williams, for example, didn’t get results for us, because he certainly did. But it’s not my style,” she said. “Maybe I don’t get the same impact from it, but it’s important for me to approach it that way.”
The CETA deal is really, really big news for the province’s fishery. The European Union eats more fish, and higher quality fish than anywhere else in the world.
Up until now, prohibitively high tariffs and import restrictions have kept the province from importing fish and marketing it for maximum value.
Dunderdale said initially, the E.U. negotiators were asking the province to eliminate minimum processing requirements on fish right away, in exchange for concessions on tariffs later.
Over the summer, other provinces and the federal government were pushing hard for Newfoundland to take the deal.
“In July, a great lobby was started across the country to try and pressure Newfoundland and Labrador to accept what had been put forward under CETA, and we refused to do it. We absolutely refused to do it,” Dunderdale said. “When people were tossing that around in July, and putting pressure on us to sign on, we were talking seven years or nine years down the road, and we said absolutely not, we’re not going to do it. And we had the country lined up against us.”
Dunderdale is consistently criticized for prioritizing oil and Muskrat Falls ahead of the fishery, but on CETA, she said she was ready to walk away from the Muskrat Falls loan guarantee twice in order to get a better deal on seafood trade.
In the end, it was decided that because of higher energy and labour costs, Europe can’t really compete on fish processing, so it was safe to trade that away. In exchange, on Day 1, nearly all seafood will be completely duty-free right away.
End use restrictions will effectively be eliminated meaning that Newfoundland seafood can be marketed and branded for added value.
Even more tantalizing over the long run is that Canada will have the best access possible to one of the largest, richest economic zones in the world. And no province in Canada will be closer to the action than Newfoundland and Labrador.