There’s nothing like an election to stoke the partisan fires, or so you would think.
At a candidates forum Monday evening, hosted by the Fisheries Community Alliance, there were few political barbs, little partisan rhetoric and a whole lot of nodding from the other candidates as their political adversaries took turns answering questions on the fishery.
The alliance asked three parties to send one candidate running in the province in the May 2 federal election to answer its questions and take more from the public.
Liberal Gerry Byrne, who’s running in Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, Ryan Cleary, the NDP’s man in St. John’s South Mount Pearl, and Avalon Conservative Fabian Manning didn’t agree on everything, but the tone of the evening remained civil. Former Fisheries Broadcast host Jim Winter moderated the event.
Fisheries advocate Gus Etchegary made a few opening remarks on behalf of the alliance, and foreshadowed what was to come.
“There’s one thing for sure,” he said “I know these people very well, and I know they’re just as concerned as all of us with the situation that Newfoundland and Labrador’s fishing industry (is in) and I’m certain these men will do everything they possibly can to try and turn things around.”
The alliance posed six questions to the candidates, and provided them in advance of the forum. Topics ranged from fisheries management, science, foreign influences and the idea of a judicial inquiry of the entire industry as it relates to this province.
Cleary has been pushing for an inquiry and repeated the NDP’s support for it was a condition of him running for the party.
“The fishery must be rebuilt. But we can’t rebuild without all the facts,” he said. “The New Democrats support a judicial inquiry as the way to establish a baseline of information so we can start making decisions and (move) forward.”
Manning and Byrne didn’t say they were in favour, but both agreed the idea had merit.
“I’m not, at this point, sold on a judicial inquiry,” said Manning. “I’m not convinced that a judicial inquiry will solve the issues at hand.”
But Manning said he is open to discussing the idea.
Byrne echoed that sentiment but noted inquiries have their own set of problems.
“Judicial inquiries can take up to three years, they can cost $12 to $15 million to conduct,” Byrne said.
On top of that, Byrne noted, inquiries let the government of the day off the hook, as ministers can dodge questions by telling people they are waiting for the inquiry to wrap up before answering.
As the candidates made their closing statements, each agreed the fishery is broken, and suggested the fix is in working together instead of being partisan.
A little politics did creep in.
Cleary said he had no intention of arguing with the other candidates during the forum.
“I thought that would be counterproductive,” he said. “I know they are good Newfoundlanders ... despite their politics.”
Manning spoke of co-operation.
”I don’t pretend to have all the answers. What I do have is a desire to make things work. And hopefully on Monday I’ll get that opportunity to do that again in the House of Commons.”
Byrne said there have been too few debates on the actual issues like the fishery during the campaign.
“Fisheries are the backbone of our economy and if we try to pretend anything else we are deceiving ourselves and our province,” he said. “If we don’t work together, if we just choose to bicker ... if we choose to talk about each other instead of to each other, we will fail.”