As has been said many times before (and not necessarily by Bismarck), laws and sausages are two things that are best not seen being made.
Add to that trade pacts.
For better or worse, Premier Kathy Dunderdale followed through last week on her promise to reveal documents related to the province’s efforts to extract the best deal for the fishery from the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe.
As The Telegram’s Russell Wangersky pointed out in his Tuesday column, correspondence between federal and provincial ministers reveal how malleable do-or-die principles become when the pressure is on.
For example, the province was initially offered $400 million in federal compensation for displaced fishery workers.
That offer dropped to $280 million after the province demanded it also be earmarked for fishery restructuring and improvements.
The province vowed that maintaining minimum processing requirements (MPR) was sacrosanct, and that the province would not budge on this right to stop raw fish exports. Yet none of the main players in the industry felt this was a hill to die on.
In the end, Fisheries Minister Keith Hutchings was bartered down from a seven-year moratorium on MPR exemption to five and then three. And when the province presented its endorsement of CETA, the loss of MPR was treated as a minor concession.
Perhaps the most interesting revelation in the letters is the fact that the province attempted to introduce unrelated bargaining chips into the dialogue. Among other things, Hutchings asked for movement on the purchase of the federal Hibernia share and beefed up search-and-rescue operations in the province.
Important, but …
Now, both these matters may be important issues for this province, or at least are perceived by many as being so.
But as International Trade Minister Ed Fast said numerous times in his replies, none of these files has anything to do with CETA negotiations.
Keep in mind that in May, as these letters were flying back and forth, the premier complained in public that Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to strong-arm her by tying fishery deregulation to the loan guarantee on Muskrat Falls.
(Whether Tuesday’s big announcement was a result of that, we’ll probably never know. Dunderdale said she wouldn’t agree to any sort of “quid pro quo.” And with last month’s final approval of the Maritime Link to Nova Scotia, there was no excuse to hold up the guarantee anyway.)
But holding back on one promise for an unrelated concession never goes over well.
In fact, one former politician comes to mind.
He crowed about holding up funding for one project in exchange for assurances on another closer to home.
For doing so, he was soundly condemned by Kathy Dunderdale.
His name was Peter Penashue.
And while Penashue should, as this province’s cabinet representative in the federal government, have been representing the whole province and not just Labrador, it could equally be said that premiers have a duty to balance their own mandates with the best interests of the federation.
You have to hand it to the premier, though. Horse trading is never pretty, and she knew the nitty gritty of negotiations would look cynical no matter which way you spin it.
But that is the nature of negotiation. And as Bismarck definitely did say, politics is the art of the possible.
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s
commentary editor. He also hosts a
weekday forum, Naked Lunch, 12:30 p.m. at thetelegram.com. Email: email@example.com.