Deadlines being what they are, that well-publicized racket over yellowtail flounder may be settled before this particular Saturday spiel makes itself into the hands of eager-beaver readers.
Whether there is such an agreement or not by the time The Weekend begins to strain the shoulders of paperboys and papergirls, the nasty fight that centres, ostensibly, around 110 fish plant jobs in Fortune, could still be viewed as a disheartening microcosm of how governments have made a balls of the Newfoundland fishery forever and a day.
More often than not, it’s the federal government that has justifiably taken the brunt of the blame for the mismanagement of what was once the world’s greatest fishery resource; this time, though, it’s the province, the Dunderdale government, her cabinet, her ministers of fisheries, that many believe should be keelhauled.
Ray Guy once told me during an interview I was conducting for a documentary on the 50th anniversary of Confederation that it would probably have been healthier for Newfoundland to have had control of the fishery instead of a crowd of politicians and bureaucrats in some ivory tower in Ottawa; at least then, Ray said, they would be visible, accountable, and a “few of them could have been taken out and hung or drowned” every once in a while to show them up as a tangible example of what can happen if you try and screw fishermen in this neck of the woods.
And Ray had a point, made as only he could, in his brilliantly satirical fashion.
But when you see the way the government played politics with the Fortune fish plant, exploiting the desperation of people there to have a job, then trying to make fisheries union president Earle McCurdy its fall guy while it gutlessly attempted to ignore its responsibility to govern, you have to question whether, in fact, the fishery would have been better off with more provincial control.
Even for those who find, at the best of times, an understanding of the fishery to be as tangly as a bag full of trout hooks (including yours truly), the Fortune story evolved in a way that was easy to follow, thus providing still another illustration of why politicians are viewed in such low esteem.
First of all, though, the story has a corporate player, Ocean Choice International, operating in this scenario without any sort of magnanimous mandate, the kind it would like the public to believe it has, that of helping out a community in need; what it does have is a goal of increased profit and the swelling of its coffers. (Is that Gordon Gekko I hear, the fictional character in the movie “Wall Street,” with his infamous dissertation on the making of money? “Greed is good … greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”)
What we know is that OCI was willing to exploit those 110 individuals in Fortune, guarantee them jobs (for how long, nobody seemed to know), in return for permission from the province to have a percentage of its catch processed by the Chinese, a violation of a long-standing basic principle of having as much of that sort of work as is humanly possible take place in Newfoundland.
The people in Fortune were caught in the middle, hungry for jobs, their desire for a regular salary superseding any thought about the bigger picture.
Enter the province. Rather than do what it should have done immediately — reject the proposal out of hand — it decided to play games, and introduced the before-mentioned McCurdy as the pariah — so mean, the government implied, he and his union were willing to let 110 jobs go by the wayside. Their game-playing knew no limits; try to sell the public on the blatantly false notion that the deal could only reach fruition if the union was onside.
It was the ultimate cop-out; this was government’s call, not McCurdy’s.
Well, the union is not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. It has warts, like any other diverse organization. But its raison d’être is to take care of its workers, and to keep watch on an industry that provides them with a living. That’s a mandate that differs decidedly, say, from the profit mind-set of a fish company and the political expediency of a government.
McCurdy, I suppose, could have ingratiated himself with the people in Fortune, gave his blessing to the proposal and ignored the implications of the processing compromise. But he took the high road, the principled road.
Now what was that black comedic suggestion by Ray Guy again?
Bob Wakeham has spent 40 years
as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.