Foote kills CETA fund, offers $100M to NL instead

Newfoundland and Labrador’s federal representative in Ottawa, Judy Foote, Liberal MP for Bonavista-Burin-Trinity, and Premier Dwight Ball were at the Marine institute’s Flume Tank on Friday afternoon to announce details of a new $325-million Atlantic Fisheries Fund. A DFO news release stated the fund will transform and drive innovation in the fish and seafood sector in Atlantic Canada, with a focus on developing the sector to better meet growing market demands for sustainably sourced, high-quality fish and seafood.

The federal Liberal government abandoned its election promise to provide a $400-million fisheries innovation fund to Newfoundland and Labrador Friday, but federal minister Judy Foote said her government is replacing it with something “better.”

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There was plenty of skepticism from some observers, though, as Foote and Premier Dwight Ball cheerfully participated in a $100-million funding announcement at the Marine Institute in St. John’s.

The real story appears to be in the details, and as of Friday the details were either unavailable or hadn’t been worked out yet.

What’s immediately clear, though, is that the province will drop minimum processing requirements (MPRs) on seafood bound for Europe as part of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and if there are any economic losses as a consequence, the province will receive no compensation from the federal government.

What the province got from the federal government on Friday is a commitment to “at least” $100 million from a $325-million block of funding allocated to the seafood sector throughout Atlantic Canada.

Foote was unclear about what the money will be spent on, and when it will flow, and although media briefing materials said the money will be cost-shared between the provincial and federal government, Foote said the details on that haven’t been worked out yet.

“There will be discussions between the province and the federal government first, and then, of course, depending on the priorities that are determined, other stakeholders will be engaged,” she said.

This is apparently instead of the promised CETA fund, which would have been cost-shared between the federal government and the province, with Ottawa putting up $280 million and the provincial government contributing $120 million.

But Foote insisted $100 million is more than $280 million, once you count all of the other money the federal government is spending.

“We are looking at this as a much more comprehensive package than looking at the CETA fund. This means making sure that we have a sustainable fishery,” she said.

Foote vaguely alluded to more money coming in the future, and she mentioned the government has already spent $238.5 million on fisheries, oceans and Coast Guard initiatives.

When The Telegram asked for a breakdown of that spending, Foote said she didn’t immediately have it available, but officials would follow up.

When the breakdown arrived later in the day, it included one item identified simply as “$122 million in incremental investments and regular program funding for Newfoundland and Labrador.” The list also included $75.2 million in small-craft harbour infrastructure and upgrades to the Canadian Coast Guard headquarters in St. John’s.

Ball said the money announced Friday will be used to help transition the fishing industry toward groundfish. This comes at a time when the big-money shellfish species — shrimp and crab — are drastically declining, which will lead to big quota cuts this year.

“The market demands good-quality groundfish,” Ball said. “They want to do business in Newfoundland and Labrador. This $100 million from today’s announcement goes a long way in positioning our province to meet the market demands.”

Keith Sullivan, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union, was skeptical, because $100 million is less than $400 million, but said any government spending in the fishery sector is welcome news.

“They did allude to this being a first step, so it’s important that this is followed up on, because it is less than the commitment from the provincial and federal governments related to CETA,” Sullivan said.

Tory MHA Kevin Parsons was visibly angry about the whole thing.

“We’ve giving up our MPRs and the rest of Atlantic Canada are going to share in this fund, and the Newfoundland and Labrador people are going to pay for it,” he said.

“It is very disappointing.”

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