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Letter: More reasons to rein in federal fisheries ministers

Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Dominic LeBlanc rises in the House of Commons during Question Period in Ottawa on Monday, June 11, 2018.
Former Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Dominic LeBlanc

I wish to reply to Russell Wangersky’s Sept. 14 column, “Watching the surf clam spin.”

The “point” that Wangersky doesn’t want readers to lose track of is that “this was a sloppy, careless attempt by people who should have known better. The family and political connections were obvious, and the whole process was a failure from the start. And the Liberals should wear that.”

But there are larger points stemming from the surf clam fiasco — beyond a mere ethics breach — that Wangersky is either oblivious to or chooses to ignore.

Not only did former federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc breach conflict of interest rules over the surf clam issue, he also caused months of untold worry and grief to the people of Grand Bank and the Burin Peninsula, delivered another hammer blow to what little integrity remains with federal fisheries management, ostracized us once again from the decision-making processor, and exposed, yet again, why the absolute power of the minister of Fisheries and Ocean must be reined in.

If the federal minister can unilaterally decide to expropriate surf clams, he can do so with any other species — sea cucumbers, redfish, etc.

Where does it stop?

Newfoundland and Labrador will never be able to turn around its fisheries fortunes so long as control of fish stocks adjacent to her shores rests with a federal minister who answers to no one, least of all inshore harvesters, and can do as he pleases, at any time, without repercussions, no matter the magnitude of the grievance.

Another point Wangersky failed to raise: What is the penalty for LeBlanc’s “mistake”?

There is none.

What changes will take place as a result of the scandal?
None. LeBlanc continues on in his new role as minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. The absolute power of the DFO minister remains unchecked.
Our seven Liberal MPs didn’t even call for LeBlanc’s political head — knowing that he didn’t just screw over their province, but each one of them, too. The MPs were forced to defend a surf clam decision that was indefensible. Even Premier Dwight Ball and his government failed to stand for the province’s interest. Not a peep from any of our representatives is a sad state of affairs.

At one point following the decision to cancel the surf clam licence — but prior to the release of the Ethics Commissioner’s report that nailed Leblanc to the wall — MP Seamus O’Regan tweeted: “On the government’s recent surf clam licence cancellation: Playing politics and soapboxes didn’t get results. The 7 MPs, especially Churence Rogers, who brought the voice of our province to Ottawa, and who worked tirelessly, did.”

Talk about spin — I’m surprised O’Regan can walk a straight line.

Wangersky also appears confused in stating that FISH-NL’s stand on outside buyers (allowing them to operate in the province on an even playing field) is somehow comparable to the feds expropriating a resource from under our nose, and redirecting it to another province (and relative) under the guise of reconciliation.

I’m surprised Wangersky can walk across the newsroom without spinning out.

Finally, a correction.

FISH-NL’s five founding principles, as outlined in our Constitution, include: transparency, consultation, fish harvesters first, holding Ottawa to account for fisheries management, and supporting the principles of adjacency and historical attachment.

Our stand on outside buyers is a policy — not a founding principle, Mr. Wangersky. You’d think a newspaperman would spend more time doing his homework, and less time spinning a narrative to suit his bent.

Ryan Cleary,

President, FISH-NL

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