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Friday, June 17, 2005

Feds Condemn Town to Economic Death

The Federal Government announced today that it will provide $2 million in aid to Harbour Breton Newfoundland. The town was devastated by the closure of its main industry, a local fish plant, and is currently in jeopardy of collapse.

The owners of the now empty fish plant have agreed to provide $3 million in interim funding and sell the town the plant, including all equipment, for $1. The Provincial Government has chipped in by offering financial assistance to the town and has been seeking Federal assistance in the form of interim funding and the issuing of a fish species quota for the area.

The federal “gift” of $2 million, with no promise of a fish quota, was made today, although the Federal Government says the issue is entirely within provincial jurisdiction.

“…entirely within provincial jurisdiction”?

The reason the plant owners, FPI, pulled out of Harbour Breton, as uncaring and backhanded as they may have been in the way it was done, is a matter of simple business requirements and economics. Simply put, there is not enough fish to keep all of FPI’s plants working to capacity so one of them was closed.

Who is to blame for this lack of raw material? The Federal Government, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible, Period.

It’s a simple thing to understand so let me walk you through it.

Fish stocks, especially cod, are in short supply.

Overfishing of these stocks is what caused the current supply situation.

It is the Federal Government that determines who gets a fish quota and how much that quota will be;

It is the Federal Government that continues to look the other way while foreign vessels trawl the nose and tail of the Grand Banks, (a key breeding ground for Atlantic species);

It is the Federal Government who, through bad science, the issuing of unplanned quotas and allowing foreign overfishing, caused the collapse of the fish stocks.

It was, and is, the Federal Government who mismanaged the fishery to the point of collapse; and

It is the Federal Government that made the decision to close the cod fishery in the 90s after they had mismanaged it to the point of no return.

If the situation in Harbour Breton is an entirely provincial issue then I’m Angelina Jolie, (I’m not by the way, my beard is too thick and where her endowment is closer to her upper torso, mine is just above my belt line. Other than that we could be twins.)

The Federal argument has always been that they provided billions in aid through make work projects, retraining programs and the like after closing the cod fishery. This is true, but it isn’t the full story.

The aid provided in the 1990’s was intended to assist in the survival of people and towns during the 10 year period the Federal Government estimated it would take for stocks to rebound. The cod stocks haven’t rebound due primarily to the fact that DFO estimates were overly optimistic and as already mentioned, the Feds insist on looking the other way while foreign vessels continue to deplete existing stocks.

Another argument Ottawa likes to use is that the fishing industry in the province is now as lucrative as it was when cod was the main resource. The new life in the industry is due to the utilization of other species like crab and shrimp. This as well is only a part of the story. While these species are indeed a mainstay of today’s industry, does it not occur to anyone that these stocks would eventually have been developed anyway?

Imagine what the provincial economy would look like today if there was a viable cod industry in place right along side the current diversified fishing industry. There would be a fishing boom! We would not be in jeopardy of overfishing the crab and shrimp stocks as we are now in danger of doing and towns like Harbour Breton would not be dying before our very eyes.

An entire peninsula in our province is dying. (The town of Harbour Breton is the hub of the entire Conagra Peninsula on the island portion of the province.) Families are being uprooted and people are losing everything they have spent their lives working for. While parents worry, children cry themselves to sleep at night and families are ripped apart.

In the face of this desperation the Feds see fit to throw the province a bone of $2 million. This on the very same day they announce a commitment of $5.2 million to help ensure salmon stocks on British Columbia’s Fraser River because two reports blamed government mismanagement, poaching and high water temperatures for the loss of 1.6 million salmon on the river last year.

I don’t doubt that the salmon industry in BC needs that assistance and more, but if the Feds can accept responsibility for the mismanagement of these salmon stocks, what argument can they possibly bring forward to say they are not responsible for the situation in the Atlantic fishing industry and in Harbour Breton itself?

The $2 million and the comment, “…entirely within provincial jurisdiction”, is a slap in the face to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and a nail in the coffin for a once vibrant community and the entire surrounding area.

What Harbour Breton needs is a major cash infusion and a fish quota, of any under utilized species, to get back on their feet.

Ottawa has no problem bailing out publicly traded and private companies like Bombardier, Air Canada, GM and the like. They argue that it ensures jobs will not be lost. The fact is, the situation in Harbour Breton means hundreds of jobs will be lost and a vital part of rural Newfoundland and Labrador will die. Why doesn’t this rate a large cash infusion and the kind of support from Ottawa that major Ontario and Quebec based corporations often receive?

When jobs are lost in an auto plant in Ontario or at an aircraft manufacturer in Quebec it is no doubt painful to those involved, but they can move on. There are other industries in the area where one can go to find meaningful work and this provides hope.

When jobs are lost in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, the only real option is to move away and start over from scratch. The people displaced must leave their homes and community, towns that their families have lived in for generations. They must leave to physically survive, but what does this mean for their mental and spiritual survival?

The impact of the first scenario is indeed sad but the impact of the second is nothing short of devastating.

What kind of Country are we living in when major corporations, in vote rich areas, can utilize billions of dollars in tax payer’s money while towns and citizens in smaller centers must fend for themselves or die?

Something to think about this weekend.

4 comments:

Gordon said...

Interesting story. Yes, the root of the problem is overfishing and the feds did nothing to stop that from happening. What they offering Harbour Breton is not enough to keep the town going. However, we have to deal with the root of the problem, which, I believe, is the federal approach to the whole issue of overfishing, the provincial reaction and our own dearth of ideas about what to do.

Saturday's editorial offers a glimpse of what is going on. In it lies a kernel of truth that is certainly worth quoting: "countries with poor governance and a lax approach to overfishing are among the least able to deal with foreign overfishing." Truer words were never said, at least in The Telegram. Having said that, The Telegram appears to blame the EU for being poorly governed, rather than the countries where the EU boats do their overfishing. This is where The Telegram loses the plot. Let's stick with the kernel for a second. Should we blame the overfishers or the overfished? To help us come to a conclusion, let's take a peek at the non-overfishers (such as the Icelanders and the New Zealanders)? You see, the EU won't go to Iceland or New Zealand to do their overfishing because the EU is clearly not wanted; New Zealand and Iceland are not so easily corrupted. African countries, on the other hand, have a notorious reputation for being corrupt. Canada does not have that reputation, but EU countries know that Canada has its weak spots and they exploit them with ruthless efficiency. Is it really the EU's fault they can do this? Not really. All Canada had to do years ago was resist the offers of selling Ontario auto parts in exhange for (over)fishing rights and things would have been better. So, Ottawa has proven itself to be no better than many African countries when it comes to fisheries policy. As a result, Newfoundland's fishery is not much better managed than that of, say, Senegal...... and Senegal does not even have a government! As I stated in a previous message, even Namibia has taken steps to keep the EU boats out, with the effect of improving fish stocks off its coast.

That leads back to our problem as exemplified by Harbour Breton. We have a dying community and there may well be many more to come. And of course, Harbour Breton is not the first community to find itself without an industry. The truth is, much of rural Newfoundland is beyond repair as it stands. We really have to start almost from scratch. As I wrote before, I really believe we should put an end not only to overfishing, but most of the current fishery in general. Yes, crab is OK and there should be some fishing, but not a lot, not for another generation. Take these unemployed people, train them, give them guns and put them on boats to patrol the Grand Banks. Leave the Banks fallow for, say, 15 to 20 years. Let the few fish that are out there be fruitful and multiply. As I also wrote before, the New Zealanders have already demonstrated that leaving even small areas of ocean fallow can be beneficial within just a few years. When the fishery bounces back, we will take a page from our history, be more mature and not do what Canada and so many African countries do. The biggest problem with this idea is finding enough courageous politicians who would do such a thing. Canada thinks it is doing all right, the province knows Ottawa is not doing all right but it is more than happy to simply blame Ottawa. The poor old Telegram prefers to blame the EU. Let's not stick our heads in the sand like Ottawa is doing and let's not finger point. Let's face it, the fishery is dead! Rural Newfoundland is still alive but only because nobody has told its heart to stop beating. By the way, it does not have to stop beating completely, only more slowly. Send the former fishermen and plant workers into boats and let them apply their heart and soul into creating a renewed fishery for their children.

Now, that brings us back to the kernel of truth. Will Ottawa or even St. John's be willing to implement such a plan? If you can get elected simply because you can blame others for your problems and when people vote for you because that's what their parents and grandparents did..... well, why change? Why be courageous? What I am proposing is a brand new approach to the current situation that is focused squarely on a creating a better future. It is revolutionary by Newfoundland standards because it does not promise anything (other than fisheries patrol jobs) before the first time a pollster publishes its popularity results.

It is at this point I wonder about separatism. I used to think that separatism was the only answer, but now I see separatism as a means rather than an end. If a majority of Newfoundland would like to embark on a new, more futuristic and mature approach but Ottawa wants us to still believe in the old fashioned, "Vote for me and you'll get the gravy" way of doing things then separating might have to be the way to go in order to put things right. However, if Ottawa will be willing to move with the times then, well, "Oh, Canada". As for the finger pointing politicians in all the political parties we have in the province today, don't vote for them. Get rid of them and let them become real estate agents or life insurance salespeople or whatever it is what ex-politicians do.

Are we ready?

Anonymous said...

I'm ready, Gordon!

Patriot said...

Interesting comments Gordon. It might indeed be time to address our future either inside or outside Canada

Harris K. said...

Apparently negotiations around the federal offer are ongoing, but I would bet anything they aren't going to get much more, if any and there will be no quota which is of course the really important thing.

I'd be interested to see how the FPI vote goes on Friday as well. There are no real guarantees in the proposed legislation changes for anyone. Its a major sellout of the province.