Da Legal Stuff...

All commentaries published on Web Talk are the opinions of the contributor(s) only and do not necessarily represent the position of any other individuals, groups or organizations.

Now, with that out of the way...Let's Web Talk.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Call for Federal Inquiry Falls on Deaf Ears

On Monday federal MP, Ryan Cleary, announced plans to introduce a private members bill during the next sitting of the House of Commons. The bill would call on government to begin an official inquiry into fisheries management off the East Coast.

In 1992, under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, the federal government enacted a complete moratorium on the fishing of northern cod. The region, long recognized as having the best fishing grounds in the world, was dramatically impacted by the collapse of the stocks and the decision to shut down the industry. The fishery there had been the biggest in Canada and the mainstay of the local economy for centuries.

Nearly 20 years after the collapse of the cod stocks very little recovery has been seen and many questions remain unanswered.

Cleary, the NDP representative in the federal district of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, championed the cause of the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery long before entering the political arena and during the most recent federal election made the call for an inquiry a central part of his campaign message.

When speaking with reporters this week Cleary said he believes the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is responsible for mismanagement of stocks and for political pandering. Cleary said quotas have been issued based on political agendas rather than sound science.

He indicated that he has had off the record conversations with DFO staff who say the science branch of the agency has been reduced to a skeleton crew, morale is horrible and science vessels are aging and in disrepair.

"Our future is threatened. It is threatened by a lack of vision. It is threatened by the absence of a rebuilding plan. It is threatened by apathy in all quarters” Cleary said.

The rookie MP is calling for a commission of inquiry to investigate the effectiveness of current management processes, the state of fisheries science, quota allocation practices and regulation enforcement.

The closure of the northern cod fishery came just 40 years after the federal government assumed control of the industry. That collapse put thousands of people out of work effectively destroying a way of life that had existed in the province for nearly 500 years. It decimated small towns and villages and sent the provincial economy into a downward spiral. In the end it was the biggest single loss of employment ever seen in Canada.

What followed was the largest out-migration from any province in Canadian history. Ten’s of thousands of residents left to seek employment, essentially crippling the economy of rural Newfoundland and Labrador, a blow from which it has never fully recovered. To this day, even as oil revenues boost the overall economy, unemployment rates in the province stubbornly remain the highest in the Country.

Fisheries activists from around the province are applauding Mr. Cleary’s demand for an inquiry saying it’s necessary and long overdue.

During his press conference Cleary pointed to a similar inquiry called by the Harper Conservatives into the decline of BC salmon stocks. He questioned why, after nearly 20 years and with little sign of recovery, a similar inquiry into the East Coast fishery cannot be undertaken.

Local speculation abounds about the reasons for this inaction by officials. Although most suspicions have never been proven, it’s widely believed that the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) which includes Canada, Russia, Spain, Portugal and others has too much influence on Canadian decisions affecting the industry. It is also broadly believed that there are far too many “skeletons” in the closet of the federal bureaucracy and of elected representatives, both past and present, to ever allow the facts to be become public.

Evidence of mismanagement and political interference will be difficult to uncover without a full inquiry.

Mr. Cleary, when working as a journalist during his pre-political career, indicated many times that requests for information, especially regarding foreign fishing in Canadian waters, were consistently blocked by officials. The reason often given for withholding this information from Canadian citizens was that it might prove “embarrassing” to the nations involved and could have a negative impact on foreign relations and trade.

Even though fish stocks have not rebounded and the effects are still being felt throughout Newfoundland and Labrador a full inquiry has never been held and it doesn’t appear that Mr. Cleary’s attempt to force one will be successful either.

Without an inquiry it’s unlikely the truth will ever be known and the recovery of stocks could forever remain in doubt.

In a press release issued immediately after Cleary’s press conference Conservative Fisheries Minister, Keith Ashfield, quickly dismissed the announcement saying there will be, “…no inquiry…(because)…a judicial inquiry represents a costly and duplicative exercise into decisions made over 20 years ago”.

When informed of the Minster’s quick and dismissive response Cleary said he couldn’t believe the reaction.

The MP cannot understand how the federal government can investigate management policies in one end of the country through the BC inquiry and not at the other end when they have so clearly failed everywhere. He said he sees Ashfield’s reaction as evidence that the Conservative government has written off the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery.

As an example of continued mismanagement Cleary said he believes the reason DFO has not publicized the issuing of nine fishing citations to foreign vessels in the past year alone is because Ottawa doesn’t want to jeopardize ongoing Free Trade talks with the European Union. Talks that have the potential to lead to even further European influence on fisheries decisions in Canada.

As to the cost of an inquiry, Cleary asked the public to consider how much the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador has lost and will continue to lose in the future as a result of mismanagement in the fishery.

Mr. Cleary indicated that regardless of the expected outcome in the Commons, or the position taken by the Harper government and the Minister of Fisheries, he will proceed with the presentation of his bill during the fall session.

No comments: