|SKIPPER’S BLOG: The Many Faces of Fisheries
Yesterday we talked about the ridiculous amount of
turnover we’ve seen in the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department since the
current government took over.
Basically, I took each administration Newfoundland and
Labrador has had since Confederation and checked how often each one changed its
man — or in the case of Yvonne Jones just a few years ago, woman — in charge of
The stats were as follows:
- Small Wood government, 1949 to 1972 (23 years): five fisheries ministers, translating into an average of 4.6 years per
- The Moores/Peckford government, 1972 to 1989 (17
years): eight fisheries ministers, for an average of 2.1 years per minister.
- The Clyde Wells/Brian Tobin/Roger
Grimes administration, 1989 to 2003: six fisheries ministers for an average of
2.3 years per minister.
- And finally, the Danny Williams/Kathy Dunderdale government, 2003 to
present: seven fisheries ministers for an average of 1.3 years per minister.
Today, I wanted to start having
a look at the recent cast of characters to have led Fisheries and Aquaculture (By
the way, I know this may be coincidence, but it’s worth noting that the last
four people to hold the position are all former teachers. Take from that what
We start our ministerial reflections with Trevor
Death by RMS - Trevor Taylor
The first fish minister appointed by the current
regime on Nov. 3, 2003, was Trevor Taylor and he seemed a good fit for the job. He was from the
Northern Peninsula, a fishing rich region, he had worked in the fishery and for
the union as a staff representative for the Newfoundland west coast and he was considered
a bright light in the party having won a district for the Tories that had been
Liberal since Moses went to the top of the mountain.
He was a bonafide bay boy in a city boy suit and
seemed to wear both fairly well. In fact, there had once upon a time been
whispers that the young and dynamic Taylor might be premier material one day.
It all came crashing down in one fell swoop in 2005
when Taylor announced the three letters that triggered his demise both politically
and publicly: RMS, which stood for raw materials sharing. In the case of Taylor’s
career, it may as well have stood for “Ready Made Suicide.”
The basis of the plan was that crab (and shrimp) being
caught by fishermen would be guaranteed to specific plants adjacent to the
resource. Naturally that got fishermen in an uproar because having
to sell their product to a specific plant meant they wouldn’t be able to
negotiate higher prices or attract the bonuses to which they had become accustomed.
Taylor pitched it as an orderly way to do business. Processors
likely saw it as way to ensure they would get raw materials to process. The
fishermen saw it as a direct attack on their income and suggested it would cause them to be held
hostage by processors.
The result was weeks of massive and varied protests on
the grounds of Confederation Building, and a raft of media attention through the
shutting down of the provincial legislature, a blockade of Placentia Bay, a
blockade of St. John’s harbour, fishermen flying Nova Scotia flags and the
enduring image of a crab pot draped over the statue of John Cabot.
The Williams government was forced to blink. The
concept was handed over to former FFAW President Richard Cashin for a review,
and the recommendation, as anyone might expect, was to scrap the idea permanently
— and that’s exactly what happened.
On Nov. 5, 2005, after the dust had settled from that war,
Taylor was jettisoned from Fisheries and landed in the much less prolific
Innovation, Trade and Rural Development Department.
He served a very quick and quiet five month caretaker term back in Fisheries in 2008 before moving on to the Transportation and Works
portfolio. He stepped down from that position when he left provincial politics in 2009.
Taylor would take a crack at federal politics for the
Conservatives in the 2011 election, but was handily defeated by incumbent Liberal
Gerry Byrne who polled 17,119 votes to Taylor’s 7,559.
He still pops up from time to time as a political
analyst on television or in the occasional radio interview, but that’s about
all anyone has seen of the once promising political star since he dipped his
foot into the fisheries harbour only to discover it was full of hungry sharks
anxious for a meal.
Whether or not the RMS approach was the right one or
not is still a topic for discussion today. For a good reflective moment, have a look HERE
to read what Taylor said the day he announced RMS, it makes for fascinating
While the merits or drawbacks of RMS can be
debated forever, what cannot be argued is that it torpedoed Taylor political
ship in devastating fashion. The department's profile began its slip from the center of power within government, and Taylor's own start never again shone brightly.
People close to the NL political machine suggest that
the demise and fallout around RMS prompted the government and then-Premier
Danny Williams — who clearly was out of his element dealing with fishery issues
given his business and legal background — to start developing a gun-shyness about the
industry and subsequently take a more “hands off” approach to fisheries issues.
Next up, we take a look at the man who took over from
Taylor: the last true political heavyweight to hold the position, former
premier Tom Rideout.
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