|SKIPPER’S BLOG: The Many Faces of Fisheries
Let’s quickly recap where we are: We have established
that the current government has changed its fisheries minister on average more
than any other government in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Williams/Dunderdale government has changed fish
ministers, on average, once every 1.3 years. That’s compared to the Smallwood
government (every 4.6 years), the Moores/Peckford government (every 2.1 years),
and the Wells/Tobin/Grimes government (every 2.3 years).
With those stats in mind we have been looking back at
the ministers that have served in Fisheries and Aquaculture since 2003 when the
Williams/Dunderdale government originally seized power.
Yesterday, we looked at the two-year term (plus a five
month stopover a while later) of Trevor Taylor and the political fallout from
the raw materials sharing program that he has become synonymous with.
Today, in the first of two parts, we look at Taylor’s
successor, Tom Rideout, who lasted in the job from November 2005 until May 2008
— effectively making him the longest serving minister for Fisheries the current
government has had.
Tom Rideout had an interesting political legacy before
he ever took over in Fisheries.
A former Liberal turned PC, Rideout was
Fisheries Minister in the government of Brian Peckford for four years from 1985
to 1989 (combined with the nearly three years he spent in the
job in the Williams government, Rideout has spent seven total years as NL fish minister
— that’s tied with Smallwood era ministers John Cheeseman and William Keough,
and second only to Walter Carter who was minister for a total of 10
years over two terms).
Rideout was actually Fisheries Minister when he won
the Tory leadership and became premier after Brian Peckford left politics in
1989. That leadership convention came down to a final battle between Rideout
and Loyola Hearn, who would later go on to federal politics and become the federal
Fisheries Minister in the Harper government.
An interesting side note from that battle between Hearn
and Rideout: One of Hearn’s biggest supporters was a townie
lawyer named Danny Williams – click HERE if you disbelieve me. Go ahead. I'll wait.
Anyways, Rideout won the day, but his term as premier
would last little more than a month.
He would call a snap election, despite being in the
shadow of the infamous Sprung Greenhouse fiasco and lost to Clyde Wells’
Liberals — it should be noted, however, that Rideout’s Tories actually got more
votes than the Liberals in 1989, but couldn’t pull out enough seats.
He hung around as opposition leader until 1991 when he
left the provincial legislature. He ran and lost federally for the Tories against Liberal campaigner extraordinaire George Baker
in 1993, then stayed out of the public light while earning a law degree.
In 1999 he got elected in Lewisporte district as part
of Tory leader Ed Byrne’s surprising campaign against popular Liberal premier
Brian Tobin. Rideout was re-elected in 2003 when Williams swept to power, and
immediately found himself in cabinet in high profile jobs in Transportation and then later in Health.
Once More, Into the Breach
On Nov. 8, 2005, Rideout became Fisheries and
Aquaculture Minister for the second time in his career, and was also named Deputy Premier.
If Trevor Taylor’s term could be summed up by “RMS”
then perhaps Rideout’s could be similarly summed up under “FPI.”
The many issue and questions around FPI — the former
Fishery Products International — and the subsequent breaking up and selling off
of the company that happened under Rideout’s watch is one of the most talked
about points in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery’s history.
But in the early days of Rideout’s tenure his
government and department were cast as adversaries of the leadership at FPI and
their desire to change how the company operated and harvested fish.
Take what happened on March 21, 2006. That was the day
Rideout did something truly unusual and something that would stick with him as
his career moved forward.
During a protest by FFAW workers at the headquarters
of FPI in St. John’s, he donned a rather goofy looking FFAW toque (search Tom
Rideout online and click “images” and it’s bound to pop up) and hopped up onto
the back of a pick-up truck to take over the microphone so he could speak to
At the time government was reviewing FPI’s groundfish
operations and the potential shipping out of unprocessed yellowtail flounder
(why does that sound familiar?).
The words Rideout spoke were unforgettable.
only did they ship... but they shipped, and they shipped, and they broke the
law. Today they're under investigation and they'll be charged. We're not going
to put up with it. They'll be charged like anybody else who breaks the law and
they will pay the price."
It was a surreal scene. Even the protesting workers were a little gobsmacked
that Rideout would say such a thing in a public and direct way. Rideout
had always been a candid speaker and seemed to speak his own mind as opposed to many politicians who clearly prefer to stick to the talking points given to
them by their communications people.
But this was something else entirely — alleging that a company
had done something illegal was a whole other level of candid. And people latched
onto it accordingly.
But despite all the bluster associated with that
controversial and adversarial sounding stance, it would be little more than a
year later that his government would agree to do what was once considered unthinkable:
sell off FPI.
In the next blog entry in this series, we’ll have a
look back at the circumstances surrounding that sale, the fallout from it, and
a few other very hot button events that transpired under Rideout’s wildly
colourful time as the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture for Newfoundland
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