|SKIPPER’S BLOG: The Many Faces of Fisheries
In case you haven’t been a regular viewer of the blog,
for the last few days we’ve been looking at the NL Department of Fisheries and
Aquaculture, in particular the people that have been chosen to lead that
department since 2003 when the current administration came to power.
(Check out the past entries HERE, HERE, and HERE)
The impetus for such a series was the fact that the
current Williams/Dunderdale government has changed it’s fish minister more than
any government since the province joined Confederation.
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).
In the first “Many Faces of Fisheries” entry we took
a look at Trevor Taylor’s turbulent time in charge, and yesterday we did the
first of a short two-part entry on Tom Rideout.
Before we get to part two of the Rideout piece, I
wanted to relay short story about Taylor that will make you understand why I actually
liked the guy.
Later in 2005 after the raw materials sharing
controversy had finished up, Rob Antle — the best reporter I’ve ever worked
with or been around, period — turned up some expense claims on cabinet
ministers and it was noted that Taylor and Ed Byrne had both gone to the liquor
store on the same Friday afternoon, and bought significant amounts of booze on
the taxpayer dime. That seemed odd, so Rob called Byrne and I was tasked with
checking on Taylor.
When confronted about the expenses, Byrne danced
around like Michael Flatley on speedballs insisting he couldn’t remember why he
had bought the booze but insisting it was for some grand and credible purpose specific to advancing
the province's greater good. Barf.
Taylor answer was decidedly different, and one I
couldn’t much argue with.
“Do you remember that week?” Taylor said (if I recall correctly), noting that
it was the day after the RMS situation had finally been put to bed. “We had
just been through weeks of hell, so I went down to the liquor store, bought a
couple of bottles of booze, came back to the office and opened them up and said
to the staff ‘have a drink — you’ve earned it.’”
A lesson for you would-be politicians out there:
sometimes the truth IS the best answer.
Anyway, on to part two of our look back at the longest
tenured Fisheries Minister the current government has had: Tom Rideout, who
served in the role from November 2005 until May 2008.
Most, if not all of Tom Rideout’s time in charge of
fisheries were either directly focused on Fishery Products International (FPI)
or directly related to it.
In February 2007 one of the most significant
developments in the industry happened without Rideout really being all that involved, except after the fact:
Premier Danny Williams announced that Bill Barry had a plan for the shuttered
FPI plant in Harbour Breton, and that some of the 600-plus people who lost
their job when that plant closed a few years previous might get to go back to work.
Williams had been getting his teeth kicked in over
fisheries issues and what seemed to be a lack of focus on rural areas, and it
seemed he was intent on stuffing that talk all in one day.
He and Barry went in front of the cameras at Confederation
Building to announce the plan which was built around harvesting pelagics.
People in Harbour Breton literally danced in the streets, and who could blame
The problem was that Barry’s plan was built around
harvesting stocks that hadn’t been fished in decades, and hadn’t had much, if
any, science carried out.
Look, I get it: Bill Barry is one of the most prolific
and successful fish processors in the province’s history, he’s a business
giant, an intelligent guy and a hard worker by all accounts. A legend in the field. But the plan for
Harbour Breton was pure folly, and he had to know that. Williams didn’t though
and was as cocky as ever when he naively announced it, selling people on the falsest
(The news release issued on the day the plan was announced
can be found HERE and makes for interesting reflection.)
It would be months later before I could obtain an
actual copy of the plan put forward by the Barry Group — a plan that was no
more detailed than a high school book report, and a plan that the company
fought for months with the province so it wouldn’t be released to me. By that time the plan had started falling apart.
The science showed the stocks that
were central to the plan were pretty much non-existent: one survey discovered
93 herring (not pounds or tonnes, but 93 actual fish) on the south coast. The
plan was effectively dead in the water, no pun intended.
Luckily Cooke Aquaculture eventually came along, and ended up leasing
the plant from the Barry Group. The plant is now used to process salmon from
Cooke’s nearby farms, and that really saved the day. The workforce is not 600,
but it’s good, steady work for those who have jobs there and it is a central
force to the local economy.
A few short months later, in May 2007, however,
Rideout was very much involved in perhaps the most poignant piece of fisheries business
to happen in this province since the 1992 Moratorium — the sale of FPI.
(You can read all about that one HERE)
The company had been the flagship for fish processing
in the province since its formation. It was a publicly traded company governed under the FPI
Act, it provided a return on investment to the people of the province, operated
with a social conscience and had been moderately successful. Times were changing in the
business though as shellfish was taking over from the groundfish on which FPI had been built, and the company found itself more challenged in the business
world as well as in the boardroom with corporate shenanigans, takeover attempts
and the like.
By 2007, the company was floundering (this time, pun IS intended) all over the
And the decision was made to break it up and sell it
The province announced on May 28, 2007, that most of the
company’s processing assets would be sold to Ocean Choice (interestingly, the
scuttlebutt at the time was that Barry had made a better offer but may have
been stonewalled after what had happened with Harbour Breton) and the company’s
marketing arm in Danvers would be sold to High Liner.
At the time, Williams — in perhaps his only smart
fisheries call during his time as premier — offered to buy the FPI marketing arm,
which he saw had value, and hand it over to the industry. The industry decided
against it, and High Liner was the beneficiary using that piece of the former FPI to help crack deeper into the US seafood market and to improve its overall business
In other words, Williams had it right — and the
industry screwed up. So, there's that.
Rideout was a central figure in the process, and was
called upon to be government’s public face throughout the sale. It was a tough
time, and a tough situation, and one that few of Williams’ cabinet ministers at
the time could have withstood. But Rideout was a warhorse, a political skull
cracker in the old school style and, rightly or wrongly, he got the job done.
But his style would come to clash with other members
of caucus and the rumoured animosity between he and Williams grew. In early
2008 Rideout was confronted about improper expenses he had charged for an office
in Lewisporte that had been dug up by The Telegram.
He faced that controversy the same way he faced
everything else: head on, straight up and face to face. Rideout could be a hard
case to deal with, but the man was respected. He was of his own mind, pretty
fearless and had earned his stripes.
The end was getting near though as the heat turned up
behind the scenes. On May 28, 2008, Rideout announced he was resigning as
Fisheries Minister and Deputy Premier over a dispute with Williams, who he said
had blocked road money from going to Rideout’s district in Baie Verte-Springdale. Williams chared that
Rideout had strong-armed the Transportaton
Minister, the late Dianne Whalen, into putting more money into his district
and that Rideout had been intimidating others (fancy that: Danny Williams
suggesting someone had been intimidating people) and using influence to get “pick
the pockets” of members and to get what he wanted for his district (which I
thought was the job of a representative? Maybe? Maybe not?)
(Read that story courtesy CBC right HERE)
In addition to Williams’ snarky send up, Rideout was also targeted
on public radio shows by some of Williams’ usual attack dogs including the likes of current
cabinet minister Kevin O’Brien and former cabinet minister Paul Oram (who has
since left politics). I’m unbiased when it comes to politicians, as I dislike
them all equally. Not personally, mind you, just more for their participation in
However, I will say this: Rideout wasn’t perfect and
had his issues to be sure, but Kevin O’Brien and Paul Oram could live 1,000 years or serve
1,000 terms in office and never be considered Rideout’s equal intellectually,
politically, or otherwise. Ask yourself: if you had a department you needed
run, which of those three guys would you entrust it to? See? Case closed.
A little over a month later Rideout announced he was
retiring from politics all together, and stepped down after a remarkable 25
years in public life as a member of the House of Assembly.
Despite the continued debate over the FPI sale in 2007,
Rideout told CBC News as recently as last year that he still thought the deal
was a good one.
“We were looking for some
long-term stability and believed that the OCI proposal presented the best
opportunity for that," Rideout told CBC in December 2011."So far,
this fishery continues to mesmerize the works of us. If one had the wisdom of
Solomon, I'm not sure that one would have an answer."
Rideout may not have had the wisdom of Solomon when he ran the department, but
he certainly cut a much larger swath through the industry than the two souls
who would follow in his large footsteps.
up we look the terms of Tom Hedderson and Clyde Jackman.
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