|SKIPPER’S BLOG: The Many Faces of Fisheries
Here we are and, you say, not a moment too soon: the
end of a mini-blog-series- looking back at the recent Ministers of Fisheries
In case you’ve just arrived, we started looking at the
people who have held the job since the current government took power in 2003.
The impetus for that exercise in political poke-funnery was the very serious
fact that the current government has changed its fish ministers more often than, well, anyone.
In fact they’ve changed the leadership in the
department more often — by a long shot — than any government since
Confederation in 1949: Joey Smallwood’s government
lasted 23 years and had five fisheries ministers (a different minister every
4.6 years on average). The Frank Moores/Brian Peckford government lasted 17
years and produced eight ministers (an average of 2.1 years per minister). The
Clyde Wells/Brian Tobin/Roger Grimes administration lasted 14 years and put six
ministers in place (an average of 2.3 years per minister). And the current Danny
Williams/Kathy Dunderdale government, which has been in power for nine years,
has produced seven fisheries ministers (a new minister every 1.3 years on
So far we have looked at the time spent in Fisheries
by Trevor Taylor, Tom Rideout, Tom Hedderson, and Clyde Jackman.
Today, we look at the most recent Minister: the
current Justice Minister and House Leader Darin King.
A Tough Year
Here we go again with the three-letter thing: Trevor
Taylor’s time in charge was focused on RMS. Tom Rideout was all FPI. There was mostly
SFA happening during Tom Hedderson’s term. And Clyde Jackman was all about the
Now we have Darin King and the three letters that
surrounded his barely a year in charge: OCI.
Darin King was the third straight teacher to be named
Fisheries Minister in October 2011 but he was a different animal than the two
who previously held the job.
I will be the first to tell you that I liked Darin
King when he got the job.
And that’s really quite something because the one
previous dealing I had with him was when he was gagging a bunch of teachers
from speaking publicly back when he was the head honcho at the Eastern School
He is as arrogant and cocky as they come, but he is
intelligent and seems to enjoy grabbing issues by the you-know-whats. In short,
I thought he was perfect to be a fisheries minister in Newfoundland and
Whether I was right or wrong we’ll never know because
he was barely there long enough to have business cards printed. It was only a
year, but boy, what a year it was.
First off, outside the collapse of groundfish in the
early 1990s, there has never been a time in our history when so many fish
plants have closed as happened in the past year. At one point back in the
spring of this year, seven fish plants in Newfoundland and Labrador were shut
down for good all within days of each other.
The most poignant and problematic closure out of all
of them for King was the shutdown of Marystown OCI plant which had been the
“mother ship” for groundfish processing in the province for decades.
The focus of the argument there, and now in Fortune,
is whether or not the province — namely, the minister — would allow the company
to ship out a significant amount of yellowtail and redfish unprocessed.
In Marystown, OCI promised 18 weeks of work for the
people there if their request was granted. The workers themselves turned down
the notion, insisting — rightly or wrongly — that NL fish should be harvested
to the benefit of NL people. Later, King himself turned down the request (click
HERE for the blow-by-blow on that one).
But even as he did that, there were whispers in the
industry everywhere you went that it was for show, that the decision would only
be temporary and that King fully intended to lift the veil on exemptions for
minimum processing for OCI — especially since the new offer from the company
included full time work for 110 people smack dab in the middle of King’s own
electoral district in Fortune.
Sure enough, in the last few months in the position,
the bulk of King’s statements seemed to be leaning towards lifting the minimum
processing requirements with talk of dramatic changes coming for the industry,
and the idea that fish was no good to anyone left in the water, and the like.
That was quite a departure from back in April, however
when all members of the House of Assembly, including King, said and did THIS.
The other thing we learned about King is that he’s
probably not a fan of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW).
In February of this year he went public and lambasted
the union over what he saw as unfair criticism of government and promptly cut
off the flow of money — thought to be around $1.2 million over the past five
years — being spent on union science programs and the like (memories of that
event can be found HERE and HERE and HERE)
And even up until his very last minute in the position
of Fisheries Minister — and even a little bit since he was shuffled out — King
has been putting his dress shoes squarely into the gonads of McCurdy and Co. at
nearly every opportunity.
Just days before he was shuffled out he insisted that
if the OCI deal for Fortune collapsed it would the union’s fault (read that one
That tactic seemed to work as union local members in
Fortune turned their fire on the FFAW executive for not giving the deal the green
light over concerns about security of jobs in Fortune and issues around how the
resource would be harvested (possibly using foreign vessels and crew).
Of course to place the onus on the FFAW’s back was a clever
move, but also a pile of steaming horse farts since the decision is the
minister’s to make, and the minister’s alone. But King was in a tight spot: Say
yes to the OCI proposal and you get 110 jobs for people on your rural district
who will vote for you until the end of days, but you’ll open the can of worms
that is shipping out unprocessed NL fish to foreign countries. Or he could have
said no, and the jobs and votes would evaporate into the wind, but a line in
the sand would be drawn on resource development.
King’s short watch also included important
enhancements to the province’s Fisheries Loan Guarantee Program, the
establishment of an industry safety association, and there were some small
dribs and drabs in marketing but still no all-encompassing NL seafood marketing
initiative of which to speak.
So what to make of King’s time on the throne?
It was eventful and had some promise, but like many recent
ministers it was over so quickly we barely knew what to make of it.
It is clear to me and everyone else that King has his
sights squarely set on being premier, and fisheries was merely a stepping
stone, and represented a chance to build his personal profile — which seems to
have been the case.
In truth it is probably for the best he was moved out
of Fisheries at this point anyway given the decision that looms in Fortune with
respect to OCI’s groundfish proposal. Given the importance of that decision
alone it’s probably best that someone with a bit less conflict be in the
And it turns out that person will be the new minister,
Derrick Dalley, a former social worker, guidance counsellor and school
principal from the Twillingate, NL, area.
He’ll have his work cut out for him — and if the
current trend of changing ministers on the fly holds true, he’ll only have
until sometime after Halloween next year to get the job done.
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