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St. John’s chapter concerned by secret federal-provincial talks on CETA and the fisheries

St. John’s chapter activist Ken Kavanagh.

The Council of Canadians St. John’s chapter is concerned its provincial government is willing to support the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and trade away its constitutional right to minimum processing requirements (MPRs) in exchange for a short-term cash infusion from the federal government.

CBC has reported, “In October 2013, [Newfoundland and Labrador] announced that Ottawa would pony up 70 per cent of the costs of a $400-million fishery fund, as part of a trade-off that would see [the province] forgo minimum processing requirements for European markets. The issue had been a flashpoint in trade discussions on [CETA]. But in December 2014, [Newfoundland and Labrador premier Paul] Davis accused the feds of putting new stipulations on their $280-million contribution to the fund, saying Ottawa was linking the cash to losses directly attributed to the province giving up MPRs [rather than as a no-strings attached payment].”

In Jan. 2015, Justin Trudeau wrote Premier Dwight Ball that, “The abolition of minimum processing requirements is clearly of great concern to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and your government’s support of the (free trade deal) was earned, in part, by a promise from the government of Canada to help the industry adjust to the new reality. That promise should be honoured.”

Now, The Telegram reports, “Tory MHA Keith Hutchings stood in question period to ask about what’s happening with the Canada-Europe free trade agreement, which is reportedly being finalized, and moving towards ratification. Premier Ball said it’s too soon to say anything. …’There are a number of agreements, discussions and negotiations that are occurring on many fronts with our federal colleagues. It would be very premature of anyone on this side of the House right now. …When the time is right, if we are able to close any agreement or any deal with our federal colleagues, what we will do is we will make that public at the time.'”

This follows a March 1 CBC article which reported, “There’s still a ways to go before the much-hyped deal is implemented, but Judy Foote [the Member of Parliament for Bonavista-Burin-Trinity] says talks are already taking place to address concerns that the fishery will be hurt by the removal of minimum fish processing requirements for seafood destined for the EU. …When asked Monday [March 1] if the province will have to prove losses before any money is paid, Foote said that remains to be seen. That’s the very issue that drove a wedge between former premier Paul Davis and former prime minister Stephen Harper.”

St. John’s chapter activist Ken Kavanagh has repeatedly questioned the constitutionality of abandoning minimum processing requirements.

In Dec. 2014, the Telegram reported, “Kavanagh wants to see the provincial government hold public consultations on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union. …’We’re being asked to give up a constitutional right not to have any further control over the processing sector’, says Kavanagh. ‘To me, that’s a pretty significant decision to make, so I think people should have a say in it.’ He says consultations would give people an opportunity to understand the CETA agreement thoroughly and have a say on whether or not it should happen.”

And earlier this month, after Foote made her comments noted above, Kavanagh stated, “The processing sector is constitutionally the responsibility of the province. Unless the previous Davis government or the present Ball government have secretly signed off on relinquishment of said rights, then MPRs are not yet removed! On the latter point, if MPRs are a part of out constitutional rights (as per the Terms of Union), then before conceding on any aspect of that constitutional right, a serious consultation and public discourse with citizens of this province is mandatory.”

Furthermore, the provincial government admits it is “facing mounting debt, increasing interest and borrowing costs, a credit rating downgrade, and restricted ability to support key government programming.” In response, it has launched a “renewal initiative” to seek input on “measures to eliminate the province’s deficit and move forward with a sustainable budgetary framework”.

Kavanagh highlights, “Premier Ball’s refusal to make public information on the ongoing negotiations with the federal government is at odds with his government’s pledge to be ‘open, transparent and engage the public in meaningful ways’ on the province’s financial future. Our fishery is a renewable resource that has great potential for wealth generation and job creation and I can’t understand any government giving up a constitutionally based tool to maximize that economic benefit of requiring that resource be processed here. Taking the $400 million is akin to a one time pot of cash in exchange for a tool that guarantees us a lifetime opportunity to get the maximum economic benefit form our fish resource.”

The Council of Canadians will continue to raise this issue, including at our annual conference in St. John’s this coming Oct. 14-16.