CETA: taking stock(s)

The Canada-European Union free trade agreement is coming. Labrador and Newfoundland are both part of Canada. Sadly, but ultimately, Canada controls our fisheries.

I agree with my fellow columnist (to a point) with her questions surrounding CETA, particularly the one about why the provincial government is now sounding the alarm at the 11th hour. I mean, other than the obvious tactic used by every provincial leader in this province (Quebec being the only other one) to score political points (and stem the tide on the low polling results) by bashing Canada – what is really going on? There’s lots of valid questions to ask regarding CETA, and in fact, about our whole fishing industry as it stands (or squats, or whatever verb you think is appropriate).

Through such negotiations we should hope that the people we elect guide us well – and even more importantly, that they listen to the public service who, arguably, have the public interest more at heart than political parties sometimes do (tongue in cheek perhaps).

One beef that seemed to be an undertone in some of the news stories is that NL is not a principle negotiator. They toss it out in the media as if we should be. I just have to say one thing to that: LOL. Or did I mean ROFL? I mean, seriously? Look at how we’ve proven to be good negotiators in the past. ABC? The infamous “parking lot” offer of Williams era public sector negotiations. Not to mention “Poor old Nigel Wright, ears still ringing when I smacked the phone up,” as a prime example of good negotiation tactics.

Now we can Canada bash all we like

But the points the premier are making are fluff. Grandstandery. Canada has the constitutional obligation/right to negotiate on behalf of the confederation. Full stop. Good or bad deal. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a right to have a good deal signed on our behalf. Nor does it mean provinces shouldn’t be consulted. But can you imagine the uproar if the federal government tried to weasel in on, say, mining or forestry negotiations?

Furthermore, Canada has the exclusive jurisdiction over the fishery. Inshore, offshore, shipping, exporting, international trade, domestic and international quotas and so on. We can pretend we brought the ocean into Confederation all we like, we can pretend the oil, gas, fish, and sub-sea minerals belong to our humble province all we want (but Canada claimed it 36 years ago this month). We can hate the constitutional division of powers all we want. But there it is. It’s what we signed up for, and I stated my opinion on this before too.

What about the MPRs?

The Minimum Processing Requirements, or MPRs, exist in an interesting legal gray area in fisheries management. While the Feds have jurisdiction over fisheries, provinces have jurisdiction over on-shore processing activities through its responsibility for “Property and Civil Rights” within the province – which is mostly untested, but essentially means provinces have control over intra provincial health and safety. But this court case by “Dandy Dan” (lol, I love stories in Newfoundland, seriously) started to clarify a few of the legal double aspects, or incidental impacts of federal/provincial law, but didn’t decide which law is paramount.

Legal mumbo jumbo to state that essentially the MPRs fall completely flat when it comes to international factory freezer ships – let alone some guy who wants to export his fish on his own. Sure the province can demand certain “quality control” related restrictions, but it really can’t stop Russia from grabbing up it’s quota and shipping it back to the father land. Only Canada can do that. MPRs are for province-based fishing only.

Besides, it’s essentially a (very sad) fact that the World Trade Organization will eventually challenge the MPRs as unfair trade restrictions. Welcome to the New World Order Inc. I don’t agree with it, but that’s where we’re heading so we might as well cash in on zero tariffs with Europe now. Heck the FFAW essentially agrees. So does this report commissioned by the prov-gov (PDF), with wonderful opening remarks from the best leader we’ve ever had, on how we can restructure (dismantle) our most important industry ever.

Local resource, local benefits

Photo by Derek Keats (CC BY 2.0)
Labradorians and Newfoundlanders ought to benefit most from the resources in their own regions. Photo by Derek Keats (CC BY 2.0)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely 100% in support of this government’s position that we need to preserve the right to get the maximal benefit from the resources adjacent to us. Not just as a country, not just a province, but region to region. It’s not only fair, it’s the only way to ensure the least overall negative environmental impact and most positive social/economic impact of resource extraction.

That’s why I find it odd the premier has the gall to trot out the MPR/local benefits for local resources argument when not but a year ago the province was trying to circumvent the very same principles in Labrador. There’s a policy in place ensuring crab caught in zone 2J (off Labrador) shall be processed in Labrador. With the reduction of the number of plants in Labrador, outside fishers wanted to re-establish the old time tradition of coming “down north” “on the Labrador” and export crab from zone 2J in Labrador to Quebec, and to parts of the Island. While the regulations were upheld, (report is here – pdf) they still tried to loosen the principle.

“Not one spoonful”

Labradorians have heard this kind of rhetoric before. The adjacency principle is great, unless we can help our island residents first, then we’ll go with that option. Voisey’s Bay, Muskrat Falls, Churchill Falls, Labrador West, Abbitibi Pulp and Paper, the fishery in general, Labradorians benefit, but proportional to our population, we have always come up short in the benefits.

I’d be the first one to stand up and defend the south shore, or the Northern Peninsula, or heck even the Avalon or any other population in benefiting the most from the province’s regional resources that are adjacent to them. Otherwise we’ll just eventually turn our citizens into a (bigger) roving pack of locusts devouring resources and moving on. Shouldn’t we be supporting more sustainable local populations?

CETA is coming – like it or lump it

Everyone likes a David and Goliath story. Sure, maybe we can beat it like Iceland beat the UK, and that dude in Tienanmen Square and the tank. In both cases the offending state had the legal right to quash the little guy, but it would look pretty bad. This isn’t going to pan out like that.

It seems to me that we should be focusing on becoming more competitive, rather than becoming more protectionist (not that I believe this is the right thing to do, but that we likely can’t win being protectionist). We have some of the hardest working people in the country, when we work. We have vast, but dwindling, resources. And our wages are comparatively lower than our competitors in Europe. Instead of wasting our time and effort trying to enforce laws/regulations that are likely to be struck down in the not too distant future anyway, why not restructure our processing so that people want to process their resources here? Why not do what we can ‘in-country’ to help our fishers and processors become more competitive and sustainable?

It’s cheaper, and easier, to ship finished products from here, at lower wages than the Euro than it takes to bring whole product to market and process it there. And we’d get more local jobs from secondary and tertiary products, which we could do more economically with an additional 20% off the EU tariffs we currently contend with.

We have to do something, because over half the fishing industry population is over 45 now, and those workers are not getting any younger. If we do nothing, we’ll soon just be watching foreign ships come for our fish while we shake our arthritic fists futilely in the air at them.

And for the love of bakeapples, would yas elect a mature government that knows how to relate to other governments? Maybe we’d be full delegates of the inner circles if we didn’t stomp our feet every chance we get.

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