Shouting, “We want jobs,” about 50 protesters confronted Premier Kathy Dunderdale in her hometown of Burin Saturday.
But Dunderdale headed off her campaign bus and right into the fray.
Allan Moulton, Marystown local president of the Fish Food and Allied Workers’ union (FFAW), demanded she revoke the exemption given Ocean Choice International (OCI) to ship redfish out of the province for processing.
The workers are upset they have no call back date after the summer shutdown at the Marystown plant.
Dunderdale was on the Burin Peninsula Saturday, where she visited Human, Resources and Employment Minister Darin King’s Grand Bank district and they helped Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman campaign.
Jackman, MHA for Burin-Placentia West faces his fiercest competition from NDP candidate Julie Mitchell. Jackie Mullett is running for the Liberals. Contentious issues facing Jackman are the idle fish plant and a downturn at the Marystown shipyard.
The fish plant employs about 250 and usually processes yellowfish.
“Why would government not at least level the playing field and say to the company, ‘Until we find a solution, you’re not going to continue to ship out 10 million pounds of product while the workers are here with no job?” Moulton asked.
“That’s not good and we don’t want to be at this, that’s the last thing,” Moulton said.
“When we arrived at the decision to ship out the redfish, everybody concluded it was the right thing to do,” Dunderdale said.
She said she’s willing to meet to find a solution after the election. “In the middle of an election is not the way to do it,” Dunderdale said, adding she won’t buy votes.
Dunderdale also told Moulton and the protesters they need to own up to what they agreed to. The union originally agreed to the exemption, based on an expectation of 30-35 weeks’ work.
But citing problems with viability in a recent offer made to the union, OCI said it wants to ship 80 per cent of its Marystown product to China for processing.
Workers rejected that offer because it would only give them 18 weeks of work a year.
After having words with Dunderdale, Moulton said he didn’t want to spoil her event at Jackman’s headquarters and asked his supporters to pack up their protest.
Afterwards, Moulton said he’s not satisfied government won’t address plant workers’ pleas until after the election.
“If the company had come to workers and said ‘The best we can do for you is provide 18 weeks’ work and other than that we are going to have to leave the rest of the fish in the water,’ we would have accepted that,” he told The Telegram.
“But that’s not the agenda at play here.
The agenda by the company is ‘We’re in this position the dollar is high and we’ve never been in a better position to get government to agree to let us ship out more and more.’”
An independent audit is being conducted on the plant operation.
Jackman later told The Telegram he expects the plant to reopen before Christmas
“I think there are some people who need two or three stamps before Christmas. I think if the parties can get back at the table, the plant can be open for the three or weeks before Christmas and that a schedule can be arrived at so the plant can be operating on an ongoing basis,” Jackman said.
He also expects the shipyard to rebound when it works out contractual issues with its union.
“My dime is on three to five months or so there will be work at the yard in Marystown,” Jackman said.
At the protest, shipyard worker Rick Farrell said he voted for Danny Williams last election.
“I’m undecided now,” he told The Telegram.
As Dunderdale campaigned at Sobeys in Marystown, Clayton Bolt of Grande Le Pierre, outside Jackman’s district, said the fishery has been long neglected. Sherry Squires of Marystown said the plant and shipyard are on people’s minds because so many have to go away to find work in Alberta and Labrador.
“I think it will be his biggest factor,” she said of Jackman’s re-election bid.
As Dunderdale campaigned at King’s headquarters in Grand Bank, a coast guard worker — who didn’t want to be named fearing federal reprisals — said Dunderdale didn’t push hard enough to keep the Marine Rescue Subcentre in St. John’s open.
It’s on the federal chopping block.
The coast guard worker doesn’t think the service will be the same in Halifax.
“Who better to assess the situation at sea,” he told The Telegram of having a centre in the province.
“The provincial government dropped the ball on that one.”
While some may have been unhappy with Dunderdale, her supporters included James Bonnell, 12, who is such a Tory fanatic, he painted his bedroom blue.
“Everybody makes fun of me because I love politics,” the well spoken Marystown pre-teen told The Telegram as he got to hang out with Dunderdale for awhile.
Bonnell stood next to King and Jackman, modeling their stance as Dunderdale spoke to seniors at a retirement home in Marystown and got to sit next to her on her campaign bus.
He said it was on his bucket list to meet Dunderdale. A cancer survivor, Bonnell had a tumour on his kidney when he was eight month’s old.
Bonnell wants to go into politics someday and Dunderdale told him, “We’ll get you trained up.”
Asked by The Telegram what he would do if he was premier, Bonnell replied, “I dunno.” After a moment’s thought, he said, “Probably fix the roads and build more hospital units.”
And what would he do about the Marystown fish plant?
“Get more working and the same thing with that Cow Head facility … if that’s the right answer,” Bonnell said.