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Newfoundland and Labrador labour groups ‘cautiously optimistic’ about new federal fisheries minister

FFAW president Keith Sullivan (left) and FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary.
FFAW president Keith Sullivan (left) and FISH-NL president Ryan Cleary. - Sally Cole

Dominic LeBlanc is out and Jonathan Wilkinson is in as head of DFO

The new Federal Fisheries Fisheries minister is being welcomed by the FFAW and its rival, FISH-NL, with plenty of challenges staring him down.

Vancouver North MP Jonathan Wilkinson was shuffled into the federal cabinet on Wednesday, replacing Beausejour MP Dominic LeBlanc in the role. LeBlanc will now handle Intergovernmental Affairs, Northern Affairs, and Internal Trade.

Fish, Food and Allies Workers (FFAW) union president Keith Sullivan says the FFAW is “cautiously optimistic” about Wilkinson’s appointment, but there are big challenges ahead for the new minister.

“FFAW-Unifor members are frustrated with delayed management plans for almost every fishery this year, including halibut, snow crab, caplin and northern cod,” Sullivan said in a statement.

“More work must be done to strengthen coastal economies through protecting the inshore fishery and the fish processing sector in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

While LeBlanc eliminated the last in, first out policy, changes to the arctic surf clam quota drew criticism from this province.

In February, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) awarded one-quarter of the arctic surf clam quota to the Five Nations Clam Corp. and Premium Seafoods, run by Edgar Samson, brother of Preston-Chezzetcook MP Darrell Samson.

In May, the CBC reported LeBlanc is under investigation by the federal ethics commissioner in relation to the award. The arctic surf clam industry is particularly lucrative, worth tens of millions of dollars. Arctic surf clams harvested off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia is a delicacy in sushi, and is most commonly shipped to Asian markets.

The result of that investigation is forthcoming.

Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters (FISH-NL) head Ryan Cleary isn’t sad to see LeBlanc go, calling him “the worst minister of Fisheries and Oceans in living memory.”

In a statement, Cleary laments Wilkinson’s roots in British Columbia.

“It’s too bad the new minister isn’t from Newfoundland and Labrador, but then that’s probably best because our MPs are known as the ‘silent seven’ when it comes to the fishery,” Cleary stated.

“FISH-NL’s door is wide open to Mr. Wilkinson, and a fresh start, and we’re looking forward to working with him.”

While federal fisheries ministers are most commonly from the Atlantic provinces, there is precedent for the minister to hail from British Columbia.

Former Vancouver South MP Herb Dhaliwal is the most recent fisheries minister from British Columbia, serving under Jean Chrétien from 1999 to 2002.

Independent MP for Nunavut Hunter Tootoo is the most recent non-Atlantic Canadian to hold the post before resigning in May 2016, when LeBlanc took over the portfolio. Before that, Alberta MP Tom Siddon held the post from 1985 to 1990. All other Fisheries ministers since then have been from the Atlantic provinces.

david.maher@thetelegram.com

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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