This is a hard place to live, and not just because of the weather.
The retribution can be brutal.
A price is often paid for going against the government grain in small-town NL — the entire population of which is only about the size of a Montreal neighbourhood, as political scientists like to point out.
The CBC’s legislative reporter, David Cochrane, may have said it best three years ago in an address to the St. John’s Board of Trade:
“Business leaders shy away from comment if it even smells of conflict with the government. They react as if the first person to speak out would be like the first person to wander off alone in a horror film … never to be seen again.”
Gus Etchegary is an exception.
There have been times when he would have spit in Ottawa’s eye, if it had an eye.
Etchegary, a fishing industry executive until his retirement in the late 1980s, is chairman of the Fisheries Community Alliance, a 14-member group devoted to the restoration of the NL fisheries.
Formed in 1993, the year after the northern cod moratorium, the group is made up of a select membership of scientists, bureaucrats, academics, politicians, fishermen, and businessmen from all quarters of the NL fishing industry.
Most members are comfortably retired (and seemingly beyond the reach of any possibly retribution), but don’t bother asking for the membership list — it’s not for public release.
Individual members fear repercussions for themselves or their families if they go public with criticism of the federal or provincial governments.
Says Etchegary: “It’s a well-known fact that anyone who speaks out against those in authority — and this doesn’t just apply to fisheries — are going to suffer consequences because of their association or their children’s association with the industry.”
With a federal election widely expected this spring and a provincial election set for Tuesday, Oct. 11, the Fisheries Community Alliance is after federal and provincial political parties to support a judicial inquiry into the NL fisheries.
Which is exactly what the Harper government ordered on Canada's West Coast.
In the fall of 2009 the federal Conservative government called a judicial inquiry into the collapse of sockeye salmon on British Columbia’s Fraser River.
The report of the $25-million Cohen inquiry is expected by June 20, 2012.
It’s been almost 20 years since NL fisheries for such groundfish species as cod and flounder were shut down, with little or no recovery since then.
The B.C. inquiry “is to make recommendations on improving the future sustainability of the sockeye fishery, including potential changes in policies, practices and procedures of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).”
Tell me we couldn’t use that here.
To date, the Fisheries Community Alliance has had meetings with representatives of the federal and provincial Liberal and New Democrats, with more meetings expected in the coming weeks with federal Conservatives and provincial PCs.
NL must start preparing for life after oil.
The days of fear standing in the way could be nearing an end.