Monday, February 2, 2015

Harper should honour his promise and stand by his word; my speech today in the Commons

I gave the following 20-minute speech today (Feb. 2) in the House of Commons on my Opposition Day Motion calling on the Conservative government to honour its promise to Newfoundland and Labrador regarding the EU trade dealand the Fisheries Investment Fund. Mr. Speaker, It’s no small feat for Newfoundland and Labrador to grab – to seize — the country’s attention, the national spotlight. It’s no small feat to turn the eyes of all of Canada to the eastern most province, even though we’re the youngest province, the coolest province, the most beautiful province, Mr. Speaker. It’s no small feat for our issues — for our agenda — to capture the national or international stage. It’s no small feat because we’re a small province with just over half a million people (about the size of Hamilton, Ont. or Quebec City) and we only have 7 Members of Parliament. Seven members of Parliament out of what will soon be 338 MPs across the country. So how do we do it, Mr. Speaker? We do it with flare, Newfoundland and Labrador flare. We do it with confidence that comes from incredible pride of place. We do it with drive, determination and fight. It’s always a fight for Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker, we’re always having to punch above our weight. Former federal Liberal Cabinet Minister Brian Tobin seized the country’s attention – the world’s attention — by firing a shot across the bow of a Spanish trawler during the turbot wars of the 1990s. Tobin then took the 16-story long illegal net with undersized mesh that the Spanish trawler had been dragging on the Grand Banks, undersized mesh so small it could catch fish the size of your palm, Mr. Speaker. He took that net and hung it from a crane on the New York City waterfront near the United Nations. Point made, Mr. Speaker, although this is the 20th anniversary of the Turbot War, Mr. Speaker, and our fisheries are still in shambles, the industry remains in perpetual crisis. Not much came out of Tobin’s theatrics, besides theatrics. Oh, and the premiership, Mr. Speaker. Another former premier, Danny Williams, made another point, another national statement Mr. Speaker, when he removed Canadian flags from the front of all provincial government buildings back in 2004. That move turned heads across the country; there were gasps of outrage from one coast to the next. Danny removed the Maple Leafs in retaliation for the actions of this Conservative Prime Minister. The Prime Minister reneged on a promise to honour a deal excluding offshore-resource revenues – oil revenues - from the equalization formula. And Danny Williams went to war, Mr. Speaker. He accused the Prime Minister of betraying Newfoundland and Labrador. He called the prime minister a fraud; he questioned the Prime Minister’s character and said he could not be trusted. Danny Williams launched the ABC campaign — Anybody but Conservative — during the 2008 federal election and not a single Conservative MP was elected from Newfoundland and Labrador. There are times, Mr. Speaker, that we don’t quite feel like we belong in this Confederation. There are times that we feel like we’re not welcome. There are times when we feel like we’re not important, expendable almost, not high on the national agenda. Which brings us to today, Mr. Speaker. The Prime Minister is accused – yet again — of betraying Newfoundland and Labrador, of reneging on a deal, of a double cross, of breaking a promise, of failing to honour an agreement. It certainly looks that way, Mr. Speaker. The facts point in the betrayal direction. And that seems to be a trend with this Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker, it is the same Prime Minister who once said that Atlantic Canada has a culture of defeat. Mr. Speaker, the actions of this Prime Minister towards Newfoundland and Labrador – to put it mildly — do not foster warmth or trust. The Conservative brand back home, Mr. Speaker, is dirt. The Prime Minister’s surname is almost a swear word. But there’s still time for him and his government to do the right thing. There’s still time for him to do right by Newfoundland and Labrador, for a change. There’s still time for this Prime Minister to keep his word to the province and, more than that, there’s time for the Prime Minister to help position Newfoundland and Labrador for the elusive success with our fisheries. There’s still time for the Prime Minister to surrender his defeatist attitude towards Atlantic Canada. Mr. Speaker, this motion centers around the Canada EU free-trade deal, CETA, the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement. Unlike any other province, Mr. Speaker, Newfoundland and Labrador was asked to give up something, was asked by this Conservative government to surrender a key policy plank, to make the trade deal happen. This Conservative government asked my province to surrender what’s called minimum processing requirements. Those requirements protect fish plant jobs on land by ensuring that fish caught off our shores are processed in plants on our shores. Mr. Speaker, the Newfoundland and Labrador government thought long and hard about what it wanted in exchange for surrendering those minimum processing requirements. And this Conservative government asked the province to think outside the box. In the end, Mr. Speaker, the two levels of government decided to create a $400-million Fisheries Investment Fund, with $280 million to come from this Conservative government, and the remaining $120 million from the provincial government. Mr. Speaker, correspondence from this government clearly outlines that the fisheries fund was for a transitional program to address development and renewal in the seafood industry. This motion, the Opposition motion before this House today, calls on the Conservative government to respect, to honour, its commitment to Newfoundland and Labrador — a deal that was first struck in June 2013. There was no grey area, Mr. Speaker, this was clearly a deal between both levels of government. Former Premier Kathy Dunderdale held a news conference in October 2013, Mr. Speaker, to announce details of the agreement it struck with the Conservative government. And this government didn’t say a peep about the agreement, about the $400-million Fisheries fund, didn’t raise a single objection, not one. Not a word was said, Mr. Speaker, in objection to anything announced by the Newfoundland and Labrador government for 17 months. Seventeen months, Mr. Speaker. Seventeen months for this Conservative government to raise a single objection to any of the points made by the Newfoundland and Labrador government. And there wasn’t a word, not a whisper. I even posed a question on the order paper last April, Mr. Speaker, that asked the President of Treasury Board for details of the fisheries fund, including the purpose and any stipulations on the funding. In response, the Treasury Board President refused to answer, applying the Privacy Act on the grounds that the information is “confidence of Cabinet." Mr. Speaker, I clearly asked if there were stipulations on the funding and the Conservatives refused to answer. Why, Mr. Speaker? Why did they wait almost a year and a half to raise an objection to the details announced by the Newfoundland and Labrador government? Why did they wait almost a year and a half to change the terms of the deal? Was it to keep Newfoundland and Labrador quiet, Mr. Speaker? Was it to shut the province up until CETA was a done deal? Because it certainly appears that way, Mr. Speaker. The Conservatives now say that the fisheries fund was only created to compensate for losses from the removal of Minimum Processing Requirements. In other words, Mr. Speaker, the province must show direct losses before it’s compensated from the fisheries fund. But that wasn’t the deal, Mr. Speaker. That’s an excuse. I see that, Mr. Speaker, as the Prime Minister essentially giving Newfoundland and Labrador the finger. The Conservatives now say the $280 million – their contribution – is not a blank cheque. The Minister of Justice even had the gall a few weeks ago to visit St. John’s and criticize Newfoundland and Labrador for wanting a “slush fund." That’s the same minister, Mr. Speaker, who used a military search and rescue helicopter for a taxi from a fishing lodge on the Gander River. That minister has no credibility, Mr. Speaker. I had another Conservative, Mr. Speaker, who told me the province was after yet another hand-out, a welfare cheque. Wrong again, Mr. Speaker – dead wrong. We want to stand on our own. We want to do for ourselves. We want the ability to do for ourselves. Mr. Speaker, if the $400 million fisheries fund is for compensation for losses as a result of CETA, why is the province kicking in $120 million of its own money? To compensate itself? That makes no sense. Mr. Speaker, why was ACOA tasked with administering the fund? If the $400 million was straight up compensation why go through ACOA, Mr. Speaker. Pay the province, pay the companies directly. And another point, Mr. Speaker, it could be another five or so years before Minimum processing requirements are officially eliminated as part of CETA. According to Conservative rational, that means 5 years before Newfoundland and Labrador would receive any funds to help it with the marketing and development needed to capitalize on the 500-million person EU market. Again, Mr. Speaker, that’s makes no sense, it’s not smart, it doesn’t add up. This transition fund was for us to capitalize on the EU trade deal. To position ourselves, to position the fishery for renewal, for maximum benefit. We can’t do that with this Conservative double-cross, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the former Progressive Conservative government of Kathy Dunderdale held a news conference in October 2013 – I mentioned that earlier — to announce the deal with the federal Conservatives, the elimination of Minimum Processing Requirements for a $400-million fisheries fund. The PCs were criticized because there were no federal Conservatives in the room. At the same time, the federal Conservatives held a Canada-EU summit reception in September past; they spend more than $160,000 on it - when the final trade deal has yet to be ratified by the European Union nations. Mr. Speaker, the deal to surrender minimum processing requirements for a $400-million fisheries fund has been lauded by all quarters in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishing industry. The union likes it, industry’s onside, and the province, of course, is behind it. The most obvious benefit of the trade deal, Mr. Speaker, is duty-free access to the world’s most lucrative fish and seafood market, which imports more than $25 billion in products annually. More than $25 billion a year and we want a piece of that, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, CETA would eliminate 95 per cent of all fish and seafood tariffs when the deal comes into force, with all remaining tariffs going to zero within 3, 5 or 7 years. Again, the elimination of tariffs is generally seen as a good thing for our fishing industry, everybody is in favour, all sides. There are voices of concern, Mr. Speaker. There are voices of concern from the offshore oil industry, concern that oil companies will no longer have to charter Canadian-flagged vessels with Canadian crews. Instead, Mr. Speaker, the concern is that CETA will open up the shipping industry so foreign flagged vessels could operate in Canadian waters; foreign vessels with much lower working standards and pay than Canadian ships. Likewise, Mr. Speaker, there’s concern in some quarters of Newfoundland and Labrador that CETA will allow foreign ownership of Canadian fish quotas. Of course that can happen now. Or that foreign trawlers with lower-paid foreign crews will be chartered to catch Canadian fish and sail it to the EU for processing. Mr. Speaker, could there come a day when fish off our shores isn’t caught or processed by Canadians? Could that day come, is a question that has been asked, a concern that has been raised. What’s the answer, Mr. Speaker? Could a day come when fish off our shores isn’t processed or caught by Canadians? What’s the answer? Now, a few words about the Liberals to my left Mr. Speaker. The CETA deal was barely out of the mouth of the Prime Minister when the leader of Liberal party of Canada jumped to his feel in this House to endorse the deal. The Liberal Leader hadn’t read the deal — the wording wasn’t out then — he didn’t know the terms for Newfoundland and Labrador, either. Mr. Speaker, would you buy a car or a house without reading the contract? The small print? No, Mr. Speaker, a person who did that would be irresponsible. But the Liberals here supported the deal without even reading it. Shame, Mr. Speaker. And now the Liberal Leader has written a letter to the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador in support of the $400-million fisheries fund. That’s all well and good, Mr. Speaker – Newfoundland and Labrador is being nailed to the wall and the Liberal Leader blindly trusted the Prime Minister. A monster trade deal and the Liberal leader gave it all of 10 seconds consideration. As it stands, Mr. Speaker, the collapse in world oil prices is slamming Newfoundland and Labrador from both ends. To the east, revenues from the province’s oil play on the Grand Banks are down substantially, to the point that this year’s provincial deficit is pegged at $916 million. That’s a deficit of almost $1 billion, Mr. Speaker, for a small province with just over half a million people. To the west, thousands of layoffs in Alberta’s oil sands will also have a devastating impact on our migratory workforce. Alberta oil money has been propping up our fishing outports for years. Newfoundland and Labrador has been solely focused on the oil industry to our peril. Economic tunnel vision is what I’ve called it. Diversification is critical. Diversification to renewable resources, fish, for example, is key. Oil and gas will run out, that’s a given. Fish – if managed properly (for a change) and given a chance to reproduce – will be around forever. Of all the things I could say about the Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker (and I could go on all day). Of all the things I could say this with absolute authority – I’ll say this, he’s not stupid. He’s the first person to praise the benefits and opportunity of this latest free-trade deal. Surely, Mr. Speaker, he can see the direct benefit of Newfoundland and Labrador using the $400-million fisheries fund to poise itself for tariff-free access to the EU market. To prepare itself in terms of marketing and industry renewal. Newfoundland and Labrador – unlike any other province - is giving up minimum processing requirements. We’re surrendering a constitutional right over our greatest industry, our greatest resource. We’re the only province asked to surrender anything. My province made a deal in good faith with a Conservative government, a Conservative Prime Minister, who had been accused before of betrayal. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Maybe Newfoundland and Labrador should be ashamed of itself, Mr. Speaker, for putting faith in this Conservative government again. But I’m appealing to the Prime Minister. Surrender, sir, your defeatist attitude towards Atlantic Canada, surrender your war with Newfoundland and Labrador. Stand by your word. Do the honourable thing. Do the right thing. For Canada, for Newfoundland and Labrador. Honour your promise and stand by your word. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

No comments: