Friday, July 22, 2016

Federal Auditor General asked to investigate FFAW for conflict of interest

Michael Ferguson
Auditor General of Canada
240 Sparks Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0G6, Canada

Mr. Ferguson,

I’m writing to request that your office investigate Government of Canada funds distributed to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW), a St. John’s-based union representing most fishery workers in Newfoundland and Labrador, for potential conflict of interest. 

I also ask that your office review the awarding of a controversial snow crab quota by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to a company with close ties to the FFAW — also for potential conflict of interest and misrepresentation.

The FFAW receives untold millions of dollars a year from various federal departments to administer/oversee various fisheries programs in the province, while, at the same time, the union is expected to hold Ottawa to account on its day-to-day management and overall policy decisions.

The obvious conflict undermines the faith of thousands of fishery workers in — not only their union — but the entire industry. Normal checks and balances that accompany a union-management dynamic can be compromised when funds change hands between the two, potential negatively impacting the entire fishing industry.

I’m requesting that your review extend back at least a decade, and make public all funds from all government departments/Crown corporations directed to the FFAW. 

As a former Member of Parliament (St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, 2011-2015), and after receiving concerns from fishery workers/FFAW members around the province, I attempted to determine the amount/sources of federal money directed to the union in any given year by filing a series of questions on the Order Paper. 

While some figures were revealed (the FFAW was paid almost $7.5 million alone between 2011 and 2014 to administer the Atlantic lobster sustainability measures program), I could not obtain them all.

The second matter I bring to your attention is a snow crab quota awarded to the Newfoundland company, Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters, in 1996 and a potential conflict of interest involving the FFAW. 

In June 1995, Ches Cribb, then-Vice-President of the FFAW’s Deep Sea Sector, wrote the licensing division of Fisheries and Oceans in St. John’s requesting that the federal department give “priority access” to the developing offshore crab fishery to struggling deep sea fisherman.

According to correspondence obtained through the federal Access to Information and Privacy Act, that request was denied, but the very next year, in February 1996, Cribb made another request for a snow crab quote. 

He made that request (which was eventually granted)  —  not as vice-president of the FFAW’s deep sea sector — but as president of Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters, the private company asking for the quota.

It’s not known whether Cribb still worked for the FFAW when he made the request on behalf of Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters, but some of the correspondence forwarded from the private company to DFO was done on FFAW letterhead.

As well, the company’s address — P.O. Box 881, Marystown, Newfoundland — was the same address as Cribb’s FFAW office. 

The conflict of interest would appear obvious. 

Further, in applying for an offshore snow crab quota, Offshore Fish Resource Harvesters initially presented itself to DFO as a cooperative (“one member, one vote”), but that description would appear to be a misrepresentation. The company's crab quota has been renewed every since since 1996 and profits over that time (which have never been reported) would be in the millions of dollars. 

To conclude, fishermen cannot work in Newfoundland and Labrador unless they’re members of the FFAW. At the same time, many of them have lost faith in their union and fear speaking out because of retaliation from both the FFAW and DFO.

A thorough review by your office would help clear the air and restore confidence in a fishing industry perpetually in crisis. 


Ryan Cleary,

St. John’s, NL 

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