03 February 2006

30 million and two reasons to miss Brian Tobin

Courtesy of Craig Westcott and The Express comes another reason to miss Brian Tobin: his hand in shagging up the provincial fishery, as noted in a recent report compiled for the provincial fisheries department by former Liberal member of parliament and fisheries union president Richard Cashin.

Management of Processing Capacity

When the Fishing Industry Renewal Board submitted a report in 1996 on management of the fish processing sector, one of the issues was the demand for new crab licenses. The report cautioned against a wholesale increase in crab processing capacity. Instead, it recommended consideration for new licenses be given only to three major fishing centers (Twillingate, La Scie and St. Anthony) that then did not have crab licenses. There is no doubt in my mind that the Wells government, which commissioned that report, intended to implement it generally as it was presented.

Unfortunately, Premier Wells stepped down. It is ironic that his successor, Premier Tobin, proceeded in 1996 and 1997 to do the exact opposite of what he had done as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans in 1993 and 1994. Then he had been the recipient of the Atlantic Task Force on Incomes and Adjustments in the Fishery. He also was mainly responsible for getting billions of adjustment dollars spent to deal with aftermath of the cod fishery closures in Atlantic Canada, mostly in Newfoundland and Labrador. The primary problem in the industry then had been the considerable redundant capacity created by these closures. Problems in the ranks of harvesters and plant employees were addressed in part. The newly redundant capacity in the processing sector was not. In 1996-97, that provincial government, with the full knowledge of the mess we had been in only four or five years earlier issued 17 new crab licenses. Three more licenses were issued from 1998-2000 and another six would be added in 2001. [Emphasis added]

This undisciplined response to the increases in the crab and shrimp resource and harvesting licenses of the mid to late 1990s contributed to the build-up in crab (and shrimp) processing capacity and in a significant way to the crisis we have today. The additional processing licenses were issued for both species with complete disregard for such basic factors as total resource requirements versus availability, economics of location and the general viability of processing operations. This was a singularly unprecedented ignoring of the processing over-capacity problems that still lingered in the industry from the groundfish collapses of the early 1990s. Indeed, some of the crab licenses issued never operated; resource availability was already inadequate even before the declines of this decade began. The main results of that abdication of responsible public policy included the maintenance of some operations that would, and should, have left the industry, the establishment of other facilities in uneconomic locations and even the entry into the crab processing sector of new operators. The overcapacity created by these licensing actions drove the various industry-led attempts to find rationalization measures and plans for the crab and shrimp sectors over the last six years or so; these usually featured RMS as the preferred solution of processors. [Report of the Chairman, Raw Materials Sharing Review Committee, December 2005, pp. 48-49]
Sadly, the Westcott piece isn't on The H'Express website. Cashin gave Westcott some even juicier quotes, which I have been forced to retype below.

As Cashin notes, this unwarranted increase in processing capacity would have been bad enough but given that Tobin had previously been federal fisheries minister and was well aware of problems in the fishery, his actions are almost unfathomable.
"It's really appalling, but it's really indicative that Brian Tobin was not really engaged in being premier," said Cashin.

"He was really engaged in some sort of masochistic exercise which he misguidedly believed would lead him to the prime ministership of Canada."


From 1993 to 2000, Cashin served on a federal panel that brought him into contact with most Liberal MPs from Atlantic Canada.

"As best as I could figure it from talking to them, there was a strong mood that if Tobin's name came forward, there was a maximum of one MP who would support him," Cashin recalled.

Anyone who wants to know why Tobin dropped out last time and didn't take a run at it this time can have a look at that last bit from Richard Cashin.

Westcott contacted Tobin on the matter. Tobin - not surprisingly - begged off comment claiming he had other things on his mind. He referred Westcott to John Efford, who was fish minister at the time. Brian never did like to take responsibility for stinky issues. He always liked to slough those off on his ministers.


There's yet another reason to miss Brian Tobin: his willingness as first minister to take responsibility for things that happened while he was in charge. At right, Brian Tobin points the finger at someone else. [Photo: Greg Locke]