23 March 2006

Rideout and Williams knew FPI plan in December

Provincial fisheries minister Tom Rideout and Premier Danny Williams were fully briefed on the seriousness of Fishery Product's International's (FPI) situation, and - at the very least - the outline of how the company intended to proceed to right its financial ship, as early as mid-December last year.

That information is contained in a news release issued today by FPI in response to comments by Rideout that the company was facing charges for exporting fish to China for processing.
FPI formally briefed the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador on the magnitude of the challenges in the groundfish sector and their impact on the future operations on December 13, 2005.
That's the first time anyone has acknowledged the provincial government received what appears to be a full briefing in mid-December on FPI's plans to deal with the fish company's financial troubles.

The story coming from Rideout to date has been different.

In January, 2006, The Independent reported in an unattributed comment that "FPI met with the province in mid December when the company informed Fisheries Minister Tom Rideout and Premier Danny Williams the company's internal review wouldn't be complete by the end of the year, a deadline the company itself had imposed."

Rideout himself told CBC that he would like to know what the company was proposing. A January 6, 2006 CBC news report contains the following statement:
Fisheries Minister Tom Rideout met with FPI officials last month. He said he would also like to know what the company plans to do.

"In terms of final decisions, we have not be apprised of any final decisions at this point in time," Rideout said.
Danny Williams letter to the three federal party leaders during last winter's federal election also suggest the provincial government had a good idea of what FPI was planning.

William's very first question focused on the need to be proactive in dealing problems in the fishing industry:
Significant changes are facing our fishing industry, such as resource declines, exchange rate pressures and increasing global competition.There is an urgent need for the Provincial and Federal Governments [sic] to take a proactive and cooperative approach to assist the industry and individuals in facing these challenges and capturing new opportunities. The alternative - waiting for a crisis to develop and reacting to it - is unacceptable. [Emphasis added]
This is strikingly similar to the content of a news release issued by FPI in early November 2005 in which the company announced the departure of Derrick Rowe from the chief executive officer's job and the establishment of an internal operational review.
Significant factors with respect to the availability of the natural resource, the stability of the U.S. dollar, Pound Sterling and Euro, the rising cost of fuel and the impact of low cost producers on the world marketplace, on an individual basis and in combination, have negatively impacted the Primary Group's business and will continue to negatively impact this business for the rest of the year. [Emphasis added]
Questions have already been raised about Rideout and his management of the fisheries department by the minister's own comments a few days ago that FPI was to be charged with illegally shipping fish outside the province.

Now there are other questions from the same incident and FPI's news release:

1. If the provincial government knew of FPI's problems and plans in December, why has it taken over four months for the issue to come to a head in public yet with no solution in sight?

2. Has the provincial government made any efforts to achieve a deal with the new Harper administration about either the early retirement option proposed by Danny Williams last November or the retraining option floated by Stephen Harper in his reply to Williams?

3. Why did FPI wait so long to announce its plans publicly when it appears the provincial government had working knowledge of the FPI plans in late 2005?

4. Why did Tom Rideout launch an audit of FPI fish exports in February- even though his office ought to have the information readily available and even though the provincial government was fully aware of both the problems FPI was facing and, presumably the necessity of shipping at least some of its products overseas for processing?

5. Why did Rideout announce at a union-organized rally that FPI had broken the law and would be charged over its fish exports?

6. Does the Williams administration actually have a plan to deal with FPI other than to threaten the company in public with charges about its export practices or with raising the spectre of further legislating restrictions on the company's ability to operate as a private sector company?

Left: Without a beard and moustache, fisheries minister Tom Rideout didn't stand a chance in the garden gnome look-alike contest. [Photo: CBC]