24 May 2006

Breaking up FPI

Curse Hansard for being unconscionably slow posting the transcripts of debates in the House of Assembly.

The stuff from last Thursday night and the debate on the Hydro bill is still not online. That yielded nuggets for blogging mostly because not a single member who spoke on the bill had a freakin' clue what it was about. Well, at least their comments didn't suggest any comprehension of the English language.

It is way too early therefore to expect anything from Tuesday and Danny Williams little slip of the tongue in which he revealed a bit of his "plan" for Fishery Products International (FPI). He said something to the effect that if a group of local stakeholders came forward with a plan to buy up the company, then he'd put government money behind them.

Couple that with the changes to the FPI Act currently in front of the House and you have the Williams' plan for FPI: break it up and sell off the bits. Sound familiar?

Remember the Rule of Opposites. In this corollary, take what he accuses someone else of plotting and apply to the Prem himself.

In the absence of any deeper plan for the fishery as a whole - let alone a deeper understanding of what the issues are - the provincial government is falling victim to the quick-fix bail out approach. That's why when fish minister Tom Rideout (right) spoke on the FPI Act amendments Tuesday, he referred to the current situation being like 20 years ago. FPI was created out of a massive bail-out scheme.

The bail-out scheme we may see applied in this instance would have the fish plants in the province sold off, most likely to the Barry Group.

Meanwhile, Ocean Cuisine and possibly the European division would be retained and run by a consortium of the smaller operators out there whose product it already flogs. The European division might also be a way of getting local shrimp under the European Union tariff barrier.

Remember Danny's comment about selling off FPI at fire-sale prices? Well, consider that the current bill in the legislature gives the cabinet control over the break-up: that's the goal of the legislation. The Premier was likely only concerned about someone else buying up the assets at a fire sale - one with flames fanned by his own government more often than not - not necessarily about the idea of a sale and a break up per se.

Of course, in the larger picture Rideout is dead wrong. He and Williams may well manage to cobble together a quick-fix here involving a bail-out and government money but they are really looking at a situation which is fundamentally different than the one 20 years ago. What Williams and Rideout will be doing - if the FPI break-up evolves out of the Great Wednesday Meeting with the Premier - is avoiding the tar-baby by taking the province headlong into the political and financial briar patch.

And just like 20 years ago, neither of them plans on being around when we find out how prickly the briar is.