07 March 2011


For those who haven’t watched it yet, the raw video of fisheries minister Clyde Jackman’s news conference on the fisheries restructuring report  is worth watching in its entirety. 

Jackman and his staff apparently tried to rush the reporters and overwhelm them.  Instead of the usual background briefing on the report and a lengthy introductory statement, Jackman simply sat down, blathered out some perfunctory thanks and quickly asked for the first question.

What happens next is both beautiful and horrifying.  The beauty is in the elegance of reporters’ questions, especially CBC’s David Cochrane:  simple, focused and sharp despite working with the considerable handicap of not having read the lengthy report ahead of time.  They fillet Jackman’s credibility in living colour and lay out for anyone who cares to see it both the solution to the fisheries crisis and the only serious obstacle to it, namely the provincial government itself.

The horrifying bit is Jackman, his finger sometimes point here and there while he desperately tried to say something that did not sound asinine.  What Jackman fell back on repeatedly were a bunch of stock phrases about the need to treat the industry like an industry or the “ask” for a whole lot of money.  The result – the horrifying bit – comes with the realization that either the cabinet is completely fractured over fisheries reform and cannot figure out what to do or that they are agreed that the fishery must simply be allowed to collapse of its own accord.

There simply isn’t another alternative for Jackman’s performance.  After all, you don’t have to watch too much of his squirming to get the feeling that Jackman was busily clicking his heels under the table and muttering “There’s no place like home, Toto” under his breath.

In all likelihood, the current cabinet, like previous cabinets simply can’t get a position they can all agree on.   That would explain why Jackman never could define what he actually wanted instead of the report in front of him.  That’s why he relied on stock phrases that themselves meant nothing.  And as a result, one gets the idea pretty clearly that the provincial government simply doesn’t know what it wants, except to know that they did not want to accept the report in front of him and all its implications.

What Jackman did mention one too many times for comfort was the idea that some people think time will take care of the whole thing.  In other words, in an industry dominated by people rapidly approaching retirement, most of the people who would be “restructured” will simply leave the industry on their own if nothing else happens. He also talked about signs that prices might be climbing again soon, perhaps another clue as to what some in the provincial government might be hoping for.

Cochrane asked if the entire MOU process was now a waste of time.  Four and a half years of work at building a consensus in the industry seems to have come to naught. Not at all, said Jackman since now everyone has a study that describes exactly how bad things really are; now people can talk about solutions.

People have been talking about solutions for years.  This report was supposed to be the first step to action, not to further talk.  For anyone willing to pay attention, comments this past week made it pretty clear that both processors and fish harvesters are done with talking.  They want some action.

That leaves the provincial government in a terrible spot:  there is an election in October. The fishery is a gigantic political problem affecting many districts on the island and in Labrador. The governing party not only has no idea what to do about the fishery, they cannot even develop a strategy to effectively manage the controversy.

And what’s more, they have no distractions, no foreign demons, no bits of absurd political theatre to use to distract people.

What a terrible place to be in.

- srbp -