06 October 2015

The smallest details tell the biggest story #nlpoli

Last week, provincial fisheries minister Vaughn Granter held a news conference at a local restaurant known for its seafood dishes to announce that from now on, that restaurant and even ordinary consumers could buy fish.directly from a fisherman without facing any legal problems.

That may sound a bit odd to some people but truth be told the provincial government has for decades banned direct sales to consumers.  Ostensibly it was based on concerns over public health but in truth it was just another way the government tried to control the hell out of the fish business.

Wonderful news.

But the really fascinating detail was buried away in Granter’s speaking notes.

This policy change came in a report delivered to the provincial government in December 2010.

Even allowing that the provincial Conservatives were in a temporary leadership tizzy at the time,  five years is a long time for a simple policy change like this to languish.

The provincial Conservatives have had three and a half premiers since then.

They’ve had five fisheries ministers as well.

Clyde Jackman got the report. He handed it to Darin Luther King who handed it to Keith Hutchings who handed it to Derrick Dalley who handed it to Vaughn who has sat on the thing for the year he’s been in office before it finally got out the door.

That sort of ministerial musical chairs reflects the lack of direction the provincial government has faced for the last five years.  But before that, back when Danny was openly telling the provincial Conservatives what to do, they had a similar problem.

Back then, they were the serial government.  They could only tackle one major thing at a time.  And since the fellow in charge of everything cared little for fisheries policy,  the fisheries went no where. The best they could do was wage a political war on one globally competitive. 

They harassed a company that was operating legally and eventually accomplished the political goal of smashing the company to bits.  Their political friends got some of the assets and the best bits went to the fellows the Premier at the time  and his fisheries minister accused of being evil foreigners hell bent on breaking up the company and walking off with the best bits. 

All the while the Premier and his fisheries minister were the only ones looking like they were busily trying to break up Fishery Products International.. As it turned out what they said and the truth were two radically different things. Like you never saw that before with this bunch.  Now one of the companies that came out of that mess is in yet another mess of its own.

The fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador has been chronically mismanaged for decades not by the federal government but by Granter and his colleagues and before that a raft of other administrations of different stripes.  They run it as a social and political enterprise not a business and therein remains the problem.

The most recent example is the dispute with the federal government over a pot of cash tied to the European free trade deal.  Not content with having $400 million to hand out, the provincial government tried to radically alter the deal with Ottawa.  In a move that had Danny Williams’ fingerprints all over it, the provincial Conservatives accused the federal government of breaking its promise even though that simply wasn’t true.

True to form both the local media and provincial politicians have been singing the provincial government’s line, despite having the evidence in their hands.  In the current federal election campaign,  NDP and Liberal candidates alike have been lacing into the federal Conservatives over CETA and the fisheries fund.  But when it comes to their claims of broken promises, nothing could be further from the truth.

But beyond the chronic mismanagement and the usual political foolishness you get inside the echo chamber, Granter’s remarks point to a much bigger problem.

A healthy economy these days depends on the ability of an industry to change quickly to meet global trends in the market.  This is not news.  We’ve known it for 25 years.  A healthy, competitive economy requires a few things.  Free flow of accurate information is a biggie.  Between Bill 29 and the CETA thing, you can see there’s a huge problem with that still.

Another thing is government regulation does what it needs to do and no more. Provincial fisheries regulation remains mired in the past.  Not only is government addicted to ideas that have been hurting the fishery rather than helping it,  their entire bureaucracy and political attitude is covered in rust.  It’s stiff and tired.

No modern economy can survive in the early 21st century with a government  that is run by a gang – politicians of all stripes and bureaucrats alike – as brain-dead as any Eastern European communist government of the 1960s.

No modern economy can survive in those conditions.  We need an economy that thrives. 

Will we get the change in November that we need?