Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl for putting this motion forward. It is extremely important that this be debated in the House. I am shocked to hear the member for Calgary—Nose Hill call it a waste of time to talk about something involving federal-provincial relations between Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa. It was an agreement made between two levels of government at the request of the Government of Canada.
I was supposed to be here earlier today. A taxi left my house at 6:30 a.m., Ottawa time, to get a flight to get here. I got here around 3 p.m. This is a big, diverse country. Each province and jurisdiction has its own industry, issues, problems and jurisdictional responsibilities. Each province acts in a different way within its provincial jurisdiction.
The Alberta government runs its oil and gas industry and royalty regime program differently from other parts of the country. Agriculture is a very important sector in Quebec, Ontario and out west. They all have different ways of doing things. Inside the jurisdiction of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador had certainly policy tools at its disposal to protect, develop and grow its industries, and to support the rural culture.
The Newfoundland and Labrador government has had a system of minimum processing requirements for a long time so Newfoundlanders and Labradorians can benefit as much as possible from the resources around their shores. Newfoundland and Labrador brought this into the Confederation in 1949, along with all the oil and gas resources in the offshore, as a contributing member of the Canadian Federation.
A lot of the talk around slush funds reminds me of the attitudes of some Canadians about treating Newfoundlanders and Labradorians as some sort of a handout province within Canada. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is only recently that Newfoundland and Labrador has been considered a have province, with oil and gas prices at a very significant level. That may or may not change as a result of the drop in oil prices, but we are very proud to contribute on a fiscal level in a way that we had not before. However, we have always contributed to Canada in terms of our resources, our human resources, our educated and skilled people who went throughout Canada and helped to create the wealth of Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. That is part of what Confederation is about.
We do have divided jurisdictions in Canada. We have federal responsibilities and we have provincial responsibilities. International trade is a federal matter. It is up to the Government of Canada to negotiate trade deals. CETA is one of them, and it is an important one. There is no question about it.
However, this is not about CETA and whether it is good or bad for Canada and Newfoundland. We know that there are big advantages to the Newfoundland fishery of the removal of the tariff on shrimp and cod fish. It has been an irritant for many years. In fact, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have complained about the fact that the Government of Canada has not used its influence with Europe to fix this in the past. There have been complaints for decades, going back 30, 40, 50 years, about the failure of the Government of Canada to protect the offshore fish stocks in Newfoundland and Labrador, instead of allowing them to be overfished and reduced to the point they were.
There is a lot of history around this. The jurisdiction of the Newfoundland government to have control over fish processing and minimum processing requirements is part of a policy tool that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has had.
Seafood production and the provincial seafood sector are extremely important to Newfoundland and Labrador, with over $1 billion in production value in 2013 alone and more than 18,000 people directly employed, mainly in the rural parts of the province. Minimum processing requirements are one of the policy tools within the jurisdiction of the Newfoundland and Labrador government.
What happened? This conflicted with the negotiated requirements and expectations of the Europeans, who said to Canada that they wanted it off the table. They wanted Newfoundland and Labrador to withdraw that policy tool. That was not said by Newfoundland and Labrador; it was said by the Europeans.
Then the Government of Canada, the Minister of International Trade and his department, called and asked the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to do this. They said that it was a demand at the table and they would like Newfoundland and Labrador to get rid of this policy tool as it affected the deal with Europe. It was not just for next year but forever. The province was asked what it would like in return for giving up this policy tool. The negotiations then began in good faith and resulted in an agreement.
However, this was not solely about compensating individuals who may have lost a specific job. I think that was what the federal government wanted initially, but it was very clear that was not what resulted at the end of the day. In fact, the negotiations, the exchange of letters, all of those things have been examined by independent people, including, for example, Professor Saul Schwartz, the public policy professor at Carleton University. He looked at the documents, the exchange and the correspondence, even correspondence from the minister responsible for ACOA. He concluded that the province's interpretation of what went on in the final deal was absolutely right.
A CBC story reads:
Saul Schwartz said based on his analysis of letters between former International Trade Minister...and Keith Hutchings, the former provincial fisheries minister, the deal is broader than what the federal government is now saying.
Schwartz said the letters show the money is meant to build a fishery of the future.
Therefore, when the minister said that this was only for adjustment and Mr. Hutchings said, no, that they wanted it for both any harm that might be done and for industry development, the positions were clear. In the end, the Minister of International Trade caved and said that the province could use it for industry development as well.
The article continues with:
Schwartz said the federal government could not have believed the fund was to be used for displaced workers only.
This is consistent with the debate we have heard from the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl. He quoted a lot of correspondence and letters on what went on for many months.
This is a matter of great controversy in Newfoundland and Labrador. It is not something that just slid under the table. The Newfoundland government was criticized by people in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, by people who were concerned about giving up this policy tool, people who said that it should not do that. The government had to take the criticism on chin, but made it very clear that this agreement was about fisheries development, fisheries research, marketing development and other aspects of the fishery of the future.
I mentioned earlier about different jurisdictions. The federal government is responsible for fisheries, but the Newfoundland government is responsible for fish processing and other aspects of the fishing industry. However, because this is such a big concern in Newfoundland and Labrador that the federal government has let it down, Newfoundland has gone into paying for its own scientific research because the federal government has failed to do so.
This is not a waste of time today. We are asking the House to recognize that it is very important for the Government of Canada, in dealing with the province, to deal in good faith. When one makes a deal, one makes a deal. The deal was $400 million.
I can say without question that the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador would never be able to say to anyone in the House that this $400 million was only for individuals who would lose their jobs in the next two, three or four years in the implementation. Not a chance. In fact, the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador and Keith Hutchings, the minister of intergovernmental affairs and former fisheries minister, told me that they were told by the federal government to think outside the box, that this was not just about the fisheries. Whatever the province wanted to put on the table, the federal government wanted it to give up this jurisdiction, this policy. This was not talking about how the workers individually might be affected. The federal government wanted the province to give up the jurisdiction and asked what it wanted from the federal government in return.
There were lots of things on the table. What it came down to in the end was a joint fund. The Government of Canada would put up as much as $280 million and the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador $120 million.
What was that for? Was it to compensate individual workers? No. If there were demonstrable effects, they would be compensated, but outside of that, it was designed as a fund.
This $280 million is in the federal budget now. It is not there for 2020, when this deal might be implemented and we might be seeing some effects; it is in the budget now, and it is designated for the fisheries investment fund. It is an investment fund, not a compensation fund. It is a fisheries investment fund to deal with marketing, development, innovation, research, and all of those things that are important to Newfoundland and Labrador because of the significant need for the province to develop its fishery, independent of some of the other problems that are going to come about.
Therefore, this is not something one could even argue about. When the Minister of Justice came to Newfoundland and said, “This is not meant to be a slush fund”, what an insult it was to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. What an insult to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to suggest that is what Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are trying to pretend it is, that they want slush from the Government of Canada. I am shocked and shamed that the minister would say that.
Not too long ago, before the minister was responsible for ACOA, the minister was the regional minister for Newfoundland and Labrador. For him to come to Newfoundland and Labrador and say that I found insulting and not worthy of him, frankly. The Minister of Justice knows Newfoundland and Labrador. He has lots of good friends there. He goes fishing in Newfoundland and Labrador. I found it offensive for him to say that.
We have even heard it suggested that this was a fund for all the Atlantic provinces. I do not know who said that. I hope the minister can say that he did not say that and that he never intended that. Of course, why would Newfoundland and Labrador put up $120 million for an Atlantic fund if no other provinces were doing anything to do with that?
However, that is how far this debate has gone. It seems that it is like shifting sand to sit down with the Government of Canada and make an agreement in good faith. It was something the Government of Canada wanted. It was not Newfoundland and Labrador going cap in hand to Ottawa and asking the government to do something for it because it might be affected by this deal. It was a specific policy option that the European negotiators said to Canada they wanted off the table or there would be no deal. The Newfoundland and Labrador government, in good faith, entertained the request from Ottawa to do this, knowing it was a policy option that whatever its use or effect was now, was something they could not do in five or 10 or 20 years' time, because this was an agreement that was going to last forever.
There were negotiations and discussions back and forth between two mature partners, each with its own constitutional jurisdictions. This is not someone coming cap in hand looking for a handout from a parent. This is a jurisdiction that has it as a right under its law, whether we like it or not. Some people might call it protectionist. I can call Buy America protectionist too, but it does not change the power of the United States to do it.
We can argue whatever way we want about the trade deal itself and on the whole net benefit question, and that debate is going on in Canada, at least in some quarters. The Liberals have decided they like the deal. They did not need to read it. They did not need to see the text. They did not need to see anything. Whatever the government does on it, they support it.
We are having a look at that, and at the end of the day we will decide what our view is on it. In the meantime, this debate is not about that. It is about a specific detail that involves the Government of Canada, which we hope and fully expect can deal in good faith with the partners of Confederation.
We know the Prime Minister does not meet with the provincial premiers as a whole. He had a meeting with our premier in December, and our premier came away and said, “I don't think we can trust this guy.”
That is a shocking state of affairs. A Conservative premier of Newfoundland and Labrador came to Ottawa to meet with thePrime Minister, knowing the background and expecting that it was obviously some misunderstanding because the minister responsible for ACOA , even in early October of 2014, was referring to it as a fishery transition initiative and by the end of the month was saying something different.
The premier came to Ottawa with the minister of intergovernmental affairs and said, “Obviously this is a misunderstanding. We'll go to the source. We'll talk to the Prime Minister and it'll be sorted out. If there's a misunderstanding, we've got the documents, we've got the correspondence, we've to the whole shebang.”
He did not hear anything from the Minister of International Trade, by the way. He was absent from this discussion. He is the guy who made the deal, but he was not around. The minister responsible for ACOA was put on the hot seat and told, “Okay, you're going to take this position now”, but he did not negotiate the deal. I do not think the minister for ACOA was at the table.
The Minister of International Trade and his representatives were, including, according to John Ivison of the National Post, the now principal secretary for Minister of International Trade, who was at the table and who did write to the Prime Minister and the Newfoundland government about this matter.
However, all of these people who were involved were not around. It was just the minister responsible for ACOA who was asked to carry the bad news to Newfoundland and Labrador that we were not going to follow this agreement.
Newfoundlanders are a trusting group of people. When they make a deal, they feel that the other party is going to follow through in the good faith that the deal was made, so the premier came to Ottawa to see thePrime Minister and had a meeting, apparently on very short notice, with the Prime Minister, which was a good thing. I am certainly pleased to hear that it took place. Unfortunately, the results of that meeting were very dissatisfying for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador because, lo and behold, the Prime Minister repeated what now appear to be talking points. We heard the deputy government House leader repeat those talking points today, saying “Why would we do that?”
Well, the fact of the matter is that the government did do that. Why? It was because it wanted Newfoundland and Labrador to give up this jurisdictional policy tool that it had at its disposal and was using and wanted to continue to use. The idea was “We will give it up, not for the benefits of CETA in general but in response to the program that the Government of Canada put on the table after much negotiation.”
As John Ivison says:
The solution is simple. The [Conservative] government should stump up the $280 million it agreed to pay on the implementation of CETA. And Ministers Hutchings and King should stay home and save their breath....
That is the problem we have. The problem is that the government is not meeting the agreement that it made and is not following through on its commitments. Unfortunately, given those circumstances, it cannot be trusted.
I do not think this can be belaboured very much, but I do want to say there was an email to the Newfoundland government in October of 2013—so this agreement is not new; this is old—to Mr. Bill Hawkins, chief of staff to the trade minister, who is now the Prime Minister's principal secretary. The email says:
...a transitional program of up to a combined total of $400 million that would address fish and seafood industry development and renewal, as well as workers whose jobs are displaced in future.
That was the deal. It is known to be the deal, and this government is trying to back out of it.