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FFAW Meet With Key Officials In Ottawa

October 27, 2023

FFAW-Unifor traveled to Ottawa this week for a series of meetings with federal government together with members of the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters Federation (CIFHF), as well as separate meetings with government officials specific to concerns surrounding Employment Insurance. Meetings with the CIFHF were coordinated with MP Robert Morrissey; MP Jamie Battiste; Adam Burns, Director General, Fisheries Resource Management, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and Mark Waddell, Director General, Fisheries Policy, Department of Fisheries and Oceans; and, important, a face-to-face meeting with Minister Diane Lebouthillier. Meetings were also arranged with Minister Randy Boissonnault and Minister Seamus O’Regan to discuss the pressing Employment Insurance crisis.

Meetings with MPs Morrissey and Battiste centered on harmonizing rules for Indigenous and non-Indigenous fisheries in Canada in terms of both legalities and conservation objectives. MP Morrissey agreed to undertake coordination of a meeting between the CIFHF and Minister Lebouthillier and Minister Gary Anandasangaree in this capacity. MP Morrissey acknowledged that pursuing the upper threshold for certain quotas and lessening the debt load for new entrants to the industry are essential for stable fisheries now. Many concerns were raised about the foreign concentration and control in Canadian fisheries and how this has undermined the ability for independent, commercial fish harvesters to be truly ‘independent.’ The CIFHF has requested that the federal government declare the fishery a strategic asset to secure important protections in the same scope as other natural resources. Those meetings concluded with confirmation that the release date of federal government’s report on Corporate Foreign Ownership would be announced soon. A dissenting report is not anticipated. The CIFHF left both MPs with a request to pursue a report on the socio-economic value of independent fisheries in Canada, or to consider providing funding for the Federation to undertake this important work.

The meeting between the CIFHF, Adam Burns, and Mark Waddell was also attended by Jennifer Mooney, DFO National Licensing Operations; Lloyd Slaney, ADM of Conservation and Protection; and Gorazd Ruseski, Director General of Indigenous Affairs with DFO. The meeting was focused on concerns for the lack of enforcement of the Owner-Operator policy that was enshrined in 2021 to modernize the Fisheries Act. The Department indicated that there are ongoing licensing reviews, and once a review is triggered for a processing company obtaining and directing an independent harvesters’ license, there is a significant amount of time required to issue and pursue corresponding search warrants. As such, when flagged, DFO affords companies a year to come back into compliance. Members of the CIFHF emphasized that these regulations are of high importance and getting these first cases right to set precedent and establish a deterrent is imperative. DFO officials stated that these types of investigations must be tightly held, with any leak in information jeopardizing the investigation.

The CIFHF described how controlling agreements function as financial agreements between corporations and harvesters, clearly demonstrating predatory loan shark behavior. The conditions of this year’s fishery were the perfect storm for these companies to function as banks and acquire independent licenses in exchange for financial relief to avoid insolvency – thereby taking advantage of recessionary pressures felt by small businesses on the water and monopolizing control over the whole supply chain.

The CIFHF asked for more to be done on the licensing side to determine what the front entry point of non-compliance looks like and suggested that the Department require companies to provide a Declaration of Condition of License that would have linkage with provincial processing licenses. While acknowledged to be challenging from a federal perspective, the CIFHF affirmed that years after coming into policy, there remains too much confusion about where authority lies especially in terms of enforcement. If there is no vision for what enforcement looks like for the protection of independent Owner-Operators, it needs to be developed very quickly by the regulator as significant loss and liabilities are being created in the absence of proper courses of action.

FFAW-Unifor then separated from the CIFHF and met with Minister Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, to discuss the devastating effects that the fluctuation in unemployment rate has caused for seasonal workers in NL. FFAW began the meeting by affirming that this is NOT a fishing industry issue, it is an EI issue. EI lays on federal land, and it is a dated federal system that continues to be inflexible and unresponsible to the modern workforce. While the Union understands that the cabinet shuffle in July led to onboarding of new staff that required time to understand the issue, the exorbitant of time being taken to present potential solutions by the Department is being perceived as nonchalance.

FFAW President Greg Pretty warned that the Minister cannot get too caught up in the notion of cost, and the amount of time that they have allowed to lapse has created more barriers to a solution. The Minister and his staff spoke of the difficulties with identifying a remedy for both regular EI claimants and Fishing EI claimants. The criteria are different, and the administrative system would not process any changes for potentially 5 to 6 months. The Union was explained the same earlier this Spring, that the system does not allow for exclusions by region and any change would involve a uniform approach to all 13 economic regions that requires legislative change, a lengthy process that would not be retroactive. FFAW pointed out that this is a full regional issue in Newfoundland and Labrador, and not as acute as they have described. Over 30,000 seasonal workers are affected by this crisis, and if the federal government cannot achieve a solution within the EI system itself, they must provide an emergency income supplement to all affected seasonal workers.

Minister Boissonnault assured FFAW that, working with Ministers O’Regan and Hutchings on solutions, he is committed to the process and to results and it may require support from provincial government. FFAW agreed to provide a copy of the Economic Support Proposal that was previously presented to Minister Carla Qualtrough in June 2023, FFAW’s Labour Market Partnerships Proposal that was jointly submitted by the PFHCB and NLFHSA to provincial government in October 2022, and information provided by the Commission for Workers at Canada Employment Insurance Commission (CEIC) regarding how temporary foreign workers can influence unemployment rate calculations regionally while they reside in Canada.

FFAW then met with Minister Seamus O’Regan, who was joined by Minister Gudie Hutchings. The same points that were brought to Minister Boissonnault were expressed to Ministers O’Regan and Hutchings, highlighting the importance of hitting reset on the criteria for the longstanding divisor of 14 that seasonal workers in Region 2 have worked all season to secure for eligibility. As the Minister that oversees the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), Minister Hutchings indicated that her staff has explored ACOA as a potential channel for relief funding but were not successful. Minister Hutchings put forward consideration in the longer term for ideas to change secondary processing in the province that would ensure more weeks of work to safeguard changes in EI, the conversation was identified as important for future, and discussion returned to failure of the EI program. FFAW departed with both Ministers assuring that they remain hard at work on measures to relieve the pressures for impacted seasonal workers in the NL fishery.

Meetings concluded with FFAW reconvening with the CIFHF to speak with DFO Minister Diane Lebouthillier. The meeting was quite positive, with a notably different tone from previous Minister Joyce Murray. Minister Lebouthillier recognizes that fisheries are indeed a strategic Canadian asset that are crucial for food security. She also explained the importance of safety on the water, and how this should be placed above economics with clarity to be given on expectations for all stakeholder and user groups. The CIFHF explained concerns for ongoing instability with lack of enforcement of federal policy and the increasing risk of the independent fishery being corporate owned. In response, the Minister indicated that rebuilding confidence between harvesters and DFO is a key priority for her. She admitted that while the Department understands conservation, there is work to be done on understanding the socio-economic impact of fisheries in coastal communities. As a resident of a small fishing community in Quebec, the Minister acknowledged that the industry is in crisis like never before. The CIFHF referenced the different level of organization in the agricultural sector than that of fisheries, and Minister Lebouthillier agreed that finances are required to organize the fishery sector effectively. The meeting concluded with the Minister delivering a clear message to all in attendance, “DFO needs to listen. We need to work together to win together.”











Greg Pretty, FFAW-Unifor President and Honourable Randy Boissonnault,

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion 














Members of the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters Federation

and Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans,

and the Canadian Coast Guard