President's Column Winter 2016 | FFAW-Unifor | Fish Food & Allied Workers Union

President’s Column Winter 2016

A Message From The President

I have to talk about political campaigns again. I know, I’m sorry. I’m looking forward to 2016 when we won’t have to deal with competing commitments and the uncertainty of what party will next be in power.

While I’m certainly feeling campaign fatigue, the election season has been very exciting and the commitments we’ve received are very promising for our members, their families, and the rural communities of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The election of Justin Trudeau should give the Union an opportunity to rebuild a positive and constructive relationship with Ottawa. The new Prime Minister has consistently responded to our concerns and questions in the past and we hope this relationship will only improve over time. It will certainly help that we have a strong contingent of Liberal MHAs from the province and a provincial representative in Cabinet. Unlike with the Conservative government, voices for Newfoundland and Labrador will be heard in the governing party.

I’m also eager to meet with the new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the Honourable Hunter Tootoo. Minister Tootoo will certainly bring his own perspectives from Nunavut to the Fisheries and Oceans portfolio and I’m confident that many of his thoughts will fit with the Union’s vision of the fishery.

The most exciting aspect of the new Trudeau government is the commitments made by the Liberal Party during the campaign. Towards the end of September, we received a response to our letter seeking commitments to Mr. Trudeau. For the most part, the answers we received were direct and thorough.

For example, Prime Minister Trudeau explicitly stated that he would honour the $280 million fishery renewal fund as part of the CETA agreement and that he would reopen the Coast Guard maritime rescue sub-centre. These are very important commitments for our members and for the future and safety of the fishery.

Some responses are not as definitive as we would like, though the language used by the Prime Minister in the answers is encouraging. For example, with respect to abolishing LIFO, the Prime Minister only committed to a review of the policy though the letter later stated that the review would “ensure the best possible decisions are reached for the future of the resource, and the maximum benefit for the people and coastal communities who rely on the resource.” While not using the term, that is a statement in support of adjacency.

Similar non-definitive but strongly supportive statements were also made regarding 3Ps and Gulf halibut. On both issues, the Prime Minister would only commit to a review, though the review would be done in consultation with the fishing sector and adjacency and historical attachment would be central to the decision making.

The most important unequivocal commitment made by the new Prime Minister during the election campaign involved the new cod fishery. In response to our question, we were informed that:

A Trudeau-led government will re-affirm the federal commitment to allocate the first 115,000MT of northern cod quota to the inshore harvesters so that, as the resource rebounds, the benefits of a future cod fishery flow to the inshore harvesters and coastal communities.

This is potentially transformative news for the Union, as we’ve worked very hard to plan and implement a new strategy for the fishery with northern cod as an important pillar. We’re also keenly aware that the new Prime Minister has only made a commitment and that there is no formal policy directing the 115,000MT to the inshore. As a result, we’ve redoubled our efforts in Ottawa and are putting maximum effort into exerting influence during this important transition to a new government. We are encouraged and excited by Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment, but we will not rest until the commitment is turned to action.

The Prime Minister’s commitment on northern cod has placed an exclamation point on the successful launch of our Rural Workscampaign (there’s that word again). In October we formally launched Rural Works have been busily promoting it ever since.

Rural Works is a different sort of campaign. It is certainly infused with very specific requests for our members, but these requests are weaved within a broader, more inclusive goal. Rural Works is about accepting that rural NL has an inshore fishing-based economy and that this economy can be strong and sustained if it is properly managed and planned. As such, we are actively enlisting the business community and municipal leaders in rural NL to endorse and advocate on behalf of our campaign.

Rural Works is also restoring pride and purpose in the fishery through advocacy and promotion. There is a strong and compelling business case for the inshore fishery and we have facts to back up our argument, and we are uncovering new facts all of the time. As a collective inshore fishery community of interest we need to do a better job of proudly yelling about what this fishery is doing and can do.

The last campaign that I’ll mention is the recently concluded provincial election. Unlike the drawn-out drama of the federal campaign, the provincial election was rather anticlimactic and fused with a feeling that the result was a foregone conclusion. The Union has had a strong relationship with Premier Ball in the past and we hope that will continue into the future. On several fishery issues, the new Premier is very supportive while differences remain on important labour matters. As the provincial government takes shape, we will fight to uphold the commitments that have been made and to work to find solutions on issues where differences remain.

I’ll close this article with a brief discussion of our recent, and very successful, Constitutional Convention. As President, I see the Convention through much different eyes than I did when I was a staff member. Presiding over Convention reminds me that I’m leading a Union that exists and succeeds solely from the will of the members. The FFAW does not have to exist, but it does and it conducts a lot of good work and carries a lot of influence. That authority and influence comes from the membership, not from me; I’m just privileged enough to be recognized as a leader of the Union and to speak on our members’ behalf.

It is the authority and influence of the Union that makes the resolutions we pass at the Convention so important. When we unanimously endorse moving forward with a fish processing sector safety council, or protecting the sanctity of the owner-operator fleet, or seeking greater policing of the Hebron Benefits Agreement, the provincial and federal governments listen. When we come together and speak we are heard and our Convention is the forum that shows the strength of the Union.

Looking back, 2015 has been a busy, challenging, and successful year. We will not be resting on our laurels; there’s too much work to do.

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