Last spring, when negotiations were reaching their climax on the Canada-European Union trade deal (CETA), the Newfoundland government tried to think “outside the box.”
Innovation, Business and Rural Development Minister Keith Hutchings floated a few ideas to break the impasse: sell Ottawa’s Hibernia equity stake to the province, beef up search and rescue services, or enact a separate safety regulator for the Newfoundland offshore oil industry.
At that point, federal Trade Minister Ed Fast told the province to stop thinking outside the box.
The attempt to tie the CETA trade deal to the Hibernia equity stake or SAR services is one of the revelations contained in an 82-page package of correspondence tabled by Premier Kathy Dunderdale in the House of Assembly Thursday afternoon.
The documents deal mostly with the period from late April to early June of this year, when Ottawa was trying to lock down the expansive free trade deal, and the provincial government was trying to get a piece of the action.
The correspondence is primarily back-and-forth between the province and Ottawa over the thorny issue of minimum processing requirements, and various ways that the two sides tried to bridge the gap.
At first, the federal government seemed to be wanting Newfoundland and Labrador to drop minimum processing requirements altogether, in exchange for unrestricted access to Europe for exporting seafood.
According to Hutchings, the federal government’s lead negotiator, Steve Verheul, even leaked information about the negotiations to the Fisheries Council of Canada, so that the industry group could put pressure on the province.
Dunderdale was furious.
In a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, she didn’t mince words.
“It has come to my attention that the federal government may have seriously breached the confidentiality that we relied upon in the Canada-European Union negotiations,” Dunderdale wrote.
“The gravity of this transgression and attack on intergovernmental relations has forced me to reconsider my government’s continued engagement in the CETA negotiation.”
Things calmed down after that, but in late may, there was a flurry of letters back and forth as the federal negotiators were trying to conclude negotiations, but the province was holding out on minimum processing requirements for fish landed here.
That’s when the Hibernia equity stake, the SAR upgrades and the offshore safety regulator were floated by Hutchings, along with a raft of other ideas.
Among the ideas he threw out was a “Fisheries Innovation and Adjustment Fund” for infrastructure development, research and investment in the industry.
Fast countered with a $400-million fund for workers who lose their jobs due to giving up MPRs, but he stipulated that the province had to pay half.
More letters shot back and forth, with a sense of urgency; one letter, dated May 30, ended with Fast saying, “Given that we expect fish and seafood matters to be the subject of negotiations with the EU tomorrow, a response is required by midnight this evening, Eastern Standard Time.”
In the end, Hutchings and Fast agreed on a $400 million fund, with Ottawa paying 70 per cent of the cost, and it wouldn’t just be limited to helping displaced workers.
In exchange, the province gave up minimum processing requirements for all seafood bound for the EU.
The fund was announced earlier this fall, just after Harper announced the agreement in principle on the overall deal.
To read the full correspondence, go to: http://www.assembly.nl.ca/business/