LEBLANC IN FISHERIES FOR LONG HAUL: 'IT'S THE JOB MY DAD HAD'
House leader pushes aside new questions of conflict of interest
Adam Huras, Legislature Bureau
June 2, 2016
Dominic LeBlanc will be taking over as the minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard on a permanent basis after the abrupt resignation of Hunter Tootoo.
The Beauséjour MP and House leader – pushing aside fresh questions from the Opposition Conservatives that his new position places him in a conflict of interest – told the Telegraph-Journal that the post is not an interim assignment.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement in a statement on Tuesday evening that LeBlanc would now be the fisheries minister following Tootoo’s resignation. LeBlanc detailed his whirlwind swearing in on Tuesday night – and the personal resonance of his new portfolio.
“It’s the job my dad had,” LeBlanc said, referring to Roméo LeBlanc, the minister of fisheries and oceans with the Pierre Trudeau Liberals.“When the prime minister asked me to undertake this role at the end of the day yesterday, I thought about the time my dad had this job. His time as minister of fisheries and oceans was one of his happiest times in public life. He said that often.”
LeBlanc was sworn in Tuesday night at Rideau Hall.
“It was a private ceremony, obviously organized in haste because of the event,”he said.“The prime minister and his family came over and I was alone with the Governor General.”
LeBlanc said that Justin Trudeau reminded him that not only was the fisheries role a job that his father Pierre Trudeau gave to Dominic’s father Roméo, but that it was also a job that Justin’s grandfather had held in the Liberal government of Louis St. Laurent.
“It was a moving ceremony last evening,”he said.
The role is not temporary – LeBlanc will assume the file full time.
“It’s not interim and it’s not acting,” he said.
LeBlanc said that as of Wednesday evening he had only spent roughly an hour on the file – a first meeting with departmental officials.
He declined to comment on the details of specific files, including talks with Greenland over the Atlantic salmon harvest.
But LeBlanc said he sees the fishery as a crucial economic driver.
“I think that the Fisheries and Oceans Department can be an important economic ministry of the government in many coastal communities, regions, provinces that have one of our three oceans,”he said.“It is an economic portfolio that can play a critical role in the economic development of some communities and regions that often don’t have a lot of other or diversified activities.”
Conservative fisheries critic Mark Strahl is raising concerns with LeBlanc’s appointment, questions the New Brunswick cabinet minister dismisses.
Federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson directed LeBlanc’s chief of staff earlier this year to “screen” him from dealings with J.D. Irving, Limited and its subsidiaries.
The move came after LeBlanc declared a personal friendship with a member of the Irving family – James D. Irving.
“When the ethics commissioner put the ethics screen in place, there was the belief that could be tenable given that he was the government House leader,” Strahl said.
“Now that he is the minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, I think it’s going to be increasingly difficult not to find himself in a permanent conflict of interest given that the coast guard minister has to have consistent and continued dialogue with Irving shipyard.”
Irving Shipbuilding was awarded a build contract four years ago as part of Canada’s largest-ever defence procurement project.
Meanwhile, Strahl adds that James D. Irving is also a director of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.
Irving spoke last month in his capacity with the salmon federation in front of the federal standing committee on fisheries and oceans to ask the department to immediately engage at the local level to address what he labelled a“crisis,”adding that the department should have a target above current minimum population levels of Atlantic wild salmon.
“It’s very difficult to be the fisheries minister and not be able to deal with certain Atlantic salmon files, and it’s very difficult to be the coast guard minister and not be able to deal with Irving shipyards,”Strahl said.“Perhaps these are unintended consequences of a quick move by the prime minister to place Mr. Le-Blanc in that role,but the longer he stays there, the more questions we are going to have about whether he can avoid being in a permanent conflict of interest.”
LeBlanc said there should be no concern.
“None,”LeBlanc said.“Absolutely not.
“All of the advice that is given by the independent ethics commissioner will obviously be followed.
“I have raised it with the deputy minister already and was told that they would be putting in place all the appropriate mechanisms that the ethics commissioner suggests.”
He added: “It is a non-issue in the sense that whatever has to be done will be done properly. I will be governed by the advice that I get from the ethics commissioner and from the senior public servants in the department that will administer these processes.”
Mary Keith, JDI’s vice-president of communications, said on Wednesday that Irving’s long-standing association with salmon conservation groups in New Brunswick “is entirely voluntary on his part, and dedicated to his interest in the conservation and recovery of wild Atlantic salmon populations.”
“Jim Irving is one of several volunteer board members involved in this effort which is comprised of scientists,environmental non-governmental organizations and business leaders,” Keith said. “Regarding shipbuilding, all of the current federal contracts at the Halifax Shipyard relate to Canada’s Navy vessels and not for the Coast Guard.
“Vessels for Canada’s Coast Guard are being built by Seaspan in Vancouver.”
“We consider Roméo LeBlanc to be one of the most important fisheries ministers in our recent history,”said Maritime Fishermen’s Union executive director Christian Brun.“His decisions, his impact, his legacy is still felt today, especially in the world of inshore fishermen where he really gave a weight to the small-scale fisherman.”
Brun specifically pointed to fleet separation and owner-operator policies put in place by Roméo LeBlanc, entrenching that one entity cannot both own the fleet and process the product.
“His consideration of the fish harvesters’ view and positions were a historical change in the way that the fisheries were managed,”he said.
“We feel Dominic is an individual that will understand coastal communities, will understand harvesters, will listen to what we have to say, and I believe he will follow in the footsteps of former minister Tootoo in looking at the big picture of the fishery.”
Last month, lobster fishermen in the province lauded a federal decision to increase the minimum size of lobster caught in waters between P.E.I. and the southeast of this province – labelling the move as“historic.”
It was a move the previous Conservative government decided against.
Tootoo’s predecessor in that cabinet post, Conservative Gail Shea, was a P.E.I. native who represented the Egmont riding, where the great majority of fishermen opposed the increase in the carapace size.
Shea served as fisheries minister from 2008 to 2011 and again from 2013 until her defeat in 2015.
“We had developed a very good relationship with now former minister Tootoo on a few issues,”Brun said.“We believe that he was good at looking at the facts and the science-based information on some recent decisions that were taken.”
Atlantic Salmon Federation president Bill Taylor said that he’s “thrilled” with the appointment,adding he knows Dominic LeBlanc personally,having grown up in the same community of Shediac Cape.
“He has always been helpful and supportive and a friend of the Atlantic Salmon Federation and Atlantic salmon conservation,”Taylor said,adding he met with LeBlanc in Ottawa a few weeks ago. “We are in touch regularly.”
Opposition Conservatives have recently called upon the federal Liberal government to take strong action against Greenland for harvesting endangered Atlantic wild salmon.
Department of Fisheries and Oceans officials have said that the Greenland harvest of mature salmon has increased to more than 50 tonnes from 25 tonnes annually between 2011 and 2015.
Wild Atlantic salmon born in Eastern Canada, including New Brunswick, typically migrate north to rich feeding grounds off Greenland, spending a year or more at sea before travelling hundreds of kilometres back to their home rivers to spawn.
Their numbers have been dwindling, convincing Ottawa to put in strict conservation measures.
Anglers have long been prohibited in New Brunswick from keeping large salmon, but last year was the first time in living memory the federal government banned anglers from keeping grilse, or young salmon in the Maritimes.
Only indigenous groups are allowed to keep harvesting salmon,in limited quantities.
The ban on the retention fishery was extended this year by Tootoo.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday that Tootoo has“left the Liberal caucus and resigned from cabinet to seek treatment for addiction issues.”
“This was his own choice after a very difficult situation,”Trudeau said, adding that he will no further comment on the matter.
Tootoo, the first northerner to take on the role of fisheries minister, issued a brief statement on Tuesday evening saying he was stepping down in order not to distract from the important work of his colleagues.
He has“decided to seek treatment for addiction issues” and has asked for “privacy.”
Tootoo, 52, was first elected as the MLA for Iqaluit Centre in 1999,where he served for 14 years and was the Speaker of the legislative assembly until 2013.He also held a number of cabinet positions in the territorial government.
He remains the representative of the federal riding of Nunavut.