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Tom Rideout, who quit provincial politics in 2008, does not sense a political will to close fish processing plants. ((CBC) )

A former Newfoundland and Labrador premier says there appears to be no political will to  rationalize the provincial fishing industry.

Tom Rideout, who quit the cabinet in 2008 amid a dispute with Premier Danny Williams and his officials, believes half of the province's 14 crab processing plants need to be closed.

However, Rideout says politicians don't have the will to do it soon, especially in the months leading up to the October 2011 general election.

"In a series that would likely be dubbed death sentences for rural communities, I'm doubtful that this government - not only this government, but any government - would want to turn the page on making those kinds of decisions in the year before an election," Rideout  told students at Memorial University's Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook on Monday night.

Fishery has changed

Rideout compared the differences in his earlier tenure as a fisheries minister during the glut years of the 1980s with the much more challenged, shellfish-oriented fishery in the 2000s.

During his latter tenure, government undertook measures aimed at reducing the number of fish plants. One report found that Newfoundland and Labrador had the plant capacity to process all of the world's crab several times over.

Rideout said Williams and the governing Progressive Conservatives have a high enough approval rating to withstand any storm caused by plant closures, but he doubts that politicians are willing to make tough decisions.

"We were involved in restructuring before we got into the last election in 2007 and a lot of the things that could have and should have been done were not done and not followed up on."

Meanwhile, Rideout — who left provincial politics on bitter terms — said he has ruled out a bid to return to the House of Assembly. He said, however, that he has been approached to run federally and would consider it, depending on how things play out in Ottawa.