Justice Minister Peter MacKay says a fisheries fund for Newfoundland and Labrador related to the CETA deal was never meant to be a "slush fund," and was available to the province only if demonstrable losses could be shown.
Provincial cabinet ministers from N.L. are going to Ottawa to meet with European Union representatives to press their case on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which would allow free trade between Canada and the EU, alleging the federal government can't be trusted.
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Ottawa and the provincial government have been at odds over the interpretation of the $280-million fisheries fund for Newfoundland and Labrador, with the province claiming the federal government has put new stipulations on the deal.
'Well what do you tell other provinces? I mean, how do you say we have a special compensation package — to use your words, not ours — that will apply regardless of whether losses are suffered or not.' - Peter MacKay
However, Ottawa has stated the deal has always outlined the province must be able to show demonstrable losses in order to access the fund, which would provide compensation for eliminating minimum processing requirements (MPRs).
MacKay said the fisheries fund was never designed to do anything other than compensate for demonstrable losses, and any other interpretation of that isn't correct.
"I've been actually approached by my own premier in Nova Scotia saying, 'What about this interpretation and why wouldn't Nova Scotia get a similar fund?' and that's why there has to be a connection between losses incurred and off-setting funds from the federal government," said MacKay.
"This isn't just a no-strings attached slush fund — that's not how it works."
MacKay was in St. John's to announce a $100,000 investment from the federal government to the Public Legal Information Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, aimed to help children and young people of separated or divorced parents.
N.L. Premier Paul Davis had previously met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in December to discuss the fund, and left Ottawa stating he "could not trust Stephen Harper," or the federal government.
'What do you tell other provinces?'
Provincial ministers have gone to Ottawa to talk with E.U. representatives to discuss their side of the fisheries fund and CETA deal.
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According to MacKay, it's "not helpful" to have provincial ministers visiting embassies to "suggest that the government is not dealing in good faith, because it's not true."
MacKay said the deal never had any other goal, and was only ever meant to compensate the province and the fishing industry if losses were suffered following the elimination of MPRs.
"Well what do you tell other provinces? I mean, how do you say we have a special compensation package — to use your words, not ours — that will apply regardless of whether losses are suffered or not. That's not how your insurance policy works — there has to be a loss for the compensation to flow," he said.
"There has to be demonstrable losses and that is the phrase that I've seen that's represented, and so we have to work this through in a productive and I would suggest positive way to see that we get to that point of having this tax-free, tariff-free access to the largest market in the world for Newfoundland products to see that we all capitalize at the earliest stage."
MacKay added that he believes the CETA deal will proceed to ratification, despite the province and Ottawa being at odds over the fisheries fund, but added it would be to "everyone's advantage" if all parties were on the same page moving forward.