Baker: Fabian Manning shines a light on an uncomfortable truth
As recently as last Wednesday, I had compiled what I was only half-jokingly calling a "shrimp tastes like chicken" list. The list was a collection of all the folks who had either ducked interviews or denied them all together when it comes to the issue of the significant quota cuts recently dealt to the the inshore shrimp fleet.
It's quite a list, comprised mostly (but not exclusively) of people who get handsome paycheques directly from the same taxpayers they are choosing to ignore in this case.
However, I removed one name from the list last week: Fabian Manning.
It was on Wednesday Manning did an interview with me for CBC Radio's Fisheries Broadcast — an interview in which he he didn't hold back in his reactions to critics, or his assessment of the political situation in Ottawa as it applies to fisheries.
Whether you agree with the man's politics or not, you have to respect someone who will turn and face the music when all others are on the run. He didn't duck any questions and his answers were anything but the typical political bafflegab.
Here's just some of what Manning had to say when we spoke on Wednesday.
On the shrimp quota cuts
"I have great concerns that people who are adjacent to the resource have access to the resource. But we can't just talk about LIFO as if it's not there. It's there."
"I strongly believe there's no one route to a solution here, and it's not going to be easy. And that's all parties involved in the shrimp fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador need to come to the table, and to find a way to deal with LIFO."
"I will offer myself … to assist any way I can to address this concern and see if we can get the players at the table and see if we can find a different route to take in relation to quota reductions if they are in place for next year. Again, I know the negative impact this stuff has … we have to find a solution to this."
On where the fishery ranks in federal priorities
"The fishery here in Ottawa since I came here eight years ago is not on the radar here with many MPs or ministers. It's important that we as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians get it on the radar as best we can."
"The fishery is on the low end of the scale of issues here in Ottawa, regardless of who's in power."
On federal representation
"We have a great absence here in Ottawa. And our absence is — and some people will have a problem with what I'm going to say — and our absence is we don't have one of our own sitting at the cabinet table."
"Before I came [to Ottawa] I was under the impression … that the people here in Ottawa that make the decisions feel that Canada ends in Halifax. I'm here eight years and I've changed my mind on that. I strongly believe that many of the people who make decisions here in Ottawa believe that Canada ends at the Quebec border. I'm not trying to say it's one group or another, it's pretty well everybody."
On the critics
"[St. John's South-Mount Pearl MP] Ryan Cleary and others in opposition … have as much influence on fisheries policy here in Ottawa as I have with foreign policy in the White House — absolutely none. Even his own laugh at some of his antics."
On the hangover from Danny Williams's ABC campaign
"We would be naive if we didn't think that exists here. It absolutely exists."
"There's no doubt in my mind, the ABC campaign, we pay a price for that. People can shrug it off and say that's just an excuse, but listen here, I've been around this game too long now not to know that without a voice here at the table we are at a major disadvantage. We can't hide that."
The main theme
That's a lot to absorb and it's easy to cherry-pick, but the underlying theme of what Manning was saying was pretty straightforward.
As troubling as the outcome is, there's not much point in just screaming and bawling about the shrimp quota cuts, because fisheries often doesn't get top priority placing in Ottawa and we don't have any heavy hitters in the federal cabinet who would have the power to change the situation at the drop of a dime.
In order to tackle the issue, Manning feels there has to be a tangible plan for all hands to come together and sign on to over the long term, and he offered to continue to do whatever he could to make that happen in his role as a senator.
No stranger to fisheries controversy
Truthfully, you could understand if Manning would have been reluctant to talk about the shrimp quota cuts. After all, the last time he waded into a controversial fisheries policy discussion, it cost him his provincial political career.
That was back in 2005 when the raw materials sharing for the crab fishery was in full roar. Manning was kicked out of the Tory caucus by former premier Danny Williams for speaking out of turn. Manning said at the time he was just relaying what people in his district were saying.
So yes, this current situation has a somewhat similar feel to it.
You can say whatever you like about Fabian Manning, but you can't ignore one simple fact: He is, right now, the first and only member of the Conservative Party to talk to CBC publicly about the highly controversial shrimp quota cuts. Minister Shea hasn't and won't do it. Same goes for Newfoundland and Labrador's federal cabinet "representative" Rob Moore.
He answered the call when every other Conservative with a connection to this province and it's fishery opted to remain silent. And knowing how federal politics can be this day in age, I can't imagine it was an easy or comfortable thing for Manning to do.
But it was the right thing to do.
"I understand there's a need for someone to talk now," Manning said at one point. "I may be called upon up here before the day is out for speaking to you … but I don't care."