Nfld. & Labrador

Internal documents show little back and forth with Ottawa on fisheries fund

The federal and provincial government have traded very little correspondence over the $400 million dollar CETA fisheries fund, internal documents show.

Just 7 pages of letters and emails in 10 months since Liberals formed government in N.L.

There's only been one letter from International Trade Minister Christia Freeland to provincial minister Christopher Mitchelmore over the $400-million fisheries fund

The federal and provincial government have had very little correspondence to hammer out a $400 million dollar fisheries fund, part of a comprehensive economic and trade agreement (CETA) with Europe, internal documents show.

There have been just seven pages of letters and emails about the fund between the department of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development and federal officials in the 10 months since the Liberals took over provincially.

The documents were obtained by CBC News through access to information.

"Your ATIPP request has just confirmed that there's very little happening and very little going on," said PC MHA Keith Hutchings, who was a cabinet minister under the previous government and helped negotiate the original deal.

To suggest that they're just talking, and officials are talking and there's nothing on paper, that's probably even more concerning.- PC MHA Keith Hutchings

Ottawa agreed to contribute $280 million to a fund to help revitalize the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery in return for the province dropping requirements that fish caught off its shores be processed here.

The province is contributing $120 million.

The dropping of processing requirements was key to finalizing the trade agreement. Previous federal and provincial government's disagreed over the conditions under which the money would be paid out and how it could be used.

5 letters, 1 email chain

Christopher Mitchelmore has sent four letters to federal ministers about the fund since taking over as minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development in December.

The documents show officials have had only one chain of emails on the topic.

The federal government has sent just one letter back.

In July Chrystia Freeland, the minister of international trade wrote to say "honouring the commitment made to your province with respect to the fisheries issue is of utmost importance."

"We hope to address and resolve it in a mutually satisfactory manner in the near future."

Since then, nothing.

Mitchelmore said that's not a sign that there's been no action.

"Well not every contact made and every piece of conversation that happens with the federal government would be in a written form," he said.

"There has been a lot of dialogue that has taken place on the particular matter between a multitude of departments."

Mitchelmore said he met with the minister once in person on the issue and department officials have met as well. He said there's time to work out the details because he doesn't expect CETA to be ratified until next year.

Tory MHA Keith Hutchings said if the federal and provincial governments really are in serious talks over the fisheries fund there would be more than the seven pages of correspondence. (CBC)

But Hutchings said in his experience as minister, if work is really happening on the file there should be more emails and letters back and forth.

"To suggest that they're just talking, and officials are talking and there's nothing on paper, that's probably even more concerning," he said.

Mitchelmore won't say what if any progress has been made with the federal government.

"I'm not really in a position to comment on where that takes place until that's fully completed," he said.

Mitchelmore said the province won't drop processing requirements until it receives the fisheries money.


Peter Cowan

CBC News

Peter Cowan is a St. John's-based reporter with CBC News.