Nfld. & Labrador

Dwight Ball: Fortune misled on details of OCI plant deal

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball is accusing the provincial government of misleading people in Fortune over the details of its deal with Ocean Choice International (OCI), and the promise of 110 full-time jobs for that community's fish processing plant.

Liberal leader says promise of 110 full-time processing jobs not kept

Opposition Leader Dwight Ball is questioning the Tory government over the deal it signed with Ocean Choice International in late 2012. (CBC)

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball is accusing the provincial government of misleading people in Fortune over the details of its deal with Ocean Choice International (OCI), and the promise of 110 full-time jobs for that community's fish processing plant.

In December 2012, the province signed an agreement with OCI that allowed the company to ship out all of its redfish and 75 per cent of its yellowtail flounder quota unprocessed, in return for 110 full-time jobs at the Burin Peninsula plant.

But the definition of "full time" has now been called into question.

On Wednesday, Fisheries Minister Vaughn Granter told CBC's Fisheries Broadcast that the Fortune deal calls for 110 jobs "substantially year-round" and that the 32 weeks of work that occurred in the plant in 2014 meet the requirements of the deal.

Ball says he isn't buying it.

"There was no doubt back in December 2012 when this agreement was ... announced, that everyone in Fortune and that area was expecting this would be 110 full-time jobs for their community," Ball said.

"(Now) we've seen the minister and the premier kind of backtracking on this and trying to make it seem like OCI is living up to the conditions of the agreement."

Vaughn Granter is Newfoundland and Labrador's minister of fisheries and aquaculture. (CBC)
This year, workers at the plant in Fortune are expected to get upwards of 20 weeks of employment, which Granter has acknowledged does not meet the terms of the deal with OCI.

Granter says the province could "pull the plug" on OCI's redfish and yellowtail exemptions, but he stresses that would likely do more harm than good for the workforce in Fortune.

"We'll hold them accountable and hopefully we can get through this phase this year and we'll see what's in store in the following years," Granter said.

Ball says terms of deal should be met

Ball argues, however, both sides knew the terms when they signed the deal, and that the terms should be met.

"If you are going to put yourself through the process of establishing an agreement, you better be prepared to make sure the remedies are in place to make sure the terms and the conditions of the agreement are fulfilled. That is clearly not the case with what's happening here in Fortune," he said.

"You just cannot be in a situation where you sign an agreement and walk away from the agreement without a consequence ... and the exemptions are still in place and more exemptions are still being granted to this company. It seems to be a bit of free-for-all when it comes to granting exemptions, yet people in Fortune are still waiting for those 110 jobs that they were promised in 2012."

Cod issue raised

Another bone of contention in the argument revolves around cod.

Premier Paul Davis said in the House of Assembly this week that "the agreement in Fortune had nothing to do with cod."

Granter backed up Davis on his assertion, insisting the deal with OCI focuses on "maximizing the benefits and employment" associated with yellowtail flounder and redfish.

"The yellowtail agreement and the redfish agreement that was signed a number of years back, there was no cod in the agreements between the fortune plant, OCI and the government," Granter said. "Cod wasn't a part of that. OCI has kept up to their agreement on yellowtail and on redfish."

The Newfoundland and Labrador government exempted millions of pound of cod from minimum processing requirements in 2014. (CBC)
But Ball argues that the documents released to the public on the day the agreement was announced with OCI clearly dictate cod is part of the deal.

"If you just go to page one of their release in December 2012 it's very clear there that it is about cod and that there would be 60 jobs related to the processing of cod that it would happen in January of 2013," Ball said.

This week, CBC Investigates revealed that OCI was granted six separate minimum processing requirement exemptions for cod in 2014.

Four of those OCI exemptions combined totalled more than 1.4 million pounds. The other two didn't have specific amounts attached. One simply referenced 75 per cent of the associated cod catch, the other listed no amount.

Those exemptions were separate from the Fortune agreement.

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