Prominent fisherman 'hit the ceiling' after Gail Shea election loss

Some leaders in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishing industry can hardly contain their enthusiasm about this week's convincing election win by the federal Liberals and their leader, prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau.

Liberal election promises give renewed hope for future of fishery, union says

Brad Watkins says the defeat of former fisheries minister Gail Shea was one of the highlights of election night on Oct. 19. (CBC)

Some leaders in the Newfoundland and Labrador fishing industry can hardly contain their enthusiasm about this week's convincing election win by the federal Liberals and their leader, prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau.

During the 11-week campaign, Trudeau made a number of commitments that many say will help transform the fishery and inject renewed life and confidence into some rural communities.

"I'm very positive that this is going to work out better for us now," Twillingate-based fishing enterprise owner Brad Watkins told CBC Radio's The Broadcast. 

Trepassey fisherman John Hewitt said very few in the industry will be sad to see the Conservatives and outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper booted from power.

"At least we woke up in the morning and Harper is gone, and that's the big thing," said Hewitt.

Southern Harbour fisherman Peter Leonard said the federal government has ignored the fishery for years, and he was "relieved" to see the Liberals win a majority government.

"There was no working with them," Leonard said of the Conservatives.

Reviewing LIFO welcomed news

One of those Liberal pledges includes a commitment to review the controversial last in, first out policy in the shrimp fishery.

The policy, better known as LIFO, was firmly defended by outgoing fisheries minister Gail Shea, and would require that late entrants into the fishery would be the first ones impacted by any cuts to the quota.

LIFO has been bitterly opposed by those who own smaller fishing vessels, and provincial politicians who argue that uneven cuts would have a devastating impact on rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

Shea lost her seat in Monday's election as Canadians voted in favour of the Liberals' pledge for "real change."

For Watkins, it was one of the highlights of the election.

"Most people probably hit the ceiling when the (Blue) Jays won (Monday) night. I hit the ceiling when Gail Shea got defeated," Watkins stated.

Former fisheries minister Gail Shea went down to defeat in this week's federal election. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

Watkins' vessel, the Atlantic Charger, sank on Sept. 22 in Frobisher Bay, and all nine crewmembers were rescued.

He said a decision on how to replace the Charger was largely hinging on this week's election.

 "To spend millions into an investment was a big gamble with how this election was playing out," he said.

Predicting better federal-provincial relations

The Liberals have also pledged to support the controversial $400-million fisheries investment fund, which is linked to a proposed trade agreement with the European Union known as CETA.

This issue caused a major split between the federal Conservatives under outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the provincial government.

The fund, with some $280-million from Ottawa and the remainder from the province, is intended to restructure the fishery and offset any losses incurred as a result of the trade agreement.

"We certainly pressed the importance of that," Keith Sullivan, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers' union, said of his interactions with Trudeau.

FFAW president Keith Sullivan believes a Liberal majority win in this week's federal election will be good for Newfoundlannd and Labrador's fishing industry. (CBC)

The Liberals have pledged to tackle controversial issues such as increased cod quotas, the importance of resource adjacency and historical attachment, and the sharing agreement for halibut in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

There was also a pledge to re-open the maritime rescue sub-centre in St. John's, which closed three years ago, re-invest in marine safety and search and rescue resources, and reverse cuts to ocean science and monitoring programs.

Sullivan is predicting a "renewed emphasis" on the fishery and is confident that relations with Ottawa will dramatically improve with seven Liberals MPs from this province sitting on the government side of the House of Commons.

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