Nfld. & Labrador

Rare election challenge for one of FFAW's top jobs

An outspoken Southern Shore fisherman may shake up the provincial fisheries union with his plan to seek the No. 2 job, writes Fisheries Broadcast host Jamie Baker.

President Keith Sullivan acclaimed, but outspoken fisherman aiming to be vice-president

Outspoken Southern Harbour fish harvester Peter Leonard will challenge incumbent David Decker for the position of secretary-treasurer. (Submitted)

Whether it's apathy or just bad timing, it's relatively rare that anyone challenges for election to the positions of president or secretary treasurer — essentially, vice-president — of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union. 

But that's about to change.

FFAW President Keith Sullivan was unchallenged for the union's top job, which means he gets another three-year term by way of acclimation. But there will be a race for the number two, secretary treasurer's position currently held by David Decker.

Outspoken Southern Harbour fish harvester Peter Leonard has thrown his hat into that ring. He says asking people to consider running for union positions in a compressed window during the busiest time of the fishing season is a tall order. But he says union members are telling him they are anxious for change and accountability, and that prompted him to submit his nomination papers.

"I want to give the union back to its members. We're not here to tear down the union, we're here to build a better union and a more open one for the members," Leonard told CBC's Fisheries Broadcast.

Leonard is no stranger to public battles. He's been involved with union fightback campaigns and helped organize members around issues like the ill-fated raw materials sharing plan in the crab fishery in 2005. 

FFAW president Keith Sullivan says western Newfoundland fishermen are losing out to counterparts from the Maritimes. (CBC)

In recent times he's also been an outspoken member of a fishermen's group on the south coast of Newfoundland who have fought to maximize the benefits of the cod fishery during a time when thousands of tonnes of fish was being left in the water for lack of a buyer.

While the group has, at times, publicly challenged the FFAW's representation on issues around cod, he says the group is, "not anti-union. We are pro-membership."

"Our first meeting we had with the FFAW before we met with the (provincial fisheries) minister was very negative. We were told there was loads of cod in Iceland, Norway and Russia and we wouldn't be able to sell a pound of fish," he said. 

"But the group has made a positive impact … we were not selling any fish (in 2013) and last year we got 80 per cent of our quota taken."

Stewardship 'quotas are a joke'

Leonard says he wants to bring the same attitude to working with other challenged sectors of the fishery, including inshore shrimp fishery which faces uncertainty due to the so-called "last in, first out" (LIFO) policy, and in tackling groundfish troubles around cod quotas and halibut sharing.

Just shipping away fish unprocessed, shutting down plants and bringing in make work isn't enough- Peter Leonard

"With shrimp, we need to take the fight right to the heart of Ottawa. It's great to have support on the ground here, but the decisions are getting made up there. If we are out of sight, well I guess we're out of those people's minds. People who live next to the resource should benefit from it. 

"Northern cod [stewardship] quotas are a joke. Any extra cod needs to be immediately allocated to the inshore harvesters," he said, insisting that coordinated seafood marketing also needs to be put into force to improve the returns from cod.

As for halibut sharing, he calls a recent federal decision on the sharing of extra halibut quota in the Gulf of St. Lawrence "ridiculous" and says, "people in the Gulf and on the south coast are getting completely screwed. Press conferences are not going to cut it anymore."

In the processing sector, Leonard says he was disappointed to learn through recent CBC News reports that large quantities of cod and other species were being shipped out of the province unprocessed with government approval. And he says any hope of improving the incomes for people in the plants must start with a defined strategy to address demographics and production.

"Just shipping away fish unprocessed, shutting down plants and bringing in make work isn't enough," he said.

Beyond the fishery

As for other sectors represented by the FFAW, including shuttle tanker crews, hotel workers, ACAN Windows, Molson Breweries, metal shops, and the Umiak ore vessel crew, Leonard says he feels those members sometimes get lost in the shuffle and that their contribution gets missed. He says he wants to "represent the best interests of all sectors" and that the FFAW, "needs to ensure the union has the people and resources in place," to serve all their members.

"We have to continue to promote the products being produced by local union members and we have to continue to highlight the importance of what they are doing in our local economy," he said.

As for the campaign itself, he says he believes he will be up against what he sees as the union establishment if he wants to win the job. But he says that doesn't phase him.

"I'm going to put a certain amount of my own time into this, and I'm going to put a certain amount of my own money into it. I want a clean campaign," he said. "I'm not afraid of a fight, I've shown that in the past."

Nominations for FFAW executive positions closed June 1. At least one other major job in the FFAW will be uncontested: Bay de Verde fisherman Tony Doyle was acclimated to a three year term as the union's Inshore Vice President. 

But there will be challenges for other positions, including vice-president for the industrial- retail-offshore sector: Incumbent VP Eric Day is being challenged there by Lloyd Squibb.

To see the full list of candidates, click here

Elections will be conducted by a mail-in ballot. The union says ballots will be mailed in next few weeks and that members will have 30 days from the date of mailing to return the ballot.

Results will likely not be known until later in the summer. Elections are held every three years prior to the FFAW's triennial convention, which is slated to happen in Gander in November.

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