Nfld. & Labrador

Why FFAW head Keith Sullivan will be tested early, and often

Keith Sullivan may be an unknown outside the FFAW, but as Jamie Baker writes, he has a reputation as a rational individual who also happens to be the first president who earned money in a boat.
Keith Sullivan speaks with reporters Monday soon after taking over the reins of the FFAW. (CBC)

It was a result that was never much in doubt, but one that raises a few interesting questions nonetheless. In what was essentially a coronation, Keith Sullivan became the new president of the FFAW on Monday morning.

The first question amongst those not in the know is, “who the hell is Keith Sullivan?”

The resume tell you he’s a young man with family connections to the industry through his father, a fisherman, and his mother, a plant worker.

He’s been working for the FFAW for the past number of years in a variety of roles, including his most recent one — assistant to the president — which was basically created to help groom him to become president upon Earle McCurdy’s retirement.

He’s considered a bit of an unknown outside the union, but then, so was McCurdy prior to his taking the job in 1993.

First president to have fished for a living

By most accounts Sullivan is calm and rational, knows his stuff and keeps an even keel. 

Not that it means anything, but it’s also worth noting he’s also the first FFAW president to have ever earned any money fishing (which he did with his father prior to going to university).

And that of course leads to another question: Why didn’t anyone else want the job? The room was full of highly committed and mostly long serving FFAW council and executive members, including the vice president (who carries the title secretary treasurer) David Decker.

Decker wasn’t nominated. And neither was anyone else. I’ve seen more action on the floor during the election of the King Lion at the Lions Club where I was once a member.

Nobody is saying the wrong choice was made. But surely somebody must have given second thought to wanting the union’s top job?

A question of democracy

And that brings us to another question raised by Monday’s events: When will the president be elected by the full membership? Given that McCurdy left in the middle of his term (something Richard Cashin also did, in 1993) the new president was elected — in this case it was by acclamation — by the FFAW executive, and sector councils, which falls in line with the union constitution.

What about the rank and file card carrying members?

The answer is that Sullivan would only have to face an actual full membership election next year, prior the FFAW’s triennial convention. And he would only face an election then if he is challenged for the position. So if there is a challenger out there (and we hear there might be a couple of high profile members giving it some consideration) that’s when it would happen.

But that’s all fodder for another time. For now, Sullivan won’t have much time to consider the political machinations of the FFAW. He has much bigger challenges ahead. He will be tested early, and often.

The hammer to drop on inshore shrimp

The big one will come this spring when it’s expected federal fisheries minister Gail Shea will drop the hammer on the inshore shrimp fishery in this province for the second year in a row.

Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea is expected to make another cut to inshore shrimp quotas. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

This past year’s cuts went ahead as planned despite the union’s protests, and Shea is poised to follow up with a repeat performance again in 2015.

She has clearly dug in and the union has it’s work cut out if they want to change her mind and protect the 3,000 plus jobs the cuts would put in jeopardy.

From there, Sullivan will have a litany of other issues staring him in the face, like figuring out how this province is going to get back into the cod/groundfish business when we don’t have much in the way of markets, buyers (outside the one or two in the province at present) or processing capacity.

Earle McCurdy was first elected in the darkest days of the cod moratorium in 1993. He likes to tell the story of how someone congratulated him at the time for being elected mayor of Hiroshima.

For Sullivan, the situation is slightly different — because the real bombs have yet to fall. 


Jamie Baker


Jamie Baker hosts The Broadcast each weekday on CBC Radio.


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