Nova Scotia

How the $250M Clearwater Seafoods purchase by 7 Mi'kmaw First Nations came to be

The Mi'kmaw leader behind the $250-million acquisition of Clearwater Seafoods says his early goals were even more ambitious.

'Most all of the prospective partners walked away,' says Membertou Chief Terry Paul

On Jan. 8, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court approved a deal for a coalition of 7 Mi'kmaw First Nations to buy 50 per cent of Clearwater Seafoods, with the other half purchased by Premium Brands of B.C. (Robert Short/CBC)

The Mi'kmaw leader behind the $250-million acquisition of Clearwater Seafoods says his early goals were even more ambitious — and that bargaining stance didn't sit well with everyone.

"In the beginning, we wanted a pathway, a clear pathway on how we'd end up with 100 per cent of the ownership of the company," said Chief Terry Paul of the Membertou First Nation.

"Most all of the prospective partners walked away ... because of our insistence on what we were looking for."

Paul made the comments during an online chat with Clearwater founder John Risley that was put on by the non-profit Public Policy Forum.

The discussion came more than a month after the Nova Scotia Supreme Court approved a deal for a coalition of seven Mi'kmaw First Nations to buy 50 per cent of the seafood giant, with the other half purchased by Premium Brands of British Columbia.

Paul said the Mi'kmaw coalition would have accepted an initial ownership stake of 10 per cent, as long as there was "a path going to 100 per cent."

'We're here to fish until the rest of time,' says Paul

Only Premium Brands made a counter offer of a long-term partnership on equal terms, with the coalition also holding Clearwater's fisheries licences, said Paul.

"We have told them that we're here to fish until the rest of time, so that's pretty long. Their long time is like 30 years or so, and that seems good to us," he said.

"And if they ever want to sell, that we would have the first offer."

Risley said during the online discussion that he's pleased with the outlook for his former company.

Paul says he looks forward to when Mi'kmaw people hold positions in all levels of the company. (Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith/CBC)

"I feel very happy that it's in good hands," he said. "It was not about, in the end, trying to get the most money; it was about trying to find the right home for the business. And we found that home."

Paul said he looks forward to when Mi'kmaw people hold positions in all levels of the company "right from the deckhand to the CEO."

"We want to make sure that they're qualified to be able to apply for these positions when they become available," he said.

He added that revenue from Clearwater will help fund education and housing in Mi'kmaw communities.

"One of our greatest pillars in Membertou is the education of our people, all our people ... and I feel that this acquisition helps our children to think better about the future, and that they do have a future," he said.

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