Ball vague on provincial contribution to downsized fishery fund

Published on March 14, 2017

Premier Dwight Ball didn’t have a firm answer about how much money the province will have to contribute to the new, smaller fisheries fund announced by the federal government last week.

©James McLeod/The Telegram

Premier Dwight Ball had no clear answer when it comes to how much money the provincial government will need to kick in for the $100-million federal fisheries development fund announced Friday.

The fund, announced Friday by Ball and federal Minister Judy Foote, dominated questions in the House of Assembly Tuesday and later questions from the media.

Opposition critics said that this was a raw deal for the province, because the $100 million is a downgrade from the $400-million fisheries innovation fund which was tied to the CETA free trade deal.

“This is nothing less than an insult to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. People should be outraged,” Opposition Leader Paul Davis said.

“They’ve sold out the fishery.”

With the $400-million fund, the province was supposed to kick in 30 per cent, with Ottawa paying the other $280 million.

“Where I went to school, $280 million is way bigger than $100 million,” New Democrat Leader Earle McCurdy said.

“It’s disappointing. I mean, that’s a lot of money. We’re supposed to be looking for every penny that we can get and we’re in a very tough time in the fishery.”

With this new, downgraded fund, it’s clear that Ottawa will pay $100 million, but it’s not clear how much the province will have to pay.

Ball said that the fund is flexible, and that there are no strings attached to the money, but the federal government’s media materials tell a different story.

“This is a partnership where projects will be identified, prioritized and cost-shared with provinces, and where private sector investments can be leveraged,” the media backgrounder said.

But when it comes to the “cost-shared with the provinces” bit, Ball didn’t have any answers.

He seemed to suggest that the province might be on the hook for 30 per cent — kicking in $50 million — but maybe it’ll be something else.

“I think what’s important here is you consult with the industry to know what specific applications and initiatives that they’re keenly interested in,” he said.

“We’re going to participate, and participating up to 30 per cent? Well, we’ll be there. We’re prepared for that.”

Ball said that the provincial contribution will depend on what the money is spent on, and the government won’t know that until it talks to people in the fishing industry and gets applications for funding. So it could be a long while until the public learns how much the province will contribute.

“This process could be years,” Ball said at one point, before backtracking and saying that the process would start right away.

As for when the money will actually get spent? That’s a little vague, too, although Ball was able to give something of a commitment.

“Yeah, you’ll see money flowing this year from this fund,” he said.