It was an artfully balanced ruling on a complex and touchy subject. So it was not especially surprising when last week’s decision, by the first international panel set up under the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA), produced widely differing interpretations of whether Canada won or lost in the outcome. The ruling partly overturned a Canadian policy that since last April has required that all salmon and herring caught off British Columbia be landed in Canada. Ottawa had argued that it needed the rule in order to monitor fish stocks. But American fish packers complained that the requirement was in fact in place to prevent Canadian fish from being processed in U.S. plants—in contravention of the FTA. Last week, the five-member trade panel ruled that Canada had indeed breached the FTA. It also directed that as much as onefifth of the salmon and herring caught off British Columbia should be made directly available to foreign buyers.
Critics of the Free Trade Agreement immediately interpreted that decision as an infringement of Canadian sovereignty that would lead
to layoffs in Canadian fish plants. As many as 8,000 people work in 213 B.C. fish-processing plants, which in some cases provide the only source of employment in remote communities. NDP Leader Ed Broadbent declared in the House of Commons that Fisheries Minister Thomas Siddon had “given away our whole capacity for having a national and regional industrial strategy.” That view was echoed by Bruce Logan, 40, who has fished for salmon out of Vancouver for 14 years. Said Logan, who is also an organizer for the United Fisherman and Allied Workers Union: “It seems to be a onesided situation, where the U.S. is applying all the restrictions. It confirms our worst fears [about free trade].”
But Siddon, who represents a suburban Vancouver riding in Parliament, claimed that the decision was a victory for Canada. The minister noted that the panel had agreed with Canada’s position that it has the authority to make rules directed at conserving its fish stocks—and allowed Ottawa to continue directing 80 per cent of the catch to Canadian processors. Still, Siddon said the cabinet would take the full 30 days that it is allowed under the FTA before announcing whether it will abide by the panel's decision. If Canada ignores the ruling, the FTA allows the United States to impose penalties to offset whatever injury Canada’s decision causes to American fish plants,
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.