Prime Minister Stephen declared, “One way or another, our government will deliver compensation for MPRs,” but it’s anybody’s guess what exactly that means, since Harper refused to answer even a single media question while he visited Newfoundland and Labrador.
Harper was speaking at Harbour International Ltd.'s MoorFrost cold storage facility in Bay Roberts Saturday evening, in front of a crowd of about 100 supporters. This is the first time Harper has visited NL since 2012.
Harper’s speech was almost entirely focused on taxes, the economy, and the federal government budget — with a brief diversion to talk about ISIS, the war in Ukraine, and Israel’s right to exist.
The only bit of the speech that seemed specifically tailored to Newfoundland and Labrador was the line about minimum processing requirements (MPRs) for seafood, which were supposed to be part of the CETA free trade deal with Europe.
“We promised to compensate the fishing industry for any losses from the removal of minimum processing requirements, and while we haven’t yet been able to reach a deal on specifics with the provincial government, we have the strong support of industry for this deal, and I can tell you, one way or another, our government will deliver compensation for MPRs,” Harper said.
It really is difficult to figure out what that means, since MPRs are provincial responsibility, and after an acrimonious standoff between Harper and Premier Paul Davis, the province is now refusing to drop minimum processing requirements on seafood destined for Europe.
Harper and his ministers have always insisted that the $280 million in federal money would only be paid out if the province can prove that there were quantifiable losses associated with dropping MPRs.
If the province now refuses to drop MPRs, what does it mean when the prime minister says that “one way or another” the federal government will pay compensation?
Moreover, given that the $280 million was supposed to be part of a larger $400 million fund cost-shared 70-30 between Ottawa and the province, does Harper’s “one way or another” stance now mean that the federal share will somehow be paid out even if the province isn’t on board?
Conservative Senator David Wells offered that the money from Ottawa is “on the table” but won’t be paid out unless the provincial government is on board.
“It has to be requested by the province based on what they agree on,” he said.
Overall, the difference in tone was stark between the Harper event in the riding of Avalon, and the campaign rallies last month by New Democratic Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in the capital city region.
Both the Mulcair and Trudeau events were open to anybody, and featured hundreds of supporters, whereas security was heavy at the Harper event, and a generous estimate of the crowd would be maybe 100 people.
The Harper event was by invitation only, and an RCMP officer physically grabbed the Telegram reporter when he tried to enter the event, demanding to see identification.
Both Trudeau and Mulcair fielded questions from local journalists on a wide range of topics.
Harper's even was also the only one of the three that featured protestors outside, with a couple dozen people holding signs and chanting anti-Conservative slogans on the road outside the MoorFrost building.
Harper’s speech focused heavily on the need for stability and reliable economic stewardship in the face of a scary and uncertain world.
He argued that only continued governance by the Conservatives can deliver low taxes and economic growth for the country.