06/21/2012 02:32 EDT | Updated 06/21/2012 03:31 EDT

John Williamson, Tory MP, Criticizes Possible Government Fisheries Policy


Conservative backbench MP John Williamson has moved from criticizing his government behind closed doors to trying to rally constituents against possible government policy.

As reported by the blog Fisherman's Road, Williamson sent a flyer to his constituents asking them whether they supported his view that owner-operator and fleet-separation policies should be maintained.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans recently released a review paper on modernization and former Conservative minister and Fisheries Ambassador Loyola Sullivan, who now works for Ocean Choice International, has been calling for a change. Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield, however, has yet to say whether current policies will remain in place.

The NDP has come out in favour of maintaining the status-quo and Williamson is adding his name to the chorus of Canadians who believe change could squeeze small players out of a job.

"Fleet separation prevents a company from both catching and processing seafood, while the owner-operator policy requires the fishing license holder to catch the fish," explains the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union on its website.

"FFAW/CAW members are worried a change to these policies will allow big, possibly foreign companies to enter and dominate the inshore fishery, decimating the current license holders who have carved a living for their families from the sea for decades in Newfoundland and Labrador," the union said in a March press release.

In recent months, two Tory backbenchers David Wilks and James Lunney have voiced criticism of the government policy. Wilks was forced to clarify his comments soon after expressing solidarity with constituents critical of the omnibus budget bill. While Lunney has remained opposed to plans to cut and centralize search-and-rescue services in B.C.

Emrys Graefe, Williamson's executive assistant, maintained the MP for New Brunswick Southwest was not breaking rank. Graefe said the mailing was issued to correct the public record after Liberal MP Lawrence MacAulay sent “misleading propaganda” into several communities in the riding.

“[T]here is no government proposed changes to the owner-operator or fleet separation policies. It is purely an opposition fabrication. The ten-percenter sent into NBSW (New Brunswick Southwest) was simply meant to clarify that if any changes were proposed in the future Mr. Williamson would not support any that would harm traditional fisheries,” Graefe told The Huffington Post Canada.

Williamson told HuffPost he was actually rallying constituents by signalling his support for existing government policy.

“I am not challenging government policy, I support it,” he wrote in an email.

Earlier this year, Williamson acknowledged he had expressed concerns in caucus about another touchy topic — International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda's hospitality bills.

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