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Federal Fisheries and Ocean Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Newfoundland and Labrador MPs met with representative of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW-Unifor) union in St. John's on Monday.
Dominic LeBlanc is shown at a news conference in St. John’s. — SaltWire Network file photo

Atlantic Canada is still assessing the impact of federal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc’s departure from Fisheries to Intergovernmental Affairs and Trade.

It’s a new challenge for LeBlanc, but likely a loss for this region.

Because we had a minister in Fisheries who was deeply familiar with the portfolio. His Beausejour, N.B. riding, which stretches along the Northumberland Strait, is heavily dependent on the fishery. He knows the issues and the personalities in boats, factories and offices. He is credited with taking dramatic steps to address the right whale issue in the Gulf region.

LeBlanc found time to exert his influence and offer advice to other ministers dealing with Atlantic issues. This region was the better for it.

And on that issue, fishermen went from being part of the problem to becoming part of the solution. While they were upset with zone closures at the time, they came to realize the minister’s actions to protect whales kept seafood trade flowing uninterrupted with the U.S. and Europe — and reduced entanglements and collisions.

LeBlanc found time to exert his influence and offer advice to other ministers dealing with Atlantic issues. This region was the better for it.

Now, that connection may be lessening.

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At first glance, the new portfolio should offer LeBlanc opportunities to remain closely connected to the Atlantic provinces. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems to have other priorities for his longtime friend. With the countdown underway to next year’s federal election, the PM wants one of his most capable ministers to take on a very tough file.

It’s a critical time in federal-provincial relations. LeBlanc will push the PM’s agenda in the face of opposition from Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford in Ontario and the looming threat of United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney in Alberta. He will be dealing with files that have little immediate impact on Atlantic Canada, including the Kinder Morgan pipeline; Alberta’s concerns about equalization payments; and carbon pricing in Ontario and the Western provinces.

Those matters will obviously keep LeBlanc busy. Our key minister around the federal cabinet table will now be speaking primarily about Central and Western Canada issues, so it’s up to Atlantic premiers to ensure he continues to pay attention to this region as well. They will have to remind LeBlanc that he’s in charge of priorities for all the provinces and territories, and not just three or four provinces with lots of seats in the House of Commons.

Also in need of LeBlanc’s attention is interprovincial trade barriers that have led to reduced selection and higher prices for consumers. The most obvious example in Atlantic Canada is alcohol, following the high-profile case of a New Brunswick man charged with transporting beer across the border from Quebec. Provincial and territorial leaders agreed in principle last month to reduce barriers, but it’s up to LeBlanc to must push them forward.

We wish LeBlanc well in his new duties of nation-building and national unity; we just hope he doesn’t forget about the folks back home.

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