Thursday, October 21, 2010

Brian Tobin: Rebel Without A Cod

Born on this day in 1954, and first elected to Canada's Parliament in 1980, Brian Tobin was one of the few Liberals who survived Brian Mulroney's Tory landslide of 1984; alongside his colleagues from Ontario - Don Boudria, John Nunziata, and Sheila Copps - the MP for Humber—Port au Port—Ste. Barbe helped form what the Ottawa press corps quickly dubbed the Rat Pack, which during the next nine years on the Opposition Bench gave the government what-for in an altogether unprecedented way.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWhen the Liberals were returned to power in 1993 under Jean Chr├ętien, Tobin's previous loyalty to his new boss was rewarded; he was given the plum job of Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, which anyway is practically a Newfoundland sinecure. It was during his tenure at DFO that Brian Tobin had his finest hour (to date): the Turbot War.

Following a moratorium on fishing which devastated the Newfoundland economy, it was discovered that factory trawlers from Europe operating just outside Canada's 200-mile limit were vacuuming the ocean clean of all life, therefore potentially extincting such staple catches as cod and halibut from the Grand Banks, an area that was still prime fishing ground as recently as the 1970s. The source of the devastation having been determined, Tobin decided to make something of it; he had the Canadian Coast Guard trail a Spanish stern-trawler called the Estai which was suspected of just such illegal activity. In March 1996 shots were fired, the Estai was boarded, its crew arrested and its nets impounded.

The Estai had indeed been using illegal gill nets, which Tobin himself demonstrated during a press conference held on a barge in the East River near the UN, much to the chagrin of the Spanish and EU trade representatives like Emma Bonino. Accused of grandstanding by the timid do-nothings who'd been letting it happen, Tobin used the notoriety he'd gained during the incident to propel himself into the office of Premier of Newfoundland. In 2000 he returned again to federal politics, this time representing Bonavista—Trinity—Conception; disgusted, as many of us were, by the seemingly endless machinations of Paul Martin, Tobin retired from politics in 2002.

Still I, for one, am not counting him out; his memoirs are entitled All In Good Time, implying that the man once dubbed 'Captain Canada' may yet return to public life...
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