TAGS failed to reach its main objective
Canada's Auditor General, Denis Desautels, recently released a scathing report which denounced the soon-to-be-defunct Atlantic Ground Fish Strategy (TAGS) as a failure and a waste of Canadian tax dollars. The program, which is scheduled to end in 1998, failed to substantially diminish the number of fishers in the industry and succeeded only in creating a dependency on Federal government handouts. For this reason, the Auditor General advised the Federal government not to replace or renew the program, a suggestion which sparked an uproar amongst those affected by the five-year-old cod moratorium.
The Auditor General's recommendation has also angered Newfoundland and Labrador's Fisheries Minister, John Efford. Though he agrees that TAGS failed to reach its main objective, Mr. Efford does not believe that fishers should be punished for the mistakes of the Federal government.
One of the goals of TAGS was to provide income supplementation to unemployed fishers, but its main objective was to lessen the number of people involved in the cod fishery. This was to be done through early retirement packages, license buybacks, and retraining for other fields of employment. However, somewhere along the line the focus of the program changed from lessening the number of fishers involved in the industry to income supplementation.
The blame for this $1.9 billion dollar boo-boo lies squarely on the shoulders of the Federal government according to Mr. Efford. "There was no prior planning into the TAGS program," says the Provincial Fisheries Minister. He believes that Ottawa caused the destruction of the cod stocks by allowing huge trawlers to rape the Grand Banks uninhibited, and then threw together the TAGS program without proper forethought as a type of 'emergency' measure.
"The proof of this lies in the poorly budgeted finances of the program," says Mr. Efford. A shortfall in the funding of TAGS caused the length of the program to be shortened by one year and forced the redirection of funds from important programs, such as license buybacks and retraining, to income supplementation. A prime example of this is the $300 million allocated for license buybacks. In the end, only one third of this money was actually spent on buying back licenses, and that $100 million enabled the buyback of only 3% of licenses.
The proof of the failure of TAGS is also apparent in the great need that continues to exist for yet another aid package. However, as Mr. Efford pointed out, some radical improvements must be made over this current program. "Income supplementation must not be the main goal of the new aid package," says the Minister. Instead, it must focus on license buybacks, early retirement, and retraining for jobs outside the fishery, in order to lighten the dependency on the industry. As well, those who wish to stay in the fishery must be equipped to participate in a multi-species industry encompassing a long list of species including snow crab, turbot, herring, shrimp, redfish, and others. These options would be one-time packages with no further financial aid.
Despite the recommendation of Denis Desaustels, Mr. Efford is confident that the Federal government will replace the shamed TAGS program, and has the assurance of Prime Minister Chretien that this will take place.
However, if the Prime Minister were to backtrack under the pressure of opposition groups such as Reform, it would constitute the worst case of societal abandonment in the history of Confederation; an entire people left to the wolves. With no way out of a fishless fishery, Mr. Efford says "They [the fishers] will go back fishing. They will have no choice." By doing so, they will eke out a living until the cod stocks are wiped out completely, taking with it a 500-year-old way of life.