© Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
Egmont MP and federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea spoke with The Guardian for a year-end interview earlier this month.
Egmont MP Gail Shea says the Senate expenses scandal was a distraction from important work accomplished this year in Ottawa, work she believes will positively benefit Islanders and all Canadians.
The federal fisheries minister told The Guardian in a year-end interview this week she believes the Canada-European trade agreement signed this year was a highlight accomplishment for the Harper government for 2013.
But it was overshadowed by the expenses scandal that dogged the Senate, and in particular P.E.I.âs Senator Mike Duffy.
âIt definitely has been a distraction, because everyone watches the news and the media and of course it has dominated the news when a lot of other very important things were happening, such as the Canada-European trade deal,â Shea said.
âI find it ironic that all this started because someone was trying to pay back money to taxpayers, which is quite the opposite of what you usually have.â
Until his spectacular fall from grace this year, Duffy was a star in Harperâs Conservative caucus â a top fundraiser for the party and a loyal representative who would make funding announcements on behalf of cabinet ministers.
In previous interviews with The Guardian, Duffy referred to himself as âGail Sheaâs little helperâ in Ottawa â assisting the Islandâs only Conservative MP to bring home the bacon for P.E.I.
Duffyâs expulsion from the party caucus and the scandal surrounding him has left Shea the lone federal Conservative representative in P.E.I.
She calls the whole Senate scandal an âunfortunate situation,â but one she hears about constantly.
âI do hear a lot about it, but itâs not the first scandal thatâs ever happened in government. Weâre still hearing about the sponsorship scandal, which was more than a decade ago,â she said.
âEverybody is speculating on this and that and what happened and what didnât happen, but I think the proper place to do the investigation is with the RCMP, so Iâm sure many people are looking forward to that conclusion.â
In the meantime, she believes the new trade deal with European Union will be good news for Islanders, especially those in the lobster industry.
Lobster prices were also an issue that sparked controversy this year, not only in P.E.I., but across the region.
Record-low prices for the highly-valued crustaceans led P.E.I. fishermen to initiate a strike that lasted six days in the height of the spring fishing season. The strike swept through the Maritimes and nearly brought the industry to a standstill.
As federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Sheaâs name is often invoked on the issue of lobster prices.
Shea echoed statements made by provincial fisheries officials, saying solutions to the problems in the lobster fishery must be led by industry.
âIn the past there was some mistrust among different sections of the industry â the fishers, the buyers, the processors and the exporters. That entire industry has to come together.â
She said she is encouraged by the cooperation among the provinces in the recent regional panel that produced a report filled with recommendations that include introducing a price-setting mechanism and a marketing levy on fishers and processors.
Shea believes the key to solving many of these and other economic issues in P.E.I. lies in finding new markets for P.E.I. products. This is what the Canada-EU deal can accomplish, she said.
âParticularly coming from an area where we depend a lot on exports where fishing and farming were such big industries, I think that this is one thing that certainly is going to benefit Prince Edward Island.â
Shea said her priorities for 2014 include working with the province to develop a plan to honour Stompin' Tom Connors and commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference.