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Keith Sullivan’s resignation from FFAW-Unifor, and questions of conflict of interest

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

Keith Sullivan’s unexpected resignation today as President of the FFAW-Unifor comes as SEA-NL was preparing to release details of a perceived conflict of interest between Nalcor Energy and the union — specifically involving Sullivan and his wife.

In March 2016 then FFAW president Keith Sullivan reacted to a court ruling that stipulated the union must pay out money from a scallop compensation fund. (CBC photo.)

Questions of conflict have been raised in recent months over a compensation deal negotiated in 2012/2013 between Nalcor Energy/the Lower Churchill Project and the FFAW.

The union represented scallop fishermen in the Strait of Belle Isle whose fishing grounds were lost to the construction of undersea cables to connect Labrador’s Muskrat Falls power to the island of Newfoundland.

Seventy-one fishermen later took their union to court over a $2.6-million compensation fund that had been negotiated without their knowledge or consent.

The fishermen argued the money should be shared through lump sum payments among everyone who held a scallop licence. The union said the money should be paid out over 30 years to active fishers who could demonstrate annual losses.

During the trial, west coast staff-rep Jason Spingle — a key figure in negotiating the compensation package — admitted the union was a year into negotiations with Nalcor before fishermen were asked to sign consent forms.

In 2016, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador ruled in favour of the scallop fishermen against their union. The decision was later upheld on appeal.

Then, in August of this year, SEA-NL publicly questioned FFAW-Unifor accountability after the union executive elected Spingle to the position of secretary-treasurer.

Immediately after going public, SEA-NL was contacted by a Nalcor Energy official who pointed out a conflict of interest in that Roseanne Williams, Keith Sullivan’s wife, was on the Lower Churchill Project (LCP) team that negotiated the scallop compensation package.

The official went so far as to say that Williams and Sullivan sat across the table from each other.

A formal request under the province’s Access to Information and Privacy Act later confirmed that Williams was one of four people on the team who negotiated with the FFAW. The response also noted that Gilbert Bennett reviewed and signed the final agreement.

Jill Pitcher of Newfoundland Labrador Hydro, which absorbed Nalcor in 2021, said the relationship between Roseanne Williams and Keith Sullivan was known in 2012/2013 when the deal was being negotiated.

She added that Sullivan, while employed by the FFAW at the time (as assistant to then-President Earle McCurdy), was not President.

Pitcher added, “Ms. Williams did not have any financial authority. Further, the full team complement representing LCP was thoroughly vetted.”

Ryan Cleary,

Executive Director, SEA-NL

Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization serving as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters. You can read more about SEA-NL, and join us here.

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