Written by: David Vardy
Cabot Martin (1944-2022) was endowed with the temperament of the raging seas which beat upon his native Port aux Basques and imbued with the wisdom of a Newfoundland and Labrador sea captain. Cabot Martin served as an advisor on law and resource policy under Premiers Frank Moores and Brian Peckford. He studied law at Queen’s University and ocean law at the University of Miami. His advice as an advisor to the government and his private contributions later significantly impacted his native province.
Just before his sudden death, and before hurricane Fiona raged against the SW Coast of Newfoundland, he was writing a book about his birthplace, Port au Basques, and its indomitable and unflinching people. He was also writing about a megaproject using wind to produce green hydrogen, proposed for the Port au Port Peninsula, not far from Port aux Basques.
His concern about the nearby wind project was whether local residents, living in adjacent communities, would have a guiding voice in the megaproject. He added fire to a debate that continues to rage and is quintessential to Cabot. It is the conflict between significant developments and the interests of adjacent local communities.
Cabot was a visionary, a scholar with eclectic interests, including the law and the sea, trained in law but rooted in the sea and the coastal communities that draw their breath from the raging ocean. These coastal communities and their interface with the raging sea typify Canada at large and the relationship between its communities and its large land mass, with the longest coastline in the world. In developing the rich resources of Canada, including the marine resources of Newfoundland and Labrador, the challenge is to empower local communities so they can reap the benefits, even when the resource extractors are global in scale and often more concerned with world markets than with adjacent communities.
Cabot was not only a visionary and a thinker; he was also a realist and a doer. But, above all, he had confidence in the people living in coastal communities and in their ability to manage their destinies. He advocated strong local governance, imbued with the confidence to take control of their affairs. Some would call it the principle of “subsidiarity”, devolving governance close to people. Cabot called it the “adjacency principle”, where local communities make key decisions on the matters that are vital to their interest.
He believed that large oil companies needed to be regulated and governed with lots of engagement by their provincial government and by people in affected coastal communities. Cabot believed that coastal communities should have priority rights to harvest local fish stocks and should be the principal beneficiaries of the rich adjacent fishery resources. He was an advocate of joint fisheries management, as well as joint management of petroleum development.
Cabot had a vision for the fishery as a renewable resource whose management should rest more fully with those living adjacents to the resource, particularly inshore fish harvesters. His vision for offshore oil and gas framed public policy in the province long before any drilling had begun, and he was instrumental in shaping the emerging industry so that its development would bring maximum benefits, both social and economic, to adjacent communities. He advised the government to defend its strong claim to ownership; Newfoundland had not relinquished its right to these resources in the Terms of Union with Canada.
Cabot advised the provincial government that it should move its case on two tracks, one through the courts, to assert ownership, and another through negotiations with the federal government, to seek management rights and royalties. Royalties to the province should be no less than those from resources on land, rather than under the sea. Cabot was a member of the negotiating team which achieved joint management through the Atlantic Accord between the governments of Canada and of Newfoundland and Labrador covering offshore petroleum resources, signed in February of 1985. While the province lost in the Supreme Court it succeeded in its negotiating strategy, achieving most of the management control and revenues the government of the day was seeking but through a negotiated settlement with Ottawa, rather than through the courts.
Long before the cod moratorium of 1992 Cabot foresaw the imminent collapse of groundfish stocks. He advocated action through the Inshore Fisheries Association and worked with a group of scientists at Memorial University to document the low recruitment into the fishery and the impact of overfishing. This was in advance of other reports such as the Task Force on Northern Cod chaired by the late Dr. Leslie Harris. If Cabot’s warnings had been acted upon earlier, our cod stocks might now be restored and not remain under moratorium, after 30 years.
Cabot was an advocate for more aggressive intervention by Canada as the coastal state and the extension of its 200-mile limit to the edge of the continental shelf to control foreign overfishing. The Harper government adopted this extension in its election platform but failed to act, leaving the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks open to virtually uncontrolled fishing.
Cabot was also an entrepreneur. He invested in fish farming and created a local oil company. His cod farming venture heralded aquaculture as a growth industry in his native province, harvesting small cod and then holding and feeding them until they reached marketable size. Cabot also established Deer Lake Oil and Gas, to explore and promote the province’s onshore potential for oil and gas development. His deeds spanned a broad compass, as did his vision.
Just before his untimely passing on September 2, 2022, Cabot produced a phased plan where the gas would first be piped to shore from existing oilfields and later from new gas fields, drawing upon gas hitherto used primarily to maintain pressure on existing oilfields but also to bring natural gas discoveries into production.
Cabot believed in participatory democracy, speaking out with his strong reasoned voice to encourage private citizens to engage directly on major public policy issues. He convened small groups to discuss fishery issues and to plan the future of an emerging natural gas industry. He, and others, successfully opposed the privatization of NL Hydro. A strong democracy and strong local voices were the keys to achieving maximum benefits from our resources.
A strong democracy, with citizens engaged in their economic and social destiny, was the vision that Cabot Martin left, not only for his native province but for Canada as well. For Cabot, a strong committed Canadian, such strong engagement was the guiding principle that should protect all Canadians and empower them to receive maximum benefits from the development of all our resources, human resources, and natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable.
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