It seems ironic, on reflection, that the sting of a wasp may have precipitated Cabot Martin’s untimely demise. He had delivered a few “stings” himself over a long career, though they were never intended to devastate, as much as to awaken and challenge — mostly bureaucrats and politicians. If he was stinging the Feds, all the better, though he often felt that NLers were our own worst enemies.

He was an exceptional person. A gifted intellect for sure; irascible and argumentative, too. What endeared him to many was not just that he was analytical and insightful, but that he was honest and forthright. He was a public policy wonk; resource policy interested him most. He loved to travel and read; people, with something to say, were always important. But reading… the best place in the world was a bookstore, especially an obscure one; rare finds weren’t necessary, just good finds. How would he get them all home?!?

Memorial was his first stop — a degree in the sciences, with geology intriguing him for a host of reasons. Then it was on to Queen’s Law School and the University of Miami, where he studied marine law. He was teaching ethics to engineers when I first spied him in the Thompson Student Centre in 1971. He was helping organize MUN’s Campus against Premier Smallwood’s Liberals in the first of two critical General Elections. His hurried and brash demeanour didn’t seem to be the right qualifications for the job, but it was just an observation.  I would eventually understand that for him, as for most people, he could not countenance Smallwood’s style of leadership another day; he had to play a role. Besides, weren’t politics and public policy inseparable?

When I finally met him years later, he had already served as Legal Adviser to the Minister of Mines and Energy responsible for offshore oil & gas matters, Leo Barry (later a NL Appeals Court Judge, now retired). An early seminal work, entitled “Newfoundland’s Case on Offshore Minerals: A Brief Outline”, was by this time also published, the issue his subject for a Law and Policy Conference on Energy at the University of Ottawa in 1974. “It covered,” he said, “not just the legal arguments but also the economic, environmental, social and moral ‘case’” for the NL position.

Cabot was one of the chief architects of the province’s position on the ownership of its offshore resources. The Terms of Union with Canada were silent on the question of ownership and so our legal rights were not transferred to the GoC but were retained by the province. That was the position Cabot advanced. Cabot helped to bring together an international team of experts to buttress the case presented to the Courts.

While the province did not win its claim to ownership, we were ultimately successful in obtaining royalty revenues as if the resources were located on land and not under the sea. Cabot was a key member of the negotiating team which led to the Atlantic Accord.  As a result the province was also successful in achieving a joint management agreement. The joint management agreement contained in the 1985 Atlantic Accord gave the province management control over the mode and pace of development once national self-sufficiency in petroleum had been achieved, which is now the case.  Cabot’s hand was at work throughout the long journey which began with our claim to ownership and which ultimately achieved most of the benefits of ownership through joint management.

The Petroleum Directorate (now C-NLOPB) was in development in those days, too, taking a parallel track with the advancement of NL’s legal position. It involved enormously qualified names some will recognize — especially Steve Millan (also since passed) and Dr Pedro Van Meurs. Cabot Martin was proud, in his own words, that it  was “staffed by international oil company experienced Newfoundlanders, … the first…wave [of which] you can now bump into in virtually every big oil or gas play globally.”

Still, it was the “constant fight” with the oil companies, with the Government of Canada and a new Premier on a mission of change in the Federal relationship that demanded most of his energies. They both understood what was at stake — better than most, perhaps — including the Opposition and the trade unions, whose leadership foolishly thought in partisan terms. For Martin, failing to achieve shared jurisdiction over the offshore meant the loss of “employment access for Newfoundlanders and a preference for Newfoundland supplied goods and services.” “It wasn’t just ‘difficult’,” Martin wrote in a 2019 Blog Post; dealing with Ottawa was “like crawling over broken glass; [it] went on unrelentingly for 13 long years…”

Photo Credit: CBC

Leo Barry’s defeat in 1975 precipitated Brian Peckford’s appointment to the Energy Ministry; in turn, Frank Moores’ departure led to Brian Peckford’s  leadership victory in 1979. Cabot Martin quickly appeared on the 8th Floor as the Premier’s Senior Policy Adviser. He would remain there until the Atlantic Accord was signed in 1985.

Those were deeply important and challenging times, and it is unfortunate that Martin chose not to write more of the telling. What is undeniable, is that the accomplishment of the “Atlantic Accord” is inextricably linked to Cabot Martin.

Brian Peckford’s role is well-known even if, at times, he seems to doubt whether anyone noticed. Arguably, few of those involved approached the issue with as much energy, passion and intelligence as did Cabot Martin, or with his world view.

One common problem was the enormous difficulty just getting people to believe that NL, itself, possessed the capability to manage the resources — not just oil, but fish, too — which it brought into Confederation. It was the case inside Confederation Building; outside, the problem was just as large.

Many people were content to pay deference to Ottawa, allowing fish stocks to be used for barter with France or another European entity; ingrained was the assumption that the same or similar arrangement could apply to oil. In this context, Cabot Martin was a disrupter, especially within the bureaucracy. He had no hesitation ruffling feathers; not everyone left meetings with their dignity intact. It wasn’t personal. He simply understood, as did Peckford and others, that NL would go nowhere without fundamental changes to the way resources were managed and developed.

It would be wrong, nevertheless, to think that oil and gas was his sole preoccupation. He always preferred a discussion about the fishery anyway. Cabot led a fisheries group which portended the collapse of the cod stocks, even before the reports by Lee Alverson and Les Harris were completed. His book “No Fish and Our Lives” was published in 1991, its essential message having come out of the earlier work.

David Vardy recalls the important work he did as Chair of the Committee on Ocean Science and Technology, and the creation of NORDCO which trained young scientists and spun off new companies to develop the burgeoning marine technology industry, one of the province’s key growth sectors. His interest in and contribution to the development of cod aquaculture was also important. But policy was his paramount interest, and marine law, which led to his involvement in work on the Law of the Sea, and on the creation of a Canadian Exclusive Economic Fishery Zone (EEZ).

Though Martin left Government in 1989, first heading a cod aquaculture project, later leading Deer Lake Oil and Gas Company, which pursued exploration in the Deer Lake Basin, it became apparent that the province was about to take a step backwards.

The Muskrat Falls project hurt worse than a gut punch. “Tory Muskrat greed and hubris… effectively enabled by the Liberals and NDP” was responsible, he said. For a short time he thought that Danny Williams had something figured out. Nalcor’s arrogance, secrecy and deception warranted his criticism, and he was not one to hold back. For Cabot, unlike too many others, partisanship had no place in public policy. He hammered GNL and Nalcor mercilessly, engaged with Swedish scientist and engineer, Dr. Stig Bernander, on the North Spur instability issue, became a Member of the 2041 Group of lawyers opposed to Muskrat Falls, and repeatedly wrote on this Blog in search of sanity, as much as transparency or accountability for what he often called a crazy project. His genuine concern was rewarded with “naysayer”, the label afforded critics, by the very people Williams had empowered to spend the benefits of the Atlantic Accord and Williams, himself. The book he authored entitled “Muskrat Madness” soon followed. No one was listening, however, especially not the charlatans.

He watched in horror as Dwight Ball’s easy acquiescence to the Federal Government’s 2019 demands for changes to the Atlantic Accord attempted to have us “demoted from ‘principal beneficiary’ to ‘primary beneficiary’” — recognizing a right — ostensibly “entrenched” — fall away in a process which he described as “federal shape shifting”, not unlike, he said, “what happened to our ‘adjacency’ rights to our fish stocks…”

Cabot was a “man for all seasons” who contributed to public policy across a wide range, applying his knowledge of the Law of the Sea to the management of the fishery, his knowledge of geology to the problems of quick clay at the North Spur, and his understanding of fisheries biology to foresee the collapse of the Northern Cod before fishery managers applied the brakes.

He might have lost focus on Muskrat Falls for a couple of weeks in 2012 but he was not about to let World Energy GH2’s wind/hydrogen proposal get approved without another fight; the Furey Government was unready with policy, but up to their arses in favouritism. “These guys are nuts,” he intoned in an Uncle Gnarley Post, last Monday, referring to the proponents. In addition to the Port Au Port Peninsula, they want to be “given two other areas which include the iconic and ecologically sensitive wilderness areas in the Lewis Hills and Blomidon Mountains plus the wilderness of the Codroy Valley’s Anguille Mountains.”

“I must say,” he told readers, “after the Muskrat Falls fiasco, I thought our government had finally learnt its lesson and would not rush into another such scheme where calling it ‘green’ was enough to suspend all critical analysis.”

Within an hour or so he would have met with PlanetNL, who agreed to clarify some technical wind/hydrogen issues for a forthcoming lecture he had agreed to give, and more Blog Posts, when the wasp released its venom.

Before saying good-bye to Cabot and stating that he will be sorely missed by me, by Uncle Gnarley readers, and by many others, I would only add that no Newfoundlander and Labradorian loved their Province more or worked as tirelessly to see it prosper.

In his 2019 Blog Post he asks a question that is as relevant today, in relation to our wind resource (which we control), as it was over Federal efforts to dilute the Atlantic Accord (over which the Feds are taking back increasing control).

Here, again, is Cabot Martin:

“So I ask that age old question that every generation seems to ask in its waning days:

Does the next generation have the fire in its belly and the focus to beat off this newest attack on our short and long term well-being; to our continued development as a distinct progressive society?

Having since seen nothing but reinforcing evidence, I can only repeat part of the conclusion in my Ottawa Law Review article:

“If the values of economic and social justice and cultural diversity that are inherent in Newfoundland’s claim are overlooked in favour of a centralized and inflexible federal management regime, is it not evident that, in the long run, Canada will be the poorer? 

Ditto, Ditto for the Fisheries.”

Rest In Peace Cabot Martin

Other Posts by Cabot Martin include:

Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.


If a Big Mac costs McDonalds $10 to produce and it is sold for $1.50, McDonalds will go out of business. They would not declare a profit!


Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

If CFLCo is required to maximize its profit, then CFLCo should sell its electricity to the highest bidder(s) on the most advantageous terms available.