House of Commons Hansard #51 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was organizations.

Topics

Service Canada
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Service Canada
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the subamendment will please say yea.

Service Canada
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Service Canada
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Service Canada
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Service Canada
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, May 6, 2009, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Seal Hunt
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Pursuant to order made earlier today, the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Motion No. 3 under Government Business.

I do now leave the Chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(House in committee of the whole for consideration of Government Business No. 3, Mr. Barry Devolin in the chair)

Seal Hunt
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

Egmont
P.E.I.

Conservative

Gail Shea Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

moved:

That the House take note that the seal hunt is a humane and legitimate economic pursuit, and that the European Parliament's recent decision to ban the importation of seal products is misinformed, inflammatory, counterproductive, and should be rejected.

Seal Hunt
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Assistant Deputy Chair Barry Devolin

Before we begin this evening's debate, I would like to remind hon. members of how the proceedings will unfold.

Each member speaking will be allotted 10 minutes for debate, followed by 10 minutes for questions and comments. Members may split their time by so indicating to the Chair. The debate will end after four hours or when no member rises to speak.

Pursuant to the special order adopted earlier today, the Chair will receive no dilatory motions, no quorum calls, and no requests for unanimous consent.

We will now begin tonight's take note debate. The Chair recognizes the hon. Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

Seal Hunt
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Egmont
P.E.I.

Conservative

Gail Shea Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Chair, I stand today to proudly indicate our Conservative government's support for the seal hunting industry. Tonight I will inform the hon. members of this House of the actions taken by the Government of Canada to combat the threat to the sealing industry posed by the European actions to ban the trade of seal products in Europe and the threat posed by radical animal rights activists, along with Senator Mac Harb, right here at home.

I can tell the hon. members that we have been working very hard at many levels to counter this threat to a historic Canadian industry. Our government has organized delegations to Europe, a public relations campaign, and bilateral diplomacy with European governments.

The Prime Minister has taken a firm position on the seal hunt and has raised this issue with his European counterparts. In my opinion, our Prime Minister has been the most vocal and supportive of sealers and their families in a long time.

Other ministers have raised the issue with their European counterparts, in face-to-face meetings, by letter, and by telephone.

The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has been a key supporter of this industry, and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Trade have played roles in working at the international level to advocate for Canadian sealers.

The Prime Minister also took the step of nominating Loyola Sullivan as ambassador for fisheries conservation. The ambassador is very well versed in the sealing industry and has been tireless in his efforts to bring the Canadian message to the European audience.

The ambassador has held countless meetings with officials in the EU capital of Brussels and in national capitals. Most recently he addressed a committee of the Italian Senate on this issue.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has also been working extremely hard, both in supporting the ambassador and in their advocacy efforts in European capitals.

Our government took the early lead on defending the seal hunt from radical animal rights activists' baseless accusations and misinformation. In working with industry and European interests, officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans worked hard to bring about changes to the marine mammal regulations and licence conditions that govern the seal hunt.

They have consulted with sealers and industry representatives to ensure that the changes are comprehensible and workable. Officials are consulting with scientific personnel to ensure that proposed courses of action are consistent with good conservation and animal welfare principles. Fisheries officers and representatives of the Canadian Coast Guard are collaborating to enhance the monitoring and enforcement aspects of the hunt.

Earlier this year these regulations were further amended to enhance the humaneness of the hunt. The amendments are based on recommendations published by the international independent veterinarians working group and the European Food Safety Authority.

The seal hunt is older than Canada itself. The coastal peoples of Canada have survived for hundreds of years on what nature provides, and sealing is an essential part of that way of life. These marine mammals are valuable sources of food, fuel, shelter, clothing and other products.

There was a time when hunting wild animals was essential to all human survival. Today, many Canadians still rely on hunting and fishing to feed their families. Most societies harvest farm animals and some wildlife. Each country regulates its own practices in this regard and ensures that those practices are sustainable, well-managed and humane. I do not believe that the peoples of Europe would welcome interference from Canada in what is so clearly an internal matter.

By way of comparison, I can tell the hon. members that over 30 million pelts of fur-bearing animals are harvested annually by the fur industry in Europe. There is the hypocrisy. It is easy for a European parliamentarian to vote against the seal hunt when it will not affect his jurisdiction. Yet if the radical animal rights activists were to focus on a primary industry in Europe, they would not get their foot in the door. This is what makes the issue such an unfortunate reality for many on the east coast of Canada.

The legislation adopted by the EU is based on emotional reactions to publicity campaigns organized by anti-sealing groups. There is no scientific basis for concerns about sustainability of the harp seal population. There is no justification for concerns about animal welfare. Canada has made and will continue to make every effort to ensure the hunt conforms to the highest standards of animal welfare.

I can tell members, from visiting the EU, that there is a campaign of misinformation that certainly has been very effective. Pictures of white seal pups, baby pups that have not been hunted in Canada for over 20 years, are still being circulated in the population. Europeans are being told that if the Canadian hunt were allowed to go ahead, the seal population would become extinct. Quite the opposite.

There is a strong doubt as well about the legal basis for this proposal, and even stronger doubt about its compatibility with the European Union's obligations to the World Trade Organization. If passed in its current form, this legislation has a potential to harm Canadians and others involved in the sealing industry.

Adopting broad regulations to ban seal products is an attempt to regulate a perceived moral issue through a trade measure. Such actions are inappropriate and may lead to unforeseen circumstances for the hunting of wild animals in Europe or elsewhere.

Canada supports the concept of developing international standards to ensure the humane killing of seals. Certification is consistent with the international approach to fisheries and the use of wildlife, and Canada has always been willing to work with partners and organizations to develop appropriate standards for animal welfare.

We have suggested this repeatedly to the Europeans, but our suggestions have fallen on deaf ears. I have heard first-hand from the Europeans, who privately will say that this issue of banning of Canadian seal products for them is a political issue. They will say it is not based on fact. They understand it is based on misinformation, but their voters are just so bent on banning the Canadian seal hunt, which has been driven by the non-government organizations that have been so very busy in Europe.

We do believe the development of acceptable international standards should be done through dialogue among sealing nations and appropriate experts rather than being imposed unilaterally through legislation. In order to be effective, the standards must be technically feasible and they must be affordable.

The question remains, what is the Government of Canada going to do now in the face of this legislation? First, we are going to continue to oppose the dissemination of false information. We are going to continue to inform the European process with factual material about the Canadian seal hunt. We are going to draw attention to the fact that this legislation puts all trade in wildlife products, including the big game hunting that is so popular in Europe, at risk.

We are going to study the final details of the exact wording of the legislation that was voted on today to determine how it may affect Canada's sealing industry, and we are going to consider all available options when it comes to defending the legitimate economic interests of Canada's sealers, including trade challenges should these be necessary.

I ask hon. members for their continued support of the seal hunt and counteracting this threat to the Canadian sealing industry.

Seal Hunt
Government Orders

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Avalon, NL

Mr. Chair, it is a very serious debate we are having here this evening and it is a very important issue to many people on the northeast coast of Newfoundland and Labrador and for all of Atlantic Canada and Quebec.

The minister talked about the public misinformation campaign that is ongoing in the EU right now. I would like to know exactly what the government has done to counter that public campaign. How much advertising has the government done to try to counteract the campaign by the other groups?

My second question is on the World Trade Organization. Today the minister announced that she will be pursuing it through that particular organization, which is a good step. However, it will take two to three years before we see any results whatsoever through that process.

There is an opportunity now. The Prime Minister will be there tomorrow to talk in trade negotiations. So I would like the minister to be pretty specific, because something she said outside the House and the Minister of International Trade is contradictory in terms of exactly what the government's position is in the immediate three to four days when we are talking with the EU on trade. Maybe the minister could clarify her comments on that from earlier today versus the Minister of International Trade.

Seal Hunt
Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Gail Shea Egmont, PE

Mr. Chair, since I have been at Fisheries and Oceans, this file has been first and foremost on my desk and has probably taken more of my time than any other file we have dealt with.

A couple of delegations have gone to Europe and during those visits have attempted to meet with as many parliamentarians as possible. When I was there, we had three or four full days of meetings with groups of parliamentarians and I met with senators. Another delegation had gone prior to that.

We have done some advertising through the media in the European Union. Ambassador Sullivan, as I said, who has been hired as our fisheries conservation ambassador, has spent countless hours, along with staff, in the European Union making personal contact with the very people whose jobs it will be to make the laws of the land.

All of that being said, it has not changed the minds of the European parliamentarians, which is very unfortunate. They take us aside and tell us privately that our position makes sense and that they support it, but that it is a political issue for them. It is an uphill battle.

With regard to the WTO, I know our trade lawyers are looking into the actual wording of what the European parliament voted on today. Our minister has said, unequivocally, that we would take this to the WTO and lodge a complaint because we feel it is contrary to WTO rules.

Of course, announcing a free trade agreement with Europe is a good thing. We hope that many businesses in this country will benefit from a free trade agreement with Europe, including the fisheries in Newfoundland, for example.

There are many benefits to this agreement. I see this as two separate items.

Seal Hunt
Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to say one thing before asking the minister my question. Today, after the results of the vote were announced, I said I was disappointed that disinformation and demagoguery rather than truth had carried the day. I also said that I was not necessarily surprised.

And I said that I was frustrated with the resigned attitude of the government. It was my impression that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the government as a whole—because there is interdepartmental work to be done on this issue—seemed to have resigned themselves to this happening and eventually we would go before the World Trade Organization to challenge the decision. I would have preferred that we get in front of this, however, rather than doing the work after the decision. In particular, on February 24 we presented a unanimous motion of the committee calling for something to be done on this issue, such as an information campaign and other things.

I would like to understand the department’s attitude better. Does the minister share my frustration, that is, she might possibly have liked to do more, but unfortunately she did not have enough support within the government to do more preparation or have a better action plan, in terms of visibility and impact?

Seal Hunt
Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Gail Shea Egmont, PE

Mr. Chair, I cannot say that I agree with my colleague because, as I said previously, this file has taken up probably more time than any other file on my desk since being appointed minister.

We did our public information campaign, we wrote letters to all parliamentarians, a couple of delegations went to Europe and I bet there was not a week that went by that we did not have somebody in Europe speaking to someone about seals. I think we have done quite a lot.

I want to point to an interesting article that I read not that long ago dealing something that happened in the 1960s. It was the testimony of a gentleman from P.E.I. who said that back in the 1960s he was called by one of the special interest groups that at that time thought the seal hunt was inhumane. It hired him to go out and kill a seal so it could be filmed. That was fine. He said that the shock came when he was asked to torture the seal so it could be captured on camera.

Sometimes I feel that what we have fought is an image of something that was a perception in someone's brain because the image of the white seal pup on the white ice bleeding red blood was ingrained in people's minds and that is what people cannot get over.