Mr. Speaker, as the member for Acadie—Bathurst and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, I too am pleased to support Bill S-208.
First, I would like to congratulate the member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame for sponsoring this bill, for his passionate speech, and I will also add, for his beautiful bow tie that he is wearing today. It is very beautiful. I also want to thank other members of the House who will speak or have spoken earlier on this bill.
The designation of a national seal products day would send an important message about Canada's commitment to supporting the sustainability of Canada's coastal and indigenous communities. I believe it is a message that, increasingly, needs to be heard.
The harp seal population has tripled since the 1970s and now stands at 7.4 million. This is irrefutable evidence of Canada's sound management practices and our commitment to sustainability. It is consistent with the Government of Canada's approach, including our commitment to conservation and sustainable development goals.
We can achieve sustainability by balancing the synergies of our economy, our environment, and our cultural and social traditions.
I would like to delve into how this bill addresses each of those priorities, beginning with the economy.
In 2006, the landed value of commercially harvested seals peaked and reached approximately $34.1 million, which had a trickle-down effect to other sectors of the industry, including processing, manufacturing, and retail. However, in 2010, we will recall, the European Union banned the import and sales of seal products. This ban had a significant impact on our sealing industry. Indeed, between 2006 and 2015, global exports dropped from a high of $18 million to a low of $366,000.
In principle, products harvested by indigenous peoples for subsistence are exempt from the ban. In practice, however, the ban has an impact on all seal hunters whether they are indigenous or they hunt commercially.
The government challenged this ban before the World Trade Organization. The WTO's final decision was published in May 2015. It led to the general ban on seal products derived from a commercial harvest. Nonetheless, seal products from the indigenous harvest remain unaffected by the ban.
However, the result of the WTO challenge closed the door to the European market for seal products derived from the harvest. More importantly, this had a negative impact on the global market for all seal products, including those derived from the indigenous harvest.
The Government of Canada has since worked with the European Commission and the Government of Nunavut in order to ensure that products derived from seals hunted in that region can continue to have access to this important market.
We are currently working with the Northwest Territories so that the Inuit and the Inuvialuit peoples of northern Canada can continue to have access in practice to the European Union markets.
In addition to working with the communities in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, the government is continuing to work with all the hunting communities, including those in Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec, as well as with the Atlantic Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers, in order to promote seal products derived from the indigenous and commercial harvest and to deal with the challenges of accessing the market.
However, we can do more. Canada must seek other public opportunities to make the case for seal products, and that is why declaring a national seal products day is so important. Such a designation would help us draw global attention to the economic impact of the seal harvest and how the ban on seal products is hurting the economies of communities.
A national seal products day could also help expand the appeal of seal products in new markets. Economic arguments alone, however, are not enough to effectively advocate for these important products. Potential customers may, in fact, be sympathetic to the plight of our sealers, but if they remain uninformed of the traditions behind the seal harvest and continue to believe that harvesting is unsustainable, then they may avoid seal products.
A national seal products day could become a rallying point. By promoting the social, cultural, and environmental issues related to the seal hunt, we can set the record straight and emphasize that the seal hunt is humane, well-regulated, and sustainable, and that some communities with no other means of earning a living depend on it for their livelihoods.
Indigenous peoples have depended on marine mammals, especially seals, as a food source for thousands of years. They have lived in harmony with the ocean and its resources for millennia. In doing so, they have come to perceive the seal hunt as a natural part of the life cycle in the north.
This knowledge continues to be passed down from generation to generation. In Canada's Far North today, children learn at a young age how to hunt seal, how to cut up the meat, and what to do with the pelt. They learn to appreciate how the seal hunt sustains their communities. In other words, for them, hunting seal is not a weekend pastime. It is deeply rooted in the culture of Inuit and Inuvialuit peoples and continues to sustain their communities, both culturally and economically.
No part of the animal harvested by aboriginal hunters is wasted. The meat is prized for its high protein content, and the pelt is used to make warm and waterproof boots, mittens and parkas. Artisans also make arts and crafts out of seal pelts for the tourist industry.
The seal hunt clearly has cultural and economic significance. However, what about the environment? Does this ancient tradition upset the balance of nature? Is it detrimental to biodiversity? Not at all. The seal hunt, whether that of the Inuit or other coastal communities, is sustainable. In fact, through prudent management, the harp seal population is estimated to be 7.4 million. In other words, the population has more than tripled since the early 1970s, as I mentioned earlier.
As the bill indicates, Canada's seal hunt is designed and managed to ensure the sustainable management and preservation of the species, pursuant to the Convention on Biological Diversity's objectives and the principle of sustainable use approved by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
A national seal products day could help us raise awareness about Canada's commitment to a sustainable hunt, one that strikes a balance between economic and environmental needs and our cultural and social traditions.
The Canadian sealing industry has long been a target of misinformation campaigns by vocal and well-funded activists. By supporting Bill S-208 the government is standing up for the seal harvest and for the rural communities that rely on it. I encourage all members of Parliament to do the same.
In closing, I would like to emphasize that Bill S-208 does not create a legal holiday or a non-juridical day. However, the designation is much more than simple symbolism and would carry a great significance. Designating May 20 as national seal products day is a tangible way to defend the traditions of Canada's indigenous people and coastal communities.
By raising awareness of the cultural, economic and environmental importance of the seal harvest, we can help continue the fight against misconceptions and prejudice, help preserve this ancient tradition, and help it to thrive.