moved that Bill S-208, An Act respecting National Seal Products Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, before I start, I want to say that in 2004-05, when I was first elected, the minister of fisheries and oceans at that time was one of the strongest, most powerful advocates for the sealing industry that this country has ever seen. That, sir, was you, and I thank you very much for that. We all thank you for your service in that cause. That was not just a way of trying to win favour with the Speaker. I am serious about the issue.
This is a very important day for us, and also for a wonderful person, the former Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette. She was the champion of this in the Senate in 2014. The bill died on the Order Paper, and then it came back, of course, moved successfully through the Senate, and now it sits here in the House of Commons. I am honoured to move this.
We are proposing to vote for May 20 to be national seal products day. First of all, why May 20? That is a good question. May 20 coincides with European Maritime Day. The reason we are doing this, and it is not in jest, is because in the European Union, they spend a full day celebrating the culture of the marine industry, including fishing, harvesting of animals, and all fisheries around the European Union and the entire continent.
Senator Hervieux-Payette thought to have this day coincide with that day as a way of celebrating what we do in the way of harvesting this animal. As we all know, a few years ago, the European Union introduced a ban on seal products, which we vehemently opposed at the time. We challenged it through the WTO, rather unsuccessfully, but nevertheless it exists. There was an exemption for indigenous persons. I will talk about that in my speech a little later. I understand the member for Cariboo—Prince George will be talking about the indigenous factor for seal products. I thank him in advance for doing that.
I also want to thank the seconder of this bill, the member for Laurentides—Labelle, who worked on this when he used to work for me. He worked on this quite a bit. I am happy to say that he is seconding the bill. It is also very fitting that the mover of this today is from Newfoundland and Labrador, and the seconder is from Quebec. These are the two provinces that have harvested seals the most in the commercial industry.
The gulf seal fishery—because we call it a fishery even though they are mammals—in Quebec, and the other seal fishery, primarily in Newfoundland and Labrador, in an area called “The Front”, takes place in April and May.
As we go into this right now, I want to talk about the industry itself and what it has done for the commercial side in the coastal communities. Certainly over the last 10 years, there has been a decline in a major way. By way of illustration, in 2004, $18 million of seal products were exported, primarily in meat, oil, and, of course, pelts, which was the most at the time. The pelts constitute the garment industry. These are garments such as boots, mittens, slippers, and bow ties.
This one, incidentally, was given to me by the Hon. John Crosbie of Newfoundland and Labrador. I wear it very proudly. He was a true advocate for the industry. Recently, he set up a sealers memorial in the town of Elliston, Newfoundland and Labrador. I thank him for this, and I wear it today as such. If anyone has seal products, I suggest they wear them over the next while. I see that some members are wearing them, and I thank them for that.
Let us look at 2004 again. There was $18 million in exports around the world, primarily in nations such as Norway, Russia, throughout the European Union, some at that point in Asia, not a lot, like we have now, and China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong. However, that point was the peak of the industry. One pelt would get just over $100. Today's pelt price is just under $20. That gives us an idea of how devastating it has been.
There are a couple of other factors as well. Several years of the strong dollar did not help. Also, there has been a substantial amount of ice cover, both east of Quebec, Îles de la Madeleine in particular, and also in Newfoundland and Labrador. That did not help the situation.
It was some $18 million that was the value back then. Today, the exports are just over $300,000. It has taken a downturn. I mentioned earlier the ban on seal products in the European Union. Russia has also banned seal products. I am not sure about that one, simply because it was a major importer of seal products. President Putin felt, in his infinite wisdom, that banning seal products was a good thing to do, and it put a lot of people out of work.
Here in Canada, of course, we do not have a ban, but we have an industry that is being recognized for a humane hunt and harvest of these animals. In 2009, through the marine mammal regulations, we put through a three-step process for a kill of a particular seal. It is mandatory training now for commercial licence holders to do this. An independent group of veterinarians, an international group by the way, said a while ago that it represented a humane harvest, more humane than in many cases of domesticated animals, and certainly more humane than other hunts that have taken place throughout Europe.
I will give an example. Several years ago, I put a motion in the House to ban lederhosen. I am not kidding. The reason I did that is there is an unregulated hunt that takes place with deer and boar animals in Germany. The Germans harvest it primarily through Bavaria, but basically it is not as regulated as the seal hunt is here. The harvesting of seals is very regulated, but their wild hunts are not so much. I put a motion in the House. Since they were going to ban seal products, it made sense. They were killing all these animals to create lederhosen. It never got to a vote. I did it in jest. Nevertheless, I wanted to make the point that if they were going to say that the harvesting of seals is inhumane, then they have to open up the debate to all animals being harvested.
How do we harvest our animals? We know about cruelty to animals in domesticated ways; we know about cruelty to animals in general. However, let us look at the situation we have here. We have a highly regulated harvest of a mammal that represents a great commercial value. We do not get as much from it as we used to. It has a value of $34 million in one year as far as landed value is concerned, and these are primarily harp seals. However, we understand that by doing the steps, such as mandatory training in the three-step process for the harvesting of the animal, that makes it humane. These are all international standards that are looked upon by international animal welfare groups. Some of them said “yes”, most of them said “no”, but the problem is that the ones who said no did it, in my opinion, in a very selfish manner.
I mentioned earlier about deer and boar that are harvested in Germany and it being less regulated than our hunt. The reason it is not highlighted as much is because putting a deer or a boar animal on the front of a pamphlet to raise money does not work as well as putting a seal pup on there, now does it? Therein lies the problem that we have had for many, many years.
If we look at the seal pup when it is born, it has white fur. Protesters use that as a way of putting forward their mission to raise money for their individual groups. It is demagoguery at its worst. What we have is a situation where we do not harvest that animal; it is much older than that. Therefore, the most frustrating part is the myths that we keep battling against. We keep getting pushed back because those myths keep circulating about how we harvest an animal. It is no different than any other animal harvests around the world.
I had an argument with a British member of parliament one day. He said he did not like the seal hunt because he did not like the way we harvested the animal, the way it is done. I did not want to be too angry. I wanted to try to be intelligent about it, and I pointed out his leather shoes. He shook his head and said he knew what I was going to say, that he was wearing leather that came from a cow, but he said that it is a domesticated animal. I am sure the cow did not really care whether it was domesticated or not; it was about to face its ultimate demise.
Nevertheless, I asked him how the cow was slaughtered, and he could not tell me. Therein lies the mistruths that have been put out there.
The point of this is to say that our national seal products are tied to culture, going way back. I will give members an idea how far it goes back. Several hundred years ago, when the mass harvesting of seals took place, the oil from these seals was transported to London. It was excellent fuel for the street lamps. It is kind of ironic. In a way, the British started the anti-seal hunt campaign with groups such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Greenpeace and others.
Many of these groups have come around to understanding how this harvest takes place. Some have not, however. We have suffered the wrath of many mistruths by them, and unfortunately that continues to this very day.
However, there is an exemption in Europe now for indigenous communities. We have invested a bit of money as did the former government. We invested around $5.7 million, which is a good investment, to allow indigenous groups to market their products within Europe and other places. This is essential because the marketing help certainly will bring a level of understanding as to how we harvest animals in a humane way and how we respect this as being the culture of indigenous communities. Nunavut is now doing that and soon the Northwest Territories will embark on the same. That is ideal.
I know my colleague, the member for Labrador, speaks about this quite a bit.
We can do many things to increase the level of understanding as to how we can get around these lies and myths about seal harvesting, with which people around the world have painted us. We have heard it all. My ancestors were called barbarians for what they did. Someone asked me once why my grandfather had taken part in killing seals. I believe I said that it had something to do with supporting his family.
We need to increase this understanding. A short time ago, when the member for Nunavut was the minister, he went to the United States and met President Obama. He had his seal tie on when he met him. I thought that was a very touching moment. We are going to turn the corner. We are going to increase the level of understanding through the indigenous communities, and all coastal communities, for that matter. I have many coastal communities that rely on this.
There was a time when up to half a person's income was created from the seal harvest, up until about 2010 when the market started suffering.
However, I believe the markets will come back for many reason: first, seal oil is rich in omega-3; second the fur is high-quality; and third, the meat is also good. We are making efforts to increase market awareness in Asia, such as China. Hopefully, it will turn out to be a big market. However, we need to stay away from the bans of seal products based upon myths, not conservation.
Back in the seventies, there were less than two million harp seals on the east coast. Now there are 7.4 million of them. They are plentiful, indeed, to the point where some nations kill seals because they get in the way of the ecosystem. What is their excuse?
Nevertheless, I want to thank the House for hearing me on this. I look forward to the debate and any questions. I look forward to the support of all members of the House for Bill S-208. Finally, I again would like to thank Senator Hervieux-Payette for bringing this forward.