Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of Bill C-555, an act respecting the Marine Mammal Regulations (seal fishery observation licence), but the bill, like so much other lip service the Conservative government pays to the east coast seal hunt, is a charade, a charade to make it appear that the government is actually doing something for the hunt, for sealing. It is a sham to make it appear that the government is defending the seal hunt, an illusion to make it appear that the government is a champion of the seal hunt. All the bill amounts to is Conservative sleight of hand.
Bill C-555 would increase the distance an unofficial observer, in other words, anyone who is not there to hunt, a seal protester, for example, must keep from the sealing. Right now it is against the law for an unofficial observer to come within a half nautical mile of the hunt. Bill C-555 would increase that buffer zone to a full nautical mile, so it would increase from a half nautical mile to a full nautical mile.
However, the half-mile buffer there now is not enforced, so increasing the distance to a full nautical mile is lip service. That is what I mean by lip service. It basically means nothing.
It is a good concept, and it is one my party supports. How could we not? It is about safety, in theory anyway, but for all intents and purposes, it means nothing. Sealers on the ground in my province of Newfoundland and Labrador say that it is a good idea, but they do not see how it would change anything.
Frank Pinhorn, executive director of the Canadian Sealers Association, says it is frustrating, because as it stands, regulations are not enforced with the half nautical mile zone. Now the Conservatives would increase the buffer zone to a full mile. Who are they trying to fool? It is nobody on this side of the House, nobody back home in Newfoundland and Labrador. They are not fooling us, so what is the purpose of the bill? There is no purpose. It is a nuisance bill.
The Conservatives are trying to divide the New Democratic caucus on the seal hunt, only there is no divide. New Democrats fully support a humane and sustainable hunt. It is our policy, period, end of discussion.
The 1985 report of the Royal Commission on Seals and the Sealing Industry in Canada quoted a sealer/fisherman, which are one and the same, who described himself back then, 29 years ago, as an endangered species. Let me quote that fisherman/sealer:
I am endangered but I still fight back. I will survive. I will not let animal rights become more important than human rights. I will not let people give souls to animals while they rob me of my human dignity and right to earn a livelihood.
Today's sealer/fisherman is more endangered than ever. Outport Newfoundland and Labrador is more endangered than ever. The commercial fisheries are more endangered than ever. Sealers and fishermen are one and the same. Sealers are fishermen. Fishermen are sealers. Their livelihoods are in jeopardy. Their numbers dwindle every year.
According to the news back home this week, the fishermen's union is raising red flags about the possibility of significant cuts to the total allowable catch for the northern shrimp fishery. Shrimp has been one of the most lucrative fisheries since the collapse of the groundfish stocks, such as cod, in the early 1990s.
Just today the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies released a report on the east coast fishery, a report that slams the Conservative government for failing to reform fisheries management, two decades after the cod moratorium.The northern cod fishery was shut down in 1992, 22 years ago, and there is still no recovery plan. How shocking is that?
Sealers are fishermen. They are one and the same. What does the Conservative government have to offer? It increases the buffer zone for seal hunt observers to one nautical mile from a half nautical mile. It is a charade, a sham, an illusion, a joke.
I attended Seal Day on the Hill back in February, a day when government reaffirmed its support for the seal hunt, but the proof of the government's commitment to the seal hunt is not in the pâté, but in the policy, in the action. The east coast seal hunt has seen the biggest collapse of seal markets in its history under the Conservative government. That is a fact.
Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Taiwan, the European Union and all of its member countries have banned the importation of Canadian seal products while the Conservative government has sat idly by touting its undying support. What happened to China and to the markets there that the Conservative government was poised to tap into? What happened to those markets? Silence.
The Conservative government is on the verge of a free trade deal with the European Union, but if the government were so solidly behind the seal hunt, like it says it is, why did it not make the seal ban a make or break issue during those trade talks? Instead the Conservative government agreed to have the EU ban decided by the World Trade Organization, which upheld the ban last fall. The Conservative government is appealing the WTO's decision, but again, if the government were serious it would have made the EU ban a make or break consideration in trade talks. It did not.
Instead we see empty action, or nuisance bills like this one, to increase the buffer zone around the hunt from half a nautical mile to a full nautical mile when the government cannot even enforce the half nautical mile zone. The sealer today is as endangered as the fishermen. They are one and the same. There is no vision for the fishery or the seal hunt, no blueprint for rebirth.
The Conservative government's latest move regarding the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery is to eliminate minimum processing requirements as part of the EU trade deal. Now the trade deal is a good one. The elimination of seafood tariffs is a fabulous thing. It is being lauded in all quarters of the fishery, but the question must be asked, what will be the impact on our fisheries, on our processing sector, of the lifting of those minimum processing requirements?
The Conservative government does not give up $280 million in compensation for nothing, especially when it has done nothing for our fisheries for decades, other than to cut the guts out of science, cut the guts out of fisheries management, and cut the guts out of enforcement.
To conclude, sealers and fishermen are one and the same. As I mentioned before, we support this bill for what it is worth, but it does not address the underlying problems of our seal hunt or of our fishers. Make no mistake, the fight in us is vicious yet. The seal hunt is a part of Newfoundland and Labrador culture. It is woven in our history. It is who we are. More so than any other slight, Newfie on down, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians take any criticism of the seal hunt as a direct personal attack, not just against us, who we are as a people, but against our forefathers and our very outport souls.
To attack the seal hunt is to attack Newfoundland and Labrador. To attack the seal hunt is to poke the bear that is the fighting Newfoundlander. But the government's trying to pull off a charade, a sham, an illusion that it is a defender of the hunt when it is not must also be pointed out. So if they increase the buffer zone around the hunt, fill your boots, Mr. Speaker.
Stand in the House and blow and sputter about all the Conservatives are doing in defence of the hunt, but the proof is in the action and there is none.