Madam Speaker, I am delighted to rise in support of Bill S-208, a bill to designate May 20 of each year as national seal products day.
I am so pleased to speak in this debate that I went to my closet this morning to retrieve one of my several sealskin ties. I realize that my hon. colleague from Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame sported a snappy bow tie when he introduced the bill that was passed in the other place, and is now here for consideration in the House. I have chosen a more substantial piece of neckwear, in square centimetres at least, wonderfully fabricated from the pelt of a harp seal.
I wear it because I am proud that the Conservative Party of Canada is the only party to explicitly state its support of the seal harvest in its official declaration. I recall fondly the first policy conference of our reconstituted party in Montreal in 2005, a conference that I attended as a journalist. The conference so impressed me that barely three weeks later I was a fledgling candidate for the election that followed, which elected the first mandate of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Members will recall that it took me one more try to join my Conservative colleagues in this House, but that is another story for another day.
The point I was making before interrupting myself was the construction of the sound Conservative policy platform I witnessed at that first policy convention in Montreal in 2005. The policy that was passed, now included in section 123 of the Conservative Party's policy declaration, states unequivocally:
We believe [the Conservative Party of Canada believes] the government must continue to support the Canadian sealing industry by working to eliminate unfair international trade bans on Canadian seal products.
Those unfair international trade practices have taken a terrible toll on Canada's sealing industry, which is a historically important cultural and economic driver in Canada's eastern Arctic and northern communities. It has been, for centuries, an integral part of Canada's rural culture, and a way of life for many thousands of Canadians. Indigenous people have a constitutionally protected right to harvest marine mammals, including seals, as long as the harvest is consistent with responsible conservation practices.
As recently as 2004, seal products in their different forms: meat; oil, which is rich in omega 3 fatty acids; pelts, not only sold as neckties but as jackets, coats, boots, slippers and mittens, all of these products accounted for about $18 million in exports to markets around the world.
Today, unfortunately, seal product exports amount to only several hundred thousand dollars, because of ill-informed, misguided, in some cases, blatantly hypocritical, discriminatory regulations, and outright bans.
In 2010, using justifications built on seal harvest practices that were outlawed decades ago, the European Union banned the import and sales of all seal products. The Fur Institute of Canada, along with successive Canadian governments, Conservative and Liberal, have countered the myths and misrepresentations with clear and accurate facts.
Since 1987, seals have not been hunted until they reach maturity. No other young animals receive the same preferred treatment. Lambs, pigs, calves, and chickens all are slaughtered before maturity.
I used the word myth advisedly. Let me offer a few of the classic myths about the seal harvest along with the realities. The most flagrantly argued and propagandized myth is that the Canadian government still allows sealers to harvest whitecoats, seal pups. In fact, that practice has been illegal since 1987, as is the harvest of adult seals during breeding or birthing times of the year.
Another classic myth is that seals are skinned alive. In fact, a 2002 study carried out by independent veterinarians proved that to be false.
Yet another myth is that Canada's traditional and commercial seal fishery is unsustainable and endangering seal populations. Again, this is absolutely false. Scientists and researchers at Fisheries and Oceans Canada have all the evidence. In fact, the seal population is very healthy and growing, in some cases in overabundant numbers that are seen to be threatening the recovery of overfished, depleted, saltwater, Atlantic groundfish populations, such as the cod.
Harp seals alone, for example, are said to consume more than 12 million tonnes of fish every year, the equivalent of more than 10% of the world's annual commercial wild harvest. As well, the overabundant grey seal population off the Maritimes is also a particular threat to Atlantic cod and salmon, and it is not because they are consuming all that they kill. In fact, the grey seal very often eats only a few bites of an 80 to 100 pound cod, leaving the large wounded fish to die and to waste.
It is also relevant to point out that since the European Union imposed its misguided, misinformed ban on seal product imports and sales, a number of EU member countries have actually authorized the culling of their own seal populations to protect their national fisheries. A spokesman for Canada's fur institute pointed out the cost of those contradictory policies several years ago, saying that the culls in Europe are both hypocritical and wasteful because the killed seals can only be used under EU laws for personal consumption, which is unlikely, and cannot be used as commercial products because of the EU's own ban.
There are two final myths I would like to address. One is that Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which we know well in this House by the acronym, DFO, provides subsidies for the seal hunt. Again, that is outdated. Sealing is, as many of my colleagues have argued, an economically viable industry. All subsidies were ended in 2001, and even that economic assistance was for market and product development. In fact, the Canadian government has provided far less in subsidies to the sealing industry than was recommended by the 1986 Malouf Royal Commission on Seals and the Sealing Industry in Canada.
The final myth that I would like to dispel this evening is that the Canadian seal hunt is rife with brutality and inhumane practices, and that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans does not adequately police or punish illegal hunting activities. The reality is quite the opposite. Fisheries enforcement officers conduct surveillance of the hunt by air and by sea, and with dockside inspection of landing vessels returning from the hunt. As well as this close monitoring of the hunt, infractions of the regulations draw severe penalties, which can include not only very significant fines, but the seizure and forfeiting of fishing vessels and their gear, of catches, and of the sealers' licences.
I know my time is short, so to wrap up, I would like to express again that across Canada's remote northern and coastal communities, sealing is an important traditional way of life and a critical source of income for thousands of families. The seal fishery contributes to the often inconsistent range of income sources in remote fishing communities, and in some years, seal hunt revenues offset poor catches in those other fisheries.
Bill S-208 would impose no direct cost to the federal government and would not create a legal holiday, but designation of May 20 as national seal products day every year would provide invaluable symbolic support of a legitimate, humane, and sustainable fishery. It would provide an annual opportunity for me and my colleagues to once again wear this tangible evidence of a historic past, a worthy present, and a highly sustainable future.