Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me to follow my colleague from British Columbia in support of Bill S-208, put forward by the member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, the illustrious chair of the fisheries committee.
I, too, serve on that committee. In fact, I have been on the fisheries committee ever since I became a member of Parliament, nearly seven years ago, and it has been a great committee to be on. Not that long ago, the chair talked about how many reports the committee had put out, 10 reports so far since this Parliament began. We have a very productive, interesting, and significant committee.
I very strongly support this bill. I represent a large rural area in Manitoba, and Manitoba is a coastal province. There are seals in Churchill in Hudson Bay. We do not seal hunt, but it is a coastal province.
For a prairie boy who grew up hunting, fishing and being the ultimate romantic when it comes to the outdoors, many years ago I got my hands on a book by George Allan England called, The Greatest Hunt in the World. He was on Captain Kean's boat in the 1920s and went on a seal hunt himself. As I read this direct account of the seal hunt, I could not imagine the toughness, the bravery, and the sheer guts it took for those men to go out on the ice every spring to harvest seals.
Canada's seal hunt is sustainable, and previous speakers have talked about the sustainability of it. Unfortunately, Canada's seal hunt has been the target of very unfair and fraudulent campaigns by the animal rights movement, led by groups like Animal Justice Canada, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and so on. It is clear that the sole purpose of these anti-sealing groups is to raise funds for themselves, and the collateral damage to coastal communities has simply been staggering.
A witness at the aboriginal affairs committee not that long ago talked about the increase in suicide rates in some Inuit communities, partly attributed to the collapse of the seal hunt. These people do not want to save cuddly animals. These people are a danger to rural and remote communities. The seal hunt is the canary in the coal mine. As somebody who has fought the animal rights movement and the people who want to shut down communities like the one I represent, the seal hunt, the canary in the coal mine, the tip of the iceberg, pick a metaphor, whether it is anti-logging, anti-trapping, anti-hunting, anti-mining, and, quite frankly, anti-oil and gas, it is the rural communities that bear the brunt of these campaigns. One of the reasons I became a member of Parliament was to protect and defend rural communities. I have had experiences fighting the good fight on all these issues.
Interestingly enough, again going back to the animal rights movement and the animal rights groups, these people do not care about cuddly animals. They want an end to all animal use, farming, ranching, trapping, and sealing of course, and sealing is the easiest target. However, if we look at all their websites, they also want an end to animal-based medical research. I do not know if members in the House realize it, but when I met with the Heart and Stroke Foundation some time ago, I asked point blank how much of the cardiac research was done on animals and it was 60%. Again, these anti-animal use campaigns can be extremely harmful.
I will also talk about the unfairness of countries that ban seal products. The European ban was completely uncalled for. It is easy for another country to point fingers at another jurisdiction and pay no political price for it, while being made to look like people who care about the environment. The U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act prevents seal products from entering the U.S., no matter how abundant seals are.
The animal rights movement caused a decrease in the seal harvest, and as colleagues talked about a minute ago, the number of harp seals has increased dramatically, from 1.8 million in 1970 to about 7.4 million now; and grey seals, from 13,000 in 1970 to 505,000 now. There are varying estimates, but the seals consume between 10 and 15 times what the east coast fleet harvests. It is quite clearly established that the high grey seal populations are preventing a recovery of the gulf cod.
Not that long ago, our fisheries committee submitted two reports to Parliament, one on Atlantic salmon and one on northern cod. In both studies, the seals were implicated in the decline of the Atlantic salmon in particular, and in the prevention of the recovery of the cod as well. Both committee reports recommended an expanded seal harvest, done humanely but expanded, to reduce the numbers of these seal species to improve the populations of Atlantic salmon and cod.
Nobody wants to wipe out the seals. However, I think it is our duty as human stewards of this earth to restore a balance that is completely out of whack right now.
I had the honour many years ago of doing work in the eastern Arctic, around Southampton Island, on Arctic char, and I had the honour of living with an Inuit family. I participated in a seal hunt and a walrus hunt. I have had a lot of experience in the outdoors, but I have had some Arctic experience. I do know what it is like to plunge one's hand into a freshly killed walrus and experience the joy and exuberance of the hunt when one is successful. It was an experience that I will cherish. I have eaten raw seal, raw walrus, and I found the tastes interesting, to say the least. It can be good.
I am very pleased, as well, to see an increase in demand for seal products, the seal oil, the high levels of omega 3. We have companies that are exploiting this. I applaud my colleague and the colleagues from all parties who support our traditions of sealing, hunting, trapping, and fishing. Many of us belong to an organization called the outdoor caucus, and I see a number of members wearing an outdoor caucus pin.
I want to finish up with the tale of Bill C-246. As we know, a Liberal member of Parliament introduced a private member's bill that many of us viewed as a closet animal rights bill. I was very pleased to see that many Liberal members of Parliament, and almost all Conservative members of Parliament, worked very hard to defeat that particular bill. We motivated people from all across the country to build a coalition of sealers, trappers, hunters, anglers, and medical researchers, who realized the implications of that particular bill.
While I must thank the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for his speech, and I listened with great interest to it, I would note that almost all of the NDP caucus voted for Bill C-246, except for one, the member for Kootenay—Columbia. I do not say this to be mean, in any sense of the word, but it is very important that we, as members of Parliament, stand on principle to protect our communities and the people who hunt, trap, fish, and harvest seals.
I must also say that sealing is largely a rural industry, but we have a lot of people who live in cities who love to hunt, fish, and trap. Again, I want to compliment my colleague for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, a Montreal area member of Parliament, who has chosen to throw his support behind the bill for a national seal products day.
In conclusion, I am very proud to support the bill. I am proud to serve with my colleague on the fisheries committee. I look forward to the bill being passed and being a very great help to the sealing industry, now and into the future.