Mr. Speaker, I begin this speech on one of the most controversial of Canadian topics, the seal hunt, with one of the country's most controversial commentators, Don Cherry.
Don Cherry, who has made his career on and around the ice, recently took a shot at the Newfoundland and Labrador ice industry, our seal hunt. It was a Saturday night earlier this month on Hockey Night in Canada. Don Cherry was doing his usual Coach's Corner, with his CBC sidekick, Ron MacLean. MacLean was actually in St. John's, Newfoundland, for Rogers Hometown Hockey, and he mentioned during the segment how he had eaten a seal burger for lunch that day. The seal burger was prepared by Chef Todd Perrin of Mallard Cottage in Quidi Vidi Village in east end St. John's, one of our finest restaurants. Indeed, we have some of the finest restaurants in Canada.
Don Cherry's immediate reaction to the mention of a seal burger was disgust. That is what I saw in his face. “Imagine eating a baby seal”, Cherry said, before questioning whether McLean was a savage or a barbarian. It was hard to tell whether Don Cherry was serious, or whether he was just ribbing MacLean, which is what he often does. However, the immediate reaction in Newfoundland and Labrador to Don Cherry's comments was not good. To slight the seal hunt is to slight Newfoundland and Labrador, more so than any other slight, from “Newfie” on down. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians take any criticism of the seal hunt as a direct personal attack, not just against us and who we are as a people, but also against our forefathers and our very outpoured 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. One does not joke about the seal hunt. We are not ready for that yet. The constant attacks on the hunt have left a wound that is still much too raw. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are sensitive, and for good reason.
In the words of Bernie Halloran, the owner of a small outerwear shop in downtown St. John's that has been selling seal products for 30 years, sealing is the most bullied industry on the planet. Bernie Halloran said that in a letter he wrote to Don Cherry.
Don Cherry later issued what was more of a clarification than an apology. He said he had no problem with people who hunt seals and no problem with seal meat, but also said, “I do however find it very unusual, in my world, that a person would go into a restaurant and order a seal burger for lunch.” That may be unusual to Don Cherry in Don Cherry's world, but it is not unusual in my world. Flipper pie is a true Newfoundland and Labrador delicacy, and the best meat by far that I have ever eaten is seal tenderloin fried on a cast iron pan with butter, salt, and pepper and left for 15 minutes. It is heaven on a plate.
Don Cherry may know hockey, but he does not know Newfoundland and Labrador. He does not know our people. He does not know our cultural industry. At what point did Don Cherry become soft? To quote a constituent, “Go buy Rock 'Em Sock 'Em 97, where grown men punch the face off each other for two hours”. Is that not barbaric?
To quote another Newfoundlander, “I wonder what the wings and ribs at Don Cherry's restaurant are made of?” Is that not hypocritical: beef, chicken, seal? The sealing industry has been vilified.
To once again quote Bernie Halloran, owner of that seal shop in downtown St. John's, “...my opinion, if sealing is wrong, the whole world is wrong”.
That brings us to the bill before the House today. Her Majesty's official opposition, the New Democratic Party of Canada, supports Bill C-555, the seal fishery observation licence.
This bill would increase the distance that an unofficial observer—a seal protestor, for example—must keep from 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. It would increase from a half nautical mile to a full nautical mile.
When I spoke on this bill in March 2014, almost a year ago, I called this bill a charade, to make it appear that the Conservative government is actually doing something for the hunt, for sealing. This bill is a sham, to make it appear that the government is defending the seal hunt. It is an illusion, to make it appear that the government is a champion of the seal hunt.
Changing the distance that unofficial seal hunt observers can approach the hunt from a half mile to a full nautical mile means absolutely nothing when the half mile zone that is there now is not enforced.
Sealers on the ground in my province of Newfoundland and Labrador say that this is a good idea, but they do not see how it would change anything. 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, for all the good it has done.
The anti-seal hunt groups have been very effective, incredibly effective, in pounding our industry. I recently travelled to Taiwan with a parliamentary delegation. I was curious to ask the Taiwanese first hand why they banned Canadian seal products in 2013, because that is the way it was sold over here: yet another country has lined up against the Canadian seal hunt.
However, what I learned was that the Taiwanese ban on the export or sale of marine mammal products had solely to do with Japanese whaling and the Japanese dolphin hunt. It had nothing to do with Canadian seal products. The seal hunt is not an issue in Taiwan. This is a country where people eat barbequed squid on a stick. Taiwan and Asian countries like it are seafood meccas.
The Conservative government has to do more to educate people around the world about our sustainable and humane seal hunt. The government is not doing enough to spread the word. The Taiwanese quote Greenpeace and the International Fund for Animal Welfare as gospel, as the last word on the seal hunt, when they should not be quoted at all.
To wrap up, my party supports this bill on extending the seal fishery observation licence, but that will not change a thing with the hunt. It will not reopen closed markets. It will not lift the ban on seal products in so many countries around the world. This bill will not stop people like Don Cherry from describing those who eat seal burgers as barbarians or savages. Joking or not, such comments do nothing to promote our sealing industry. The comments sting.
I just attended the 10-day Mount Pearl Frosty Festival in my riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl. Mount Pearl is a city alongside St. John's, a city that I describe as a land-locked outport. People there are first-, second-, or third-generation baymen. Baymen means that they come from rural Newfoundland and Labrador, meaning sealing is in their blood.
The seal fashion that I took in during the Frosty Festival—the sealskin boots, jackets, and coats, mostly on the women—was absolutely lovely. Besides sending a note to Don Cherry, Bernie Halloran of St. John's mailed him three seal ties, including a blue one in memory of Don Cherry's late dog, Blue. How nice was that? That is who we are.
The best thing that could happen to the seal hunt is if someone like Don Cherry, with his unique fashion sense, embraced our industry, embraced our fine fashion sense and melded it with his own.
Don Cherry in a sealskin jacket and tie would get two minutes for looking so good.