I gave the following 10-minute speech today (Feb. 17th) in the House of Commons during 3rd reading of Bill C-555, An Act Respecting the Marine Mammal Regulations (seal fishery observation license).
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 Newfoundland and Labrador’s ice industry – our seal hunt.
It was a Saturday night earlier this month, Mr. Speaker, Hockey Night in Canada, and Don Cherry was doing his usual Coach’s Corner with his CBC sidekick, Ron MacLean.
MacLean was actually in St. John’s, Newfoundland for Roger’s Hometown Hockey, and mentioned during the segment how he had eaten a seal burger for lunch earlier that day.
The seal burger was prepared by Chef Todd Perrin of Mallard Cottage in Quidi Vide Village, east end St. John’s - one of our finest restaurants, Mr. Speaker - and we have some of the best restaurants in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, Don Cherry’s immediate reaction to the mention of a seal burger was distain, disgust - that’s what I saw on his face.
Imagine eating a baby seal, Cherry said, before questioning whether MacLean is a savage or a barbarian.
Mr. Speaker, it was hard to tell whether Don Cherry was serious or whether he just ribbing Ron MacLean, which is what they often do.
But, Mr. Speaker, the immediate reaction in Newfoundland and Labrador to Don Cherry’s comments was not a good one.
To slight the seal hunt is to slight Newfoundland and Labrador.
Moreso 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.
You don’t joke about the seal hunt, Mr. Speaker, we’re not ready for it yet.
The constant attacks on the hunt have left a wound that is still much too raw.
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are sensitive for good reason.
In the words of Bernie Halloran, the owner of Always in Vogue, an outerwear shop in downtown St. John’s that’s been selling seal products for 30 years, sealing is the “most bullied industry on the planet.”
Bernie Halloran said that in a letter to Don Cherry, Mr. Speaker.
“Sealing is the most bullied industry on the planet.”
Mr. Speaker, Don Cherry later issued what was more of a clarification than an apology.
He said he has no problem with people who hunt seals, and he has no problem with seal meat.
“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.”
It may be unusual in Don Cherry’s world to order a seal burger for lunch, Mr. Speaker, but it’s not unusual in my world.
Flipper pie is a true Newfoundland delicacy.
And the best meat I’ve ever eaten is seal tenderloin - fried on a cast iron pan with butter, salt and pepper and then left for 15 minutes.
Heaven on a plate, Mr. Speaker.
Don Cherry may know hockey, but he doesn’t know Newfoundland and Labrador.
He doesn’t know our people; he doesn’t know our cultural industry.
At what point did Don Cherry become soft, Mr. Speaker?
To quote a constituent, “Go buy Rock em Sock Em 97 where grown men punch the face off each other for two hours.”
That’s not barbaric, Mr. Speaker?
To quote another Newfoundlander, “I wonder what the wings and ribs at Don Cherry’s Restaurant are made of?”
That’s not hypocritical, Mr. Speaker?
Beef, chicken, seal - the sealing industry has been vilified.
To once again quote Bernie Halloran, owner of the seal store in St. John’s, “my opinion, if sealing is wrong the whole world is wrong.”
Which brings us to the bill before this house today, Mr. Speaker.
Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, the New Democratic Party of Canada, supports bill C-555, the seal fishery observation licence.
Mr. Speaker, this bill would increase the distance that an unofficial observer – a seal protester, 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.
This bill, 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.
Mr. Speaker, when I spoke on this bill in March 2014, almost a year ago, I called this bill a charade, a charade to make it appear that this Conservative government is actually doing something for the hunt, for sealing.
This bill is a sham to make it appear that this government is defending the seal hunt, an illusion to make it appear that the government is a champion of the seal hunt.
Mr. Speaker, changing the distance that unofficial seal hunt observers can approach the hunt, from a half mile to a full nautical mile means nothing when the half-mile zone that’s there now isn’t enforced.
Sealers on the ground in my province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker, say that it is a good idea, but they do not see how it would change anything.
Mr. Speaker, the East Coast seal hunt has seen the biggest collapse of seal markets in its history under this 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 this Conservative government has sat idly by touting its undying support.
For all the good it did.
The anti-seal hunt groups have been very effective in pounding our industry, Mr. Speaker.
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’s the way it was sold over here - yet another country has lined up against the Canadian seal hunt.
But, Mr. Speaker, 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 isn’t an issue in Taiwan, Mr. Speaker.
This is a country where people eat barbequed squid on a stick.
Taiwan and Asian countries like it are seafood meccas.
This Conservative government has to do more to educate people around the world about our sustainable and humane seal hunt.
This government is not doing enough, Mr. Speaker, 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 shouldn’t be quoted at all.
Mr. Speaker, to wrap up, my party supports this bill on extending the seal fishery observation licence.
But it won’t change a thing with the hunt.
It won’t reopen closed markets.
It won’t lift the ban on seal products.
This bill won’t 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, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, 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.
Meaning they come from rural Newfoundland and Labrador, meaning they’re the best kind, meaning sealing is in their blood.
And Mr. Speaker, the seal fashion that I took in - the sealskin boots, jackets and coats (mostly on the women) was 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, Mr. Speaker?
That’s who we are.
The best thing that could happen to the seal hunt is if someone like Don Cherry – with his own unique fashion sense – embraces our industry.
Embraces our fine fashion sense, and meld it with his own.
Don Cherry in a seal skin jacket and tie, Mr. Speaker?
Two minutes for looking so good.