The commitment to the sealing industry by both the federal and provincial governments in recent years can be described rather succinctly using a simple phrase: window dressing. Or, maybe, lip service.
See, the truth of the matter is that politicians know full well that sealing is a motherhood and apple pie-styled issue in Newfoundland and Labrador in particular. For a politician to shout it down or question it aloud would be to openly invite scorn and anger. To support it is a grand demonstration of great solidarity.
I personally choose to support the industry because it is a traditional industry with long-standing economic value and potential (under the right circumstances), carried out by trained professionals and it represents a continuing cultural bellwether — it is the first species to be harvested in the traditional fishing season and is a fundamental part of our heritage.
Some politicians support the harvest because they feel that way personally as well, but a great many politicians support it simply because they want you to vote for them (see those who throw on a sealskin garment whenever they need to massage the masses). And as much as governments say they support the sealing industry, it’s hard to say they have really collectively put their money where their mouth is at either the federal or provincial level.
Take the recent trip to China by Premier Kathy Dunderdale and Co.
A wonderful press release issued June 24 suggests that the government is “continuing to show its support for this industry during the ongoing trade promotion and investment attraction mission to China” and that government has “continued to support efforts to gain greater access to international markets including China.”
And it further notes that the province has, “invested $900,000 in advocacy and industry development since 2006.”
First off, let’s not be coy. China 2013 is mostly a taxpayer-funded summer vacation. It isn’t exactly Nixon’s 1972 meeting with Chairman Mao level stuff. Furthermore, if there is any significant business discussed on this trip it will be of the oil and mining variety because, well, that’s how we roll around here.
As for the idea of trying to gain greater access to markets like China, we already had an agreement to do just that via the “Canada-China Edible Seal Products Agreement.” But that suddenly disappeared like a fart in the wind, and it seems this mission to the Far East has done little to reveal why it disappeared or what if any chance there is to get it back on the table (culinary pun absolutely intended).
It’s great they talked to somebody, but talk with no results is basically sound and fury signifying nothing. For example, I talked to my cousin last night about world hunger, but it didn’t get solved. Ergo, talk is relatively cheap.
And speaking of cheap, I love the boast of $900,000 spent on advocacy in the industry over the past seven years. Do the simple math and put that into perspective: that “investment” amounts to a little over $128,000 per year — which is almost surely less than the annual salary of the below-average cabinet minister. Not really a big deal when you look at the grand scope of things, is it?
Oddly, the press release forgot to mention the loans the government provides for Carino to purchase raw materials from harvesters, which actually IS a good idea with a tangible industry benefit (although I’m not sure government can call it “support” for the industry when they get re-paid AND turn a profit on the interest).
The bottom line is that, for too long, the sealing industry has been left to its own devices without the resources or tangible support to make the grade on a global level. They have been tasked with challenging the public misconceptions put forth by the anti-sealing groups, making in-roads in vast foreign markets, fully developing products, and promoting the industry as a whole with just the occasional nugget of political or financial support thrown their way. They have done yeoman’s work in the face of incredible obstacles.
Like all fisheries here in this part of the world, the sealing industry requires a sound plan and the appropriate resources to carry it out if it is going to be successful.
And having a quick chat with someone in China and randomly tossing $128,000 a year into advocacy for an industry that works off a global market and battles some very well funded and connected opponents is not a plan.
It’s merely greasing the wheels on a vehicle that is being allowed to run into the ground. We can do better.
Jamie Baker is the managing editor for The Navigator magazine, www.thenavigatormagazine.com
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