Jack Troake, one of the province’s most outspoken sealer, doesn’t think much of Seal Day up on Parliament Hill.
“It’s so damn stupid, it makes no sense. Where were all these people before?”
Troake said after years of attacks from protesters trying to portray the most graphic, horrifying aspects of the seal hunt, an event in Ottawa won’t do much to change the fortunes of hunters.
“I don’t know what they can do now, b’y, because there’s that much damage done that it’s going to take a lot to correct it,” he said. “It don’t mean a thing. This is a 40-year problem, 40 years and then some.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a gaggle of ministers participated in an event before question period in front of the House of Commons.
MPs wore sealskin lapel pins, along with other seal attire in the chamber Thursday.
“Our government is firmly committed to defending the legitimate economic activities of Canadians,” said Harper said in a statement. “Canada’s sealing industry sustains thousands of Northern and East Coast jobs and the traditional way of life of a number of Aboriginal groups in our country.”
Sheryl Fink, director of the seal program for the International Fund for Animal Welfare was dismissive of the Seal Day, saying that they hold similar “photo ops” ever year.
“I guess they couldn’t manage to choke back the seal meat again this year so this year they’re doing lapel pins made out of seal fur,” she said. “Our impression is that this industry is pretty much dead and gone; we’ve got the EU ban on seal products, we’ve got the Russian ban on harp seal fur.”
Fink said the government should be focusing on how to transition seal harvesters out of the industry, given that it’s no longer possible to make a living at it.
Provincial Fisheries Minister Darin King was also at the event. He said that the province’s sealing industry will need federal help to open up foreign markets.
“We really need the federal government with us on the international scene,” he said. “Our government hopefully will try and urge the Russians to reconsider.”
But while it was all smiles and seal fur in Ottawa, opposition politicians were grumbling that the government had turned the whole thing into an unnecessarily partisan event.
NDP MP Ryan Cleary was at home in Mount Pearl Thursday for the opening of the Frosty Festival; he said he’d heard nothing about the Seal Day event until the last minute.
Cleary dismissed the government’s event, saying they really haven’t done anything to prevent foreign countries from closing their doors to seal products.
“It’s obviously a stunt to make it seem like the Conservative government is doing something in regards to the seal industry,” he said. “People want to buy seal products around the world; bottom line is they can’t because governments have introduced bans.”
Liberal MP Gerry Byrne also missed the event, because he didn’t hear about it until the last minute, and had other plans. Byrne said if the government had wanted to send a stronger message about the sealing industry, they should have made an effort to include other parties.
“There’s a lot of people that would like to participate in this, that would like to be part of it, it’s a real opportunity to show a non-partisan caucus on this,” he said. “At this point in time in the industry’s circumstance, you need to be firing on all cylinders.”
One Liberal who was up in Ottawa Thursday was Yvonne Jones.
As an MHA for Labrador, Jones will be participating in the Northern Lights conference which brings together people from across Canada’s north.
At Saturday night’s gala dinner, Jones will be hosting an all-sealskin fashion show.
“The sealing industry has become a major part of that particular show, because the aboriginal cultures of the north are very much dependent on the sealing industry,” she said. “It’s been a traditional way of life for us, and we want to preserve that, but we’d like to do that on a commercial level, ensuring that we have good export markets.”