Seeing Cleary now

Bob Wakeham
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So what, pray tell, was the enormous mortal sin committed by Ryan Cleary?

Well, bless him, Father Newf, for he has sinned: our journalist-turned-politician actually dared to ask a question about the future of that most motherhood of industries, the Newfoundland seal hunt.

Just imagine. You wouldn't know but he'd slept with the enemy, crawled right in the sack with Brigitte Bardot (not a pretty sight for the imagination to behold, I know: the former sex kitten, now a senior citizen, playing the cougar with the middle-aged Cleary under faux fur-lined sheets).

But, as we all know, any souls in this smiling, frozen land of ours bold enough to even mumble a skeptical word or two about sealing has obviously gone over to the dark side; next thing you know, Cleary will suggest the "Ode to Newfoundland" is sappy, that salt meat and cabbage and cod tongues are not fit to eat, that the word "Newfie" is adorable, that "The Republic of Doyle" is the corniest show on television and a townie conspiracy, that Great Big Sea is over-rated, that "Sonny's Dream" has been done to death, that there should be no food fishery, that Newfoundland dogs are mean-spirited, that licences should be required for trouting, and that followers of Greenpeace and the International Fund for Animal Welfare should be canonized.

As expected, the amoral crowd of anti-sealing loons exploited Cleary's words.

But local politicians, especially our invisible man in Ottawa, Peter Penashue, took to the low road as well and played the motherhood card for all it was worth, and were out to have Cleary declared a non-Newfoundander (the timing of Penashue's condemnation of Cleary was ironic, given the fact that the minister's comments were made around the same time he was hiding away, slithering away, from people in St. John's wanting to talk to him about his government's loathsome decision to cut search and rescue jobs here).

Now I'm not in the habit of coming to the defence of politicians - most have their vocal batteries permanently in recharge mode, and can shovel the you-know-what with nary a break - but it should be repeatedly noted that Cleary was merely reacting to an online commentary by "Fisheries Broadcast" host John Furlong, who himself had simply wondered aloud whether incessant attacks by the anti-sealing lobby had placed the industry in a position where its demise was unpreventable. (Furlong has spent his entire career raising the bar on journalistic edginess, so it shouldn't have come as any surprise to those who know his work that he's removing the pink, white and green wrapping off several normally untouchable and iconic issues in the fishery.)

In any case, what's wrong with discussing the future of the seal fishery?

For one thing, no topic, no matter how closely protected by the Newfoundland bosom in which it rests, should be off-limits to journalists and commentators. Debate the smell of manure on a warm evening in Torbay if you feel such a discussion has merit.

Now, my participation in any discussion of the seal hunt would begin with the suggestion that it would be a colossal mistake to simply end the seal fishery, to force the issue, to surrender to those unprincipled do-gooders who have maligned Newfoundlanders for the past 40 years.

I've had the advantage (some might say misfortune) of having met and interviewed way too many of those anti-sealing zealots over the years, from St. Anthony to the ice fields to New York and Washington, and have had more exposure to that lot than the average journalist. And they were, they are, insufferable.

So, on principle alone, it would be a sin to raise the white flag to that crowd, to declare the seal fishery dead and buried.

Besides, even if the market for pelts continues to sink further into the international septic tank, making it uneconomical for sealers to ply their trade, there would always have to be a cull.

The anti-sealing do-gooders naturally twist and downplay scientific evidence about the amount of fish seals eat, but common sense and graphic video showing seals attacking cod in harbours would lead to the conclusion that they gobble up just about anything that swims in the sea.

So they can't be allowed to multiply year after year. Pretty soon, they'll be coming into the harbour here in Flatrock where I live and making their slow way up to my driveway for a suntan on the deck. I'll be forced to grab my shotgun and eliminate their cuteness and create a meal of flippers with one pull of the trigger.

If there is to be a cull, though, how about finding an innovative way to market the meat? If the negotiations with the Chinese for seal meat don't pan out (so to speak), then find a way to distribute the meat to countries where people are starving to death (surely there must be experts in that field who can give legs to such an enterprise).

How could the anti-sealing types protest if they knew the starving youngsters were being kept alive with Newfoundland seal meat?

Those, of course, are the types of questions that can only be raised properly if there is, in fact, an open and blunt discussion about the future of sealing.

Hardly traitorous.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: Great Big Sea, Greenpeace, International Fund for Animal Welfare

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Republic of Doyle, Ottawa St. John's Torbay St. Anthony New York Washington Flatrock

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Recent comments

  • Lane
    February 06, 2012 - 15:34

    Wakeham has twisted himself into a pretzel to excuse Cleary's damaging comments and condemn Penashue's defence of a traditional Newfoundland industry. I can't help believing that if Penashue had called for the end of the seal hunt and Cleary had criticized him for it, Wakeham would still take Cleary's side, for no reason other than partisan preference.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    February 05, 2012 - 09:12

    To STAMP: You are a very perceptive reader STAMP, and it seems to be, an even more talented writer. Hope you do a lot more and on many more topics. Why not try your hand at Muskrat Falls?

  • Townie
    February 05, 2012 - 07:21

    I wonder why the Pulitzer Prize is considered such aa important award, when any time a journalist speaks of another you would think they were all deserving of one.

  • Stamp
    February 04, 2012 - 12:32

    Wakeham's entire column constitutes an inventive, if somewhat transparent, application of the straw man construct. A straw man is normally a misrepresentation of someone's position as a precursor to attacking it. In this case however, Wakeham has misrepresented Cleary's stand to make it easier to defend. Cleary did not merely ask a question about the future of the seal fishery as Wakeham contends. Like Jeopardy, Cleary's question was his answer. He made it abundantly clear that the $1 million revenue from the industry was not worth the hassle and that Canada should pull the plug on it. "Time to consider ending seal hunt, MP Cleary says". Oddly Wakeham goes on to enumerate all the good reasons for supporting the fishery. His call for an "open and blunt discussion about the future of sealing" is entirely reasonable but the suggestion falls well short of its intended purpose - that of taking his one-time professional colleague Ryan Cleary off the hook. Not that Cleary himself didn't immediately comprehend the enormity of the damage not only to an industry already on the ropes but perhaps to his own political career. Within hours he was up in the House - literally wrapped in a seal hide thicker than his own - shaking his finger at the Harper government for not doing enough to help the industry. Almost humorous were it not for the incongruity of a handful of fishermen risking life and limb for paltry earnings while their professional tormenters rake in the bags of tax-free cash from the comfort and safety of their ivory towers. “As expected”, says Wakeham, “the amoral crowd of anti-sealing loons exploited Cleary's words.” Yes that inevitability was fairly obvious to everyone it seems except Cleary.

    • bernard kellly
      February 04, 2012 - 15:11

      Amen brother Stamp...I also think Wakehams article as nothing but a load of cods wallop,,,,, questioning is one thing...advocating termination is something entirely different....unless of course one has an agenda of one's own....

  • Thanks MP Cleary for having the gumption to phrase a Question properly and effectively
    February 04, 2012 - 09:44

    For once in 63 years the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has sent a Member of Parliament off to Otttawa who is not afraid to ask the questions necessary. OH What a Titan of Economics this province could have been if the MPs of the past stood up for their electorate and saw to it that the province's natural resources were developed for our benefit, but instead they remained silent and let our Natural Resources be stripped out of here for the economic betterment of the other provinces, all because they didn't want to muddy the waters for their own personal economies. POLITICAL PATRONAGE MUST GO. Thank You MP Ryan Cleary!