Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada will “vigorously” defend its sealing industry in the wake of a new European ban on seal products, but perhaps it would be better if he didn’t.
The European Union only buys about $5.5 million worth of seal products each year, and that amount of money probably isn’t worth Canada damaging its foreign markets for other consumer goods.
The entire Canadian industry is only worth about $15 million per year (which is only a little more than the $13.5 million being spent to upgrade the Gaetz Avenue and 32nd Street intersection in Red Deer).
Besides, the demand for seal products appears to be crumbling.
As a result, some furriers are telling Canadian sealers to expect to earn $15 per pelt this year instead of the $30 they received last year.
The main problem with the seal hunt is that many people consider it to be cruel.
Whether or not it is cruel is debatable, but there’s no doubt that many people — in many countries — view it as abhorrent.
Encouraged by celebrities like musician Paul McCartney, such people are losing patience with Canada for backing an industry that is widely viewed as anachronistic and heartless.
On the other side of the debate, Ottawa says the hunt is necessary to control seal numbers and may even be required to protect fish stocks.
As well, sealers have to make a living somehow and one has to wonder what sort of alternative employment can be developed in Newfoundland if the seal hunt is abandoned.
That said, it’s likely only a matter of time before the industry is mothballed.
Public opinion is slowly but surely turning against the seal hunt, except in the Maritimes.
Trade Minister Stockwell Day says Canada will challenge the EU’s ban at the World Trade Organization if the EU law does not exempt Canada, but it’s hard to see how that will succeed.
After all, the new EU rule offers exemptions to Inuit communities from Canada and Greenland and elsewhere to continue their traditional hunts, although it bars them from a large-scale trading of their pelts and other seal goods in Europe.
Another exemption allows for non-commercial and “small-scale” hunts to manage seal populations, although seal products derived from those hunts will not be allowed to enter the EU.
Although Canada had set a quota of 280,000 harp seals for this year’s hunt, only about 60,000 have been killed because of shrinking markets for seal products.
No doubt, demand for such goods will continue to fall and the number of seals hunted will decline even further.
In this age of political correctness, who wants to be seen wearing fur? Not most Canadians, and not most Europeans either.
The writing is on the wall for the seal industry.
The only thing that keeps Harper from being able to read it is his concern about votes he would likely lose in the Maritimes if he admits the EU is right about the seal hunt.
As former Beatle, McCartney no doubt recognizes that yesterday all the seal industry’s troubles seemed so far away.
But now it looks as though they’re here to stay.
Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.