Senate Smackdown

Turns out that the real third rail of Canadian politics is the seal hunt

Okay, I apologize in advance for what is likely going to be a fairly lengthy and excerpt-filled post, but I really think it’s worth looking at exactly what went down yesterday when Senator Mac Harb – a Liberal – put forward a bill to amend the Fisheries Act to ban “commercial seal fishing”, or, as it is less euphemistically known, the seal hunt. At least, he attempted to do so — procedurally speaking, it didn’t go quite as smoothly as he likely would have hoped.

Let’s go to the tape, shall we? (By which, of course, we mean the Senate Hansard from yesterday):

Fisheries Act
Bill to Amend—First Reading

Hon. Mac Harb presented Bill S-229, An Act to Amend the Fisheries Act (commercial seal fishing).

(Bill read first time.)

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the second time?

An Hon. Senator: Never!

Senator Harb: I move that this bill be placed on the Orders of the Day for second reading two days hence.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is there a seconder for the motion of Honourable Senator Harb?


Honourable senators, the motion will not be received, since no senator wishes to second it.

Okay, everyone still with us? The bill was, in fact, introduced — here it is in all its first reading glory — but when Senator Harb tried to move the ordinarily pro forma motion to add it to the Senate Order Paper, the place erupted; not a single senator from any other party was willing to second it, which meant that the Speaker was obliged to reject it. That doesn’t mean the bill itself is off the table, it just means that for the moment, it’s in limbo until Harb can find a seconder.

Anyway, later that same afternoon, the International Fund for Animal Welfare held a celebratory press conference, at which Clayton Ruby – one of a half dozen or so lawyers in Canada who can genuinely lay claim to being a household name and a long time anti-hunt activist – heaped praise on Harb for his courage in bringing forward a bill that would, he predicted, hasten the “beginning of the inevitable end to Canada’s commercial seal hunt” lamented the historic reluctance on the part of all political parties to even consider debating the continued existence of the seal fishery. Reporters, however, pointed out that the bill hasn’t even been added to the Order Paper, which makes it unlikely that it will make it to the floor any time soon.

Meanwhile, back in the Senate, the Liberals – minus Mac Harb, that is – had apparently decided that the best defence was a good offence.

After Senate Question Period (which, ITQ reminds readers, does exist and is very often well worth reading online), Senator Terry Mercer demanded “an explanation and an apology” from Conservative Senator Fabian Manning for a press release issued under his name, and posted on the departmental website for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, claiming that the Harb bill was “endorsed by the Liberal Party of Canada” – a premise that Mercer rejected in no uncertain terms.

“Honourable senators,” he thundered, “It was rather obvious that senators on this side had nothing to do with and no interest in the bill proposed by Senator Harb. That was why Senator Harb could not find a seconder on this side or the other side.”

Well, debate, as they say, arose thereon.

Manning accused the Liberals of harbouring “fringe elements … working behind the scenes to destroy the seal hunt”. Not a single Liberal – or senator from any other party, or none at all – spoke up in defence of the bill. “More pro-seal-hunt than thou” was the order of the day. I’ve included that entire section of Hansard here, since it does seem to prove Ruby’s point.

Interestingly, the release no longer appears on the DFO website; a quick search of MarketWire confirms that it was, however, issued by the department, and not by Manning’s office.

(As yet, the Senate speaker hasn’t ruled on Mercer’s point of order, but I’ll keep you posted.)

Hon. Terry M. Mercer: Honourable senators, it has been brought to my attention that as of 12:36 p.m. today on the website of Fisheries and Oceans Canada there is a press release and a statement by the Honourable Senator Fabian Manning from Newfoundland and Labrador that criticizes the introduction by Senator Harb, in this place, of a bill on the seal hunt. It attributes the bill to and says that it is endorsed by the Liberal Party of Canada.

Honourable senators, it was rather obvious that senators on this side had nothing to do with and no interest in the bill proposed by Senator Harb. That was why Senator Harb could not find a seconder on this side or the other side. I think Senator Manning owes an explanation and an apology to all of us on this side of the chamber.


Hon. Fabian Manning: Honourable senators, we on this side of the house, along with Canadians and especially Canadians in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador were amazed on Friday when we received the letter from Senator Harb stating his intentions. The silence on the opposite side of the house, within the opposition party and from the leader, Michael Ignatieff was deafening. This issue is very important to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, especially those who derive a living from the seal industry.

We are concerned about the hidden agenda. We are very concerned about the fringe elements of the Liberal Party of Canada working behind the scenes to destroy the seal hunt and to give the animal activists ammunition for their cause. That is what we are concerned about and we will stand against this measure in the Senate, in the House of Commons, and stand up for the people who derive their living from the fishery and within the seal industry.

Hon. James S. Cowan (Leader of the Opposition): Will Senator Manning have the decency to withdraw the statement that appears on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website? In that article Senator Manning says, “Sealers need to know that Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party want to abandon the Canadian seal hunt.”

That is inaccurate and he knows it. He should have the decency to stand in this place and withdraw the statement.

Senator Manning: Not a chance. If I believe in something, I will say it. I will not withdraw after what happened on Friday with the letter from Senator Harb; what happened in the house today; the media attention it received over the weekend; and the ammunition given by Senator Harb and others on that side to the animal rights activists in their fight against the seal hunt. I will not withdraw, I will not take it back and I will stand up for the people making a living from the sealing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Canada. Our party will do it proudly.


Hon. Céline Hervieux-Payette: Honourable senators, I would like to deal with this issue in a serious manner. A resolution was adopted yesterday by the European Parliament, by a vote of 27 to 7, banning seal products, except those for personal use by the Inuit.

My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate: What does the government plan on doing about this issue?


Hon. Yoine Goldstein: Honourable Senator Manning, one of the elements that we have to deal with here is speaking truth. I would like the honourable senator to tell us whether he still believes —

Some Hon. Senators: Oh, oh!

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator Goldstein, you can finish your question.

Senator Goldstein: Tell us the truth about the seal hunt and your statement.

Senator Manning: The truth about the seal hunt is that we have a well-managed, sustainable, humane hunt in Canada that our government has supported and for which our government has fought long and hard over the past few years with the support of Ambassador Loyola Sullivan in his many trips to the European Union. He has visited 27 countries in the European Union fighting our cause and putting forward our concerns on behalf of the government. The truth is that we have a well-managed, sustainable and humane hunt.


The truth is that a senator from the honourable senator’s side stood in this place today to introduce a bill in this house. It was similar to the measure introduced yesterday at the European Union. Does the honourable senator believe for a moment — does anyone in Canada believe for a moment — that the letter that was written on Friday by Senator Harb was on the table at the European Union on Friday and yesterday to help their cause when they stood to vote against the seal hunt in Canada?

He should be ashamed. People on the opposition side should check up on him instead of checking up on me.

Hon. Lorna Milne: To help Her Honour in her deliberations on this point of order, I want to clarify the situation by saying that, for the last six years, I have fought in favour of the sealers.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Senator Milne: I have done so at the Council of Europe. This initiative is not an initiative of this government; it is an initiative of all Canadian governments, and has been for years.

I point out that we do not have a bill before us because no one in this house seconded it. I congratulate all honourable senators who did not second it.

Hon. Joan Fraser: On the point of order, the Rules of the Senate ban personal, sharp and taxing remarks. I am sure, if the authorities are searched, various references will be found to an assumption that speakers in this chamber will attempt to speak the truth and will attempt to reflect the truth in their public utterances referring to this chamber.

This has been raised as a point of order. It might equally well have been raised as a question of privilege because what Senator Manning has done, and has compounded by his refusal to withdraw his public statement, is accuse many senators of something that is obviously not true. I cannot believe that falls within the range of acceptable conduct under our rules, conventions or traditions.

Hon. Jane Cordy: Senator Manning’s website states that the bill was introduced in the Senate today. That statement is an untruth. The bill was not able to be introduced because there was no seconder by any other senator in this place.

I ask Senator Manning to do the right thing: Remove this statement from his website and withdraw his remarks today stating such things that are untruths.

Senator Manning: What I said was that today in the Senate, Liberal Senator Mac Harb is introducing misguided, uninformed and grossly irresponsible legislation in an attempt effectively to end the commercial seal hunt in Canada. My purpose in putting the information out beforehand was to raise the concern with senators on this side and the other side to show that no one stood and seconded. The mission was accomplished.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: I thank honourable senators for their comments and for the information given. I will take the issue under advisement and endeavour to return with a decision as soon as possible.

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