Here is another poverty-related issue, from the Maritime Provinces of Canada — especially the poorest of all provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador. The infamous slaughter of baby harp seals is set to begin again a bit later this month, on the ice off the Atlantic coast. Such organizations as Greenpeace [well, it looks as though GP’s involvement is uncertain; you decide what that means; so let us leave them out of this for now] and the Humane Society of the United States are already in place to protest.

Another pair of celebrity-protesters are Paul McCartney and his wife Heather, great activists for animal rights. They arrived yesterday in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, with a retinue of helicopters, with the intention of observing the seals as closely as they can on the ice. The story on their visit, in yesterday’s Globe and Mail, prompted a large number of comments from readers, the great majority of them very unfriendly indeed. Among the recurring themes were: Foreigners have no right to tell Canadians what to do; vegetarians are hypocrites; celebrity activists are hypocrites; Sir Paul is a hypocrite; the seal-slaughter is traditional; it is not inhumane; it is good for North Atlantic ecosystems.

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More to the point, it is repeated over and over that the fishermen of Newfoundland really need to do this for the sake of their livelihood. [Rebecca Aldworth, the magnificent representative of HSUS in Canada, has reason to believe this is exaggerated.] They are very poor people. The fisheries have crashed, and it seems no one has any good ideas what to give these people to do for a living now. In this context, the evidently wealthy Sir Paul, however well-intentioned, is not at all the most effective advocate for the seals.

Indeed, there was a recent story about a nickel mine in Labrador that gives work to a lot of Inuit, and off-shore drilling for oil, which does not employ many people but at least brings money to St. John’s, which may or may not trickle down. But that just reminds us of a much larger environmental issue, which is that ever since the days of fur trapping, Canada’s economy has depended heavily on the extraction industries.

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So, are there any good ideas out there? What can we do for the fishermen of Newfoundland? And in the long run, what can we do to wean Canada from relying on drilling for oil and gas, mining, cutting down trees, and killing animals?