Nfld. & Labrador

Baker: So Sarah McLachlan hates the seal hunt; what else is new?

Singer Sarah McLachlan spoke out against the province's seal hunt back in 2012, but that hasn't stopped people from buying tickets to her local shows, writes Jamie Baker.
Singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan, seen here in a file photo from May 2014, has two sold out shows in Newfoundland this weekend. Her anti-sealing stance hasn't stopped people from attending her concerts. (David MacIntosh/CBC)

If you wanted to get a ticket to see songstress Sarah McLachlan on her two-stop tour through Newfoundland, you're S.O.L., as the young urbanites like to say.

The show in Corner Brook tonight is sold out. The ticket window has closed and there's nary a stub left to be had. In St. John's, there are still tickets available, but they could be getting scarce.

Still, under the category of "closed barn doors and horses left to run asunder," some folks around these parts have taken to calling for a boycott of McLachlan.

Why is that you ask? Well see, it's because she has for years been a very public and vocal voice for anti-sealing groups, calling for the industry to be tossed Into the Fire — in a manner of speaking.

Stop the press! A musician hates the seal harvest! Is it March already? Oh wait, nope, still November. Phew. I digress.

Letters to Steve

It's not like McLachlan's rage against sealing is some Dirty Little Secret. As recently as 2012, McLachlan sent Prime Minister Stephen Harper a letter and implored him to shut down the seal harvest.

"It seems that the only reason why the federal government defends the dying seal-slaughter industry is to control the parliamentary swing seats in Newfoundland and Labrador," she wrote in her letter, which set the pro-sealing World on Fire at the time.

"The sealers — like tobacco farmers and asbestos miners — need leaders to devise a practical exit strategy for them, not waste millions more in hopeless World Trade Organization challenges or paying to stockpile pelts when buyers already have seal pelts going back several years."
A hunter heads towards a harp seal during the annual East Coast seal hunt in this 2009 file photo. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Um, OK. I mean, yeah, suggesting Newfoundland and Labrador has parliamentary swing seats that Stephen Harper gives a rat's hind end about is a tad naive in this post-apocalyptic ABC world.

But comparing sealers to baccy farmers and asbestos miners? Ouch. Those are some pretty harsh condemnations. Asbestos and tobacco give you cancer. Seals give you strong gravy. And warm mitts. Not exactly Full of Grace, is it?

But the thing is, it didn't slow ticket sales here.

What's the deal?

The fact her N.L. shows sold out without as much as a peep is a bit of an Ordinary Miracle in the minds of some. How on earth, they say, could it be that such an anti-sealer could play to sold out crowds? Lord jumpins, sure she even had to add the Corner Brook show due to overwhelming popular demand!

The whole thing raises a few intriguing debates. Dare I say it even looks to be Building a Mystery? (OK, yeah, that one was a little forced. Let's move on.)

Obviously the people actively involved in the province's seal industry care about all this, as well they should. The people who want the seal harvest ended care about their mission, too. 

And of course the occasional politician will, from time to time, attempt to use the issue to prop up their own fortunes as well (some of them even go out and borrow vests and bow ties just to kiss arse with the voters — a level of disingenuousness that makes me throw up in my mouth).

But what about everyone else? Elections are won and lost via the "undecideds." Is that what this is?

Ambivalence or what?

It used to be that if you were anti-sealing you were anti-Newfoundland and Labrador. These days, the lines appear more blurred. I wonder how many people going to McLachlan's shows know the score? Would they care if they did? Does it even matter?

Bryan Adams is a big time anti-sealer who has been here several times in recent years — and his shows have sold out each and every time. 

So what is it? Is it ignorance? Is it defiance? Is it a sign that even in this province, people are ambivalent about the harvesting of swiles? Who was the shooter on the grassy knoll? (Sorry. Got carried away there)

Look, I'm sure a handful of folks will answer the issue by donning their best seal skins and hitting the asphalt when McLachlan comes to town. And who doesn't love a little bit of social activism now and again?

As for everyone else? Well, it seems they'll drive around for an hour looking for somewhere to park, overpay for undercooked chicken wings off the "event menu" in one of the downtown's finer gastro-boozearies, and then go indulge in the Sweet Surrender of McLachlan's vocalistic charms.

Resting her vocals

As the host of The Fisheries Broadcast, I reached out to McLachlan to see if she would do an interview. I figured, what better way to speak her mind about seals than to come on the show that speaks directly to the people who work in the industry?

Alas, she turned me down. I was told by her people that McLachlan needs to rest her vocal cords and she won't be doing interviews at this time.

No doubt the woman has the (Arms) voice of an Angel, and we get that it needs protecting on a busy cross-Canada tour. 

But then, you don't have to say anything to count money.


Jamie Baker

Former journalist

Jamie Baker is a former journalist, and former host of CBC Radio's The Broadcast.