Addenda to Swinging Canadian elections keeps the sealers swinging clubs: Animal Alliance of Canada pursues electoral strategy

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2008:
Addenda to Swinging Canadian elections keeps the sealers swinging clubs:
Animal Alliance of Canada pursues electoral strategy

Commentary by Merritt Clifton
Long before University of Texas at El Paso philosophy
department chair Steven Best became a popular speaker at animal
rights conferences, noted for fiery defenses of “direct action”
vandalism, film maker Stephen Best of Shelburne, Ontario became
quietly known to animal advocacy insiders–and the political
opposition–as one of the most astute strategists in the cause. When
defenders of the seal hunt produced strategy papers, obtained
eventually by news media, Best was repeatedly identified as one of
the voices most essential to isolate and neutralize, even though few
grassroots activists had ever heard his name.
Grassroots activists knew his work. Best’s 1973 documentary
Seal Song, commissioned by the International Fund for Animal
Welfare, “became part of the long-running British television series
Survival,” he remembers. More than that, Seal Song put the annual
Atlantic Canada seal hunt into living rooms worldwide. Eighteen
years earlier, film maker Harry Lillie brought back the first film
of the seal hunt, inspiring an informed few to revive anti-sealing
campaigns that had previously been waged in the early 1900s, late
1920s, and late 1930s, but it was Seal Song that turned the cause
into a cultural phenomenon.

Best produced wildlife documentaries through 1980, then
accepted a full-time job with IFAW. From 1980 to 1984, Best
“developed and managed various political, election, and public
relation campaigns in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Belgium,”
he recalls. These campaigns won a ban on the import of baby harp
and hooded seal products into the European Community. “The ban
reduced the number of seals killed in Canada’s commercial seal hunt
from almost 200,000 per year to about 20,000,” Best recounts.
Best in 1985 helped other ex-IFAW staff to found the
Inter-national Wildlife Coalition, but left IWC in 1998, after
“finally admitting that the environmental movement was making no
net progress,” he says. “Despite 5,000% growth in monies and
membership between 1970 and 1998,” Best adds, “the international
environmental protection community achieved a further 40% degradation
in our environment.” Best returned to screen production, while
contemplating new approaches to ending the seal hunt. The hunt,
nearly history a decade earlier, had been revived in 1995 with
higher quotas than ever before.
Having heard nothing from Best in 10 years, and having been
unsuccessful in an attempt to find him, I had no idea what Best had
been doing since 1998 when I wrote my May 2008 ANIMAL PEOPLE
commentary “Swinging Canadian elections keeps the sealers swinging
I learned a month later that Best and Animal Alliance of
Canada executive director Liz White had co-authored a similar essay
in November 2002. Though distributed to mass media and posted to the
Animal Alliance web site, it did not reach ANIMAL PEOPLE, and
received much less attention than it deserved.
“Despite decades of intensive, well-funded anti-seal hunt
protesting,” Best and White wrote, “the seal hunt is larger now
than 30 years ago…more cruel, and is managed with less regard for
science, conservation, and the survival of harp and hooded seals.
What this dismal record of failure proves is that all the strategies
and tactics used in Canada in the past to end the seal hunt don’t
“The only reason the anti- seal hunt community was able to
secure the European seal import ban [in 1983] was electoral
politics,” Best and White observed. “For individual politicians in
Europe, defending Canada and its seal hunt became an electoral
Almost a year later, in September 2003, Best produced a
document entitled End the Seal Hunt Strategy Framework, also posted
to the web, yet largely overlooked by anti-seal hunt campaigners.
“The seal hunt will end–or be dramatically reduced–when two
conditions are met in Canada: the political cost of the seal hunt
to federal politicians and political parties exceeds its political
benefit, and there is a plausibly justifiable reason for reducing
the hunt, other than appearing to succumb to the pressures created
by advocacy,” Best wrote.
“Politically,” Best determined, “the Canadian seal hunt has
a value of seven to a dozen federal seats in Atlantic Canada and
Quebec. In the current Canadian political environment a pro-seal
hunt policy is necessary for a politician or a political party to get
elected in these districts. An anti-seal hunt policy would insure
defeat. In the rest of Canada, the seal hunt is electorally
irrelevant: seal hunt policy does not influence enough votes to
matter. [Therefore] It is obvious to every politician and to all the
federal parties that a pro seal hunt policy is good politics.
“The political benefits of a pro seal hunt policy can be
eliminated and turned into unacceptable political costs by direct
involvement oin elections,” Best projected. “Electoral involvement
means conducting election campaigns in electoral districts that the
voting history and polling suggest will likely be decided by 5% of
the voters or less. The campaigns should have the objective of
shifting votes from one candidate to another, i.e. influencing who
wins or who loses. It is this kind of political activity that is of
concern to politicians.
“The federal government and all political parties have strong
pro seal hunt policies,” Best emphasized, “not because they believe
sealing is intrinsically important, but rather because they are
cognizant and wary of the political power wielded by the fishing
community and, to a lesser extent, the sealing community…Power
resides in the pro seal hunt advocates, not the seal hunt issue.”
Best was already mobilizing.
“In 1998,” White told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “Animal Alliance
founded Environment Voters, our political arm. The intent was that
Environment Voters would reward politicians who had a supportive
environmental and animal protection record and punish those who did
not. Best was instrumental in helping us set up Environment Voters,
assisting with strategic decisions and campaigning in a number of key
“We were involved in provincial elections and by-elections,
federal elections and by-elections, and municipal elections,” White
continued. “In 2000, amendments to the Canada Elections Act were
introduced that would eliminate any meaningful involvement of third
parties in electoral politics at the federal level. The National
Citizens Coalition through Stephen Harper,” now the pro-sealing
prime minister of Canada, “challenged this change right up to the
Supreme Court of Canada. Although Harper won in all the lower
courts, he lost in the Supreme Court. So, third parties can only
spend just over $3,000 per riding [electoral district] and $120,000
to pay for general electoral information but not specific riding
“Through Environment Voters,” White said, “we demonstrated
that we could shift 4% to 5% of the vote in any given riding. In
ridings that were won or lost by less than 4% to 5%, a campaign to
shift the votes could affect the outcome. The cost ranged from
$15,000 to $20,000 in tight races and more in ridings that were not
so closely contested. The effect of the amendments to the Canada
Elections Act was to remove any possibility of influencing votes in
the swing ridings.
“Around the same time that the Supreme Court set strict
limits on third party spending,” White added, “the Court removed
the barriers to forming a political party. The only way to be
involved in an effective way now at the federal level in Canada is to
become a political party. In December 2005, we achieved party
status. We are now the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of
Canada. We are in the process of building the party so that we can
influence the electoral process around the seal hunt and other
The Animal Alliance supports the boycott of Canadian seafood
called by the Humane Society of the U.S., “and we support the
initiatives in the European Union to get a European ban on seal
products,” White added.
But their bottom-line strategy now is swinging votes.
[Contact the Animal Alliance of Canada c/o 221 Broadview
Ave., Toronto, Ontario M4M 2G3; 416-462-9541;
<>; <>.]

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