OTTAWA - Forget the Winter Olympics, nothing unites Canada's parliamentarians like some bacon-wrapped seal loin.
MPs and senators from across the partisan spectrum enjoyed a special luncheon Wednesday, brought together by a menu that featured Canada's best known furry sea mammal.
"Did you ever think we'd have such a crowd?" Liberal Senator Celine Hervieux-Payette almost shouted to Conservative Fisheries Minister Gail Shea in a packed side room off the posh parliamentary restaurant.
The Diner de Phoque, or Seal Meat Lunch, did indeed attract international attention, as intended.
It's the first time seal has been served in the 100-year-old Parliament Hill institution. All the double-smoked bacon wrapping, port reductions and organic vegetable medleys couldn't mask the meal's true intention: telling animal rights groups and the European Union to get stuffed.
The EU has banned processed seal imports, including their pelts, meat, organs and seal oil.
Animal rights activists "achieve their goals by spreading false information about this industry," Shea told the 18 invited lunch guests, who were swamped by media in attendance.
"Their campaign is misguided, mean-spirited and hurtful to many Canadian families. Unfortunately, this campaign led to the European Union adopting a ban on Canadian seal products."
The British Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Netherlands, the Guardian newspaper of London, Agence France Press and the Seattle Post Intelligencer were just a few of the foreign news outlets that picked up the event.
Eating seal meat - which isn't even an occasional culinary curiosity on most Canadian dinner tables - has become politically fashionable in Canada since Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean sampled a slice of raw seal heart during an Inuit community feast last May in Rankin Inlet.
The act set off a storm of protest in Europe while garnering largely positive reviews across Canada, guaranteeing it would be repeated in some form or other.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper had his cabinet treated to seal during a meeting in Iqaluit in August, although no independent news media was permitted to record the event.
The lunch arranged by Hervieux-Payette was the hottest ticket on the Hill.
The Brussels-based International Fund for Animal Welfare dismissed it as a "media stunt" at which "desperate politicians trip over each other to eat seal meat."
"The fact that the meat is only being consumed for political purposes, and that it needs to be wrapped in double smoked bacon to kill the taste, clearly demonstrates that it is not particularly palatable," the animal rights group said in a press release.
MPs from all four parties in the House of Commons sat down to the formal lunch, while many more crowded into the room for a piece of the media action.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff bellied into the throng to try some seal pate and pronounced it "delicious actually ... a little gamey, like caribou or something."
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe bounced at the grid-locked doorway to the packed room before eventually giving up and leaving.
"This is likely a very strange comment," Shea told the luncheon guests, "but I want to thank my critics for their support."
Comedian Mark Critch from "This Hour Has 22 Minutes" even got in on the act, dubbing the lunch room "Club Seal" before proceeding to club every politician present with on-camera, off-colour innuendo.
About the only participant with nothing to say was Sara Green, Miss Newfoundland and Labrador and an outspoken sealing advocate, who was suffering from a severe and untimely case of laryngitis.
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