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Claws come out for federal minister who shared picture of lobster lunch in Asia

Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay is pictured eating lobster in Malaysia during an official trip. (Source: Lawrence MacAulay/X) Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay is pictured eating lobster in Malaysia during an official trip. (Source: Lawrence MacAulay/X)
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FREDERICTON -

A photo of federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay eating lobster in Malaysia during an official trip has some people seeing red.

Shared Sunday on the minister's profile on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, the photo shows a sun-dappled MacAulay looking relaxed, wearing a T-shirt and sunglasses, and holding a lobster claw in his right hand with the rest of the crustacean on a plate before him.

"Touched down in Malaysia! I'm looking forward to a productive week of meeting with officials, industry leaders, and partners from Canada and the Indo-Pacific to promote our world-class products -- like the lobster I enjoyed for lunch in Kuala Lumpur!" reads the caption from the Prince Edward Island MP.

Viewed more than two million times and with more than 2,800 comments -- many of them negative -- the photo has some describing the minister as "tone deaf" for displaying a luxurious meal while Canadians struggle with the cost of food, and others defending him for promoting one of his region's most important exports.

Daniel Tsai, a lecturer in communication, culture, information and technology at the University of Toronto, said the first impression he had when he saw the picture was that it was tone deaf.

To see the minister "chowing down" on lobster may play well with his home crowd in the Maritimes but sends the wrong message to the rest of Canadians who are pinching pennies to get by, he said.

"Canadians across Canada would see the minister living high off the hog and benefiting from a junket, as well as having a lobster dinner in a nice, sunny location as opposed to the Canadians who are struggling through winter and trying to make ends meet. So, I think that's all valid criticism."

Instead of sharing the photo, the minister could have asked a lobster fisher or a Canadian celebrity like Ryan Reynolds to promote the tour on social media, Tsai said.

"I think the fact is that he may not have great advisers around him," Tsai said. "Political optics are everything and I think he blew it on this one."

But Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, said Canadians should focus on the message of the picture.

"It's more about the support that ministers give our industry -- and all Canadian industries -- when out in the international market," he said in a recent interview. "And it's absolutely vital."

The federal fisheries department says Canada's seafood sector exports were worth $8.79 billion in 2021, a 36 per cent increase over 2020. Lobster exports, which brought in $3.26 billion in 2021, led the domestic seafood market, followed by crab at $2.18 billion and salmon at $1.12 billion. The main exporting provinces, accounting for about 70 per cent of the country's seafood export value, were Nova Scotia with $2.48 billion, New Brunswick with $2.21 billion and Newfoundland and Labrador with $1.42 billion.

Irvine said that while the United States remains Canada's top market for seafood, the Asian market is growing fast.

Ruth Inniss, fisheries adviser for the Maritime Fishermen's Union, said she can't understand why people are upset by the picture of MacAulay. Promoting Canadian lobster in Asia will help the economy in Atlantic Canada, she said, adding that the promotion could expand markets for seafood, and bring in more money for fishers, lobster buyers and processors.

"I think they don't understand how promoting Canadian lobster -- Atlantic lobster -- can be positive," Inniss said. "It's just manufactured criticism at this point."

Annie Cullinan, spokeswoman for MacAulay, said the minister makes a point to seek out Canadian products when he travels outside the country. "And he's incredibly proud to highlight them and celebrate the farmers and fishers who work tirelessly to feed Canadians and people around the world," she said in an email.

Stewart Prest, a lecturer at University of British Columbia's political science department, said it is "very easy" for the photo to generate outrage in a country where people are dealing with high grocery prices.

MacAulay should have made a clearer distinction between professional obligations and anything that smacks of personal enjoyment or rewards, Prest said.

"Clarifying the context at all times when engaging in public communication is really crucial. Essentially avoid the appearance and the reality of conspicuously enjoying the rich fruits of public office at public expense."

Jeffrey Dvorkin, a senior fellow at the University of Toronto and the former director of its journalism program, said the picture gives the impression that the federal government has given up.

"That they really don't care what other people think. And there's a kind of an end-of-regime feeling that's being invoked here," he said.

The photo gives the impression that the minister is taking advantage of his work trip because he thinks he's going to lose his seat in the next election, Dvorkin said.

"It's just pathetic, frankly. And it's too bad because selling Canadian lobster overseas is a good idea in principle, but he doesn't have to be the one demonstrating it."

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