Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) may be the undisputed champs of the natural-resource giveaway, but other provinces also aspire to be world-class chumps.
Across the country, in B.C., companies want to bring in hundreds of people from China to work in coal mines.
The mind reels: is this the news, or is it a late-night comedy skit? You wait for the punch line, but it doesn’t come.
Surely, with an unemployment rate approaching double digits, British Columbia must contain some people willing and able to dig coal.
No, say the companies, defending their need to import qualified and experienced workers.
Giveaways and gullibility seem to go together. If something sounds like nonsense, it usually is. Apparently, among 33 million Canadians, there aren’t 200 qualified miners who need work.
As is commonly the case, other explanations arise: The Canadian Press quoted a union leader who said the average wage for B.C. coal miners is $34 per hour, but the companies plan to pay Chinese workers $25 per hour.
There’s globalization at work.
Don’t think for a minute the giveaway days are over in Newfoundland (and especially Labrador). Provincial governments past and current have mastered the skill of giving resources away with their right hand while claiming out of the left side of their mouth they’re not giving anything away. (Watch for jargon such as “efficiency,” “modernize,” “viability” and “restructure,” among others — they are surefire giveaways that a giveaway is about to occur.)
It is entirely understandable that many people in Fortune want the provincial government to agree to Ocean Choice International’s (OCI) demand that it be allowed to ship 75 per cent of its yellowtail flounder catch out of the province to be processed. After all, the remaining 25 per cent will provide jobs for 110 people in Fortune. To deny OCI’s demand seems like telling 110 people they can’t have a job.
It also seems some extremely crass manipulation is going on.
Why must 75 per cent of the yellowtail catch be shipped out for processing? Because OCI says so.
Neither the company nor the provincial government has given a satisfactory explanation, other than the old, reliable utterances about the market and modernizing and restructuring.
Anyone who is inclined to accept OCI’s explanation should ponder last week’s news.
Is this not the same OCI whose vice-president, Loyola Sullivan, was deemed to have inappropriately lobbied the federal government?
As reported by The Telegram Oct. 18, conflict of interest and ethics commissioner Mary Dawson determined Sullivan engaged in lobbying within one year of leaving his position as fisheries ambassador, violating federal rules.
The provincial government, rather than acting as OCI’s agent and cheerleader, should demand facts and proof, and show such to the public and, especially, to fisheries workers.
First: how much of that 75 per cent of yellowtail catch could be sold if it is processed in Newfoundland?
Second: is “market forces” merely a euphemism for “OCI profit margins”?
With all due respect to the 110 people who could have jobs if OCI’s demand is acceded to, what should be said to the other 110 people who could also have jobs, but won’t, if 50 per cent of OCI’s yellowtail catch could profitably be processed in Newfoundland, but isn’t?
The Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union has been tricked into a no-win situation. If it rejects OCI’s demand, it is callous; if it agrees, it is a sucker.
The provincial government, meanwhile, has proven yet again its expertise in political manoeuvring and manipulation. It will sign another giveaway, and be cheered for it.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at
The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org