The Chinese are coming! The Chinese are coming! And that’s a good thing.

- October 10th, 2012

The line story in The Vancouver Sun today caught my eye …

Vancouver Sun A1 October 10, 2012

and  so I tweeted:

A friend, whose judgement I value and who prefers remaining pseudonymous, replied:  

I know what he meant and I’m pretty sure he knew I knew what he meant (That’s part of the beauty of tweeting with people with whom you have an offline relationship) and that is that this headline in the Vancouver Sun and my tweet about it — though perfectly accurate and, on their face, neutral in terms of values —  would have evoked and would have been intended to evoke a much different response to those reading a Vancouver newspaper  as recently as 70 years ago and almost certainly 100 and 150 years ago.

Journalists in those earlier eras would have have been whipping up some sort of xenophobia, aimed quite specifically at the Chinese, with both that kind of headline and my tweeted response to it. At least, that’s the “danger” Oxblood sensed.

But should I or any of us assume that, here in 2012, those kinds of headlines or tweets will not stir up similar xenophobic urges among Canadian society?

My view is that I don’t think they will. For one thing, British Columbia and Canada are very different societies than they once were. As Canadians, we seek out  and compete for Chinese migrants (and migrants from many other countries) because we now know that Canada is enriched by having so many born in China (or elsewhere) live, work and create in Canada.  In greater Vancouver alone, there were, at the 2006 census, 380,000 people who identified themselves to the census counter as “Chinese” among a population then of just over 2 million. In all of B.C. in 2006, more than 400,000 — or 10 per cent of the population — called themselves Chinese. Overall, one in four in B.C. at the 2006 census were a member of a visible minority. In the rest of Canada, that ratio was about one in seven. Conservatives, New Democrats and Liberals can argue amongst themselves who is more “immigrant-friendly” but the fact of that matter is there is no longer any debate: Every mainstream federal political party believes not only in the worth of healthy and constant immigration but in the necessity of it for Canada’s prosperity.

If Oxblood (currently residing in South Asia) found this tweet of mine “dangerous”, this blog post is an explanation that its real purpose was to highlight a danger of a different type, namely huge variations in regional employment rates in this country. In B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan, it can be so difficult for employers to find qualified, skilled employees that they are looking overseas for those workers.  And, yet, there are other regions in this country where unemployment is a persistent problem.

Saskatchewan’s unemployment rate at Statscan’s last check, for example, was 4.7%. Quebec’s, in the same month, was 8.0% . Saskatchewan’s employers are desperate to find skilled workers that will earn a top wage and wonder why they can’t find enough Canadians to fill those jobs.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has been among the most vocal of premiers in suggesting that one of the problems for his province’s employers is the federal employment insurance program that does not do enough to encourage unemployed Canadians to look beyond their own regions for good, well-paying work. (Which reminded me of an earlier post here, from 2008, in which I noted that Quebec communities dominate the rankings for ‘whitest’ in Canada. Could that have something to do with its lagging economic fortunes? A debate for another place, perhaps…)

Indeed, Wall actually led some of his province’s employers on a kind of trade mission to Ireland earlier this year where one of the goals was to convince people in Ireland who needed a good job to think about emigrating to Saskatchewan.

Now, so far as my “dangerous” tweet goes, that’s a lot of context you have to intuit from from my 140 characters and I would be naive to think that no more than a handful of my nearly 15,000 followers (one of whom includes @PremierBradWall, as it turns out) would immediately pick up on that. A Twitter follower of mine in South Asia, for example, might think I was being a “dangerous” xenophobe. And yet, aside from Oxblood, most of the reaction I had to that tweet was mostly like this virtual shrug-of-the-shoulders at the headline or the tweet:

As a believer in a tolerant, multicultural Canada, I find that kind of reaction (or the absence of certain other kinds of reactions) encouraging.

I note also in the VanSun story, the workers coming to the mines in B.C. are not coming to Canadfa, as they did in an earlier age, simply for their sinew and muscle. They are coming here because they possess ‘smarts’ and ‘teknik’ that  Canada and B.C. needs if it is going to exploit the resource for our wealth.

“Without the Chinese and the technology they’re bringing … these particular mines would not have been developed,” mine executive John Cavanagh told reporter Peter O’Neil.

A spokesman for a union representing Canadian mine workers was not, predictably, buying this argument:

“That’s just a cop-out, a way to bring in guest workers who are going to go into a camp, contribute virtually nothing to the economy, and then when they’re done they’ll be sent back to China,” said Stephen Hunt of the United Steelworkers Union.

That may be true. Those workers may very well be “sent back to China” when their work in this B.C. mine is completed. But if they are sent back it won’t be,  as it was in another era, because Canadian society was worried about its “purity” or any other racial or xenophobic prejudice but, presumably, because the Chinese workers themselves did not want to stay or, for those that did want to say, because the workers could not meet Canadian immigration standards which are broadly and fairly applied to potential immigrants regardless of their origin.

That’s progress.

Categories: China, Economy

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3 comments

  1. Harry J. Smith says:

    Why do Chinese workers come to Canada ? Simple! They come because they will do the jobs that Canadians won’t! Why do we have to hire Jamaicans to pick fruit in the Niagara area? It’s like the Americans complaining about Mexicans coming in but if the unemployed locals would do the work, there would be no need or openings for imports. However, there might well be a financial gain for the employers who pay less than required by law and should be prosecuted for that.

  2. One question I have on the issue, and I have many, is about union access to these workers. I know that visa restrictions often make it difficult in many of these industries for workers to become full term union members with all the same protections, but is there any way to be sure that these workers who are coming in to Canada are being protected?
    It is my belief that a protected and happy worker is more likely to be a good contributor to our local and national economies. With more and more stories coming out about mistreatment of visa holding workers (Tree planters and farm workers in BC and Ontario for example), I fear we will eventually be seen as another southern US sytle work force where outside labour is simply used as the bottom feeder of the workforce to fill whatever gaps are needed and then need to fend for themselves when we are done with them.

  3. william says:

    i really dont understand your comments not other peoples comments but those in the article so many people keep saying if we use cheap temporary
    foreign workers they will set up factories and then we will have more jobs for canadians later on
    any one who believes that if we allow companies to use cheaper workers and that later on they will hire workers who cost more is a fool
    this is like the idea of the free market, by allowing companies the abilitie to run the market and then talking about what a fair system it is
    any one who has taken a look at the free market can see there is nothing fair about it
    if we want to keep canadian jobs it is clear we will have to force companies to hire canadians or go to other country

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