Living, Working, and Wasting Time in Southern Manitoba

Month: May 2014

Let the market decide…

I’m not a fan of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. It is not fair to the immigrants that it purports to help, and it is not fair to Canadian citizens who are looking for work at a fair wage and cannot find it.

There are a few things that bother me about this program, and most of them involve the sheer hypocrisy of the proponents. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives are responsible for this mess, both have had their hands in the program over the years. However, the NDP I suspect would not be much better on this file. Both sides have their reasons to support the program, although purely political. When it comes down to it, from a purely philosophical position, it goes against all parties’ values.

The Conservative position has always been the position that the free-market should be allowed to exist and prosper with little government interference. The mantra of small-c conservatives has always been “let the market decide”. It is widely considered the number one rule of conservatism. The government should stay out of the way of business. Go to the food or retail sectors and suggest that something needs to be regulated or inspected more and people will say that the industry should be able to self-regulate. If consumers do not like it, they will find another company for the goods and services they want, and the demand for that company’s products will go away. Again and again the laws of supply and demand are used to keep government interference as low as possible. The Conservatives are the owner’s of this mantra, but the Liberals, being a center-right party, often buy into the same argument.

It’s not a bad argument. Let the market decide is usually a good way to go. The government should try to keep its interference as low as possible. As long as companies are acting ethically, treating their employees with respect, paying a living or competitive wage, and producing safe and effective products, governments should just stay out of the picture. I understand that and agree with it.

This is where the TFWP makes no sense to me. If a company cannot find workers for its business at the wage it is offering, then a company should raise its wages until it can find workers that are willing to work for it. That is how supply and demand works. You have a high demand for workers and a low supply, then you have to pay more for workers. If you run a meat packing plant, you cannot expect people to work for you at the same pay rate as people who are working at the local fast food place. Your work is harder work and you therefore have to pay more. That is how the free market works, live with it, you helped create it.

Dan Kelly, head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says in a CBC article, “Retail, restaurant margins are already razor thin. I fully expect that particularly across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, there will be restaurant closures as a result of this, taking Canadian jobs with them.”

Of course Mr. Kelly is being disingenuous. He statement tries to blame razor thin margins as the catalyst of the current situation. What he is essentially saying is this, “We have to hire temporary foreign workers because Canadians would want higher wages and we cannot afford that because we charge too little for our products already.” Why is it the responsibility of the Canadian government if a restaurant is charging too little for its product to stay in business? Essentially, he is saying that his members are poor managers.

The big argument I always hear is how greedy Canadian workers are. How they don’t want to do anything or expect the world on a silver platter. That is generally not my experience. Canadians are hard workers, and all they ask of their job is that it pays a living wage. Sure, we have some stragglers, but all societies do. Mostly all Canadians want is a sense of fairness. Pay me what I deserve for a job well done and I’ll do it. And there is the problem, that deal has been broken.

Around here, the example brought up is our local hog processing plant. It is often stated how hard it is for the facility to find local workers, and that is why a foreign worker program was needed. In fact, our Mayor goes on about that in an article from Saturday’s National Post.

“The majority of day shift at Maple Leaf’s Brandon facility was staffed with local and regional hires, but there was never quite enough employees to run the plant at optimum efficiency, and no capacity within the regional labour force to staff a second shift, which was essential for the plant’s viability. There was no doubt that the local and regional labour market was not going to provide the workers needed for this demanding, physical work, regardless of how much the company paid, or how many additional benefits were offered.”

So, what Mayor Decter Hirst seems to be claiming here is that either the company didn’t have any foresight into the realities of the Brandon and Westman labour market, or that they did know and were planning on recruiting elsewhere from the start. I personally have no idea what Maple Leaf Foods plans were for Brandon and area, and I would like to think that they truly believed that they could find enough workers here. Was their research of the Brandon labour market that flawed? Did it exist? Were they just going by assurances of the local politicians at the time?

I do find it interesting that the exact same scenario has played out in town after town since Iowa Beef Packers, now Tyson Fresh Meats, first started lowering meat packing wages in the 1960s.

See: The Chain Never Stops by Eric Schlosser – Mother Jones

Here’s the thing that really bothers me about this program, and the Mayor’s love letter to Maple Leaf in the National Post, it goes against her self-claimed NDP roots. I cannot for the life of me figure out how anyone in the NDP can support the TFWP.

I’m not talking about just our local situation here, all I see with this program is a continuation of the exploitation of the foreign worker that has been going on since the day of the building of the trans-continental railroad. You bring in a foreign worker to do a job. Sure, you pay them minimum wage or just above to do the job, so you feel good about yourself. To me that’s not enough. Many of these workers must stay in the job that they came over to do, even if someone was to offer them a job that paid more, was more in their field, or that fit them better. If the worker cannot leave the current employer for a better position, then how is that not indebted servitude? Just because you are paying someone does not mean you’re not treating them as a slave.

A couple weeks ago the CBC Radio program, Cross Country Checkup, had the TFWP as its topic. One caller ran a restaurant in a rural prairie town. Apparently the only way that they could keep in business was to have temporary foreign workers running the kitchen, as hometown people kept leaving the town. It never occurred to her that perhaps if the only way that she could keep her business open  was to bring in people who couldn’t leave, maybe her business was no longer viable; maybe her town is not either.

Cross Country Checkup
Is there a place for temporary foreign workers in Canada’s economy?

Taking advantage of someone’s poor job prospects in their home country does not make you a saint. If you believe in the free market, it makes you a hypocrite, plain and simple.

This is why I cannot understand the article written by Shari Decter Hirst. I’m not sure, despite being mayor, that she actually understands the situation. She says near the end of the article,

“Canada would be far better off to adopt Brandon’s approach of treating foreign workers as transitional workers and recruiting these individuals into secure jobs with opportunities to bring their families over. In my experience, these reunited families are focused on building a strong community for their children.”

I agree with her, Canada would be far better off to adopt such a policy, but that is not what Brandon has. I have always been in favour of immigration and multiculturalism. My argument is that if someone is good enough to be a temporary foreign worker, then they are good enough to be a landed immigrant and get to choose, like any other Canadian, where they want to live and work. Forcing them to work at one place, all the time fearing possible deportation, does not make for fair treatment. How is one supposed to advocate for fair working conditions and fair pay, the two hallmarks of the labour movement and of the NDP, if the employer holds all the cards?

It’s not a fair game, it’s stacked too much in favour of industry. It’s also not very Canadian, at least not the Canada I would want.

Someone is confused

Some people just don’t understand what religious freedom is, such is the case with a Sound Off comment in today’s Brandon Sun.

If we are free to believe what we wish, then why is the Bible and the prayer taken out of the schools? When I was raised, the prayer was in the schools and that meant a lot. As Christians we would like to have some of our faith in the schools, too, not just the other. We can’t have Santa Claus, oh no … we can’t have a play because we are not Muslim. This is getting ridiculous. I mean, you say it is supposed to be one state thing … no, no! Our faith is going down and we are driven to believe in other faiths and I will not! I am a Christian and I will stay a Christian.

Anonymous Writer, Brandon Sun, Page 2, May 12/2014

The Brandon Sun runs Sound Off as an anonymous reader forum every day as a way for the people of Brandon and western Manitoba to be able to comment on things that they may not feel comfortable putting their name to. I for one like the space and I hope that the Sun keeps it for a good long time. It is good to have a place where you can see people’s real thoughts without filter. It gives you a good idea where society is.

Apparently when it comes to understanding what religious freedom is, some people are sadly still way out to lunch. The writer of the above Sound Off seems to think that religious freedom is getting to do whatever you want within the constraints of Christianity. It doesn’t work that way. The Muslim comment really just shows the writer’s prejudice.

We are free to believe what we want to believe, or not believe. The bible and prayer have been taken out of public schools because public schools are a government run institution to which children of all faiths are required to attend unless their parents make other private educational arrangements. You cannot make children of Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or even Atheist parents go somewhere by law every day and then make them listen to Christian prayers and teachings. I remember when there was still prayer and bible reading at school and it really meant very little to me, and that was at a time when I believed in those teachings. Looking back, it was very divisive. I didn’t understand back then why my best friend would leave the room during that exercise; now it makes me angry that we lost valuable learning time to do something that was non-inclusive of all students and completely unrelated to the curriculum.

The writer seems to be under the impression that other religions get special treatment at public schools. I’m not sure where this is coming from. Using their example of Muslims, I would like to know exactly what Muslim teachings are going on in Manitoba schools that they are aware of. As a father of two boys in the public school system in Brandon I have never ever seen the promotion of other religious rhetoric in Brandon schools. I have seen cultural references to Christmas and Easter, maybe a reference to Hanukah, but not much else. Religious teachings? No.

Mr. or Ms. Sound Off writer, your religion is not under attack. You are free to believe whatever you want, not matter how serious or silly it may seem to other people. What it does not mean is that you get to shove your religion down other people’s throats. You are free to practice your religion at home and at your place of worship. Why you find it necessary to indoctrinate other citizen’s children into your religion at there place of daily learning is beyond me. It seems that to you freedom of religion only applies to your religion, no one else’s.

As for the statement “you say it is supposed to be one state thing “, I assume the writer is trying to say that the state officially supports atheism. I think that the writer mixes up secularism with atheism. As an atheist, I do not believe that the school should be telling people that there is no gods, the same way that I don’t believe that the schools should be telling children that there are gods. The secular school system should be neutral on the matter. Teach language, math, social studies, and fact based science curriculum. Leave the rest to parents and if the parents want, to the churches. Ironically, though the writer probably doesn’t realize, if Canada was to be seen as having “one state thing” it would be Christianity. Our head of state is Elizabeth II, the head of the Anglican Church, a Christian church. Christianity also gets a special place in our Constitution and national anthem. Christianity is hardly going down in any official sense.

Sound Off writer, nobody is driving you to other faiths. You can and will remain a Christian for as long as you desire. It is your right, no more, no less.

Just no need for this


I found this about halfway home from work last night, just sitting on the ground beside the sidewalk on 18th Street South. This is the second time in two weeks that I have found an intact six-pack ring, or drink yoke, just laying on the ground. Both were in a couple hundred metres of each other.

If you find one of these laying on the ground, please pick it up and dispose of it properly, which means cutting it or pulling it apart so that none of the rings is still intact, including the small holes also. These rings are insidious little devices when left out in nature. Wildlife get themselves tangled up in these and end up choking or starving to death, or in some cases becoming deformed as their bodies try to grow around the obstruction.


Such a thing happened to Peanut the Turtle here years ago in Missouri. Her body continued to grow after getting caught in the yoke. She will be shaped like this for the rest of her life. Lucky for her it didn’t kill her, but its an unfortunate outcome that could have been avoided. Many animals are not as lucky as her.

Now, drink yokes are not the most pressing issue out there, and there are probably bigger issues for humans when it comes to the environment, but this one seems so unnecessary. From the person who tossed this drink yoke out irresponsibly, to the drink distributor, and the yoke manufacturer, there are a number of people perpetuating a product that we really have no need of.

Please stop buying drinks that are packaged in this fashion. Cardboard packs recycle very easily and if improperly disposed of, do not threaten wildlife in such a horrible way. To the politicians, it would probably be fairly easy to just ban these things form sale in your jurisdiction, be it municipal or provincial. To those that say that politicians have more pressing matters, I would agree, however, I tend to think that our elected representatives can do more than one thing at a time, so this would not take away from other importantvmatters.

Mayor Decter Hirst, MLAs Reg Helwer and Drew Caldwell, and Premier Selinger; I would ask all of you to consider getting rid of these unneeded consumer waste product in Brandon and in Manitoba. Drink manufacturers have other options; banning these hurts nobody.

It’s not the two drink yokes that I found within meters of each other that scare me… it’s the ones I didn’t find.