The world wants what we have - Keith Roulston editorial
An article by freelancer and fellow Rural Voice columnist Jeffrey Carter in one of the other farm newspapers really highlighted for me, as Thanksgiving approaches, how privileged are the lives we lead in Canada.
The story was about the annual Thai Labour Day picnic in Thamesville that brings temporary farm workers from Thailand together. Among those speaking was someone who has been in Canada for 12 years, making trips home three times – a requirement of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.
We tend to think that such workers struggle to get by in their own country, but this fellow’s family actually owns a plantation of more than 6,000 rubber trees back home. Still, he can earn more money working for minimum wage in the fields and greenhouses of southwestern Ontario than he could if he stayed home.
These are jobs that you can’t convince Canadians to do, even when employers offer higher wages in an effort to find a
more permanent workforce. People here often don’t want to – and don’t need to – work in the hot strawberry or asparagus fields, in the sweaty greenhouses or the smelly pig barns. Jobs are so plentiful that even in more attractive workplaces employers have unfilled vacancies.
With our low birthrate in Canada, we need to bring in 400,000 immigrants a year to meet our employment needs, and that’s even with 550,000 temporary foreign workers employed in everything from long-term care homes to restaurants and hotels to food processing plants.
On top of this, there are 530,000 foreign students studying in Canada, so grateful for the opportunity of an education in one of
our universities that they pay much higher tuition fees than Canadian students – thus helping universities meet their expenses as governments cut back their taxpayer support.
Not every Canadian is happy about these visitors. There’s a significant backlash against the influx of people who don’t look or sound like the “traditional” Canadians. There has been every since the 1800s when Globe and Mail publisher, and future Father of Confederation, George Brown complained in his paper that Irish immigrants were “lazy, improvident and unthankful; they fill our poorhouses and our prisons.”
Yet we only have to look at Britain today to see what anti-immigrant sentiment can do. Pollsters estimate that 70 per cent of those who supported Britain leaving the European Union did so because they resented the 2.9 million citizens of other European countries living in Britain. With such a large proportion of the population against these European workers, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson didn’t even consider a cross-border labour-mobility pact when he negotiated Brexit.
Now pumps are closed at gas stations in Britain because a lack of truck drivers – a job previously filled by foreign workers – means fuel can’t be delivered.
Likewise it’s hard to find milk and meat on supermarket store shelves. Already there are predictions that the gaiety may be
missing in Christmas celebrations with turkeys and Christmas trees in short supply. One British cabinet minister suggested: “This is going to be a really difficult winter for people.”
In Western countries we live a good life, but for some people there’s a resentment that others might get a piece of that good
life. There’s also the human failing that enough is never enough. No matter how many luxuries and gadgets we have, advertisers are constantly dangling the prospect of a little more joy if we just buy this new cell phone/car/sofa/kitchen gadget or fly off to this exotic pleasure capital for a vacation.
And because we want these goodies, we resent anything that diverts any of our income from what we want, to things we need – like food or electricity. And when it comes to taxes, many can’t help feeling that government is robbing them. We see what we pay, but we seldom think about what we get – from good roads at the local level, to healthcare and education at the provincial level, to all the pandemic relief programs the federal government provided that prevented the past year and a half from being even more grim than it has been.
On Truth and Reconciliation Day, a Mohawk Land Defender and Water Protector suggested our governments should put
more priority on human rights and focus less on economic growth and wealth creation.
It’s not so simple a choice, of course. Part of the reason people around the world want to come to Canada is the comfortable lifestyle we lead because of wealth creation. But they also come because they can hope for freedom, educational opportunities for their children and the security of social safety nets.
This Thanksgiving we need to look past our material possessions to more precious blessings that make living in this land so desireable.