Ask and ye shall receive – part deux

Just a quick thought tonight before I get back to my day, er night job. I was working with a client in rural Atlantic Canada not too long ago and there was a high level of frustration. This was a small, rural town of a couple thousand people but with high unemployment. The provincial government dropped a 100 person manufacturing project on their lap (more like imposed) and it all but failed. No one would work in it. The province was frustrated as they thought they would be received like kings and the local community was frustrated because they weren’t consulted on the project.

If they had been consulted, they would have told the province that the EI premium was too great for people to switch to year round, full time jobs at $8/hour.

Now, before you go all Rambo-like and tell me that those thankless SOBs should have taken the jobs and gave up their EI, hear me out.

Maybe we should spend a little time asking the actual local people what types of jobs they would like in their communities. There is no guarantee that any government or economic development group could deliver but I think that would be a great place to start – and it’s, I think, something not many communities do.

Think about this for a minute. Let’s take the much-talked-about-recently Acadian Peninsula. One of the poorest and most destitute rural regions in Canada by most measures.

What if someone went into the high schools and asked the kids what it would take to draw them back after university or college. Would they work in a computer animation studio? How about a language translation outfit? How about a manufacturing operation?

What if we posed the same question to the unemployed?

I’m not talking about getting expectations out of whack – this things are not easy – but at least you would have some sense of what people think would be meaningful careers and job opportunities.

Take the Bennett plant in Belledune. ‘Anonymous’ will be very put out but I never saw the problem. The effluent coming out of that plant is about the same as your local gas station. It is, I am told by folks I trust, a very environmentally friendly process.

But that may not be the point. Maybe if somebody had bothered to ask the residents up there they would have found a deep skepticism about this type of project because of the smelter and other industrial projects that have actually polluted the region.

Maybe the community would have said ‘non’ in advance – and that just might be okay.

This is a major reversal for me as I used to be in the ‘those ungrateful SOB….’ category.

But we all grow with the times.

Maybe we should ask them what they want and then go work on it – not vice versa.

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0 Responses to Ask and ye shall receive – part deux

  1. Anonymous says:

    First, the plant doesn’t actually have any customers yet, so the economics of it is pretty suspect. Second, we don’t know about air pollution or ANY pollution simply because the province let them set up without an Environmental Impact Study. As you can note, this is a trend with the province, Irving did their own study on the gas terminal, and the province is ignoring the environmental studies from their own people in letting companies clearcut more.

    There is some evidence, but this can be debated, that areas with lax environmental regulations recieve investment of a certain kind (namely polluters), yet are avoided by high tech operations because highly skilled, intelligent people won’t work there.

    Next, we can note that the Mayor runs the council like a fiefdom. And the environmental group actually got a resolution to test the milk that goes into the Northumberland Co-ops stock from Belledune. Curiously, the biggest dairy farmer in the area is … the Mayor! So it failed and the people couldn’t even get tests done on the milk from the area. In case people haven’t read, the area is already toxically polluted, this has been verified, and people are told not to eat crops from the area.

    So you may want to reconsider the ‘problems’ of the area, particularly when you are feeding your kids Northumberland milk, which is an amalgamation of milk from all over the province-including the untested milk from Belledune. Pasteurization doesn’t get rid of heavy metals.

    Finally, this was the most recent, it turns out that what minimal environmental studies the province asked for were accomplished by the province paying Bennett $140,000 to test some soil that according to environmentalists, didn’t need treatment at all! That can also be debated, we know for a fact the price tag, but there is plenty of toxic soil in NB, so the jury is out on the latter part. The point is, we just don’t know, and why is the province paying the company to do tests?

    But you are right on about empowering communities. Trouble is the TYPE of empowering, because part of the problem is quite simply that municipal councils are about as representative as the provincial legislature, in fact less so. However, like you say, asking the young people and the affected isn’t dealing with the council.

    One final point is while that is sound advice it may not be absolutely necessary. It comes down to basic economics. Add up how much the average person makes on EI and work, and that’s the magic number. However, keep in mind that EI is time off work, so that has to be added into the mix.

    However, I am quite suspicious of this story as companies can fail for any number of reasons, and if you go to stats canada you can note just how many people are leaving rural areas, and how many actually get EI. It is quite low (the latter). You do have to actually be working a good part of the year in order to qualify.

    Eight dollars an hour is still poverty wages, so no surprise there. But like you say, just asking the people may turn up answers. Not all the unemployed are young people looking for their first job, so it’s quite reasonable that people would want at least a ‘living wage’.

    So I think the frustration is a bit unwarranted, but not surprising when you consider that few municipal councils are made up of the unemployed.

    And don’t forget the drug trade. You can grow a lot of pot in a rural area, which is far more lucrative than any manufacturing job.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Agree with anonymous about the $$$ value of time off.

    As well as/instead of growing pot, those guys might work under the table in their “free” time.

    If you’re not working during the fall you can bag a deer/moose and save a lot of grocery money.

    I don’t know how you compute an hourly wage from the above, but I bet a couple hours in the local tavern would give you a pretty good guess at the “magic number”.