About Going Back to School in a Pandemic

Things that going back to school during a pandemic are not about:

  • Forcing overworked Moms to go back to work for low wages to keep the economy strong.
  • Enabling parents to pursue business and lifestyle dreams in which their children come second.

Things that going back to school during a pandemic are absolutely about:

  • Ensuring that children receive the best possible education, period.
  • Ensuring that children receive the best possible health care, period.

How does society accomplish this?

  • Develop plans by listening to education and healthcare professionals, not school boards and politicians.
  • Collectively pay the full cost. Period.

There. That was simple, wasn’t it!

pgk

White Folks and Original Sin

Immigrants to North America have long seemed determined to practice Original Sin. It’s bad enough that we white folk from Europe stole North America at gunpoint from its original inhabitants, but then we went and imported (also at gunpoint) people from yet another continent to serve as our slaves. That must be why we white folks have such a problem with Black Lives Matter: it’s hard enough to admit that we have wronged another race, let alone figure out which one we’re talking about on any given day!

Lest we white Canadians protest that we never had slaves and that we have always treated our Indigenous neighbours fairly through negotiated treaties, I would like to offer this blog post written by my (formerly Australian) wife Valerie, in which she shares a seminal moment in her understanding of Canada’s flawed inter-racial relationships:

In the 1970s we lived for awhile in Slave Lake, where I worked for a time as a bank teller at the local branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia. In those days, the federal government gave coupons to the residents of the First Nations Reservation north of the town. These they would take to the local store on the Res to buy their groceries etc.

There was, apparently, a policy at the time to bring the First Nations people – one at a time – out of the reserve and put them in the town of Slave Lake “to learn to live like the white man”. They were told, “No more coupons, just the government cheque. Go to a bank where they will take the cheque and give you money.” 

Most did not speak any English, only Cree. These people would be picked up by a bus and dropped off on Main Street. We knew an Irish Catholic Monk there who would find these people sitting – mostly at night – in doorways, not knowing what to do or where to go. He would take them home and feed and clothe these poor people, which is where we met a number of them.

So, at the end of the month, the government cheques came in: old age pension, family allowance and so on. When a (white) senior came in with her cheque, the teller would be all smiles and very chatty and gave her cash. Then there was another, and another, receiving the same welcoming treatment. Then a very small Indigenous man came in with his cheque and a young man who was his interpreter. The teller said, “we don’t cash those here.” The young man asked, “why not” and she said, “because the government takes too long to pay the bank.” The young man told the old man who looked totally confused: “now what?” The teller said, “move back I have to serve others.”

Then along came a young (white) mum with her two children and her family allowance cheque.  The teller was chatty as before and there was no problem. The mum and her kids left with cash in hand. I watched as the old man and young man talked quietly together, not knowing what to do. 

Another (white) senior came in and again there was no problem: out he went with his money. The old man and young man shuffled forward to the teller again, and she said, “I told you we don’t cash those here. Step back!” They went and stood by the door, not knowing where to go from here. Then a young Indigenous mum came in with her three children  and her family allowance cheque. The teller said, “I’ve told you before we don’t cash those here.” and she, too, left.

I watched this a number of times and when I asked the teller what the difference was between the government cheques, her response was, “We won’t cash their cheques because it takes too long to get our money back.” When I asked, “What about the white peoples’ cheques?” she said “Oh, that’s different, they need their money of course and we always cash their cheques.” I then asked, “So where are Indigenous people supposed to go to get their money?” she replied, “Who cares? Go to the liquor store for all we care, or anywhere else that will cash it.”

I was very angry and very sad.  The old man and young man were still standing near the door.   So I called the old man over to my wicket. I told the young man to tell him to make his sign and I would cash his cheque. Which is exactly what he did: one “X” later and I cashed his government cheque. And that is when the most heartbreaking thing of all happened: this little man literally bowed down to me and backed all the way to the door bowing to me, because I had given to him what was rightfully his!

A little later a young Indigenous mum came in with her family allowance and came straight to my wicket. Of course, I cashed her cheque. Then came another, and I did the same. I was soon called into the manager’s office, where he told me, “We absolutely do not cash their cheques, telling me the same reason the teller had told. I said “Okay”.

It was no time at all before I had a line-up of Indigenous people, young and old, with their government cheques.  I was called three times into the manager’s office who told me off and I would keep saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry I forgot………”

The last time he called me in I was fired.  By giving these people their money for their cheques, which they had every right to cash – the same right as all the white folks who came in at the end of the month – it cost me my job. No one, absolutely no one, should feel they have to bow down – let alone walk backwards while bowing – to anyone.

“Heartbreaking” doesn’t come anywhere close to it…

vmk

Anti-systemic-racism in Canada needs to include Indigenous people as well as Blacks

On Thursday, June 18, 2020, I sent an email letter to the recently-minted Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism. I addressed this letter to Andy Radia of Kingsdale Advisors, who is identified as the contact for the CCBLAABSR. I have so far not received a reply but when I do I will post it here.

Hi Andy:

On its face, I applaud this initiative. However, in Canada, while racism targeting blacks is most definitely a “thing”, this is, in fact, Canada and racism against Indigenous people has been a destructive part of our reality since before Confederation .

Without intending to be argumentative, I would appreciate knowing your organization’s response to that reality.

Regards,

Peter Kingsmill

Do we need immigrants in Canada?

It is difficult to define the impact of immigration to Canada without starting at the (apparent) beginning, when a handful of explorers and opportunists from Britain and France began what became a ceaseless invasion of this country. Doubtless our indigenous inhabitants were curious (and probably amused) and welcoming to these strange new people with strange new customs – at least until greed surfaced, the guns came out, and the handful of economic refugees became a wave of people backed by armies and navies fighting battles that had their roots in other lands. The waves kept coming: more Brits, more French, then Germans, Italians and Irish, according to ruling government priorities to settle a vast landscape and harvest rich natural resources. The Chinese came – to build railways as slave labour – and eastern Europeans came in waves to develop farmlands and build and protect a new economy.

Although our original residents have good reason to doubt this, apparently we have always needed more people, and statistically we still do if we are to continue to grow our economy in the way we have become accustomed. Immigration, however, has become a source of debate (which is proper) and division (which is not). I thought I would ask someone who works extensively with immigrants to Canada, every day, for his perspectives, and it is his comments which form today’s blog:

Phil Nelson is the founder and CEO of Smiley’s Buffet and Event Centre and Flavours Catering in Saskatoon. It has been my privilege and pleasure to have been a corporate client of Mr Nelson’s business establishment over several years, and I have been struck by his lasting business relationship with his staff and colleagues, almost all of whom are immigrants, and in many cases fairly recent immigrants. Given the negative rhetoric in the media (and the political class) surrounding immigration and whether it’s a good thing for Canada, I thought it would be useful to get his long view on the subject.

Me:  Ever since I first met you, Phil, I have been aware that you consistently engage relatively recent immigrants, in all positions from service staff to kitchen to management. I expect that was a management decision at some point; why – and how long ago – did you arrive at that decision?

PN:  Yes we made a decision about 15 years ago to use foreign workers. We were finding it very difficult to find skilled workers for the service industry. Our company employs approximately 115 – 120 employees and we were struggling to fill all the positions. We searched out a credible company to help us find workers and have been using them ever since.

Me:  I assume, given the nature of food service businesses in general, that the majority of your new hires start at entry-level positions – positions often referred to as “Mac-jobs”.  Do you find a lot of staff turnover?

PN: We do have a lot of entry level positions that we fill with part time students. We are finding that the turnover of staff is decreasing from previous years. This is due to creating a good working environment, paying above average wages and offering benefits. Most of our foreign workers are in more of our skilled positions.

Me:  From my own experience, Canadian-born workers – especially younger ones – consider working in service industries as somehow “low class” and merely a stepping stone to a “real job”. I am sure many immigrants, too, are either studying and need work or are hoping that someday they can move into other workplaces, but somehow it seems they have less disdain for service work. Is that what your experience tells you?

PN: That is what the perception is and may be correct in some instances. As a Canadian born worker you have the choice to work anywhere you want and sometimes grass seems greener on the other side so they may bounce around to many jobs. As an employer we take note of that when they list all the places they have worked  on their resume and may not choose them for a position as we feel they are not committed long term. When you hire a foreign worker they are generally signed on for a minimum two-year commitment to your company. They do have an option to quit if they feel that the position isn’t for them but it is very difficult to find another company to take over their contract. If they are unable to find another company they would have to return to their home country. As Canadians we have been very fortunate to be able to find work; most of the foreign workers are leaving their countries due to a shortage of work or even very dangerous places to live. When they arrive in Canada and see the amount of opportunity to work they are very thankful to have a good job and a stable country to live in. In general they are more willing to take the time to work their way up a company ladder to find themselves a better living. We have some workers that came to us a labourers and now are in our management system.

Me:  You get to know many of your staff pretty well. Talk to me about their dreams and ambitions.

PN: For sure, we definitely get to know our employees. It’s like having an extended family. Dreams and ambitions are different for each age group. The younger high school or university kids are mostly looking for some spending money while they study for their trade. The older staff are looking to have a career to support their families. Our foreign workers are here trying to create a new life for themselves and their families.

Me:  Today I read an article pointing out that research in the European Union shows that – over a 30-year span – waves of immigration into EU countries have produced corresponding upticks in the economy and reductions in unemployment. A similar outcome was found recently in Ontario after the provincial government there raised the minimum wage amidst cries of doom and outrage from business associations and the government opposition (which is now in power and apparently  wants to drop the minimum wage). Obviously you pay your staff fair wages or they wouldn’t stick around (as I know they do!) Are there obvious – or even subtle – linkages between pay and immigration in our country?

PN: Those are some interesting facts! First of all, most of our minimum wage employees enjoy an uptake in their wages through our tip program. If there are any employees who are not a part of the tipping program they are paid a substantial amount above the minimum wage. All foreign workers are paid based on their contracted wage, which is set by the government.  As far as pay and immigration, I would say there certainly is an impact on employment. As I stated earlier, as an employer we know we are guaranteed to be able to keep a foreign worker for a minimum of two years. A local worker may take the time to be trained and then move onto a different company much sooner. As well we know that the foreign workers’ pay is also set for that time, whereas the local worker may hold you for ransom if they find another company that will pay them more.  Although I make it sound like hiring foreign workers is the best avenue to take, a company has to do its due diligence and try to fill positions with local workers before the government will allow you to apply for a foreign worker.

Me:  Most articles I have read on the subject – most recently in The Economist – point out that Canada has a shrinking labour force and that our economy will be in trouble because of that, as soon as a decade from now. I would love to hear your opinion, as a business owner and a successful CEO, about why immigration is such a hot button issue in our otherwise stable and prosperous country.

PN: I would say we have been very fortunate to be able to find good long-time workers over the past ten years. Over the ten years before that, it was very difficult to keep enough good employees to run a business. The foreign workers program has certainly helped in that area.
It is certainly a hot button issue with a lot of workers, as they feel they are being replaced by foreign workers. In some cases this may be true but I can only speak for myself and say that we exhaust all options to hire local first. It is a costly proposition to bring in a foreign worker but the results speak for themselves. My business is successful because we put out a consistently good product. To do that we must have consistent staffing, hence that is why we will pay the extra costs of bringing in workers who are guaranteed to stay longer.

Me: Thank-you, Phil!

You can leave a comment (see link at the top left side of this column) and you can visit my website and learn about my novels at www.peterkingsmill.ca

 

 

Nothing new: religion, culture and conflict in 2018

Over the last week, the international news media have once again underscored the depths of depravity to which the world’s religions can descend. Nothing new, perhaps, but so much at once: paedophilia rampant among Pennsylvania’s Catholic clergy; escalating internecine warfare between Islamic sects in the Middle East; murderous conflict between Buddhists, Hindu and Muslim communities in Myanmar.

I confess to having little proficiency in religious studies. I have spent far too long trying to understand my own stumbling faith as a follower of Christ to have the temerity to comment on other faiths (including atheism which is, after all, another belief system). However, one thing I observe – naively perhaps – is that none of the preeminent religions of the world have at their foundations a doctrine of violence. Quite the contrary in fact, notwithstanding their religious writings being records of battles, punishment and – yes – misogyny. (One can only guess that religious scriptures were developed and written by men in an effort to re-make God in their own image: masculine and all-powerful!)

Conflict, it seems, stems from such cultural differences, and violence is born as a manipulation of cultural differences driven by greed. Cross-cultural differences wilt in the face of education – not just “book learning”, but being exposed to the cultures of other people and sharing knowledge and understanding with one another. It is that learned wisdom that can act as a prophylactic against the wicked, who thrive on achieving (or maintaining) power using the tools of division and fear.

Our cultures draw from our past, and are to be celebrated, shared, and never debated. The only debates worth having are about our future.

pgk