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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Seems Like Yesterday

News is dominated by a rather pretty young Grit MP having allegedly mistreated "guest" workers, in conditions rather reminiscent of what my parents endured when they showed up in Canada in the seventies.  Back then they were "ethnics."  I woke up this week to find out that we're not "ethnics" any more.  Hey, Publius is mainstream.  Heck, we're almost Old Stock.  Feeling extra WASPy this week.  I also found out that cleaning crap for less than minimum wage is illegal.  Not that it should be.  The one thing my parents had, which the allegedly live-in sub-wage slaves didn't, was a passport and the legal status of landed immigrants.  They were Canadians in waiting, which is what they and the people who let them in wanted.  

Many countries have "guest worker" programs, the oil rich Arab states are notorious for their economies heavy dependence on workers from India, and one of our programs is getting the spotlight treatment from the Dhalla scandal.  The crime here, if there was one, is not that a Member of Parliament paid crappy wages to immigrant workers - welcome to the club - but that the aforementioned MP could have easily had these workers thrown out of the country.  Workers, who have invested a large portion of their meager wealth in coming to Canada, are to a large extent at the mercy of their employers.  Such a situation is ripe for exploitation.  This goes not only for those legally in Canada on guest worker programs, but for the thousands of illegal immigrants.  

While a far more severe problem in the United States, Canada has a substantial underground workforce.  Unable to enter the country legally, rarely because they pose a genuine security risk to the country, they over stay student and tourist visas.  They are legally excluded - or the process takes a prohibitively long time - because the Department of Immigration believes they can pick winners and losers.  Highly skilled professionals?  Come right in.  Low skilled service workers?  Maybe as a nanny.  This sounds to be a plausible policy, yet it flunks basic economics and public policy.  

The Government of Canada has no better idea of what makes a good immigrant than what makes a good investment.  It shocks people that trained engineers are driving taxi cabs in Toronto.  Why?  Our immigration policy is run along much the same lines as the Trudeau and Hatfield era industrial strategies, that thought the Bricklin would make Saint John the Detroit of the North.  An engineer might seem like a good immigrant, but what if there is barely enough demand for Canadian graduates?  Qualified or no, certified or no, there's a good chance the engineer will be sweeping floors.  A cleaning woman from Honduras?  Not the kind of immigrant modern Canada needs?  What if the cleaning woman has an entrepreneurial bent?  Unskilled labour?  How about the ambitious willing to acquire skills, at their own expense, once here?

Thirty years ago expert opinion believed the emerging PC age would be dominated by IBM.  No one thought much of the army of college drop outs, with limited social skills, who would change the world.  That's the real scandal of the Dhalla Affair.  Not that she, or her family, allegedly contracted for lower than a legal wage rate to "guest workers" to Canada, but that thousands of people in Canada live in legal limbo because Ottawa believes it can play central planner.

Posted by Richard Anderson on May 12, 2009 | Permalink


Typical Toronto! I've seen the way Ontarians treat their workers. They're basically slave owners.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-05-12 7:24:32 AM

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