Right on, Rick George. Beauty, Ed Stelmach. Way to go, Monte Solberg.
Because the Suncor president, Alberta’s rookie premier and Stephen Harper’s human resources minister may have just made the province’s out-of-control oilsands boom a key topic of conversation in the Quebec election.
A vote, it should be pointed out, in which the breakup of Canada is again the No. 1 item on the agenda.
When Quebec iron worker Carol Rioux was run off the Suncor lease north of Fort McMurray because he couldn’t speak English, Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair was handed a golden opportunity to play the I-told-you-so card.
“They aggressively recruit labourers from China, Mexico and Germany, but won’t hire us because our English isn’t great,” Rioux blasted in French.
Suncor spokesman Patti Lewis claimed letting Quebecers speak French on the job site “could pose unacceptable risks.”
“Safety is our top priority,” she said. Even though the Ironworkers union pointed out that Suncor had Filipino tradesmen on its nearby Firebag site. The only apparent difference is that they were non-union.
Shortly after the news broke, Steady Eddie was sitting in the Alberta legislature, listening to Lt.-Gov. Normie Kwong read the premier’s first throne speech, in which he talked about “crafting a made-in-Alberta solution” to the province’s alleged labour woes.
“Our economy is in dire need of people to answer the calls for help wanted across the province,” Kwong said in the speech Stelmach scribbled for him. He also talked about “co-ordination of economic development, immigration and labour force planning.”
That’s the myth. The reality is, the Alberta oilsands strategy is a mess.
Albertans are making huge environmental sacrifices, companies are raking it in with penny-on-the-dollar royalties while shipping raw bitumen and jobs down the pipeline to Illinois and Texas, and thousands of unionized tradesmen are sitting at home while more and more temporary foreign workers are flooding in.
This week, the Merit Contractors Association – which is in a bitter battle with the Alberta Building Trades Council for control of the oilsands labour force – stepped up the pressure by urging the feds to “fast-track the immigration process for skilled construction workers from outside Canada.”
Except temporary workers won’t be so temporary after Solberg quietly doubled the length of stay from 12 months to two years a couple of weeks ago. He called it “Advantage Canada.”
Parti Quebecois Leader Andre Boisclair might soon be calling it “Advantage Separatism.”
This week Boisclair was in northern Quebec, campaigning for out-of-work forestry workers. Over 10,000 have been laid off in what he called a “crisis.”
His spokesman, Catherine Bourgault, branded Rioux’s firing “unjust.”
“They should give a chance to Quebecers so they can learn English,” she spat. “There is something wrong.”
Especially when Stelmach was preaching short days ago that the energy boom was for all Canadians.
“Right now, we’re still part of Canada,” Bourgault said. “But it is better for us to become a country.”
Yesterday, Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason made his own throne speech. claiming the Stelmach Tories’ lack of a boom management plan is hurting Albertans.
He vowed if the NDP ever gains control of the legislature – which is hardly likely – he’d renegotiate the foreign worker deal with the feds so that “no qualified Albertan or Canadian workers are available” before letting oilsands developers begin a Third World airlift.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan, in a recent letter to Stelmach, said the “litmus test” for oilsands development should be, “does it create jobs for Albertans?”
“By making it easier for companies to use the quick fix of temporary foreign workers,” McGowan snorted, “we’re allowing them to shirk their responsibility to train domestic tradespeople.”
Stelmach said he wants to help new Albertans “put down roots, raise their families and contribute to and share in Alberta’s prosperity.”
Unless, it seems, they’re from Quebec.
Fuel for separatists
Par Neil WAUGH