Skilled labour shortage a byproduct of bad decisions

They say there’s a lack of skilled labour in Canada but I’m more concerned about the lack of smart politicians.

They say there’s a lack of skilled labour in Canada but I’m more concerned about the lack of smart politicians.

Okay picking on politicians is too easy a target these days. But with the F-35 fiasco, robocalls, the arrogance and ignorance emanating from the national and provincial capitals it’s hard to ignore.

I was once again baffled by our leaders following the announcement this week from Immigration Minister Jason Kenney that Canada will begin a program to attract skilled labour into our country to help fill the void in the labour market.

I wasn’t shocked that Kenney was probably doing what an immigration minister should do but rather the disconnect within our government at the scene unfolding right at the grass roots level of our country’s labour force.

You don’t have to look far to see the impact of the government’s – both federal and provincial – decisions and then, under the guise of fiscal restraint, compound the problem they created to worrying proportions.

Take Trail’s newly constructed high school for example. I can only imagine some government architect in Victoria using a slide-ruler (sorry that’s dating myself) and coming to the conclusion that eliminating roughly half the space allocated for shop classes in the old school would help the students.

It certainly helped the government by keeping costs down. It might have helped the school board weigh more options in its bid to save money. It might even have helped the athletics department get a shiny new gym and a great weight room.

While I’ll acknowledge the value of fitness and a healthy lifestyle, frankly how far do the previous two reasons go in helping our children learn and prepare for the future? Isn’t that why we pay school taxes?

I hear labour unions and oil company CEOs tell the government more needs to be done at home before bringing workers in from other countries. Educating and training would go a long way towards helping the 1.5 million unemployed they say.

Yet provincial funding for post-secondary education has been cut, making college or university that much more out of reach for more people. Which, just like the lack of foresight in the high school planning, only lessen the chance people can pursue a skilled labour job.

So the spiral continues – eliminate programs and opportunities – and the shortage of skilled labour grows. Minimum-wage jobs become the norm for many graduating Canadians not the starting point they once were.

Obviously the Tories don’t want to listen to the unions but one has to wonder who was asleep in Harper’s office when that oil executive offered up his advice.

Apparently the Conservatives have cornered the market on what’s good for Canadians.

And what’s good for Canadians, especially for the 13 per cent of unemployed 15-to-24-year-olds, is to import the skilled labour rather than create it from within.

Economically speaking, the obvious reason to attract skilled labour is to save money and let other countries subsidize their training and Canada gets them when they’re ready to go work.

However, it’s a sad commentary on the values of our society when defence spending can afford to get into multi-billon-dollar boondoggles (another term dating myself) while young Canadians face growing hurdles for future opportunities because classes have been cut.

So instead of cutting back on defence spending and improving education for Canadians, the answer is to bring in immigrant labour.

Where’s the common sense in that? Where are our concerns met?

The talk around Trail in recent years is the aging workforce at Teck. The gradual transition as longtime workers retire and their spots get filled.

There are many sons and daughters who have followed in their parent’s footstep at the smelter or the mill and helped keep the communities alive.

Their taxes helped build those schools, buy those jets and give politicians those nice pensions partly in hopes that the next generation can continue to have the opportunities they enjoyed.

But the game plan is being altered, which is acceptable in difficult economic times. However the careless tossing around of billion-dollar figures to defend our borders while Canadians face longer working lives and fewer opportunities is another slap in the face.

We don’t need the government to fast-track more people into our country to work, we need the government to get on track and make a better path for Canadians.

On the other hand bringing skilled personnel opens up a door of interesting possibilities. Maybe taxpayers can have the opportunity to import some politicians to fill the lack of good ones in Ottawa.

Guy Bertrand is the managing editor of the Trail Daily Times